In recent posts (here and here), I discussed the importance of connections over content (i.e. the pipe is more important than what is in the pipe). In a network sense, an element/node (content) that is not connected to a network is unnoticed. As others stated in the comments section of my post, a connection needs content as well. Obviously, content and connections are interdependent. I still maintain, however, that connections should have supremacy in the relationship (which means learning designers need to create ecologies (rather than courses) where rich connections can occur).
Connections have greatest value when they generate a certain type of content for the learner. It’s not content in general that learners want. They want content that is current, relevant, and contextually appropriate. Connections are the devices that enable this to occur. Consider an employee who is working on site and needs to access a product manual (current, relevant). The contextually appropriate format (cell phone, laptop, PDA) makes the content more useful. Contrast this with traditional learning. A textbook (or classroom) rarely meets the criteria of current/relevant/contextually appropriate. Classrooms teach in advance of need (which is useful in forming mindsets, but not too effective for skill transfer), and textbooks present content in a static “point in time” manner. Neither are accessible at the point of need.
Put another way (slight paraphrasing of a conversation I had with Stephen Downes) – content and connections serve interoperable roles – content can become a connection, a connection can become content. The real challenge that concerns educators is how to assist learners in creating a network that will ensure their continued learning and growth.
Will Richardson has introduced the concept of connective writing (”…it’s a type of writing that is inspired by reading and is therefore a response to an idea or a set of ideas or conversations. It is writing that synthesizes those ideas and remixes them in some way to make them our own and is published to potentially wide audiences.”). The notion that our writing/literacy skills are driven by a need for dialogue and conversation is the heart of connective writing (and providing content that is relevant, current, and contextually appropriate).
It’s also worth considering what happens when we create connections between content – we create a network or aggregation of different ideas…which adds meaning (pattern recognition) to the individual voices. Connections change content. Content is imbued with new meaning when situated in a network (or is it more accurate to say that the network acquires new meaning when new content is added? – either perspective validates the importance of creating connections over content). When the network is sufficiently large to account for diverse perspectives, it achieves a certain level of meaning that is reflective of the combined force of individual elements.
Perhaps my view of the situation is simplistic: I can’t shake the idea that our relationship to content has to change when content creation accelerates. We can no longer consume all relevant content items. The capacity to stay current is more important than any individual content element.
Currency of information is the function of a network – and educators need to teach the skills on network-making. The network, in a sense, becomes a separate cognitive element – it processes, filters, evaluates, and validates new information. If content has a short lifespan (as new information is acquired), then it would logically extend that our education system should not be about content in particular – it should specifically be about current content. And current content is a function of a connectivist approach to learning, where we create networks of information and knowledge to assist in replacing outdating content with current content. We off-load many cognitive capabilities onto the network (so that our focus as learners shifts from information processing to pattern recognition).
Update: Just read this statement: “People don’t want a network, but they DEMAND the benefits a great network delivers.” While this statement applies to cell phones, I think it translates very nicely to learning. We don’t build a network (or content) for no reason. We build it to get the results/benefits a good learning networks offers.