Connectivism and Social Learning

During a forum discussion on group learning this week, one of my peers in an instructional strategies course I am currently taking (thank you Anne) introduced us to the concept of “social learning”. Intrigued by the video she posted, I spent the next few hours exploring this concept and learning from the experience. I have to say that the concept really resonates with me, and I am intrigued to read more of this PhD’s work on this topic.

According to Dr. George Siemens, learning is a network forming process, and knowledge is a network product that takes place at three distinct levels:

1. Network learning takes place at the biological level with neurons connecting with neurons to form new connections/build a better brain

2. Network learning helps us connect a new idea with what we know to generate new knowledge

3. Network learning takes place through external social spaces such as FaceBook and Twitter, even on our mobile devices. We use these opportunities to examine concepts and form conceptual connections that help deepen our knowledge. We place calls to inquire on products, business practices, network with others using new technologies. Thus social systems and technological systems are now part of human knowledge that connects concepts and knowledge over time

Dr. Siemens argues that structured courses are created external to student relevance. Connectivism upholds the “connection” as being primary to learning and to the individual’s sense-making. The idea of “social learning” in connectivism is ultimately the construction of “social” – the connection that is created and re-created with every interaction. His words ring true to me in that we absolutely don’t know what the student already knows, where they live, what barriers and issues they face, or what they really want to learn more about when they sign up for an educational course or program. Students who graduate from structured courses can minic and duplicate content, yet have not learned in a way that is important to their sense-making, to their personal context.

Learning and knowledge acquisition is no longer upheld and protected as an individual, internal process.  Our way of knowing has been significantly altered through the use of new tools like FaceBook, Twitter, online learning platforms, MOOCS, and more!  The truth of the matter is that learning is no longer acquired in a linear manner – rather a social one that builds new knowledge and sense-making as information is transparently shared. Connectivism is a learning theory for the digital age that helps us to understand both our passion for being connected, but most importantly how technology has transformed our way of knowing.

For those of you intrigued by Connectivism and the concept of Social Learning, here are two excellent videos to watch. I can’t wait to read more on this subject, and think this educator of educators is quite brilliant! I believe the time has come to rethink the design of school-based learning!

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