The Network is the Learning

Learning is usually viewed as something that happens to a person. A person learns how to solve a physics problem, how to skate, or how to communicate. The assumption is that we are fairly autonomous beings, and that we can acquire within ourselves what we need to know to do the things we want to do. This model works well in areas where one can know everything within a field of knowledge. The model breaks apart as complexity and abundance of knowledge increases. For many, this is a very real problem today. It feels that we simply can’t stay on top of our own fields. Forget trying to stay aware of occurrences in other fields. How do we learn in such an environment? Abundance=dysfunctionality in a silo learning model. “Superman’s Learning Theory” – the notion that I can know in myself what I need to know – is obsolete today.

Why? Designing elearning is a simple example. No one person can be subject matter expert, instructional designer, media specialist, and graphic designer. It takes a combination of specialized skills (connected specialization). Take that concept to more complex fields like medicine, astronomy, physics, or launching a space shuttle. It immediately becomes obvious that we need to create a network to hold the points of knowledge. The network is the learning. The aggregation of network nodes is the learning structure. If any critical nodes are removed from a learning network, the entire organism loses effectiveness. Learning is evolutionary. Learning is not an event or end goal. Learning is a process. Our personal network is continually being augmented and enhanced by new nodes and connections.

I’m very confident that this is the model that we need to use for successful learning in today’s environment. We can’t stand alone on our own knowledge. We have to aggregate with other nodes (people, content, knowledge) in order to meet the challenges of a complex information climate. Unfortunately, education (K-12, higher and corporate) are built on the model that we can fit what is important into one person’s head. The network becomes valuable once we combine and connect separate nodes of knowledge.

One of the original points I assigned to connectivism was that “learning exists in diversity of opinions”. The ability to formulate a network that provides diverse assessments of a problem (with potential solutions) requires multiplicity. A network can have seemingly contradictory points of information (something that is false today may be true tomorrow as the underlying foundations change). Exploring diverse opinions enables greater likelihood of making healthy decisions. Who knows, perhaps conservatives and liberals can recognize points of value in each other…:).

One Response to “The Network is the Learning”

  1. My friend Brian Alger just pointed out an interesting book from Derrick De Kerckhove on the topic of intelligent networks:
    Connected Intelligence: The Arrival of Web Society
    Out of print, but looks like an interesting read…