Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Chinesepod and Connectivism: More connections lead to more learning

The Connectivist learning theory, developed by George Siemens and others, focuses on the value of knowledge residing on the network, the value of connecting to both networked knowledge and other individuals via network connections, and the value of collaboratively contributing to this networked knowledge base. In his post “Connectivism squares with our experience,” Ken Carroll writes with respect to neural networks:

No one can really know what goes on in learners’ synapses, but we all know that it is possible to induce learners to mobilize their cognitive faculties to a greater or lesser extent. More cognitive and affective experiences lead to more thinking, more synaptic connections, and more learning. To this end, we have sought to leverage guesswork, repetition, stories, context, in-depth discussion, etc, to offer what Siemens might call ’frequency, diversity, and depth of exposure’ to the content. I’ve always maintained that learning is multi-dimensional, and deepened when you approach the subject from different angles. The connections around the subject should be many and varied, a position consistent with connectivism: ’The act of knowing is to be in a particular manner of connectedness’.

Ken and other teachers affiliated with his ChinesePod learning initiative are leaders of the learning revolution. The way in which they perceive and define their identities as educators is different in a basic way from the traditional “sage on the stage” model. Ken writes:

The teachers and practitioners on ChinesePod do not see ourselves as lecturers or teachers who impart knowledge in the old sense. Instead, we are connectors, or resources who point learners at key patterns or elements that help strengthen their connection to a piece of information (and emphasize the skill of being able to identify patterns).

This redefinition of the role and self-perception of the educator is critical in the 21st century learning revolution. I had a conversation with our 9th grade babysitter last night, and heard her relate how the majority of the time she spends in high school today is taking written notes while teachers lecture. Teachers do NOT provide digital access to notes and materials, and students are quizzed regularly about the content on which they have taken textual notes to see if this traditional “broadcast/spray model” of learning has been effective. (Or at least if the items included in the quiz have temporarily been stored in short term memory.) We MUST move beyond this traditional “banking model” of education, and I’m convinced the impetus for these changes is NOT coming and is not GOING to come from “inside the system” of traditional education.

Earlier this month Chinesepod reached a milestone with the publication of its 1000th Mandarin lesson. The success of Ken and his team help answer one of the questions asked by an adult learner in my class on “Lifelong Learning with iTunes University” this past Wednesday: “Why are so many things online free?” Glyn Moody noted:

He [Ken Carroll] understands that in the digital age, the secret to making money is to give away the entry-level stuff to attract interest and build a vibrant community, and then to make money by offering premium content to people who are already know the value of your free resources.

In our flat-world landscape, there are more opportunities to learn, teach, educate, AND make a living than ever before. I’m here as a witness for the case, “Do more connections lead to more learning?” Of course they do. Ken knows this, and you likely do as well if you’re reading this post online.

How many of the teachers we work with on a daily basis understand the foundational elements of connectivisim? VERY, VERY few in my estimation. Why don’t they understand? Because they have not EXPERIENCED connectivisim. It is not enough to show or be told. One must EXPERIENCE the power of networked learning to understand it and appreciate its potentials.

To that end, I’ll again exhort you to participate and share the upcoming K-12 Online Conference which starts next week with our pre-conference keynote. The conference is free, it’s global, and the co-learners involved (that includes YOU as well as presenters and other participants) are all providing a rich context for experiential, connectivist learning. Certainly we can take courses in Connectivism, but we can also experience connectivism through the blended learning conference event which is K-12 Online. And, if your local educational organization agrees, you can even earn professional development credit for your participation and time! What a deal.

Ken Carroll challenges me in several ways through his work on Chinesepod as well as his blog. First of all, he reminds me that just because I did not take Mandarin Chinese in school, and it is not available for our kids to take in their current public school, we are not limited in our access to expert teachers and co-learners if we want to learn Mandarin. With a fifth of the world’s population speaking Chinese, it should be clear this would be a real good idea for us.

Secondly, Ken challenges me by thoughtfully connecting his educational practice with learning theories which build on and powerfully extend those which I’ve studied in graduate school. Instead of simply talking about educational theories and practices in abstract forms, however, Ken and his team are operationalizing these philosophies and strategies in powerful, transparent ways which can be educative for us all.

In February of 2005, I heard Alan November challenge a large group of Texas superintendents to require all their students to take an online course before graduating from high school. I think the idea of mandating a basic level of experience with online and blended learning is a good idea. I am not currently a legislator, elected official or appointed governmental official, however, and I feel confident the vast majority of readers of this post are not either. We’re not in a position to “mandate” anything to ALL the students and teachers with whom we work in our communities.

While we cannot practically mandate blended learning experiences, and the potential value of MANDATED learning experiences is itself certainly subject to question, we CAN do two things related to these issues which CAN have an important impact:

  • We can take, ourselves, an online blended course on a topic of interest so that we can personally EXPERIENCE and therefore appropriate / claim for ourselves / understand with depth some of the benefits as well as drawbacks of online learning contexts.
  • We can invite others to follow our lead by participating in the K-12 Online Conference this year.

Blended learning, because it offers the possibility of appropriating best practices from BOTH face-to-face as well as online/virtual learning contexts, can provide greater opportunities for authentic learning and meaningful connections than any other educational modality.

The learning revolution continues.

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