This post is a summary based on the experiences with and thinking on Connectivism. George Siemen’s wonderful presentation provides a coherent introduction to the challenges of learning design for a connective learning environment. This post builds on this presentation’s (and in fact the course’s) ideas and attempts to draw out impacts on other roles as well.

The principles

Connectivism is a new theory of learning that embraces and extends the following principles:

  • Learning is the process of making new connections
  • Connections are a primary point of focus and could be to people or devices
  • Connections expose patterns of information and knowledge that we use (recognize, adapt to) to further our learning
  • Networked learning occurs at neural, conceptual and social levels
  • Types of connections define certain types of learning
  • Strength and nature of connections define how we learn
  • Networks are differentiated from Groups (by factors such as openness, autonomy, diversity, leadership and nature of knowledge)
  • Knowledge is the network, learning is to be in a certain state of connectedness
  • All knowledge is associative in nature and resides across our connections
  • Chaos, complexity theory, theories of self-organization and developments in neurosciences are all extremely important contributors for us to understand how we learn in a volatile, constantly evolving landscape

Connectivism is very different from existing theories of Behaviorism, Cognitivism and Constructivism and is more readily and effectively applied to today’s learners and their needs. Learning 2.0 as a style or connectivism as a theory is diametrically opposed to the traditional 1.0 styles of learning or the prior learning theories. Every aspect, whether it be setting goals for learning, providing content, organizing learning groups, measuring & tracking progress and managing schedule constraints, needs to be re-evaluated for it’s equivalent in the 2.0 connective world.

Impact on Instructional Design

ID has evolved under the influence of traditional theories, but needs reinterpretation in the context of the new theory of connectivism. Contextualization, sequence of content and interaction complexity are typical factors in design, however there are several new factors that need to be concerned.

  • Ecology or learnscapes (Jay Cross) – engendering connections through creation of learning architectures or landscapes is a new key factor
  • Being able to create capacity in learners to adapt as situations and circumstances change is a new key factor in a fast changing world
  • Three key skills for a learner are:
    • Patterning – learning is pattern recognition and adaptation
    • Wayfinding – is a key skill in an overwhelming abundant information climate
    • Sensemaking- making sense or arriving at a framework to make sense of patterns and knowledge
  • Currency of learning is another key factor because of the fast moving nature of knowledge. It is not sufficient to just take a course, we need to learn continuously
  • Learning is not deterministic and linear. There is chaos and complexity in learning
    • Chaos theory tells us that learning is sensitive to initial conditions that can have a dramatic influence on the final outcome and that there is a degree of hidden order/structure within the chaos of learning
    • Complexity theory suggests that multiple complex interacting elements result in particular outcomes. Outcomes are not something we draw out on a piece of paper. There are too many variables in the learning experience itself.
  • Challenge for educators and instructional designer is now to achieve particular outcomes through distributed approaches (as opposed to the challenge to achieve distribution within traditional modes)
  • We need new metaphors for educators and instructional designers – curator, master artist, weaver, network administrator are possible metaphors
  • All in all, learning ecologies in a connectivist world shall be based on facets such collaboration and networking tools, learning formations, social learning network analysis.

Impact on Visual Design

Not much has been said about the impact of Connective learning on visual design. How will visualization be applied, not only for appeal and engagement but also for exposition of ideas? There are new factors that need to be addressed in visual design.

  • Usability – if one looks at usability from a content explosion point of view, tool designers are now confronted with the really difficult challenge for reducing the  time taken to read,  user attention to key ideas,  recall and structure (read pattern) among other factors. People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences.(Anon. Reading on the Web (Alertbox). http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9710a.html, Last accessed, October 25, 2008)
  • Graphics design is also impacted. As the processing power of computers grows, the personal computers are no more regarded as devices to be programmed but rather as a bunch of applications to manipulate media. In this new setting, visual languages play a fundamental role, providing interactive or even proactive elements to manipulate not the computer but the applications….Its design is no more only a question of graphical representation of formalisms and inferences but it also requires the definition of direct manipulation and dynamic interaction processes.(Formative Interfaces for Scaffolding Self-Regulated Learning in PLEs, Mustafa Ali Türker and Stefan Zingel, 2008, http://www.elearningeuropa.info/files/media/media15975.pdf )
  • Human Computer Interface (HCI) design and the impact of connectivism, chaos, complexity, self regulated learning, information overload, patterning, wayfinding and sensemaking on user interfaces, in particular personal learning environments. Earlier cognitive science- based theories could not adequately address issues that were cropping up related to better understanding of work context, levels of expertise, role of the artifact and focus on individual user in an increasingly workspace characterized by co-operative work among many people. These shortcomings made the HCI community look outside of cognitive science based HCI for a framework that could address these issues and also offer concrete conceptual tools that could be used in designing better work practices using computers. (Activity Theory : Sam Rajkumar. Retrieved October 25, 2008, from http://mcs.open.ac.uk/yr258/act_theory/)
  • Programmable patterns depicted visually or as networked data structures, in my opinion, are going to be very important. Consider the effort being made by Garito – Mind map as programming languageVisual Think Map (Retrieved October 25, 2008, from http://visualthinkmap.ning.com/forum/topic/show?id=2168552%3ATopic%3A1053), where he is trying to develop a programming language based on mindmaps.
  • How do we design graphical representations or navigation frameworks that are easy to share, extend, and adapt to by learners who, in essence, recognize patterns? Visualization is a great and necessary tool not just at the level of the individual learner, but also from the perspective of networks themselves. For example, networks may publish (or from networks, we may extract) visual/programmable knowledge maps given approaches such as strict faceted classification (Retrieved October 25, 2008, from http://www.facetmap.com/pub/strict_faceted_classification.pdf)
  • How can creation of these become as easy as writing a blog post at the level of the individual contributor? Graphical Media has been always difficult to create and represents a major cost point for learning developers (the stakes get higher in 3D immersive worlds). This goes beyond tool makers providing templates for drag and drop, for example – in fact those are too simplistic, even if they are available freely and inadequate for more creative visualization. We could look at approaches such as WordsEye – …for a short text such as: John said that the cat was on the table. The animal was next to a bowl of apples, WordsEye would construct a picture of a human character with a cartoon speech bubble coming out of its mouth. In that speech bubble would be a picture of a cat on a table with a bowl of apples next to it. (Retrieved October 25, 2008, from http://www.semanticlight.com/docs/wordseye_siggraph.pdf)

Impact on the Subject Matter Experts

The subject matter expert (SME) has typically not been known to be the best instructional designer or educator (and vice versa). In a connective world, the role may perhaps require a host of different things.

  • The expertise to be able to create patterns or guide to patterns (of knowledge) for differing states of learner networks. The thought is that experts are also learners. They would, I assume, natively teach in much the same way as they would learn (and thus, be connected). If they could publish successive pattern adaptations (viz. their incremental learning), these could be useful for a learner who learns (or is connected) in a similar manner.
  • An interesting article around Twitter behavior by Jared Stein notes – They need to watch and observe the experts as they work….examples suggest that there is some real learning potential for the cognitive apprentice in following experts or even colleagues on Twitter. (Twitter as a Tool of Cognitive Apprenticeship? | Flexknowlogy – Jared Stein on Education and Technology. Retrieved October 25, 2008, from http://flexknowlogy.learningfield.org/2007/12/21/twitter-as-a-tool-of-cognitive-apprenticeship/)
  • Ability to negotiate collaboration tools and ecologies can be another major impact. Networks may provide potentially a source of great satisfaction for the SME and will definitely serve as a great way of not only staying current, but also of being able to measure/evaluate expertise in the community/learning formation/organization.
  • I believe that one of the greatest impacts on exposing their own learning to a community will be due to the increased ability to self-organize using tools and to be able to share that in real-time. I think that some ordering mechanism, such as FacetMaps would be useful. …Facetmapping is also good when you want to organize your resources in different ways for different users. For example, you could map all the books in a bookstore to various facets, then build special-interest websites that access the dataset of books (FacetMap Wine Demo – Faceted Classification Demo. Retrieved October 25, 2008, from http://www.facetmap.com/browse/?v=selection2tags.xsl&n=5&s=220700000013). Facets, however, are different. Abe says that facets tend to be more loosely defined and that they tend to represent human attempts to make sense out of the world. “Genre” would be a facet of literature, for example. (Learning, Doing, Selling: 2006 IA Summit Wrapup: Monday – Boxes and Arrows: The design behind the design Retrieved October 25, 2008, from http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/learning_doing_selling_2006_ia_summit_wrapup_monday.)
  • I also intuitively feel that at some point, knowledge, networked as it is, could be seen as a really large, AI based object oriented relational database management system. That’s a mouthful and speculative, but this is best left for an individual post.

Impact on Learning Solution designers/consultants

People who design learning solutions shall also be impacted in many ways. These could include:

  • Belief that content, context and connections should form the fabric of the new learning experience
  • Web 2.0 and evolving technologies provide the technical infrastructure for collaboration, information negotiation and connection making (for example, use of Blogs, Wikis, RSS, Podcasts)
  • Organizations need to rethink the roles of learning managers, instructional designers, experts and learners as well as curricula and content
  • New forms of collaboration and sense making need to be utilized. Some are:
    • Communities of Practice
    • Concept Maps
    • Journaling and collaborative content creation
  • Structure solutions very differently as compared to traditional modes and technology such as LMS (LMS + Web 2.0 does not equal Learning 2.0)
  • Analyze and design a set of formalized methodologies around Learning 2.0 in the organization
  • Analyze if and how existing training goals, content, learning processes and learning infrastructure can be adapted to suit the new approaches
  • Create learning networks for both learning and performance support that combines social networking, tools, community ratings, learning and structured teaching
  • Perhaps organize around specific areas of focus or communities of practice such as a technical domain
  • Place a special focus on defining the process of creating, initiating, managing, mentoring and monitoring the progress of each type of learning network
  • Provide employees with Personal Learning Environments, or a set of tools that allow learners and teachers to collect information and knowledge and collaborate with others
    Integrate collaborative features or collaborative learning designs within traditionally available content (may require repurposing of existing content to suit the new 2.0 style)

Impact on Learning Managers

The key challenges that may be encountered by Learning Managers are:

  • Ability to implement the required infrastructure (technology, process, policy and organization) for Learning 2.0
  • Ability to accommodate both traditional and new styles depending upon preferences
  • Buy in from learners, instructors, learning managers and other key stakeholders

Learning Managers, though, have perhaps the biggest challenge. They must orchestrate learning rather than just be responsible for the creation of the learning content itself. They must be able to bring out functional excellence and the culture of sharing and continuous learning. Their goals and measures must be community led and guided by the organization needs. This will directly result in performance improvements because the community can be made responsible for those improvements. Learning Managers will need to step up and leverage these new developments to foster that culture. They are the ones who are responsible for implementation of formal methodologies for Learning 2.0 at the workplace.

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