Monday, November 17, 2008

CCK08-Connectivism, Disruptive Innovation, and the Long Tail

Paper #3
In this reflection, I offer a personal perspective on connectivism concepts addressed in the past ten weeks. Three major components drove my learning experience. Instructors, George Siemens and Stephen Downes provided a solid foundation of theory and concepts. Colleagues in the course and those who have blogged in the past brought unique perspectives to the content. My personal journey through blogs, online video presentations, podcasts, synchronous meetings, various articles and relationships with colleagues and students further constructed my connective knowledge.

As a result, I see opportunities for education, especially in helping students build personal learning networks that will serve them in all learning endeavors. While the connectivism that George and Stephen envision is often spontaneous and self-directed, I believe students can initially benefit from a more organized approach. Once the foundation is built, independent learning will thrive.

The challenge lies in making this possible for all students, from elementary through higher education. New technologies with connective network potential are released on a near daily basis. Yet, few teachers take advantage of the most basic benefits of network technology such as Internet search and research strategies.

Why is it so difficult to change the practice of education?
I recently listened to the 21st Century Learning Podcast, Dr. Scott McLeod on Disruptive Innovation and the future of K12 Education. Scott compares schools to the corporations in Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma (1997). Christensen’s basic premise is that “time and time again almost all the organizations that have ‘died’ or been displaced from their industries (because of a new paradigm of customer offering) could see the disruption coming, but did nothing until it was too late” (12 Manage, 2008, pg. 1). Basically, corporations are not able to handle disruptive innovation from within. Such innovation is only possible through completely new business models or off-shoots of the business with autonomous management. The sober implication for schools is that existing systems are so entrenched in bureaucracies of current practice that they are not likely to change. Those of us who are trying to innovate from within are basically banging our heads against the wall. On the other hand, online, connected learning may provide opportunities to disengage from the institution of school as we know it.

What kinds of opportunities can we embrace if we are able to make fundamental and systemic changes?

We must rethink school, structure, and power. School is not necessarily textbooks, and standardized testing. It doesn’t have to be a brick building, six or seven periods a day, and desks in rows. Teachers do not have to control the learning process. If we empower the learner and provide him or her with the resources necessary to embark on effective connective journeys, we’ll have a vehicle for innovation.

What can we learn from voices of resistance?
Resistance is good. Any new theory, or idea for that matter, needs vetting to fully develop and improve. Open-minded skepticism is healthy because it encourages creativity. There will be those who never change. However, our response to their arguments adds to the foundation on which we build a solid learning network. Learning may look different in a connective environment, but some traditional learning principles may be valid in certain circumstances. Resistance will help us evaluate those pedagogies and how they apply.

I see our current world of weak ties and easy connections as the long tail of learning. John Seeley Brown suggests, “the challenge of 21st century education will be leveraging the abundant resources of the web – this very long tail of interests – into a “circle of knowledge-building and sharing” (Brown, 2007). Success will depend on our ability to change our role from all-knowing teacher to network learning guide.

Brown, J. (2007, January 30). MIT World » : Relearning Learning-Applying the Long Tail to Learning. Retrieved November 17, 2008, from

Christensen, C. (1997). Innovator's Dilemma: Introduction: (Why Companies Need to Understand and Manage the Forces of Disruptive Innovation). New York: Harvard Business School Press.

Christensen, C. (2008, November 8). Disruptive Innovation (Christensen). Retrieved November 17, 2008, from

Ragone, A. (2008, November 14). 21st Century Learning #84: Dr. Scott McLeod on Disruptive Innovation and the Future of K12 Education | EdTechTalk. Retrieved November 17, 2008, from


arieliondotcom said...

Hi Wendy

I really enjoyed this post. Is this your paper #3 for the CCK08 course? It seemed like a perfect fit to me but I didn't see that so wasn't sure. I enjoyed it either way maybe because it is an example of what I referred to in my paper (Fleeing the Planet of Past Pedagogirs) of Connectivism being made real to me because of my connections to folks like you who have the connections to theorists I don't and my learning of/from them through you Thanks.

Keith Lyons said...


I enjoyed reading this post very much. I think you juxtapose personal practice and educational change clearly.

I sense that CCK08 has linked a number of early adopters and that our practice will develop as a result of this. I feel I have some signposts to share with teachers and learners now that can support PLE/PLN possibilities. Your post will become part of the map.

Thank you.


Scott McLeod said...

"Those of us who are trying to innovate from within are basically banging our heads against the wall."

If Christenson is correct (and I suspect he is), that's what's so scary (exciting?) about all of this. We're talking about replacing school as we know it. I'm finding it hard to wrap my brain around that concept...

site said...

Here, I do not actually think this is likely to have success.