New Theories

I just finished reading this post by Steve Wheeler about learning theories for a digital age. I don’t know about whether these new theories are making older theories as anachronistic as he thinks. While connectivism and other  learning theories are enhancing our understanding of how humans learn, it’s not as if the new ideas render all that old work obsolete. In fact, I think it scaffolds our understanding of education quite nicely. If we go back a mere fifty years ago, there were only a few people interested in explaining how we learn. If we go back a hundred, there were even less. What Dewey said in the 1930’s, was amplified by others throughout the 60’s and is presently augmented to reflect our current way of thinking in the modern day. Sure, Steve’s not suggesting we forget where we came from – at least I hope he’s not – but Dewey resonates as an overarching theory as much as connectivism applies to how we learn online. Perhaps that’s because the shifting of what an “experience” exists as. An experience in 1930 is different (contextually and functionally) than an experience is today. Our perspective is broader (although our focus may be narrower).

Dewey could never have anticipated YouTube, but in a way we can watch a video on YouTube, experience it, and then attempt to practice it in our own reality. Dewey certainly thought that experiential learning was doing something and learning from it. While we can draw a parallel between watching a YouTube video and listening to a lecture in the 1930’s, I wonder if there’s enough of a difference between the two (referencing R.E. Mayer’s work with multimedia learning, Innis’ work with communication theory) that they are cognitively different. Factoring in motivation (typically YouTube videos are viewed with purpose, lectures, well, we all know about them) may have a big difference in whether or not information is retained. I think it’s incredibly valuable to return to the foundations of educational theory to ground ourselves and think about what we know.

Formal Vs. Informal Learning

I’m applying for a job that is out of my educational range. Sure, this is something lots of people do all the time – where they have the experience but not the education credentials to back up the informal, on-the-job training that people have – or the experience. I’ve often wondered about formal education, whether it’s worth it, and I always assume it will be worth it. But maybe it’s not. I look at my experience, and comparing that to the job description, I’m confident I can do the job and excel in it. I have the skills and I have the passion to do it well. The thing that will hang me up is the lack of a Master’s. It’s not that I can’t do the education – every indication is that I can, my marks are high and feedback from my professors have been positive. The thing that holds me back is I just don’t have the money. At close to $700 for a half credit course, I’m about $5000 away from completing my Bachelor’s of Education. Even doing prior learning assessments would only reduce my courses required by one or two half credits. I’ve looked at the PLA’s as well, and in many cases, the theory required from these PLA’s bear no resemblance to the practical application of that skill.

Especially with online skills like HTML and the myriad of programming languages, most practitioners of web skills are self-taught or have learned on the job, a picture perfect definition of informal learning. How should we credit these people? Do we examine the projects they’ve worked on, or maybe give them a test to assess their skills? I lean towards the project based nature of assessment – I feel it’s closer to a real assessment of what someone can do. The other piece is that there’s such an open community of people out there sharing their work, is there any way to assess the individual with something as ubiquitous as HTML? Never mind the leaps and bounds that tools have taken since 2000, where it requires no memorization of tags, just the ability to select the appropriate tool from a list. Does that make the person less qualified than someone who has taken the time to go to class and learn tags? Factor this in further, most curriculum is behind the times, I know the stuff I learned in school in 2001/2 for HTML was already a couple years behind (it was equivalent to the courses in HTML I had taken at the University of Texas in 1997, which really didn’t tell me more than what I had taught myself already from resources on the web). Fast forward 9 years, and hopefully that curriculum has been updated and advanced, but there is no guarantee that the curriculum now looks at separation of content and design. In many ways informal learning has been superior to formal learning, especially so in this realm. I’d suspect that very very few institutions are thinking about HTML5, but there are already several books, many websites and untold numbers of resources coming out of the blogs around the Internet. Maybe formal education will be a curated process (much like George Siemens guessed at) where the instructor assembles the online resources and orders them so that they make logical sense, but doesn’t stand at the front of the class. Thank goodness, because I think it’s time for a change.

What I Learned This Week (Part 9)

MagicJack sued Boing Boing to get them to shut up about MagicJack’s TOS. Of course, they want to analyse your calls…. much like how Google analyses your searches (and matches it to demographics). The fact that so many people are attracted to “free”, and are willing to give away privacy at the cost of nothing is a little disturbing. Of course, if MagicJack said it like that, chances are they wouldn’t be in business.

Much like the ideas about making sense from an abundance of information, that grew from the Connectivism theory, I’ve been looking for ways to delve through the 100,000 plus apps available in the AppStore. App Store Overpopulation points to a couple websites who do a good job with reviews of apps. iPhone Tiny is another website who review mostly new apps and rank them on a 5 star scale. The real great website would combine the 5 star ratings available in the AppStore, review sites and users experience. Certainly anywhere ranking is involved (especially with ranking where money is involved), there is a certain amount of gaming the system, so there would need to be some authority and reliability with this site.

A brief touch from Zeldman (via Craigmod) on media and how the iPad can change how we view “books”. I think digital books have always been seen as either inferior, or second class as compared to physical books. Certainly displaying information on screen presents a set of challenges with regards to fidelity and precision that can’t be functionally overcome… so I think we need a different understanding of what a “book” will consist of in the future. The linked Craigmod article posits that barriers to publishing are falling – we’ve seen this idea before, with bands, fanzines, oh yeah punk rock. Well, fanzines and DIY culture extends back to the 60’s, so really this is an old idea with a new platform. The problem is that we haven’t seen too many breakthrough incidents – not too many fanzines have grown big enough to break through to mainstream culture (perhaps some skateboarding mags started as fanzine endeavors – I’m thinking Big Brother as an example) and even then, nothing on the scale of People or Time. Any of the huge punk bands (Sex Pistols, Ramones, Clash) were already accepted by mainstream record labels. I don’t think the iPad will change access points for independent publishers, just add more books available to people. The mainstream will still only see the 99% pushed by mainstream publishers.

Curation As A Method of Digital Teaching

George Siemens, Connectivism ruminator, has explored the idea of teacher as a curator previously, and it has come up again today courtesy of a tweet from @hjarche. Even though I was a participant in CCK08, and marginally involved in CCK09, I didn’t recall these ideas of what the teacher would become, although I do recall discussing the concept a few times in the chats in Elluminate. Curation is an interesting metaphor for teaching in the new technological environment – gather and display evidence, sometimes in a structured path, and allow conversation to develop from there. Allow the user/learner to make sense and meaning, then interject to either drive conceptual points further, or provide counter-points. I’d like to think this is what I do, but I’m not so sure. Even though feedback about my teaching is always positive, and people feel that they’ve learned something… I don’t know if that’s true. Maybe I need to ask better questions.


It’s interesting to see the theme of complexity pop up in unexpected places. A couple nights ago on the Daily Show with Atul Gawande. He was talking about how complexity is a problem for many experts, and how a simple checklist can save lives, but many experts felt that a checklist was too much of an ego bash to  take. And I guess he was plugging his book, the Checklist Manifesto. Guess that Connectivisms ideas about complexity are getting around. I know that this isn’t  a new idea, they are in fact, fairly old. When we go through our primary school education we learn using building blocks (and pretty much the same building blocks that we’ve always learned with). We learn a new concept, repeat it until it becomes second nature, then build on it. What ways can a simple tool like a checklist improve education?

As subjects become more complex, perhaps we could take this approach to remind educators (or ourselves) that even though we are at an advanced stage of understanding a subject – perhaps deeper and aware of more facets than our learners – we should always consider the fundamental underpinnings of those topics. Maybe checklists can assist us in seeing patterns where grouping makes sense; that makes checklists useful as a sensemaking strategy.

Corporate IT Policies and their Relation to Teachers and Students

Slate recently published an article that was brought to my attention by Harold Jarche on Twitter – the article blasted the monolithic IT policies that exist in the corporate world. After reading it, it was amazing drawing the parallels to how some teachers treat their students in the classroom. Where corporate IT policies restrict people to browse what they want, some teachers want to cut off the Internet entirely from their students. I understand that idea in a testing situation, but otherwise, if someone has paid money to sit in your class, I think it’s your job to convince them to pay attention to you. Whether that’s through logical reasoning, or providing interesting, captivating commentary on issues, or engaging activities. If they’re surfing while you’re talking, clearly what you’re talking about isn’t demanding their attention.

So you have to get them to pay attention. Make the connections to relevance. Much like how in the article the first paragraph contains an example of why using Firefox is better, you need to give your students why this subject is relevant. A lot of professors forget this – they know why recursion is important to a programming example or why the subject and verb need to agree in a sentence. Your student, on the other hand, may not. If you’re not giving them this relevance, they might just be checking on the Internet to find out why. Or, more likely, they don’t see the relevance, and give up and go do something that matters. Instructors, teachers, professors, whatever you call them have to recognize that the Internet isn’t going away, it’s going to become more pervasive. You can shut off their desktop’s access to the Internet, but not the laptop grabbing a wireless connection nor a phone or another device…

Why not turn it into a game? Tell your class in groups to find out how to do stuff and teach it to the rest in mini-sessions. You can guide them easily, and the knowledge is out there. You can then fill in the blanks, if they miss bits. And that strategy works for every skill, idea, course and concept. Need to teach Word? It works. Need to teach thermodynamics? Still works. Connectivism? Yep.

Riding the Wave of Crowds

There’s a lot of talk out there amongst y’all about distributed learning. Considering that we’re on the web and all, that’s a fairly insightful statement. Crowd sourcing was an interesting concept that I hadn’t heard about before, of course I’m not up to date on my marketing theories. I started thinking about how this is partially a business to individuals relationship and how it really emphasizes the power of crowds. Of course, marketing has always been about public opinion and (in my opinion) the power of many to influence.

Originally I read crowd sourcing as crowd surfing, which in my head, could describe the way individuals survey ideas on the web. Pick and choose from search results, go on facebook and ask your network of people questions, search on twitter for tweets about it, read wikipedia – you get the idea. Anyways, like a crowd surfer – you ride the crowd like a wave, eventually crashing to the floor when you have enough information to make a concrete connection to reality again – whether that’s to buy a product, engage in a service, or not do any of that at all.

I like that description of how online activities work sometimes. Plus it’s a nice tie-in to edupunk.

CCK08 Wrap Up

I’m listening to the CCK08 Wrap Up and one of my favourite topics – lurking – came up again. I stated at the time that lurking was a selfish statement – although you could lurk in CCK08, but take your knowledge elsewhere to a different group or network of connections.

Stephen said this in the chat, then expanded on it around the 53 minute mark:

Moderator (Stephen Downes): Yes – the activities themselves bcome patterns that are mtched to competences or expertise – activities = demonstration of performance

Here’s another drawback to lurking, you get no feedback on your thoughts. Yes, I understand the reflective learner, I’m almost always better when I’ve thought about things for a bit (at least that seems to be the pattern). But if you provide no activities to demonstrate your learning, you have a fundamental problem in getting anyone to recognize your ability in that area. Sure, it may be satisfying enough to know you can do it… but unfortunately, very few people will take you at your word. It’s a lot like trustworthyness – you have to earn it. External sources validate the internal ones.

So I’m sorry I missed the wrap up, there’s lots of things I wanted to add during the session, but couldn’t because I was only 8 hours late.

Twittering Connections as Volatile as the Wind

I’ve never been a huge fan of Twitter and as such, I don’t think too much about it. Although this entire morning I’ve run into several articles talking about it. One of the major reasons I don’t like Twitter is that it’s not deep. I like reading something that gives me context, something to mull over, thoughts to consider, links to other content and more. Twitter is less. And rightfully so, that’s the purpose of it.

Nevertheless, this article mentions Twitter and uses it as a comparison to blogging to see how social networking enacts power laws. It’s interesting, because it grabs everything under the Web 2.0 umbrella and while that’s maybe useful for an overview, it does a disservice to the entire thing. Web 2.0, like every complex structure is made up of differing parts, many times operating with different objectives, if any at all. I don’t think Twitter works like blogs at all (certainly they can, but for the most part don’t) and I don’t believe that social power structures in each system work the same.

The value of being followed is important, yes. It doesn’t mean that communication is enacted. I could be followed by several thousand others, it doesn’t mean that what I’m saying is understood or even further something that anyone would act upon. That requires real power. So when @BarackObama is followed by a hundred thousand…. that’s power and the cult of celebrity – would hundred thousand follow his blog? Or would a million watch his vlog? Oh wait, maybe they will – it’s called the State of The Nation address… Sure Web 2.0 has created it’s own celebrities, who in turn have influence and power, but really we’re not changing the power structure at all. While social networking is allowing people to connect more freely, real power acts as it has done for hundreds of years.

Clay Shirkey’s article about Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality talks about this, especially well summed up in the concluding statements:

In between blogs-as-mainstream-media and blogs-as-dinner-conversation will be Blogging Classic, blogs published by one or a few people, for a moderately-sized audience, with whom the authors have a relatively engaged relationship. Because of the continuing growth of the weblog world, more blogs in the future will follow this pattern than today. However, these blogs will be in the minority for both traffic (dwarfed by the mainstream media blogs) and overall number of blogs (outnumbered by the conversational blogs.)

I see the value of Twitter as a method to deal with quick messages (the idea that a language teacher could use twitter to provide new vocabulary each day that student could subscribe to is interesting), I don’t see the power laws enacted with it. Perhaps that’s because the power of Twitter is in the instantaneous nature of it, the connection is gone in a second… the lasting impression is not always long lasting.

Singularity and Connectivism

Last week, I watched a documentary on Alan Moore, who’s a fairly interesting fellow. One of the things that he said was the rate of information was growing at an exponential rate. For anyone who knows calculus, you can half any number an infinite amount of times and never equal zero – you only get so close to zero that you approximate it. In this case, zero is the length of time it takes for human knowledge to double. So doing some internet research brought up this article about the law of accelerating returns. That article refers to the moment that the double exponential growth of human knowledge and the moment when knowledge grows almost instantaneously as the singularity. Mindblowing, especially so considering that it was written in 2001. If you’re familiar with The Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, you know the Vogons come and “pave vogons!over” the Earth at the moment that the Earth (as computer) is to uncover the meaning of life, the universe and everything. So maybe everyone’s read a few too many good books?

As a total aside, if you want to create some bad Vogon poetry, the BBC has decided to allow that to happen. I don’t think they understand what they have unleashed…

Now what does this all have to do with education? Well, clearly, a new paradigm will be required for knowledge growth that expands immediately.

In connectivism, it’s more important to know how to access data, than what the data is. Getting information and assessing it is crucial to applying that information in a successful way. It also addresses the concept of singularity and instantaneous exponential growth of human knowledge. Now, the Kurzweil article talks about how artificial intelligence will be able to exceed human intelligence in the next twenty years or so (although this isn’t a fixed number by any stretch). It certainly is only one hypothesis. The article continues on to speculate about what might occur to allow for this singularity.

Bringing it back to Alan Moore, he also talks about the singularity and addresses it in a more spiritual manner – where this singularity might be seen as a spiritual enlightenment. Kurzweil also points to this as some sort of transformative incident, although the article doesn’t really speculate that much about the future beyond the singularity.