Moving beyond self-directed learning: Network-directed learning

We just wrapped up our third offering of the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge Open course: CCK11 (readings, recordings, and archives of the Daily are available on the site).

The course is offered as part of the Certificate in Emerging Technologies for Learning that I developed while at University of Manitoba. Twenty students (the max allowed for the course) enrolled in the for-credit version of CCK11. This means they had assignment requirements including two essays, a concept map, and a final project. The final project has been a requirement of all our previous offerings – and has produced some great resources, including the rather popular Networked Student video by Wendy Drexler – now approaching 100 000 views.

Marking assignments can be rewarding as it requires sustained time and focus. Due to quantity, I usually skim most blog posts and articles posted during a CCK course. Marking, however, requires time and focus, which makes it a good learning experience for me. For example, this presentation – Institutional and/vs Networked Learning – in CCK11 raises an important concern around self-directed learning. Leah makes the statement that the expectations of open courses goes “way beyond self-directed learning”. At first this statement took me back a bit. After all, open courses are require learner autonomy and self-directedness. We want learners to get comfortable with personal wayfinding through complex topics and to utilize tools to splice activity streams in order to fulfill personal learning goals.

After a bit of time thinking about CCK requiring “more than self-directed learning”, it dawned on me that Leah had identified an important distinction. Self-directed learning has a long research and philosophical tradition. Malcolm Knowles figues prominently in discussions, but roots go back to Dewey, and even further, to humanist philosophers.

While connectivism begins with the individual, it stresses the growth of connections and connectedness in learning and knowledge. Self-directed learning explains the attributes of learners who learn at their own pace and interest. Is that sufficient to describe our knowledge needs today? I don’t think so.

When faced with learning in complex environments, what we need is something more like network-directed learning – learning that is shaped, influenced, and directed by how we are connected to others. Instead of sensemaking in isolation, we rely on social, technological, and informational networks to direct our activities.

With MOOCs, we emphasize that early course experiences tend to be overwhelming and chaotic. After all, learners face hundreds of introductions, blogs posts, and reading resources, in addition to dozens of new tools and technologies. As the course progresses, small sub-networks form based on shared interests and goals. Learners also gather in various social spaces that we as facilitators don’t create (Facebook was common in CCK11 as was SecondLife) and in language specific forums – a key requirement with global courses.

To address the information and social complexity of open courses, learners need to be network-directed, not self-directed learners. Social networks serve to filter and amplify important concepts and increase the diversity of views on controversial topics. This transition is far broader than only what we’ve experienced in open courses – the need for netwok-centric learning and knowledge building is foundational in many careers today. For example, the discovery of the corona virus (SARS) was achieved through a global distributed research network. New technologies are increasingly assemblies of innovations that often span millennia – a process that was wonderfully covered by William Rosen in The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention . To be competent, to be creative, to be adaptable, requires that we are connected.

Most importantly network-directed learning is not a “crowd sourcing” concept. Crowd sourcing involves people creating things together. Networks involve connected specialization – namely we are intelligent on our own and we amplify that intelligence when we connect to others. Connectedness – in this light – consists of increasing, not diminishing, the value of the individual.

9 Responses to “Moving beyond self-directed learning: Network-directed learning”

  1. [...] “learners need to be network-directed, not self-directed learners.” George posted [...]

  2. Thanks George for this stimulating post.
    Why can’t learners be self-directed? Self-directed learners could rely on networks to learn, however, they must also need to make their own decisions on learning, based on critical thinking and reflection. In other words, self-directed learners could also be network directed learners. I would argue that both network directed learning and self-directed learning are equally important, in order to learn effectively. This also ensures a balance between networked learning and personal autonomy, so the learner could grow and develop, in a networked learning environment and global learning ecology. Based on Self-determination theory, autonomy, relatedness and competency will be important factors in motivation. Options and choice is important for individuals in networked learning. Professionals could learn and network effectively in networks and teams as they have already possessed the adequate literacy and skills needed, and are motivated to share because that is part of their profession. John

  3. Vincent Jansen says:

    Interesting choice of utilize network-directed rather than self-directed. I do not think that network-directed learning is any more appropriate, referring to increasing the intellectual relevance of the connections as a route to improving knowledge interactions. As these knowledge interactions are strengthened we do gain better wisdom on issues improving our intelligence, yet we still need to incorporate these signals into our learning pattern. However, the word directed appears to place greater significance on our network connections rather than innate motivation to learn. There may be a stronger influence in networking than in our innermost desire to learn and thus has a great impact, thus we could argue that our environment has a great influence on our learning, yet we still have a choice in making those connections. Thus, since choice is such a factor, perhaps a better term may be self-networked learning.

  4. [...] Moving beyond self-directed learning: Network-directed learning « Connectivism: [...]

  5. monika hardy says:

    this all resonates with what Jane McGonigal writes to in Reality is Broken

    her definition of a good game, volunteer, massive multi-player… you can’t do it alone, but it’s your choice.

  6. [...] Das ist ein alter Hut, werden jetzt einige sagen. Lernerfahrungen sind immer sozial und vernetzt, sind “praktisch” (wenn es nicht nur um das Memorieren von Fakten geht), eingebettet in einen sozialen Kontext. Die Frage könnte also lauten: Wie hat sich das vernetzte Lernen unter den Bedingungen und Möglichkeiten von Social Media verändert. George Siemens, Connectivism, 1. Mai 2011 [...]

  7. João Mattar says:

    The depravation of the concept of the autonomy of the adult student has been the founding theory to justify distance learning projects focused on the production of content, instructional design, learners studying alone (that is to say, $), and not focused on mediation, interaction, or collaboration (that is to say, education). The concept of networked-directed learning, as the title of the post indicates, moves beyond this concept of self-directed learning, as we need to move beyond content and instructional design. Besides that, it captures the spirit of learning and working in networks. Another insight to the list, Siemens!