Learning Sketch

Learn to make a mark on the world

Two: Connectivism

“A central tenet of most learning theories is that learning occurs inside a person” (Siemens, 2004, Limitations of Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructism).

Working as an instructional designer in an academic setting, I see the perspective of these leading minds in learning theory; however, I approach what they say with caution. I catch myself and colleuges getting caught up in the ideas of what learning theoriests identify as new best practices. However, sometimes we forget that these should come with some disclaimers. Not everyone is ready to abondon traditional practices that have worked for decades past in favor of new practices for the next generation.

After reading Siemens, I started to consider the current use of knowledge resources in online and face-to-face courses at the institution where I work. Some are ideal. Others are not. At the institution where I work, we often face challenges when we ask instructors if they’ve considered using new technology. I worry that Siemens focus is well beyond the scope of my duties and that his focus might deter some of the traditional instructors. Siemens (2004) says,

The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today. A real challenge for any learning theory is to actuate known knowledge at the point of application.

The instructors I work with worry about the content in the pipe. I’ve met a few in the field who worry about the pipe itself although I can remember conversations with a select few. Most of the individuals I work with are subject-matter-experts with years of experience. They tend to focus on what they know and it is my job to help them convey that knowledge. According to Cormier (2008) his model doesn’t fit with our current perspective,

“In the rhizomatic model of learning, curriculum is not driven by predefined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process.”

This sounds more like social media than it does the classroom—online or face-to-face. However, as I look deeper into the practices of those exceptional instructors I see signs that resemble what Cormier (2008) identifies as community learning.

Suggesting that a distributed negotiation of knowledge can allow a community of people to legitimize the work they are doing among themselves and for each member of the group, the rhizomatic model dispenses with the need for external validation of knowledge, either by an expert or by a constructed curriculum.

Instructors use discussions in the prescribed LMS that mimic social media. In these discussions they still control some of the input, but largely just guide the conversation in a direction identifing learning moments where appropriate, but generally guide students to establish their own places to find answers to the questions asserted.Travis

The majority of instructors though still struggle even with this level of autonomy. Hill (2008) states that,

Current research in adult education shows that the levels of confidence and learner autonomy, in addition to discipline, are of crucial importance to the level of engagement by the learner in a personalized learning environment, as lack of these in the majority of participants hampered their learning online.

These words of caution for those adopting the connectivism learning model allow practitioners like me to consider how to approach instructors new to adult learning in general. As instructional designers, it is our job to help instructors identify best practices for instruction that work.

Hill (2008) goes on to state in the conclusion,

There is a need for (adult) educators to closely follow and influence the developments and the debates, and seriously research how their institutions can evolve using the emerging technologies to their and their learners’ advantage.  In doing so, they would ensure that (adult) education can secure its role of critical engager, and at the same time make the best use of technology – that is in making connections with information and knowledgeable others all over the world to enrich learners lives and the communities in which they live.
I find connectivism a practice that will be adpoted by instructors of specific subjects at first, and then it will see some small usage on a broader scale. I think that while this learning theory may work well, its adoption will be met with resistance and that it will require time and measurable results before I see it adopted on a grander scale. In the meantime, the generation that connectivism targets will arrive and take on the role of the instructors. This will also lend to its implementaiton over all, but for now, it requires the encouragement of practicioners like myself for it to expand.

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