Archive for February, 2006

Connectivism Taxonomy

Friday, February 24th, 2006

I would really appreciate critical comments (well, feedback in general) on this posting. A taxonomy, as I intend to use it, is basically a classification scheme demarcating the nuances of a process or concept. If I had more time (and discipline!), I imagine instead of a taxonomy, I should create a networked view of how these elements interact. That’s a future task. For now, here is a connectivism taxonomy – a staged view of how learners encounter and explore learning in a networked/ecological manner (the taxonomy begins with the basic and moves to the more complex):

  • Awareness and receptivity – at this level learners acquire basic skills for handling information abundance, have access to resources and tools (internet, blogs, wikis, aggregators)
  • Connection-forming – at this level learners begin to use tools and understanding acquired during level 1 to create and form a personal network. Learners are active in the learning ecology/space in terms of consuming or acquiring new resources and tools. Selection (information filtering) skills are important. Affective/emotive factors play a prominent role in deciding which resources to add to the personal learning network
  • Contribution and involvement – at this level learners are fairly comfortable within their self-created network (though instructors or teachers may continue to guide and direct their access to particularly valuable resources toward intended educational competencies or outcomes). The learner begins to actively contribute to the network/ecology – essentially, becoming a ‘visible node’. The learner’s active contribution and involvement allows other nodes on the network to acknowledge his/her resources,contributions, and ideas – creating reciprocal relationships and shared understandings (or, if wikis or social bookmarking is used, collaboratively-created understanding). The learner should also be capable of choosing the right tool for the right learning task. For example, the learner may opt to take a course, attend a conference, solicit a mentor, or subscribe to blog feeds – all based on what the learner needs to know, do, or believe. Selecting the right element within the learning ecology is valuable in ensuring the efficiency and effectiveness of the learning process.
  • Pattern recognition – at this level the learner is “network aware” and competent. As a dynamic participant in the ecology, the learner has moved from passive content consumption to active contribution. Time in the network has resulted in the learner developing an increased sense of what is happening in the network/ecology as a whole. Having mastered the basics of being a participant, the learner is now capable to recognize emerging patterns and trends. Experience within the network has resulted in the learner understanding the nuances of the space (online or physical). The longer the learner spends in the learning space, the more adept she/he will become at recognizing new patterns or “changing winds” of information and knowledge
  • Meaning-making – at this level the learner is capable of understanding meaning. What do the emerging patterns mean? What do changes and shifts in trends mean? How should the learner, adjust, adapt, and respond? Meaning-making is the foundation of action and reformation of view points, perspectives, and opinions.
  • Praxis – at this level, the learner is actively involved in tweaking, building, and recreating their own learning network. Metacognition (thinking about thinking) plays a prominent role as the learner evaluates which elements in the network serve useful purposes and which elements need to be eliminated. The learner is also focused on active reflection of the shape of the ecology itself. The learner may engage in attempts to transform the ecology beyond his/her own network. Praxis, as a cyclical process of reflection, experimentation, and action, allows the learner to critically evaluate the tools, processes, and elements of an ecology or network.

    Connectivism, as a learning theory, doesn’t need to be confined only to online spaces. I use terms like blogs, wikis, and social bookmarking simply as a means of communicating the value of social online tools. A learner in a physical classroom may well follow a similar process (or taxonomy listed above) of creating their own personal network (though to truly take advantage of the capacity for rapid network-creation or connection-forming, the web is without parallel…the web itself was built on the notion of connection-forming. Learners in a physical space should strive to enrich their own network with online tools and resources). The main intent of network creation is to enable learners to continue to stay current in the face of rapidly developing knowledge. The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe (simply because content changes rapidly). Or, as I’ve stated before, “know where” is more important than “know how” and “know what”.

    Ultimately, whether online, face to face, or blended, the learning environment needs to be democratic and diverse. The instructor can provide guided access to new information (and will probably provide some type of evaluation and assessment against desired outcomes or competencies)…or in a training sense, the employee may have a particular target or competence to achieve, so external guidance (particularly at the awareness, connection levels) is important. A critical concept to keep in mind: the network and ecology must both be dynamic and capable of evolving, adapting, and responding to external change. The praxis level ensures that the personal learning network is relevant and current.

  • Learning: the journey or the desitination?

    Thursday, February 23rd, 2006

    “The good is the enemy of the best” – no idea who said it…but when it comes to learning, it presents a needed perspective. At times, the pursuit of what we seek is actually antagonistic to the real opportunity before us. Education is a great example – what most learners really want is a better job, increased sense of competence, greater understanding of the world, or increased capacity to positively influence society. These I’ll term as “the best”. “The good”, however, arises when we enter courses and programs. Instead of focusing on learning as a fluid, transitive state (a learning hobo :) ), we desire to “know”…to have the right answer…to achieve high grades. We appear to be very uncomfortable with the journey of learning, constantly degrading it to secondary status in relation to the destination of learning.

    Why is not knowing perceived as a stressful state? Can we blame our education system? Have we been taught that “knowing” is more valuable than “attempting to know”? Or that the destination of having learned something (i.e. a degree) is more important than the process or act of learning?

    I’m teaching a series of courses currently that bring this to the forefront in my thinking. Very bright, capable learners, lament uncertainty and ambiguity. As one learner recently stated: “just tell me what I need to know – I don’t want to make the connections myself”. I’m unsure whether the issue is our education system (learners are used to being containers to be filled with knowledge), the mindset of learners themselves (discomfort with the transitory, ambiguous elements of learning), or with my own instructional approach. Regardless of the underlying causes, the expression of the problem centers on learners not valuing chaos, confusion, and uncertainty. The desire for cognitive (or emotional) equilibrium is at odds with the reality of learning today.

    This is not to say that design is not important. I think design is critical to effective learning. The question is “what are we designing?” Are we designing teaching? Or are we trying to design the learning? In a perfect world, we would design the ecology in which learning occurs, and use the teaching process as one in which we move learners toward key, required levels of understanding. The learner, however, would have full control to move well beyond the concepts “taught” (and for that matter, the instructor should also be seen as a learner – active engagement in an ecology results in all elements growing). Learners can still pursue self-selected objectives…but many fields, organizations, and businesses do have certain required levels of achievement, skill, beliefs, and thinking skills. Learning, in organizational contexts, often requires a target. An ecology, as an open, free-range space, can be appropriately designed to move learners toward that target – but it’s important that educators understand that growth will occur far beyond the target (in ways that can’t be predicted – the complexity of learning enables this rich, user-defined experience. In a sense, we can say “you should learn this”…but we aren’t saying “you can’t learn that”. Learning is often more like an open door that leads to new fields of exploration than it is like a bulls eye target).

    Rather than being excited that we can participate in the rich, diverse world of differing perspectives and opinions, we pull back because “we don’t know”. This will develop into a significant problem. How do we teach learners to accept (and dare I say, value) not knowing. I’ve spent many evenings assisting my children with homework – many tears have been shed (on their part, not mine :) ) because they “did not know”. Perhaps it is in our nature to want to banish the uncomfortable feelings with not knowing something. We like clear, black and white, always true answers. Often these answers exist (at least, I think so! Stephen and I had a long discussion recently on objectivity and subjectivity – my view is that what we often describe as subjectivity is simply our interpretation of an objective element – I can have subjective views of gravity (for example, diving off of a diving board versus falling out of a tree)). In many situations the answers don’t exist…or they exist, but the context changes so rapidly that we need to continually evaluate what we know and how it applies to what is happening around us. School should be a safe place that allows a learner to step outside of the destination view of learning and embrace the journey view. It’s ok to not know. It’s heathy to accept confusion as part of the learning process. Often, for myself at least, I learn the most when I’m in the greatest level of confusion. It is at this point that I’m actively trying to create connections between varying viewpoints and perspectives. I’m thinking critically of new information, I’m seeking to build a neural network that represents the physical/conceptual elements I’m encountering…while contrasting those elements with previous experiences and established conceptions.

    I should state as well that I draw a distinction between not knowing and being ignorant. Not knowing, while on a journey, is entirely different from being ignorant and not caring. To not know, yet continue to acquire new understandings and accept ongoing uncertainty, places the learner in an ecology or on a journey. To be ignorant places an individual on the side of the road with no desire to walk the journey. Ultimately, I think we would do a great service to learners in our society if we provided metaphors of learning that encourage experimentation, failure, and ongoing effort. To do less is to raise the good above the best.

    Connectivism: Rethinking Learning

    Thursday, February 16th, 2006

    I’ve posted a copy of a presentation I delivered to IOC yesterday on “rethinking learning”. Comments, as always, are appreciated.