cck08 Of networks and networked learning

October 12, 2008 at 6:11 pm 10 comments

This is Week 5 of the cck08 but I am still some steps behind the flow of this course. Just listened to Stephen Downes’ Week 3 talk on Networked Learning and his currently “definitive” eight principles of network design principles.

I am not an expert in networked learning but I offer some views based on my own learning/personal experiences. My initial response to this talk is that there are some interesting ideas about networked learning but I think there is a limit to how far you can take learning in/from networks based on what I have heard. 

One of the aspects posited by Downes is in relation to networks is the autonomous nature of entities in the network. The autonomous nature of entities is akin to treating every bit of connection (resource or person) as if there is value in them because an entity (e.g. a person) has “interpreted” meaning according to his or her chosen context.

It sounds wonderful to be able to choose your own professor or what to study or who to study with. This may well work within certain levels of higher education but what about kindy or school? If a child who does not really know what he or she wants, will this principle work? Will this be a lifelong learning experience of trying this or that – just pick what he or she feels like doing? Will this equip the child to be a fully functioning member of society? Will it take people to the paths of least resistance?

There seems to be that almost “magical” qualities in these networks that more good will come of it and people will learn and become experts and we don’t have to rely on one source, etc.  The more popular your connections or the stronger such connections will lead you to experts or expert resources. What if the most popular is not necessarily “right”?

Are all individuals capable of cutting through the hype and gloss? I wouldn’t think so. Would it be like saying capitalism is good and market forces will sort itself out! Well the markets sorted themselves alright and the global economy needs bailing out! Relying on the forces and strengths of the connections alone to produce a learning society brings with it strengths but also deficiencies. The internet and web is one big dumpsite: while it can bring into focus good stuff it can also bring to bear the worst society has to deal with.

Downes also asserted that if you go against these principles then you are moving away from principles that work: these principles support open access, open learning from every conceivable source/resource all round the globe – the future of networked learning that has to be. However I find this assertion a bit of a contradiction in terms.  If indeed the learning in a networked environment is deemed to be flexible and dynamic – so how can one person or “expert” declare that the principles should be followed or else… 

I don’t disagree that networked learning is upon us because of the pervasive nature of technologies and the internet: we need to engage with it and leverage it. Proceed with caution: don’t overestimate its strengths and don’t underestimate its weaknesses.

However, there are those who for personal, costs or other reasons may have little connectedness to the networked environment: perhaps they can’t or won’t connect. Some of these hidden people may be experts in their own right and not found within this hyper-connected networked learning sphere.  They want to stay hidden from the networked web. Learning in different forms/experiences will still continue for them, but perhaps from the view of the connectivist, lacking or wanting?

P.S. 13/10/08 6:40pm Just read ‘The How of Connecting’ from Jenny about her mom’s connections sans technology. Thoughtful post!


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cck08 Mapping out connectivism in CMAP cck08: Introduction to social network analysis

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Maru del Campo  |  October 14, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Hi WL!
    Thanks for leaving a comment in my blog, you have given me insight about how people perceive me from what I post there. To have someone as experienced as you to say that my posts are candid it sorts of intrigues me.

    Maybe you are “behind” as you mention (week 3) but I see that your background allows you to get more from the readings and interactions you make.

    I have similar concerns, I think this kind of open network learning may suit university levels but not even undergraduate levels, let aside elementary school and kindergarten. I have seen that a kid needs boundaries to feel secure, this openness may increase resistance to learn in youngsters.
    I guess it all comes down to context, depending on the objectives of the course you will see which environment fits best for your purposes.

    You raise very important questions, I will keep and eye on them to see if they get answered along the course.
    See you around. Love: Maru

  • 2. wlonline  |  October 15, 2008 at 8:24 am

    Hi Maru,

    Thanks for your kind comments. Like you, am on journey or sojourn of lifelong learning. We’ll keep chatting and comparing notes as we move along this course :D.

    Re: “candid” – that was my initial response because when I read your blog posts, I thought it was open, optimistic and welcoming. And I thought to myself, the person behind the post definitely has a warm and welcoming personality.

    Cheers and see you around.

  • 3. Maru  |  October 15, 2008 at 10:39 am

    Hi WL!
    Thanks for taking the time to respond, for sending me a tweet about it and for your kind words. I like the idea, let’s keep chatting and comparing notes.

    I am not used to have readers, I am glad you felt welcomed. See you around. Love: Maru

  • 4. BlancheMaynard  |  October 15, 2008 at 10:55 pm

    Hi WL and Maru,

    You both bring interesting points on network learning. What I’d like to raise here, is the importance of personality and feelings in the way we connect and learn from certain people and not others – with or without technology.

    We tend to learn from people we like. If I don’t connect with you on a personal level, I won’t have a tendency to stick around to listen to what you are saying and interact with you (unless I am forced to do it of course). It doesn’t matter how knowledgeable or smart you are. It’s just human nature.

    The best teachers have had weren’t necessarily the best experts in their field, but they had an engaging personality and were great communicators. They got me engage in the material and left me wanting to know more.

    It’s the same in our online learning networks. The ‘true’ experts are not necessarily the ones from which we learn: we mainly learn from the people we interact with, and these are people we can connect with on a personal level.

    My 2-cents


  • 5. wlonline  |  October 19, 2008 at 3:12 pm


    To an extent I agree that the bet teachers weren’t necesarily experts. However I don’t think it is necessary “easy” but I do learn from people that I may not have liked. Still trying to think about specific people through my learning journey. Perhaps I could add is that I had grown to respect them and what they taught/


  • 6. BlancheMaynard  |  October 19, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    I have learned from people I didn’t like as persons too, but very few. Most were outstanding communicators or had ideas that appealed to me emotionally… in a positive or negative way. Sometimes a negative response to what a person is saying can lead to questions, which can foster learning. Don’t you think?

    Interesting discussion.


  • 7. wlonline  |  October 19, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    My most inspiring lecturer in uni was a person that I had a lot of respect for and she had a very open style of teaching; she advanced a lot of ideas that were not being practised by academics during her time. (But I did learn from those I did not like.) What about the effect eager learners have on the teachers?

    I am in total agreement about a negative response to what has been said can lead to questions, and in turn foster learning. However there is still an old model out there that if our learning worldview does not match what is being dished out, we might be considered as “not learning”. Am I wrong about this?

    Should we be also thinking about our own motivation to learn/learning?

    What about situations when we have connected/like certain people but in reality these people cannot teach? Have you been in such a position? I think I have been in a few of such situations – and I don’t think I had learnt a lot but I did like the teachers/lecturers.


  • 8. BlancheMaynard  |  October 20, 2008 at 10:42 pm

    Learning goes both ways, that’s for sure, even in the ‘traditional model’ of teaching where teacher lectures and students listen and ask questions. Questions can lead teachers to question some of their assumptions, beliefs and practices.

    I have a very open teaching style too, and I know that some of my students are/were uncomfortable with this. They wanted a ‘real’ teacher who would let them listen passively and would deliver them the ‘truth’. They got frustrated, but what they wrote in their journal made me think that they did learn about their own learning style, if only that.

    Motivation has a lot to do in the learning process. Motivation can be internal (coming from student, his/her attitude or interest in the subject) or external (coming from the teacher, his/her attitude, knowledge and passion about the subject). Either way, motivation is again linked to emotions rather than reason.

    In the past I connected with teachers whose knowledge was somewhat outdated or deficient, but rarely with teachers who lacked teaching abilities. I don’t rely on a single source to learn on a subject, so the lack of expert knowledge, for me, is less critical than an inability to communicate knowledge. These outstanding teachers, despite their lack of expert knowledge, did motivate me to learn more about the subject by taking other classes or reading more books: they helped me learn much more than the experts who could not motivate me by communicating their knowledge and passion for a subject.

    What it the same for you?


  • 9. wlonline  |  October 22, 2008 at 8:27 pm

    In a certain sense, the traditional “lecture” method may still hold value for certain audiences amongst students. But there are also students who are disillusioned with lectures and are switched off. That is my perception of the situation from my own discussions with academics and students. So there is still a mix of old and new – learning type 1 vs more open learning.

    As for teachers who can communicate, this is indeed desirable. I was bored to tears doing Year 12 mathematics because my Maths teacher was just boring and was not able to explain some of the more complex subject material. Partly survived due to my own interest in maths. Such teachers who also inspire and motivate students.

    I guess we can’t expect all teachers to possess expertise in all areas. I have known of cases due to resourcing issues where teachers are called upon to teach outside their area of expertise.

    There is a part of me that thinks that keeping up to date with what’s out there is also important. We hope that teachers don’t rest on what they have learnt/known previously and stop exploring/ continuing to learn and share their knowledge.

    A friend of mine has just finished a course in GIS: he was absolutely frustrated with his lecturer(s) who he felt could not provide more basic technical help or support with some of the specialised s/w in that area. It was sheer determination that helped him to get more out of the course.

    For my own learning, I supposed it depends on the type of subject matter. There are still subject areas that I would be able to do a lot more independent learning. But if I were to do Calculus now, I think I would have more difficulty compared to IT.


  • 10. BlancheMaynard  |  October 23, 2008 at 8:40 am

    I think that there is still place for the ‘traditional’, teacher-centric model, as far as the instructor can engage students and make them actively participate. Usually teachers who can engage the learners through their personality, enthusiasm and teaching style, are also pretty knowledgeable in their field, because they love it. If they don’t, it can only impact their teaching negatively. It’s hard to show enthusiasm and engagement towards content you barely know, although it is possible.

    I also think you need some kind of mentor to give you the basis as a learner. It could be a classmate that knows more than you do. In that sense, even a calculus course could be learner-centered, with students helping each other figure out problems and the “teacher” acting as a facilitator. It’s been tried with success before, although I wouldn’t be able to give you a precise reference.

    If your friend had had a peer network to help him with the technical aspects of GIS, I am sure his learning could have been greatly facilitated. My 15-year son has learned to build plastic models from reading books and magazines on the subject, and by asking questions and interacting with fellow modellers on a community of practice website. I know it doesn’t really apply to a university-level calculus or GIS course right now, but it could. The course could be set up in such a way to create peer learning groups/networks. I am still fuzzy on how this would work, but it seems possible.


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