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Five Assumptions about Why Learning Connections Matter

NextThought team May 29, 2019



Certain aspects of the human journey are universal enough that we generally place them in the category of "common sense." Our collective understanding that learning is, inevitably, a communal process, seems to fall into that category.

Learning, the accrual of knowledge and wisdom, occurs in the context of community and social activity.

We get this at an intuitive level. It is reinforced constantly by our personal evolutions in both formal and informal settings.

Learning is both an act and a process, one that requires multiple points of contact, a network of connections that expands with new connections and provides positive reinforcement.

Learning, the accrual of knowledge and wisdom, occurs in the context of community and social activity.

This also seems self-evident. We know it from our experience with family and friends, from formal education, and from professional life.

Community and learning connections

While our formal educational models have not always mirrored this common-sense element — in many cases formal education is guided by interests other than learning — the importance of community and learning connections have gained increasing traction over the past two decades. This can be attributed, in part, to the advent of the Internet and the introduction of technology that facilitates the modeling of natural learning networks. While modern educational institutions have generally provided an artificial, centripetal model for learning — learners go to artificial, isolated locations of official learning, to specified, artificial rooms within those locations, and listen to artificially constructed sources of learning information — the Internet, and online learning technologies, have allowed us to re-imagine more natural, centrifugal learning models — personal learning networks in which the acquisition of knowledge is learner-directed and achieved through connections within multi-layered communities.

Accelerated by the seminal work of George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and others, we have witnessed a significant increase in research and practical applications related to connected learning in the past ten years. There are many notable, public efforts of this work, which range from the CCK08 distributed course taught by Siemens and Downes and the Connected Courses collaborative community, to Dave Cormier's "Rhizomatic Learning" course. These efforts have been bolstered by the emergence of social media technology and other Web-facilitated research networks, which have expanded the possibilities for learner network capacity.

Re-incorporation of learning communities into formal education

Our re-incorporation of learning communities into formal educational efforts has also led to a steady growth of connected learning communication through blogs and other media. Good examples of this include Tim Holt's presentation video, " We Are All Connected," Cathy Davidson's recent post, "12 Principles of Peer-Led, Connected, Interactive Education," and the Derek Muller's YouTube video, "This Will Revolutionize Education."

At the heart of this growing meme are a number of assumptions about the characteristics and implications of connected learning. Here are five of those assumptions:

  1. The learner is the center of gravity — In traditional education models, the course is the center of gravity (sometimes the institution), and the object to which all content and interaction is attached and associated. The course is the hub. Not surprisingly, most educational technology platforms have followed this model and, similarly, placed the course at the center of the learning universe. In connected learning, by contrast, the learner is the center of gravity. The learner is the point of departure from which all connections in the personal network flow, and to which all relevant information/knowledge is connected.

  2. Connections lead to narrative — A narrative implies the relational linking of statements, actions, or anecdotes. Without this linking, we are left with only the individual parts and without context. Connected learning necessarily facilitates narrative. It connects learners to other learners and to relevant content within their networks. It creates a contextual, personalized narrative flow. We are seeing a number of innovative educators working in this area. Two quick examples — Laura Gibbs (http://www.mythfolklore.net/3043mythfolklore/, particularly with her Storybook Projects), and Jim Groom's DS106 (http://ds106.us/), a meta narrative of sorts. Another great example is the work Alan Levine and Bryan Lamb are doing with the currently evolving The You Show — http://cogdogblog.com/2014/12/15/the-making-of-the-you-show-episode-0/).

  3. The learning network is always personalized — Because the learner is the center of gravity, connections are necessarily represented first in terms of personal networks that are unique to each learner. Learning is truly personalized because the defining characteristic of the learning process is the individual learner.

  4. The learning network is both open and segmented — Connected learning is inherently open, in the sense that our personal learning networks are always moving outward with centrifugal force and are constantly seeking and incorporating connections with new, external communities. On the other hand, our learning experiences may also require segmentation at times, generally within sub-communities. This can be true of specific types or stages of personal learning. Examples of such learner-selected segmentation could be discipline or class cohorts, religious communities, or professional skill communities. What is important is that segmentation within personal learning networks should not override the overall open structure of the connected learning architecture.

  5. Everything is mobile — Another implication of the learner as center of gravity is that connected learning, by default, is "mobile." It is associated with the learner and travels wherever s/he is or goes. Connected learning is dynamic, ever evolving, and is not contained by time or space. There are many implications related to this assumption. One of them is that, increasingly, learning technology applications must look at mobile technology as the core of product design rather than as an ancillary component of a larger hub.

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(Header Image: " Creative Commons Community Art mural, Brighton, UK" by Jay Galvin, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

NextThought team
About the Author NextThought team

Our mission... To constantly explore innovative ways to rethink education. We engage learners, build community, and deliver value. We will always go above and beyond standard learning solutions, providing perfectly-tailored educational experiences for our clients and their audiences.

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