Connectivism Whitepaper

I recently posted a whitepaper on elearnspace that I was requested to present for Google 2006 Training Summit. The paper is titled: Learning in Synch with Life: New Models, New Processes (.pdf).

I have received valuable feedback from individuals on the listserv as well as other bloggers.

Mark Berthelemy comments that the “implementation is probably going to be the most important – but also needs the most work.” Stephen Downes suggests that: “the last section of the paper (’Implementation’) could have been dropped with no loss.” (I had a nice follow up email with Stephen last night where I lamented the fact that posting documents online results in weaknesses of thinking being exposed quickly :) ).Karyn Romeis comments: “So now we know what we should be doing, we know why we should be doing it, we know when we should be doing it (now). The next step is the how. How are we going to persuade (s)he-who-signs-the-cheque to let us get on and do it?”

In response to Stephen’s comment, Mark (Berthelemy?) hits the key point: “I’m afraid I disagree with your comment that the Implementation section could have been dropped. Yes, it’s the weakest part of the paper. But, now that the theory has been worked on over the last couple of years, we really need to get down to thinking about how it’s worked out in practice. How do we encourage organisations (and I’m thinking in a work context) to enable a good environment for individuals to learn and connect, and not just develop learning programmes?”

I’ve spent the last year talking connectivism (and really stating and restating the basic premise in different ways…Will captures my main message nicely: “knowledge resides in the network, and that to be truly educated these days, we need to know how to leverage that knowledge when we need it. And that we all get smarter as we link to one another and become a part of the conversations that are going on.”).

I’ve moved slowly toward implementation (I’ve suggested the use of an ecology to account for various diverse elements of the learning process), and I’ve been involved in discussions and consulting arrangements with a variety of organizations. As Karyn mentioned in her post, we know the nature of the change, we know what needs to be done…but we don’t know the “how”.

In a private email, an individual asked me how I communicate the need to change to organizations. In response, I stated that the need to change is already understood. We see the changes reflected in TV, newspapers, MySpace, iTunes, etc. Information is flowing through different channels than in the past. NBC (among others) is relying on iTunes to sell TV programs…Al Gore is distributing his documentary on global warming through MySpace. It’s a changed world. We sense it, we know it, and we can feel it. Convincing others that we need to change learning is not really our task – media and life are doing that for us.

I attended a presented at EDUCAUSE by Mathew Szulik (CEO, Redhat) and he made a statement that should cause educators to pause and think: When we get your students, we have to re-educate them in our own university in order to prepare them for the work they need to do. Most importantly, he wasn’t talking only about job skills (which is only one objective of education). He was talking about learners understanding of global issues, collaboration, other cultures, etc. Simply put, we are not graduating learners capable of functioning in today’s business and information climate (and, by extension, today’s social concerns – i.e. creating “good” citizens).

Creating a compelling vision of the nature of that change is the key task. How do we implement new models of learning? Jay Cross tackles things from a stance of informal learning, Stephen Downes approaches it (partly) from the concept of elearning 2.0, and I approach it from connectivism. We are generally all saying similar things. But how will we move to implementation? How will we transform our learning spaces and structures? What needs to change with our technology? I’ll spend time over the next few months trying to dig deeper with the implementation concerns and opportunities. A sense of inevitability exists about these changes…the way out from our current position, however, is still largely undefined. I would love suggestions or comments relating to steps and directions required for implementation…

7 Responses to “Connectivism Whitepaper”

  1. Meryn Stol says:

    I just (re)discovered your blog. Great stuff!
    So there is a vision, and possibly a clear – although very abstract – endpoint in sight: an optimal learning environment (this includes all knowledge). The optimal environment is unknown, so need to be learned. For some part this can be done by deduction, but a large part will come from experimentations. The results of experiments will be shared. This newly created knowledge is added to the environment, which results in a nice positive feedback loop.
    But there’s one thing that’s missing: execution. The environemnt only gives a person a chance to load a program, but he has to execute it himself. Lucky for us, there isn’t a shortage of literature on execution. It’s the field of management, leadership and even self-help.
    For me, the vision is a program. It’s source code. But programs only gain their value from execution. Endlessly tweaking code without anyone running the programis pointless.
    There need to be a balance between vision refinement and execution. I think you could say we need to educate ourselves to be executors, leaders, or however you may call it.
    Take a look at “Leading Change” by John P. Kotter. There’s a nice summary on the amazon site. We’re probably at step 5, but we may have skipped some.
    We’re standing on the shoulders of giants.

  2. Meryn says:

    It’s very important to provide tangible benefits to someone adopting a certain recommendation. Will it make their life easier? Will it make them happy because they see improved behaviour of their students?
    We need to discover the parts of the grand vision that are most easily to adopt right now. Documentation is very important for this also. It’s a form of education, really.
    There should be a wiki explaining “the 10 easiest ways to improve your life as a teacher right now”.

  3. Hi George,
    Yes, it was me commenting on Stephen’s blog…
    I’m not sure I agree with your statement that “the need to change is already understood”. I’m still finding that I get totally blank looks when I talk to people about this stuff in the context of learning. Yes, there’s a bit of a buzz around MySpace, blogs, wikipedia etc. But I don’t see people putting it together and saying that they need to change the way we do learning. The history of the past couple of hundred years is too ingrained in the educational/training psyche to change.
    The problem I find is that you only start to understand connectivism, elearning 2.0, informal learning etc, when you start “doing” it, and getting involved in the network. Where do you start to explain it to someone for who it is all new.

  4. Hey George,
    I think I’d tend to agree with Mark in that while I think there is a vague sense that things are changing “out there”, among the K-12 educators that I work at least there is very little movement to initiate any change inside the walls of the classroom. And I’d also agree that the only way you really get this is to start using it. I’m going to be addressing 50 superintendents on Thursday…this may become a part of what I say to them.

  5. dmydlack says:

    I wonder if there might be somthing to gain by re-examining the Sudbury model of schooling. I released a full-length documentary on this earlier this year. A ten-minute trailer is viewable from a link on my site:

  6. karyn_romeis says:

    Sorry if this is a duplication – I already tried to post a comment and lost the connection as it was uploading.
    I reckon, in the UK at least, Mark and Will are on the money.
    Currently on my Master’s degree course are about 22 other people, most of them teachers across the full gamut of K-12, with a few FE and HE bods thrown in for good measure. We have only attended 3 sessions to date, so I have yet to chat to everyone, but those to whom I have spoken tend not to have engaged with social/collaborative learning tools. One response I got recently when trying to highlight the benefits of teacher blogs was a rather dismissive, “What if we can’t be bothered with all that online stuff? We have enough to deal with here in the real world.” None of the people I had spoken to seemed even remotely motivated to engage. In fact, when I mentioned having googled a paper we were critiquing, a woman at the table behind me positively spluttered at the notion.
    By contrast, the course leader recognises that this is the way forward, and declared that learner-directed learning should be the norm at university level. She is very keen to learn as much from me as she can, which is very humbling, since I am just a minnow in the vast blogging ocean.
    Last week, we seemed to reach a turning point. I offered to create a jargon-busters’ wiki for us to build together as we go along. The course leader was keen, which I expected, but what surprised me was the positive reaction from my classmates. I live in hope… Blogs next?