Connectivism in action…

As we plan the #diffiMOOC, I have been mulling over the principles of connectivism, and trying to determine the way that these will play out in the MOOC environment. Our MOOC is made up of students who want to receive graduate credit, in-service teachers, with or without a graduate degree, who wish to receive Professional Education Credit, and those who are interacting informally, setting their own goals and objectives – but who, nonetheless are a very important part of the community because of the perspectives they bring and the knowledge they add to the community node (as I am defining the Google Group which facilitates the “official” class discussion).

I’ve also been struggling with whether I really believe that a MOOC must embrace connectivism? Might we simply say that this is a social constructivist environment…as I have mulled over this concept – I really don’t think we can define the MOOC with social constructivism. This is an attitude change for me. While I do think some principles of the MOOC are unnecessarily redundant (at this point in my process) I also see the value and difference in others in terms of defining a chaotic learning environment which, just by virtue of its its vastness, might not have existed in the past.

So I outlined these explanations of the principles of connectivism (with much assistance with the current students in CCK11 and 12).

Principles of connectivism:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.

No one person owns learning or knowledge. Our own learning, and colleagues’ learning happens at a juncture or in a node at which we intersect in a serendipitous way to provide the “just in time” information required to complete a puzzle or to add important missing pieces. Expanding the base of contributors enhances the possibility that this “just in time” interaction will occur. It cannot be predicted or planned for – but can only occur as a result of ongoing communication and motivation to “solve” one (or several) particular puzzle(s).

  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.

Developing a Professional Learning Network is an important aspect of current and future learning. This network could very well determine our ability to know what needs to be known at the appropriate time.

  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.

This is a process of co-learning. An example may be that Google Search “learns” about our preferences for search terms and topics as we use it more. Intelligent Agents learn from the way that students perform in order to provide them with more appropriate tasks and challenges. In turn, I learn about the way that Google Search works, and I learn to assist it in learning from me. A student may “play” the AI software as the student “learns” the shortcuts in the system. This is my best thinking about this principle.

  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known

This sort of blows my mind. CAN I know more? Common sense says to me that I can always know more. Perhaps the difference between this environment and our past environment is that not only CAN I know more – I can know more NOW – and I don’t have to pay for it or travel to learn it. I am only limited by my own resourcefulness, my connectedness (or lack thereof), and my willingness to try.

  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.

A commitment to interaction in many different formats, and the ability to seek out those who have the information needed to complete our own parts of the puzzle is vital. This could mean that we interact in many formats (Twitter, FB, LinkedIn) with many individuals  – both colleagues in the class and those outside of the class. We must be open to the reality that some of the interaction that will occur will be outside of the class, and is fruitful as well. How do we allow students to demonstrate this so that we can award graduate credit in the cases in which it is desired?

  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.

We cannot define or dictate the connections of others. Each individual will create his or her own connections according to his or her needs, goals and prior knowledge. Concept Mapping could provide a nice means for graduate students to outline the connections they have created and their own PLN associated with the MOOC.

  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.

Technology changes quickly – and current knowledge has an ever-shorter shelf-life. The ability to be an independent learner in a dynamic age is vital to teachers. The most current resources are not those that have been peer reviewed and wait 6 months for publication. The most current resources are the blogs of the individuals in the PLN who are involved in the work we all wish to do.

  • Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.

The independent ability to determine what is needed, where to find it, and how to maintain connections which will inform us when the information changes is vital to 21st Century functionality. An attitude of ongoing curiosity, an acceptance of the fluidity of knowledge and information, and tolerance for ambiguity will serve us well.

“<The> amplification of learning, knowledge and understanding through the extension of a personal network is the epitome of connectivism.”

And of course, as I deeply engaged in this reflection, I had the little tickle in the back of my brain which continued to remind me that my understanding today will be different from my understanding tomorrow. Embracing this reality is a challenge – not only for the participants in our MOOC, but for the instructors as well!

Lee Graham is the Coordinator of the STEM Department at the University of Alaska Southeast, and serves as a tutor for the University of Liverpool EdD Program. She is currently working to wrap her head around a MOOC for teachers which will be offered starting January 14, 2012. She may be reached at


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