As teachers, we are always on the look out for new research findings and ideas that not only attempt to explain how we learn but that also may give us new ideas and strategies on how to improve the learning experiences of our students and our own.
At the beginning of this century, some thinkers came to the realization that learning involves more than stimulus-response mechanisms (behaviorism), memory and information processing (conigtivism), or active internal construction of knowledge (constructivism). Connectivism, as they called it, focused on the concept that our experiences through life cause our brain to build networks and the interactions and cross-referencing between these networks and the outside world are vital to learning. One of the basic premises of Connectivism is that our realities are constantly shifting, a phenomenon that has been heightened by the rapid technological advancements, and in order to keep learning and adapting to new situations, we need to be able to access these networks, make a distinction between important and unimportant information, and finally make decisions in light of this ever-fleeting reality for today’s right answer might be wrong tomorrow. (Siemens, 2005, cited by Davis et al., 2008).
Each individual has a unique set of networks that can help or hinder their learning. An interesting way to visualize these networks and how they interact is to create a mind map, which is simply a graphic representation of ideas. On this post’s image, I included a mind map of my own learning networks as an example. Let’s say I am attempting to help a student who has English as a second language and is struggling with a math problem. Immediately, I will draw information from my academic background in Education, my experiences as a teacher, from feedback I have received from other international students I have worked with, from my own experience as non-native speaker, from information I find on Journals, websites, blogs, and other media, and even from exchanging ideas with colleagues and teachers. This interrelation between my personal learning networks will determine the strategies I employ in that particular instance. Concurrently, the lack of learning networks or a different set of networks may result in a different solution.
Some responses seem to be more instinctive whereas others require us to dig deeper and reflect before acting. One of Siemens interesting ideas is that “as knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses” (Siemens, 2005). In light of this notion, utilizing tools to access knowledge becomes as important, or even more important, than what we already know. Technology provides us a variety of these tools. Personally, I find myself surfing the internet for pretty much everything I want to learn. Whether I am looking for trivial information like a cooking recipe, building pros and cons lists on items I need to purchase, or information that is more elaborate such as research findings that can guide my professional decisions, the world wide web provides me a rich universe for exchanging and acquiring new knowledge. Evidently, we need to be wise in finding information that is reliable as many of the ideas shared on the internet are not well founded and can be biased and misleading. Nonetheless, this is one of the digital tools I find most helpful to facilitate my learning.
In closing, I want to challenge you to think about your own learning networks and how you can use them to learn. Put yourself in your student’s shoes too. Consider how their experiences and learning networks are impacting learning outcomes. How can you, as a teacher, facilitate learning and provide students with more than just information-pouring, but also give them tools to access information on their own along with strategies to connect all of these learning networks to construct new knowledge. More than ever before the focus is on educating individuals that can “think outside-of-the-box” and are capable of integrating their unique contributions with the global community. This new trend in education is moving us away from a teacher-centered model to a student-centered model where knowledge is not only constructed internally but across networks. Being able to filter the abundant sources of information and utilize digital tools and learning networks to problem-solve in a world of hastily shifting realities has become more crucial than the mere acquisition of knowledge.
Davis, C., Edmunds, E., & Kelly-Bateman, V. (2008). Connectivism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://textbookequity.org/Textbooks/Orey_Emergin_Perspectives_Learning.pdf Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Design & Distance Learning, 2(1). Retrieves from