Understanding learning as network formation

This is a follow on from yesterday’s post weaving in a few posts from netgl participants.

Learning as a (common) journey

Rebecca uses emojis to illustrate a fairly typical journey through netgl (and a few of the other courses I teach). As is confirmed by the comment from another Rebecca (there are 8 participants in the course and 3 of them are Rebecca’s).

One of the turning points for Rebecca (who wrote the post) was a fairly old-fashioned synchronous session held in a virtual space

But then I attended the online chat session, clarified where I was supposed to be heading

Rebecca links this to

when things are deemed too difficult, people tend to revert to coping strategies. In this case, it was good ol’ face to face talking (OK…admittedly online and not in the ‘true’ sense…) to achieve direction out of the online maze.

Aside: I’m wondering if the journey metaphor is just a bit to sequential. Perhaps it’s illustrative of our familiarity and comfort with the sequential, rather than the complexity and inter-connectedness that arise from a network view.

The problem of being disconnected

I think there’s some connection between Rebecca’s struggles with something new and the experience of Lisa’s 11 year-old during a blackout

I found myself with a crazy bored eleven-year-old on my hands who was pacing the house saying ‘when’s the power coming back on, when’s the power coming back on’. His level of anxiety at being disconnected was incredibly sobering.

I also wonder whether the relief Rebecca got from “good ol’ face to face talking” is related to Lisa’s experience of the blackout

It was lovely, not just to switch off from the noise and chaos, but from the words as well – as you say, time for the diffuse mode to kick in and allow moments of quiet reflection

Learning as network formation

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, at some level networked learning is about the idea that what we know is actually (or at least fruitfully represented as) a network. Yesterday’s post pointed to brain research that is based on the brain being a network. It also drew on Downes’ writing on connectivism which has the view

learning is the formation of connections in a network

From this perspective, you might suggest that Rebecca and Lisa’s 11 year-old have already formed networks (learned) how to cope with certain situations like a face-to-face session or spending Saturday with electricity. But they haven’t yet formed networks to deal with the new and unexpected situation. Meaning that they have to start forming that network. Starting with their existing networks, they need to start making new connections to different ideas and practices. Figure out if any existing connections may need to be questioned as not necessarily the only option (e.g. spending all day on the computer, learning via traditional modes). Test out some of the nascent connections and see if they work as expected.

This type of network formation is hard. Especially when the number and diversity of the new connections you have to make increase. Learning how to learn online in a xMOOC which consists of lots of small video-taped lectures, with a set, sequential syllabus that is stored in one place. Is a lot easier than learning how to learn online in a cMOOC that isn’t taking place in one place and expects you to figure out where you want to go.

How do I know? How do I keep up?

In the midst of getting their head around the different approach to learning taken in netgl quite a few folk have raised the question of “how do I keep up”? I saw it first in another of Rebecca’s posts in the form of this question

how, once I graduate from being a formal student and progress into the world of teaching (in whichever form that may take), on Earth do I keep up with all the new programs, networked learning, social media hookups that seem to pop up hourly that I need to contend with?

Charm has shared via the netgl Diigo group a link to and some comments on Kop and Hill (2008), which includes this on connectivism

Connectivism stresses that two important skills that contribute to learning are the ability to seek out current information, and the ability to filter secondary and extraneous information. Simply put, “The capacity to know is more critical than what is actually known” (Siemens, 2008, para. 6).

Rebecca, I think this quote gives you a “network” answer to your question. Your ability to “keep up” (to know, to learn) is what is important, not what you know.

I should also mention this next point from Kop and Hill (2008) which I think is often overlooked

The learning process is cyclical, in that learners will connect to a network to share and find new information, will modify their beliefs on the basis of new learning, and will then connect to a network to share these realizations and find new information once more. Learning is considered a “. . . knowledge creation process . . . not only knowledge consumption.”

“To know” versus “actually known”

In responding to Rebecca’s post, Alex asks

So, given the population is ceasing its reliance on fundamental knowledge and increasing its dependence on immediate information, do you think field-specific academics will remain a valuable entity, as they hold deep information on specific areas?

Touching on the debate between those who believe “to know” is more important and those who believe that “actually known” is still important. A debate that is on-going (for some) and for which I have to admit to not having any links for. My inability to provide links to the “actually known” folk is perhaps indicative of my own networks and prejudices.

Implications for teachers?

It is a debate that raises questions about the role of the teacher. Lisa’s search for a metaphor for the teacher role had her pondering: sage, guide, or grandmother. Grandmother being a link to the work of Sugata Mitra (in a comment I pointed Lisa to a critique of Mitra’s work).

IN terms of “guide on the side” Lisa writes

the role of the guide on the side becomes less about “being the facilitator who orchestrates the context”, as Alison King described in the nineties, and more about helping students to develop the tools and skills needed to hear and decipher a coherent message from the cacophony of information available to them.

Personally, I have an affinity for McWilliam’s (2009) concept of the “meddler in the middle” which points toward a more

interventionist pedagogy in which teachers are mutually involved with students in assembling and/or dis-assembling knowledge and cultural products

Which could perhaps be re-phrased as “mutually involved with students in the formation of their networks”.

I’ll end with Downes’ slogan that describes what he sees as the teacher and learner roles which seems to align somewhat with that idea

To ‘teach’ is to model and demonstrate. To ‘learn’ is to practice and reflect.

2 thoughts on “Understanding learning as network formation

  1. So interesting to read of the 2015 netgl student experiences and reflect back on this time in my netgl journey in 2014 – it was one of the more challenging experiences in my studies, but well worth the effort and has provided me with a continuing learning legacy – thanks David

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s