Thursday, October 30, 2008

CCK08 Power to the People

Power is a loaded concept that is hard to pull into focus without consideration from many different perspectives. The concept map below reflects my personal values. Realistically, power does not agreeably conform into each of these tidy categories. It just seemed logical for me to differentiate between individual, group, and network power, as well as perceived and actual power.

Empowerment takes place when an individual accepts or takes power in a situation. Power can be assigned or earned, but empowerment must be accepted. It was helpful to reflect back to the week we spent differentiating between groups and networks as I considered how individuals behave in these environments. Based on some of the components discussed earlier, I see group power taking the form of leadership by a recognized authority. Whereas, network power may be distributed and/or negotiated. It is also more likely to change based on situations or the environment. I think power is more complex in a network. There may be individuals who believe they have power when, in fact, others do not acknowledge it. In other cases, individuals may have power without even recognizing it.

Paul Skidmore offers characteristics of network leadership that helped me consider what it means to wield power in a network for good (rather than evil). Frankly, these are just good leadership principles in general:
  • Lead from outside in
  • Mobilize disparate supplies of energy
  • Foster trust and empower others to act
  • Help people grow out of their comfort zone (my personal favorite)
  • Lead learners, not all-knowers
  • Nurture other leaders
This is great advice for teachers who strive to facilitate students' development of their own personal learning environments.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

CCK08 Connected ID from Grainne Conole

I've really been looking forward to this week's connectivism content. Instructional design is a personal passion and I enjoy pondering design for every new learning challenge or, in the case of connectivism, contemplating a new theory. From my perspective, this is one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching. It's like cracking a case, solving a mystery, or putting together a 5000 piece puzzle. Yet, it's never completely finished. There's always some way to make it better. So, from day one, I've been wondering how to practically create an effective connected learning environment. I'm not sure that connectivism is ready to make the leap from learning theory to learning practice, but I did pick up some valuable principles that apply to social networking for learning.

In New Schemas for Mapping Pedagogies and Technologies, Grainne Conole "reflects on the implications of Web 2.0 for education and offers two new schemas for thinking about harnessing the potential of technologies", focusing specifically on Web 2.0 technologies. The portion of the article that resonated most with me is the pedagogical framework for mapping tools (see concept map above). Conole identifies 3 dimensions that span from information to experience, passive to active learning, and individual to social learning. I immediately recognize that most classroom learning takes place in the upper left corner of the framework. Most of our students individually learn knowledge-level information in a passive manner. ESSENTIAL QUESTION: How do we move our students toward the lower right corner where they can actively experience learning with others?

Conole offers a matrix of principles against the learning characteristics they promote. For example, frequent interactive exercises and feedback promote thinking and reflection, conversation and interaction, as well as evidence and demonstration. Allowing users to build a reputation in the system promotes experience and activity. Conole further identifies personal learning networks as a means for creating a custom learning experiences.

I see personal learning environments as the key to a connectivist approach. Learner freedom to choose connections and navigate the network is crucial. It's what separates a group from a network, structured closed learning environments from open, distributive from distributed. If we put structure around this PLE, it no longer maintains all of the characteristics of an open network. Perhaps we should...
  1. focus our teaching time on effective methods for building a personal learning environment
  2. provide guidance and feedback as our students create this environment
  3. offer support and challenge students to push themselves further, especially when they fail to take ownership of the learning process
  4. share in their successes and provide additional avenues for sharing with others
It appears that Open University's Cloudworks, a social networking tool for sharing learning ideas and designs may provide a repository for networked learning objects. I was only able to visit some areas of the site to get a very high-level feel for what they are trying to accomplish. For now, the site has limited access. However, a few basic design principles are offered that could apply to the design of any social network for learning.
  • Clearly define the social object your service is built around
  • Define the verbs that users perform on the objects so that it is clear what the site is for (how many Web 2.0 tools have you visited with absolutely no clue as to what they do?)
  • Make the objects sharable
  • Turn invitations into gifts (provide motivation for others to participate)
  • Charge publishers, not spectators
The Cloudworks design framework further identifies four design domains:
  • Enabling practice
  • Mimicking reality
  • Building identify
  • Actualizing self
The Cloudworks design principles focus on actually building a social network for learning rather than using existing networks to learn. However, the design domains are useful in both situations.

I'm not sure I have all the components necessary to design an effective social networked learning experience, but I do feel that we're getting closer. I think that the lessons of this week provide some building blocks that will continue to surface as we progress through the course.


CloudWorks. (n.d.). Retrieved Oct. 18, 2008, from

Conole, G. (n.d.). New Schemas for Mapping Pedagogies and Technologies. Retrieved Oct. 19, 2008, from

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

CCK08: I've Had an Ephiphany about emergent learning

I've had an "aha" moment...I've experienced emergent learning!

(Then, again. I could be wrong. It's impossible to predict.)

People tell me that uncertainty comes with age. I have to admit I see less black and white in the world these days and a whole lot more gray. I continually marvel at the human need to simplify extremely complex ideas. We are always looking for that one cause to explain an issue or problem (e.g. cancer, economic collapse, student failure in school, poverty). The reality is that all of these problems are the result of complex systems. Therefore, cause is difficult to determine because it is the result of the interaction of many variables. We have to consider alternative conceptions of causality. In other words, prediction is uncertain, difficult, maybe impossible. (Phelps, 2003) The cause may turn out to be a system in and of itself. For example, cancer in one individual may be the result of a combination of genetic inheritance, exposure to a combination of environmental chemicals, and the complexities of diet. Removal of any one of those variable MAY decrease the risk, but which one? Are they all dependent upon each other? At this point that is impossible to predict.

How can we extend this concept to learning?
Can we even create specific learning objectives within a framework of complexity? (Framework of complexity...Is that an oxymoron?) Phelps points out that real life is not ordered or structured, but I submit that's the reason we humans try so hard to put structure and order around it. Order facilitates our understanding. If we took Phelps' study to the next level, we might find that students learn more from a free, open, complex content environment. But, I wonder if we would also find (as I am experiencing with this course) a motivation to impose our own individual structure around the chaos. So, maybe it's not about a lack of structure, but more about who's imposing the structure. Do we learn from artificially imposed structure conceived by the teacher, or self-imposed structure that meets our unique individual learning needs? How can teachers help students build those individual learning structures? Is that possible or practical?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

CCK08: Groups versus Networks - What's the difference?

This week in Connectivism Stephen Downes and George Siemens differentiate between groups and networks. When I first started to consider connectivism as a learning theory, I had difficulty separating these two ideas. I wondered how connectivism was any different than cooperative learning with technology. A simplistic view, I know. But, playing devil's advocate in my own mind, I couldn't immediately see enough differences to warrant a brand new theory of learning. That changed for me somewhat over the past weeks and more so this week.

A few key concepts associated with groups and networks really clarify the differences.



Connectivism is about networked learning. This doesn't mean that groups won't form within networks. It just means that connective learning in it's most powerful sense has the characteristics on the right side of this concept map. Those characteristics are what differentiates groups from networks and connectivism from other learning theories.

Just one question...
I'm grappling with the notion that networks are like ecosystems. When I think of an ecosystem, I think of critical dependencies whereby the ecosystem fails when one component fails. Yet in a complex network, a node could theoretically disappear without causing major impact to the network. Again, I'm getting caught up in metaphors when I should be thrilled that all of this is starting to make a lot more sense to me.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

CCK08: History of Networked Learning Timeline

Week 4: History of Networked Learning
I chose to create a timeline in place of a concept map for the history of networked learning. It just seemed to make more sense given the historic frame of reference for the week's content.

Of course, this timeline does not include everything. It's a compilation of content from George Siemen's "A Brief History of Networked Learning" and Trebor Scholz' Slideshare of How the Social Web Came to Be.

Be sure to click on the little plus signs at the bottom of the timeline to see all items.

CCK08: What is Connectivism? A position based on 4 weeks in CCK08, an open Connectivism Course

A New Theory of Learning?
The Internet, interactive social gaming, and Web applications designed to facilitate social participation have created a new environment for collaborating and learning. Humans adapt to their environment. “Learning is influenced in fundamental ways by the context in which it takes place” (Bransford et al, 2000, pg. 25). Connectivism seeks to understand learning within this relatively new, technology-enhanced context. “The concept of emergent, connected, and adaptive knowledge provides the epistemological framework for connectivism (Siemens, 2005) as a learning theory. Connectivism posits that knowledge is distributed across networks and the act of learning is largely one of forming a diverse network of connections and recognizing attendant patterns (Siemens, 2006)” (as quoted by Siemens, 2008, pg. 10).

Discussion continues in the scholarly and online blogging community over whether Connectivism is a new theory of learning. To answer that, we have to determine what constitutes a learning theory versus an idea or principle of learning. In Human Learning, Jeanne Ellis Ormrod differentiates between principles and theories. “Theories of learning provide explanations about the underlying mechanisms involved in learning. Whereas principles tell us what factors are important for learning, theories tell us why these factors are important” (Ormrod, 2008, pg. 5-6). Ormrod further identifies 4 advantages of theories. Theories summarize results of many research studies, provide starting points for conducting new research, help make sense of research findings, and ultimately help us design learning environments that facilitate human learning (Ormrod, 2008, p. 7).

Based on these views of learning theory, I submit that Connectivism is in its theoretical infancy. It is built on existing theories of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism (Siemens, 2005). However, Connectivism is differentiated by new requirements for learning that are evolving in the digital information age. We’re in the middle of this evolution. Therefore, more observation and scholarly research studies are required before we can effectively apply this theory to instructional design. These are exciting times. All who are participating in this exploration of Connectivism are directly involved in the process of establishing Connectivism as a valid theory of learning.

Strengths and Weaknesses
The strength of connectivism is in its ability to explore and consider learning in a complex networked environment. There is powerful learning potential in a network where learning can reside outside the individual at the same time providing limitless access to further learning opportunities for each participant.

The weakness of Connectivism as a theory of learning is in practical application. Consider the concepts of chaos and self-organization, chaos, the “connection of everything to everything” (Siemens, 2005) and self organization, “the spontaneous formation of well organized structures, patterns, or behaviors from random initial conditions” (Rocha, 1998, p. 3). We can observe complex connections of everything to everything. We can observe random initial conditions after they occur. Unfortunately, we can’t effectively recreate them. (Unless we have access to large numbers of people to pull together for a common cause as with the 2000 participants in this class.) Therefore, how do we apply this theory of learning to design? Furthermore, how can we help practitioners fully grasp the theory in such a way as to consider the possibility that they won’t be able to control learning in the same way they have in the past. The implications to education must be explored further.

Personal Perspective
Connectivism resonates with my past learning experience in that I’ve come to personally value the power of networked learning. I was an independent, introverted learner throughout my formal education until the last few years of graduate school. I did not like group work primarily because I disliked the dependence on others to get work done. The distribution of work was never well balanced. Someone always ended up with more of the burden and it was often me, not because I was so intelligent, but because I just wanted to get the work done.

It has only been in the past few years, as I have seen the emergence of online networks, that I’ve come to understand the power of connections and collective intelligence. I’ve decided that networked learning doesn’t take place as effectively in a small group setting. Technology provides a means to network with a much larger population. People can contribute at all different levels of participation without adversely impacting others who seek to learn from the network. The larger the number of participators or subnetworks, the less important an individual level of participation becomes. The smaller the network, the more motivation and forced participation come into play. I’m currently involved in a number of 21st Century learning initiatives that require my participation in a Ning. On the one hand, it’s a great way to connect with other members of the group. On the other hand, contributions often seem forced or contrived. I resent (though I understand) the requirement to contribute when I don’t necessarily have anything I feel compelled to add to the conversation.

I believe that the bigger challenge for educators and instructional designers will be to figure out how to tap into or create larger networks for learning. I think that individuals will have to build their own personal learning networks based on unique needs and desires. Educators will become facilitators who help individuals navigate these large networks and organize content in a manner that best meets the learner’s unique needs.

Outstanding Questions
Connectivism is a theory in progress. As I practitioner, I’m continuously tempted to apply the theory to my personal practice. As a researcher, I understand why we’re not quite ready to make those leaps. At the same time, reflecting on possible practical applications helps practitioners grasp the theory. It might also identify areas where further research is needed. Questions I continue to ponder include:
• Is there an optimal size for a learning network?
• Are individual motivation, participation, level of expertise, and level of contribution dependent factors?
• How can teachers make the best use of existing networks and facilitate the organizational challenges for student participation?
• Is it possible to design an effective learning network? Should we even try?
• If Connectivism is a learning theory, we must presume that individuals are learning in this environment. What are the implications for future research and how do we design effective studies to address these implications?
• What are the roles of individuals in a learning network? Are the values of each role different? What is the implication if one or more of these roles are not fulfilled?


Bransford, J. et. al. (2000). How people learn. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Ormrod, J. (2007). Human Learning (5th Edition). Alexandria, VA: Prentice Hall.

Rocha, L. M. (1998). Selected Self-Organization and the Semiotics of Evolutionary Systems. Retrieved October 4, 2008 from

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for a digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1). Retrieved October 4, 2008, from

Siemens, G. (2008). Presented to ITFORUM for discussion on January 27, 2008. Retrieved from October 4, 2008.