Archive for January 2011
I had an interesting and productive exchange with Damien Clark who has coined the term ‘deliveryware’ to denote the open delivery or facilitation part of a course as opposed to its ‘content’ such as Open Courseware. This led me to think that the baggage many people associate with the word ‘Course’ in ‘MOOC’ can initially encourage false expectations followed by perceptions of lack of focus, chaos, confusion and the end of education as we know it – and consequently, high drop-out rates. Connectivism may teach the value of chaos and confusion in learning but, rightly or wrongly, that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
What is the essence of a successful MOOC-like learning event? The virtual proximity of a critical mass of connected learners over the same period of time seems a good starting point. Perhaps a general term for online learning events might help so for want of a better description I’ll adopt, ”Massive Open Online Learning Event (MOOLE?)’ as a generic term and consider (speculate!) on the implications.
- Massive – Current MOOCs demonstrate that connecting large numbers of learners to others with similar, though not identical, interests is crucial. (Maybe there’s also a future for the ‘OOLE’ too but drawing together a critical mass of participants seems necessary for sustained interaction, whether it’s between 10, or 1000 participants.)
- Open – Openess almost goes without saying but in practice some restrictions, logins etc may be imposed for various reasons, good or bad. Young kids might interact with their peers in a protected environment (rather than YouTube!) and logins can be useful for confirming identity or spam protection.
- Online – Powerful tools for communication, recording and sharing can be exploited in numerous well-known ways. (Further erosion of the boundaries between the Internet and everyday life can be expected.)
- Learning – Open Educational Resources (OERs) are now reasonably abundant (the problem is more in finding the right ones for the job) but they usually come without the deliveryware and any means of assessment / creditation. Approaches to online education can be many and varied, and whether one particular learning theory is ‘correct’ or not is probably less important than openly experimenting with different methods of delivery in a wide variety of circumstances.
- Event – How might a MOOLE be created? Bringing together numerous learners for the event is clearly time-critical, as is the provision of human online facilitation over a set period. Let any individual, institution or commercial body simply attempt to ‘seed’ a Learning Event by openly declaring an interest and a putative time frame. If this acorn is sufficiently well-nurtured and publicized then could an oak tree grow as symbiotic connections form between other interested parties with or without different agendas? For example, websites supportive of online learning that have problems running well-populated, subject-based discussion groups may welcome opportunities to connect their users to a wider network of peers. Similarly, public bodies representing education at various levels might be happy to cherry-pick content, live presentations and forums for their learners from various sources within the MOOLE while retaining their own deliveryware – and so on.
Topics that are reasonably well-covered by OERs (say, ‘Global Warming’, ‘Modern Physics’, ‘International Relations’ etc) could command widespread global interest and attract large numbers of participants with very different backgrounds and learning objectives. In its final, ready-to-run form, the MOOLE might develop as an ill-defined, loosely-connected network of special interest groups and individuals with numerous parallel and overlapping paths available for particular educational purposes. School groups might exploit publicly-funded ‘courses’ complete with trained facilitators who jolly kids along with engaging videos, global discussions with peers and some sensible degree of protection from complete open access. Another thread, more like current MOOCs with readings, project suggestions and open discussions, might be aimed at non-specialists wishing to progress their understanding. Experts and professionals might conduct their own seminars and forums but also be prepared to facilitate other activities for non-specialists or children.
With no inherent bias towards any particular educational level or mode of instruction, the infrastructure of the MOOLE would simply be there to be used, reused, saved, molded and extended by anyone anywhere to whatever form is desired. There would be nothing of course to stop with-profit enterprises selling their own documentation and providing services with paid facilitators operating in closed sessions but provided everything was above board (CC licenses respected etc.) this does not have to be a Bad Thing.
Fantasy or future?
This was going to be a grand network of networks but my own neural network wasn’t up to making the connections, either in HTML or conceptually.
(All thumbnails via Flickr (CC BY 2.0) – hover mouse for attribution, click for full size.) CCK11
Connectivism has much to offer as a new perspective on learning and I’m pleased and excited to be one small node in the CCK11 MOOC. However, I find some of the phraseology a little jarring and I’m unsure whether this is because some of the concepts are perhaps overstated in odd ways but are in fact straightforward and commonsensical or whether new and profoundly different meanings are intended. “Learning may reside in non-human appliances” is a good example and from tweets and Leitha Delves’ blog I know I’m not the only one having problems with this. I come to CCK11 with very little background in learning theory and was not born yesterday so I’m probably more resistant than some when it comes to accepting new ideas. Anyway, here’s where I’m coming from (and I’m no biologist either!).
Firstly, since the capability to know or understand has evolved and adapted over many millions of years as a means of survival, I’d say that knowledge, know-how, meaning, understanding etc are primarily to do with the memory, modeling and ‘programming’ functions necessary for a living organism’s success (be it hunting, fighting, socializing or complex cultural activities). Learning is then the process by which organisms acquire these skills over and above the ones they are born with. In the case of the modern human, ‘success’ depends on an extraordinarily large number of cultural skills: reading, writing, etc and education in the widest sense. This places heavy demands on the individual in time and effort as well as economic and other burdens on society. Ways and means of meeting these demands in the most effective way is the concern of educators in particular and society in general.
Secondly, I’m quite happy to apply at least some some of the attributes of learning to non-human appliances such as books or databases. It seems natural to talk about the knowledge or meaning conveyed by a book or the know-how stored in a database (containing, for example, the procedural details of a complex constructional project). A robot programmed to construct something ‘knows’ how to do it and if the robot were to adapt and improve its performance through some sort of feedback mechanism then I might reasonably call this learning and ascribe an artificial intelligence to the robot.
If this type of thing is what Connectivism means by “Learning may reside in non-human appliances” then I’m quite happy with that but for me it seems to hang together perfectly well without bringing in connections at all. Clearly, connections are at work in the human brain and the robot might be programmed by an artificial neural network but outside that an individual can learn from a book, come up with a new idea, or learn how to juggle, without obvious engagement in social or any other sort of networks. No doubt the juggler would become a better and more knowledgeable or even expert juggler by exploiting connections within a network of jugglers, reading juggling books, accessing databases on juggling know-how or even interacting with juggling practice robots. Although juggling knowledge can then reasonably be said to be distributed across the network I’m not sure what is achieved by stating that it literally identifies with the connections between the nodes; another example of connectivist phraseology that jars with me, but maybe I’m missing something deeper. (Then again, maybe it’s all just semantics as I’ve certainly no problem with this little video by soto_mayra!)
Although I think that connectivism has the greatest relevance to social networks the connectivist focus on the similarities between neural networks and social networks jars a little less now after reading Stephen Downes, ‘An Introduction to Connective Knowledge’. It’s fascinating, scary even, to think how a futuristic social network or society could ‘know’ in a similar way to the human brain so I’m looking forward to next week’s topic on ‘patterns of connectivity’. (I wrote a facetious piece last year about education in 2022).
And now, back to next week’s readings ……..
Looking forward to CCK11, I’ve made one or two basic connections by laying down a few bookmarks in delicious, resurrecting an old twitter account and starting this blog. So far so good but where from here? I run a small, not-for-pofit education website and therefore have an interest in the workings of connectivism where it means ‘networked learning’ but beyond that I’m not so clear about the concept and, as a retired educator with a background in engineering, not exactly up to speed when it comes to learning theories or philosophy. If there are others like me then so much the better but it’s quite possible that I’ll end up listening and lurking rather than contributing much. I’ve done some reading on learning theories though, so here’s a very initial thought – by way of content.
The Great Melting Pot of Learning Theories contains a large number of overlapping and sometimes competing theories and concepts dealing primarily in the realm of ideas or even speculation. To what extent has scientific method been applied as a means of validation? Not having surveyed the vast literature I can’t answer that but in some cases I wonder if it can be applied at all and if it can’t then how on earth do we sort out the good from the bad? In practice though, the different theories appear to be cheerfully applied by experienced educators simply according to how they best fit into different learning situations. Until a scientific basis for learning is achieved through neurology or whatever, I can’t really see an alternative to this sort of pragmatism.
In the case of connectivism, I guess the jury may be out for some time if only because of its relative newness so every reason to maintain a healthy skepticism and an open mind. All the same, given the rise of the MOOC, the energy and enthusiasm of those involved and the research activity following in its wake, the MOOC itself, and its little brother the OOC, may be poised to provide the best fit examples yet of connectivism to real learning.
I”ve mastered WordPress sufficiently to go public with this blog created for CCK11 and now, having made the connection, I’d better think of some content to put in – or maybe read the manual.
Mary and Jon have been exploring the new Education Center.