Archive for October, 2005

The Joys of Shallow Thinking…

Wednesday, October 26th, 2005

I subscribe to several hundred blogs with Bloglines. Most days, this results in several hundred feeds to read. I also subscribe to a series of listservs – some generating a large amount of daily posts, others only periodic posts. To further convolute my information sources, I also subscribe to many newsletters. I imagine my information consumption habits are not that unique. In the end, I encounter hundreds (if not thousands) of different sources of information each day.

I’m fascinated by how we have changed our relationship with information (and still kept the sense of expectation we apply to how we used to handle information). When I first started with this whole “online thing”, getting 5 emails a day was considered busy. Now, it’s several hundred. In order to function with the increased volume, I (like everyone else) have had to reduce the amount of time I spend with each email, so that I’m able to process all of the information. This reality is exacerbated by webfeeds and aggregators.

What happens when we change how we interact with information? We “ramp up” our processing habits. Instead of reading, we skim. Instead of exploring and responding to each item, we try and link it to existing understanding. We move (in regards to most information we encounter) from specific to general thinking…from deep to shallow thinking. Shallow thinking, in this sense, isn’t as negative as its connotations. Shallow thinking (perhaps I need a better phrase) involves exploring many different sources of information without focusing too heavily on one source. Aggregating at this level helps us to stay informed across broad disciplines. So much of education intends to provide “deep learning”. Often, however, “shallow learning is desired” (i.e. we want to know of a concept, but we don’t have time or interest to explore it deeply). All we need at this stage is simply the understanding (awareness?) that it exists. Often, learning is simply about opening a door…

As an example, today while skimming my Bloglines feeds, I formed a general awareness of lawsuits against Apple, developments with Google Base, blood tests for determining anxiety, etc. I’ve grown in my skills at rapid reading and aggregating information. I’ve also learned to quickly recognize information that is important for deeper exploration. The bulk of this work still happens in my head, but I’m encountering more software tools that assist the process. I don’t think it’s too ambitious to say that we are still very much at the beginning of a new era of learning – one defined by confusion in the abundance of information…and the accelerated need fro determining which information is valuable, and how the pieces fit together.

Connectivism and web 2.0

Friday, October 21st, 2005

I delivered a presentation at University of Manitoba yesterday on Connectivism and Web 2.0. I’ve recorded the audio in Articulate…feedback, criticism, reactions, etc. are appreciated.

Connections vs. Content

Tuesday, October 11th, 2005

I’ve been playing around with podcasting…and expect to make it a fairly regular habit. (If you would like to subscribe via RSS, or if you use a podcast aggregator, here’s the channel.)

I’ve recorded a fairly short podcast (5 minutes) on Connections vs. Content. Let me know if podcasts are of interest to you (i.e. do you actually listen to them).

Intent of Content

Wednesday, October 5th, 2005

In response to a recent post, corrie raised some questions about the value of connections: ” But connections connect things-of-value. Without those things, the connections are useless.”

Stephen Downes replied, stating “But what we remember, what is significant, is the relation between the things. Why? Because our perception of the thing changes. We see it in different light, from different angles, in different contexts.” Essentially stating that content changes. If we are connected to content – we will continue to grow and learn…as a result, the connection is the point of value.

This discussion opens a question that was re-enforced while attending the Beyond Boundaries conference today. The keynote presenter mentioned developments in online education – MIT OCW, connexions etc. The focus was heavily on the content aspect of education. I’m not ant-content. A learning network consists of nodes (content) and links (connections). The network is useless without both.

In the history of human knowledge we have generally favored content – because creating connections was high-cost (1 instructor 30 students). Content was much easier – scrolls, books (go printing press), libraries, etc. Time and space, however, limited the capacity of (and opportunity for) connection forming. Essentially, the content/connections debate is lopsided. Our perception of content is too prominent in the learning process. In fact, when most people talk learning, they think of content – book, course, program, audio, and video.

The internet and it’s child – elearning – changes that. Suddenly connections are possible. With anyone. Almost anytime. Developing collaborative technologies are continuing to extend our potential to connect to content and people. But in the process, it also alters content. Content development pace increases. What is the impact? We need to continually reference back to content, due to rapid changes. But this is a big challenge – our tools and approaches aren’t very friendly towards quickly changing content – we still have to “go to” a website to see if it has changed. RSS changes that…and many newer “web 2.0″ tools fill out the connection-based landscape. Essentially, learning networks are correcting the existing deficiency of connections (in relation to content). In part, connections need to take a prominent role – because connections permit the formation of new content (i.e. content is sub-servant to connections).

With that stated, what then is the value of content? Or connections? At best, they should lead learners to reflection and interaction. Learning is not content consumption. Learning happens during some process of interaction and reflection. Content, then, can be a lead into learning…or it can be a by-product of the learning process. In the end, in our world today, we MUST focus on creating connections first (when I speak to learning designers, the first focus in design (after profiling learners) is to seek or create content. Why? What about content makes people think that it’s learning (or even the start of learning)?).

Connections, on the other hand, are a more direct lead into learning, simply because connections are more vibrant than content. By this, I mean that connections are more social and action-oriented than content. Blogs are a great example. When I read Stephen’s, Maish’s or Will’s blog…I take their content…reflect on it, and incorporate it into my own thinking and blogging. While I value their content, the greatest value is the RSS feeds that connect me to their content (or in Stephen’s case – his daily email as well).

Transfer this thinking to corporate environments, what’s more important – what is currently known (existing content/knowledge) or our capacity to continue to know more (connections)? Social, collaborative tools – blogs, wikis, groupware, listervs, live/online meetings, mindmaps – all provide individuals with the capacity to continue to know more. Connection-forming tools will always create content, but their value lies in our ability to reflect on, dialogue about, and internalize content in order to learn. Put another way, content is knowledge frozen at a certain time (i.e. a magazine article), whereas a connection is a pipeline to continue to flow new knowledge.

Content to Connection

Monday, October 3rd, 2005

I’m beginning to encounter more articles, concepts, thinkers who see a world similar to the one I see. Connections, connections, connections. For educators, a networked world – versus a world of silos – creates, as Will Richardson states, a very different world. How we design content, how we organize courses, how we engage learners…it all changes.

A few resources exploring similar themes:

Dave Pollard explores “next generation KM” and arrives at the same conclusion I have with connectivism: the move from collection (courses) to connection (networks).

David Weinberger also sees the value of connections: “We don’t need perfect knowledge in an age of knowledge abundance. We just need pretty good knowledge, and that’s something we don’t need perfect gatekeepers for. To the gatekeepers what looks like chaos and the degradation of learning to Netizens looks like an exponential increase in intelligence…Links, not containers: A page is what it points to.”

It’s the relationship: “All KM-enlightened people know that it’s not about document management, but few understand that it’s not about people either. What it’s about is social relationships. Good social tools manage feeds and links, not content.”