Networked Learning and Change
April 9th, 2018 by Tracey Mollins
Many definitions of blended learning include the concept of Connectivism – the idea that learning happens in networks. Networked learning uses a mix of technologies and interactions to create learning environments where learners are actively involved in the learning process and are encouraged to construct their own understandings and knowledge. Connectivism also means expanding learning circles beyond the classroom.
As learners, we make meaning by understanding how ideas and concepts are connected and we diversify our knowledge by developing learning networks. We strengthen learning when we connect our knowledge to the new things we are learning and express our ideas in networks.
As Etienne Wenger says:
We are essentially social beings. We live in societies, of course; but more fundamentally perhaps, it is our participation in social communities and cultural practices that provides the very materials out of which we construct who we are, give meaning to what we do, and understand what we know.1
George Siemens, a Connectivism founder, put it this way:
We cannot stop the desire to know. The desire to know is balanced with our desire to communicate, to share, to connect, and our desire to make sense, to understand—to know the meaning.2
Adopting a networked learning approach can mean a change in practice. As one Toronto literacy practitioner put it in 2015:
In traditional methods the instructor lectures, assigns work and assesses learners. In today’s world, and in literacy to some extent, this has changed. Technology offers more information than an instructor can have. The instructor’s role is to lead students to access that information. The instructor is a facilitator that presents learners with options and gets feedback about how those options are working. The instructor is a learning expert and tech support – like tech support who specializes in learning – a guide on the side.
Instructors as networked learners can find a community of practice at their fingertips to help us think about our relationship with technology, how to use technology to enrich our practice, and how to develop our “guide-on-the-side” role.
But, as with all change, there are challenges. The strategic brainstorming phase of making change is something that experienced practitioners do skillfully. Choosing, implementing, evaluating, and revising methodologies and practices is the challenging part. We need to be prepared to fail – or partly fail. Ideas that are still in our head or beautifully laid out somewhere are still good ideas. It is when we try to turn the ideas into practice that things get messy. We need to be prepared for the mess and, most importantly, we need space to experiment, to explore and to adjust our thinking and our practice as we deepen our knowledge and experience. We need time to engage in a process of reflective practice.
If you are thinking about making a change to a networked learning model, remember that support organizations are here to help. Please get in touch with your ideas and let us help with the messy bits.
1 Etienne Wenger, Communities of practice: where learning happens, Benchmark Magazine, Fall Issue 1991 – http://www.ewenger.com/pub/index.htm
2 George Siemens, Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, December 12, 2004- http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm