“In a networked world, learning is a network-forming process. Knowledge is a networked product (Siemens on Connectivism video).” Connectivism is so interesting to me! I loved taking a dive into connectivism and network learning this week. In the video Siemens also points out, “we are knowledgeable to the extent that we have connected concepts and ideas over time.” This process, says Siemens, rounds out our perspective and deepens our understanding over time.

It is not only easier than ever, but also more important than ever, that we as learners learn how to learn in a networked world. As Cormier points out in the “What is a MOOC” video, we live in a world where information is everywhere and there is a staggering amount of it online all the time. Cormier describes MOOCs as an effective way to engage in connectivist learning – MOOCs are events that are open and participatory, and they are a step on the road to life-long learning. In the video “Succeeding in a MOOC,” Cormier points out that creating a network (his third of four elements for success in a MOOC), is essential to engage in learning in a MOOC. Without it, you cannot connect concepts and ideas in order to create new knowledge -this is the essential nature of connectivism.

Anderson and Dron (2011) also point out, “Connectivist learning focuses on building and maintaining networked connections that are current and flexible enough to be applied to existing and emergent problems. Connectivism also assumes that information is plentiful and that the learner’s role is not to memorize or even understand everything, but to have the capacity to find and apply knowledge when and where it is needed (p. 87).”

In his video, Downes explains that “network learning” (which seems to be synonymous with connectivism) can happen at three levels: 1) connections made between neurons in the brain; 2) connections made between people; and 3) connections made between ideas. This “connectedness” creates knowledge that is emergent and a product of the interactions between all members of the network.

Siemens’ article, “Connectivism: A Learning Theory or Pastime for the Self-Amused (2006)” was particularly helpful in laying out Connectivism’s place among earlier learning theories (Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism). Siemens (2006) explains, “The more rapidly knowledge develops the less likely it will be that we will possess all knowledge internally. The interplay of network, context, and other entities (many which are external) results in a new approach or conception of learning. The active creation of our own learning networks is the actual learning, as it allows us to continue to learn and benefit from our network, compared to a course which has a set start and end date (p. 14).”

Siemens also draws on Downes’ (2006) conceptualization of learning in today’s networked digital environment:  “A learning activity is, in essence, a conversation undertaken between the learner and other members of the community. This conversation, in the web 2.0 era, consists not only of words but of images, video, multimedia and more. This conversation forms a rich tapestry of resources, dynamic and interconnected, created not only by experts but by all members of the community, including learners. (Network Pedagogy section, p. 6).” This concept of learning emerging from a network – knowledge that comes from but is greater than the sum of its parts – is at the heart of Connectivism.

As I moved through learning activities this week – the articles and videos given to us – my additional searching online, my tweets and others’- I found myself trying to dissect my experience as a connectivist learning experience. While I’ve done this type of learning before, this is the first time I’ve consciously done it while learning about connectivism! I reflected on how I was moving from one node to the next based on what I was finding, building my understanding of connectivism as I went. While I cannot claim to have created much of a network, it’s a start and this time around I was conscious of doing it. Very interesting.

I was both fascinated and drawn in, and also a bit wary. Part of me wondered, “Is this a new kind of learning and a new kind of knowledge, or is it simply constructivist/CoP learning with new tools (web 2.0, etc.)?”  Some of the principles of Connectivism that Siemens (2004) lays out seem familiar to me, for example:

Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions. Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known. Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning. Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill. Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities. Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due… (p. 6).

True learning has always come from diversity in thought, from nurturing and seeing connections, from knowing how to choose what to learn and to sift through information. Staying current is certainly not a new need. Is what’s new only the tools, and the speed at which knowledge becomes obsolete (a shorter “half-life”)? Still, I’m fascinated and intend to learn more!

I enjoyed the additional resources I found: a blog by David Cormier, and another blog by Paul Stacy, in particular, his blog on The Pedagogy of MOOCs. I particularly appreciated Stacy’s explanations of xMOOCs and cMOOCs. It helped me to understand my own sense of what I’ve read about courses offered through edX and Coursera – that these are not really connectivist, but are more just traditional courses put onto an online platform. Stacy (2013) points out, “All of these new MOOC’s [edX, Coursera, Udacity] are focused on objectivist and behaviourist methods of teaching and learning. Their pedagogy is based on an assumption that when there are tens of thousands of learners social learning isn’t feasible. So instead of interaction with a person these MOOC’s focus on replacing the human social component of learning with a kind of artificial intelligence interaction with the platform. Coursera holds this up as good practice by noting, ‘Even within our videos, there are multiple opportunities for interactions: the video frequently stops, and students are asked to answer a simple question to test whether they are tracking the material.’ Designing MOOC pedagogies based on what some are calling robot marking jeopardizes quality, learning outcomes, and ignores best practices in online learning.”

Tweeting was fun! I had never done it before. I found myself tweeting about resources rather than ideas or content, given the character limit. One of my colleagues (Oh Gauche!) did tweet very concise little snapshots of Connectivist ideas – very nice! I’ll have to learn how to do that. I was excited about following David Cormier’s tweets and was quickly disappointed! As our instructor pointed out, he often tweets about his kids or food. Since subscribing to his tweets I’ve gotten one about pastries his wife made (with photo), one about a course he’s starting (more on point), one about buying a “corded phone” for his home (uh, yeah, some of us grew up with those), and today, “Nothing says Christmas like camo-santa” with photo attached. Seriously? I don’t think I’ll subscribe for much longer… So far, tweeting seems like a “surface” activity to me, perhaps best for sharing and promoting resources and nodes.

Thanks to our instructor for a great Connectivist week!