Let me state the obvious: the real value of blogs and wikis is not the tool itself. It’s what the tool enables. Sadly, many advocates overlook this simple fact.
To continue the over-simplification, it’s the equivalent of viewing a hammer as only a means to hit nails. Obviously that is the task at its most basic. But what does it mean? In the case of the hammer, it means we can build a doghouse, a bookshelf, or a house. Until we look past the task and functionality of a tool – to what the tool enables – we largely miss the beauty of why it’s so useful.
Over the last several years, my most frustrating, repetitive experience, has been talking about blogs (wikis are even worse). Typically, people are stuck on what blogs do, not what they enable. Most common response: “Oh, they’re like an online diary”. Um, ok. But let’s get past that. What do they enable learners to do? They enable learners to connect, to dialogue. “Yeah, but who has the time – who would actually do that? Many of my learners aren’t comfortable posting their thoughts online.” We are all communicators. We’ll communicate when we feel a) we have something to say, b) when we have a tool with which to say it, and c) we have a person(s) with whom to dialogue. I’ve repeated this particularly conversation so often, I feel like Bill Murray in Ground Hog’s Day…apparently I still haven’t perfected the speech – I’m still going through the motions.
My speech on connectivism is just as rough. Here’s how it goes:
Person: That’s an interesting name, what does it mean?
Me: Well, basically, connectivism is an attempt to try and explain how learning happens in a digital era. We are using different tools in a different knowledge climate than existed at the turn of the century when most learning theories were conceived.
Person: So, how does it work?
Me: The concept centers on a person’s ability to create his or her own personal learning network. Rather than learning only through courses, we learn by creating and forming connections to information and people. The sources we select are dynamic. When they change, our whole network gets smarter.
Person: Oh, so it’s like constructivism.
Me (deep, pained breath (I should record this part of the conversation)): Actually, constructivism is based one of three dominant epistemological assumptions stating that knowledge is constructed by the learner (the other two being: 1) objectivism – knowledge is objective and knowable through experience, and 2) pragmatism – knowledge is negotiated through experience and thinking). Rapidly evolving knowledge (such as we encounter today) places too much strain on the learner under these models. Instead we need to offload many tasks onto a network – so that we play the role of an aggregator. We are continually connecting…but we are not always constructing. In this regard, constructivism is quite unlike connectivism (though in fairness, they share some attributes).
Person: What does that mean to courses or education the way it is today?
Me: If implemented, connectivism should change much of how we educate learners – both in public and corporate education. Courses, programs, and knowledge fields are re-shaped to permit learners to form connections based on interest and need.
Person: Hmm…I don’t think that would work. Learners need direction and guidance. It’s too “loosey goosey”.
Me: It appears that way, but the designer includes required competencies in the creation of the learning ecology. Instead of designing courses, we need to design learning environments.
blah, blah, blah. On it goes. We never really get to what connectivism means in a learner climate…we typically stay stuck on what it is…