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!


Incorporating Metacognitive Strategies in the Learning Environment

Metacognition is one’s ability to “manage and monitor the input, storage, search and retrieval of the contents of his own memory”(Life Circles, n.d., p. 1). One might ask: Can expert learners be made?. Interestingly, when researchers first explored this question, their preliminary findings indicated that metacognitive performance among learners was a stable trait. We know today that early attempts at this research was flawed and the results erroneous. Indeed, expert learners can  be made; in other words teaching metacognition improves learning. Once students have their own repertoire of metacognitive skills to assist them in self-regulating their learning, they will be much more successful in learning through the process of building those critical neural connections and using this knowledge to create new learning through through critical thinking. I had the pleasure of co-facilitating a forum these past few weeks on “learning to learn”, where together with 14 other adult learners we discussed metacognition, identified strategies that we could use to increase students’ learning success, and shared loads of information and ideas that answered our questions and generated many new ones to explore. I’d like to share a number of metacognitive strategies that we, as educators can use to help students more actively monitor and control their own learning processes and thus support student learning:

  • Helping learners realize that they can improve their metacognitive skills and increase their success in learning. We can help them become self-regulated learners by teaching them how to plan and set goals, evaluate their plans as they go, self-monitor and adapt as needed in order to reach their learning goals.
  • Monitoring students learning, suggesting strategies as challenges arise, modeling critical thinking and self-regulation, and providing feedback and authentic assessment teaching students to reflect on what they are learning through inquiry, journal writing, critical incident questionnaires, and more. These strategies can help students learn how to self-monitor their learning. There are a number of models that educators can use to assist them in facilitating reflection in their learning environments, Self-assessment is critical to learning and self-regulation, and helps individuals take control over their learning.
  • Recognizing value in error. Making mistakes are important and powerful ways of learning. As educators, we need to use mistakes as an opportunity to promote learning and metacognition.
  • The use of “wrappers” within students’ learning activities (lectures, homework, exams, etc.). A wrapper is a tool that that introduces the student to and encourages metacognition.
  • Incorporating social learning opportunities as part of the learning experience. While at times challenging, social learning does provide rich opportunities for student engagement, peer support, learning through experience and doing, a sense of belonging in the learning community, shared responsibilities, increased self-esteem, confidence-builder, etc. A few examples of social learning activities include project or group work, small group discussions, dialogue, case studies, role play, group presentation, games, debates, etc.

Here are a few excellent resources if you’re interested in reading more on this subject:

Learning how to learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects:

Teaching metacognition improves learning:

Teaching metacognition PowerPoint:

Until this forum and my intense reading on the subject, I haven’t ever deliberately planned a lesson that incorporated metacognitive skill development in any lecture or course I’ve taught. For sure, I’ve given them a few suggestions for preparing for a exam, reiterated key points after a lecture, and shared how I process information. Now I have much more knowledge on this subject and can’t wait to empower students to become super self-regulated meta-learners!

Questioning my Questioning!!!

Have you ever had the experience of asking students a question that didn’t garner even a tidbit of discussion? Even after that all important pause to give your adult learners time to think through the question, all that greeted your gaze was a sea of quiet unresponsive faces! I’ve been reading a fair bit on what I now believe is the fine “art and science” of asking the right questions for the right learning situation. As educators, I’m sure we all agree that we need to actively engage students in higher order thinking. We absolutely must strive to incorporate opportunities for both students and educators to ask questions, regardless of the subject we’re teaching.

Hal Gregerson, in the TEDTalk featured below shares that educators on average wait 1 second for a response to a question, and that students ask on average 1 question/month at a critical thinking level. He also proposes that a large number of educators spend most of their time talking in class and little time questioning. His best advice is for everyone to not only to ask more questions, but to also practice becoming more very effective listeners. HIs challenge to educators and students alike is the “4/24” strategy,… to ask at least 4 questions every day!

So, what might have gone wrong in my scenario above, the one that drew blank stares? Perhaps the question was not well aligned with the student’s current level of information and current knowledge? Perhaps it wasn’t phrased in a way that invited dialogue? Certainly these are plausible explanations. As I reflected on past experiences, I realize that when planning a lesson, I have not deliberately planned questions to use to have students explore the content I’m teaching and generate new thinking. Its an interesting realization as I pride myself in being an effective planner. I prepare for the lesson by planning the content, the learning activities, the assessment, and yet, no questions. What an ahhhaa moment for me.

What I’m really excited about now is learning more about how to ask the right questions and being able to be comfortable enough to spend more time in class with students exploring answers.

I think that Bloom’s taxonomy is an excellent resource to assist in question formulation to promote higher level thinking. Bloom’s taxonomy, created by a committee led by Dr. Bloom (1954), identified three learning domains of educational activities: 1. cognitive 2. affective and 3. psychomotor. Each domain is further subdivided into levels organized from low level thinking skills to high level ones. For example, within the cognitive domain, the sub categories are (renamed by Anderson et al, 2000): remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create. Using this approach, you can pose a question based on what level of thinking you are targeting with your students. Do you need to them simply remember, understand, or are they ready to analyze, evaluate or even create something on the topic at hand?

Depending on what the topic is and the students’ level of information and knowledge, I might begin with a lower level question (knowledge based), but then as the discussion deepens move up that scale to ask analysis and evaluation questions. I feel that effective questioning that promotes higher level thinking is a real skill that needs to be learned and practiced!

I came across a 2014 resource that I think will help us in our discussion and learning on this topic. Its a table entitled “Bloom’s Taxonomy Planning Kit” that is featured on the Educational Technology and Mobile Learning website at: “>

Have you heard of Socratic questioning? It is questioning that “aims to probe student thinking, determine the extent of their knowledge on a topic, to model Socratic questioning for students or to help students analyze a concept or line of reasoning” (Wiki, n.d.). Examples of how to use socratic questioning proposed by Dr. Richard Paul (n.d.) in the video below include:

Why did you say that?
Can you explain that further?
Is there a reason to doubt this evidence?
What is the counter-argument?
Why do you think I asked that question”?

The premise behind socratic questioning is that the mind learns content by thinking, and thinking creates content, hence we need to be entering into these open dialogues that are prompting students to think deeply on the topic and generate new knowledge. I especially like the idea of asking students “what are your questions”, rather than “does anyone have any questions?”.

I can’t wait to try out socratic questioning next week in a session I am preparing for on independent practice. Stay tuned and I’ll update you as I continue to delve into and find answers and strategies that address my quest of “questioning my questioning”.Here’s a video on critical thinking and words of wisdom from its author.

Socratic questioning (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved from:

How can we empower learners? We need to help them become self-regulated!

Simply put, metacognition is “thinking about thinking” and involves a person’s ability to self-regulate his or her own learning. Well, what does self-regulation mean? It’s the deliberate and mindful effort humans undertake to learn new things. Self-regulated learners use planning and goal setting, monitoring one’s progress, and adapting as needed throughout the learning process. We need to use metacognitive skills to think, plan, assess, perceive, evaluate, and reach goals in a learning experience.

What’s interesting is every learner has their own unique repertoire of metacognitive strategies that they draw upon to acquire new information. Students who deliberately think about and reflect on their own learning processes are better learners than those who do not. Since we all construct new information based on prior learning, it makes sense that students who perform less favourable may have poorly organized and limited prior knowledge available. I found it interesting to read that students who believe (incorrectly) that intelligence is “fixed” versus “incremental” in nature perform much less favourably in the learning environment.

There are many factors that can impact a student negatively and hinder their learning such as procrastination, over learning, choking, multi-tasking, intimidation, vulnerability-confidence issues, stress, competing priorities, illusions of learning, or a lack of sleep. Some of these factors we can assist them with, others not as easily. However, since we know that teaching metacognition improves learning, we need to incorporate and “wrap” learning activities with metacognitive skills that help our students become self-regulated. What metacognitive strategies do you use to empower our students to become self-regulated?

Reflecting on the Process of Creating my very own PowToon instructional video!

I must admit that I was intrigued, excited, and nervous, all at the same time, with this past week’s challenge to create a digital instruction video for the Instructional Strategies course I am currently taking. As with any other learning task, I always have a plan of action in mind. As we’ve discussed in our Metacognition and “Learning to Learn” forum this week, expert learners possess more elaborate metacognitive skills that include: 1. having a plan 2. setting goals 3. monitoring progress and changing learning strategies as needed throughout the process, and 3. evaluating outcomes and adapting as necessary (Lovett, 2008). With a Master’s degree, and years of learning experience, I began this project by doing what I usually do. I researched my topic: the Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ). I made notes, loosely organized an outline for a presentation, and then set out to watch a number of excellent video tutorials I located easily using the Google search engine on how to use PowToon, a cartoon marketing tool that really impressed me. I also printed out “The Workbook“, created by PowToon’s “Chief Unicorn” Ilya Spitalnik.

I had a plan, set my goal to have this video completed by mid-week, and then jumped into creating my digital project. Here’s where it got interesting: based on my prior learning, I ignored PowToon’s advise that explicitly identified the need to create a 250 word script, then a story board (lots of planning) before beginning to build the presentation. I unfortunately relied on my preferred method of thinking through content as part of the process, and found that I wasted a fair amount of time, creating, rewording, reordering, and deleting ideas as I worked through this project in PowToon. This works for me in PowerPoint, but certainly didn’t in PowToon.

By day 3 of concentrated 3 hour sessions, I realized my challenge and adjusted my strategy. I went back to my draft, finalized the content, reordered it on paper, and then things ran much more smoothly. While one could say I wasted time, ironically it was quite a beneficial learning experience! I learned a great deal, both about myself, my planning, how stress sometimes makes me skip ahead of myself, and especially about new ways of doing things. I am thrilled with the instructional video I have created, and have a clear understanding and ability now on how to navigate and use this amazing technology.

So, although I feel somewhat sleep deprived (I think I was dreaming about this video all week!), I reached my goal and created new neural connections and built both a very useful PowToon instructional video. So, this week I created The CIQ video and built myself a better brain! Not bad for an intense week’s work!

Here’s screenshot of my opening slide. A link to the video is included in my February 5, 2015 entry on the CIQ.
Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 4.48.42 PM


The Critical Incident Questionnaire ~ an Instructional Strategy that I’d like to try!

Carol's version of the CIQ
Stephen Brookfield, in his book “The skillful Teacher: on Technique, trust and responsiveness in the Classroom introduces the reader to a number of strategies to help in assessing how their students are learning, feeling about learning, and perceiving their instructor’s efforts.

The Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ), which is customizable to whatever your intent, purpose, and learning environment needs’ are; is an anonymous 5 or 6 question form that can really support students’ self-reflection, metacognition, and helps you role model critical thinking as well. The CIQ was developed by John Flanagan and his colleagues in the mid 1900’s as a result of his research on how to best capture direct observations of human behaviour to help solve practical problems (1954). It has been researched several times over, resulting in the launch of its its 6th version (Keefer, 2009).

In his book “The Skillful Teacher”, Brookfield (2012) clearly defines skillful teaching as: 1. doing whatever helps students learn, 2. Adopting a critically reflective stance toward their practice, and 3. Striving to be constantly aware of how students are experiencing their learning and perceiving their actions. While I always incorporate discussions into every teaching session and answer students’ questions as they arise, I now realize that I don’t always know how the students perceive my efforts, or how they are responding to the learning experiences in my class. I am particularly interested and excited to incorporate this instructional strategy into my teaching practice in the future!

I’ve tailored this version for use in a course within the dental hygiene education program. I envision using it weekly to collect anonymous feedback and will encourage students to use it to reflect on both their didactic classroom sessions as well as their community visits and service-learning visits that week.

This week I created a digital video using a fabulous program known as “PowToon” to share with you, my fellow educators. I’d be very interested in hearing what you think of it, and what you think of the CIQ instructional strategy. You can view my PowToon video here:

CIQ: Critical Incident Questionnaire by CP Yakiwchuk, February 5, 2015

Adams, K. (2001). The critical incident questionnaire: A critical reflective teaching tool. The
0nline Journal of Teaching and Learning in the CSU. Retrieved from

American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Brookfield, S.D. (2012). The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the
classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Flanagan, J.C. (1954, July). The critical incident report. Psychology Bulletin. 51(4), 1-33.
Retrieved from

Gilstrap, D.L., & Dupree, J. (2008, September). Assessing learning, critical reflection,
and quality educational outcomes: The critical incident questionnaire. College &
Research Libraries, 407-426. Retrieved from

International Board of Standards for Training, Performance, and Instruction
(IBSTPI). (2003). Instructor competencies. 1-6. Retrieved from

Keefer, J. (2009). The critical incident questionnaire (CIQ): From research to practice and back
again. 177-182. Retrieved from


Strategies to promote successful group work

colloborative-mdCertainly there are pros and cons to incorporating collaborative learning (group) opportunities in any course. Although variable, students often do find that working in a group provides:
– emotional support among group members(can be less intimidating for the shy student)
– the ability to select aspects of the project best suited to each person’s expertise
– more manpower to accomplish much more than alone
– a safe place to share ideas and discuss new information
– an opportunity to learn from others and develop new skills
– shared responsibilities – not all the weight of the project falls on one person

However, there are also some disadvantages:
– control of the group and direction by one dominant student
– conflicting attitudes and opinions
– lack of equal participation
– inability to make decisions – especially in a group that is fairly incohesive

I’m sure you would agree that group work activities, when appropriate to the learning task, have a positive impact on student learning. Here are a few helpful tips I located on-line (thank you fellow blogger) that support successful group work. These are proposed as highly effective for online learning, however I feel that they could be implemented with success in traditional (physical classroom) learning environments as well. They are:

1. Transparency of expectations and purpose: ensure students are very clear on what is expected, why the group work is included in the course, etc.

2. Include clear instructions: directions are very important!

3. Form smaller groups: if possible, give students the choice to self-select their teammates

4. As the instructor, be sure to monitor and offer support as needed. Check in with the groups and ensure they are progressing toward their goal. They may need support, a nudge to move along, or suggestions to explore other aspects of their project.

5. Be sure to include etiquette guidelines: I like the idea of having each group discuss and collaborative agree to a group “covenant” of ground rules to follow


Kokemuller, N. (2015). Advantages and disadvantages of gorup work in a classroom setting. Retrieved February 2, 2015 from:

5 tools and strategies that support group work collaboration online. Retrieved February 2, 2015 from: