Monday, February 19, 2007

Free roam learning - versus informal learning

Informal learning has been heavily discussed this week online. All or nothing could see informal learning integrated in training together with formal education. Stephen Downes and Tom Haskins
do not agree with this but view informal learning as non-formal, as not linked to any marketable entity, in which control is inposed by others than the learner. I like Tom's analogy of free range chickens with learning. It seems to me that Tom's and Stephen's sense of informality entails for learners to roam freely from node to node in online networks, and I would call it free roam learning as free range still holds some connotations of restrictio and control. It would be good to keep free-roam and informal seperate as there is still a high proportion of the population that does not have access to the Internet, thus also does not have access to freely roam from node to node. In Wales that is about 51% of the population. These are in general older people and people from unskilled and semi-skilled backgrounds. Should we leave all these people out of the equasion as they do not have access to the technology? I don't think so. Informal learning, and with this I mean 'first step learning' relevant to the needs, aspirations, and interests of learners, is offered as a stepup to other forms of learning all over the UK. It is informal as it is very much negotiated with the learners and there are no formal assessments involved in the process. It is not free roam learning as lack of confidence and efficacy means that a number of steps need to be taken before these learners can move from informal to free roam learning. It is important when discussing connected knowledge that we keep in mind that the most vulnerable people in society are excluded from the discussion.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Communication in the blogosphere

At the connectivism conference George Siemens responded to my posts on 'communication while using technology in education'. Here is the link to his blog. I haven't worked my way through the post and interesting comments on his blog completely yet, but it captures a number of important issues. I cannot see a true dialogue in blogging: online communication is not a true two-way conversation, but people posting messages, putting forward their own viewpoint, the things they are interested in. The medium is not as well suited to communicating as a face to face environment and people only half-listen to the other persons point of view (especially when they are as long as the ones on his blog) or do not respond at all.
The problem with not responding at all is that the blogger becomes an information source in broadcasting mode, rather than a source of knowledge. I can understand that people at the centre of networks, the 'experts' (and I do believe this is the way the networks develop, not random nodes, but communities with expert(s) at the centre) cannot always continue to communicate; they will move on themselves as they learn more. Where does that leave the people at the periphery of the network? I would say with lots of information to digest and a need to not only mull it over in their own heads, but to comunicate with others.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Connectivism conference

The connectivism online conference is underway. I just ended a conversation with 180+ people and still can't let go and participate in the discussion. If you don't know what connectiviism is, Stephen Downes described it as follows on one of the discussion forums:

'At its heart, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.

It shares with some other theories a core proposition, that knowledge is not acquired, as though it were a thing. Hence people see a relation between connectivism and constructivism or active learning (to name a couple).

Where connectivism differs from those theories, I would argue, is that connectivism denies that knowledge is propositional. That is to say, these other theories are 'cognitivist', in the sense that they depict knowledge and learning as being grounded in language and logic.

Connectivism is, by contrast, 'connectionist'. Knowledge is, on this theory, literally the set of connections formed by actions and experience. It may consist in part of linguistic structures, but it is not essentially based in linguistic structures, and the properties and constraints of linguistic structures are not the properties and constraints of connectivism.

In connectivism, a phrase like 'constructing meaning' makes no sense. Connections form naturally, through a process of association, and are not 'constructed' through some sort of intentional action. And 'meaning' is a property of language and logic, connoting referential and representational properties of physical symbol systems. Such systems are epiphenomena of (some) networks, and not descriptive of or essential to these networks.

Hence, in connectivism, there is no real concept of transferring knowledge, making knowledge, or building knowledge. Rather, the activities we undertake when we conduct practices in order to learn are more like growing or developing ourselves and our society in certain (connected) ways.

This implies a pedagogy that (a) seeks to describe 'successful' networks (as identified by their properties, which I have characterized as diversity, autonomy, openness, and connectivity) and (b) seeks to describe the practices that lead to such networks, both in the individual and in society (which I have characterized as modeling and demonstration (on the part of a teacher) and practice and reflection (on the part of a learner))'.

As you can imagine quite some discussion is taking place as the concept of connectivism is controversial in itself. I am not convinced that we can leave behind concepts such as 'information' and 'knowledge' as we have known them for centuries.

There are networks out there producing mis-information and half-truths. People will always look for likeminded people, diregarding critical examination of the network's ideas. How would this work in an educational sense? What would the role of the tutor be? Refuting mis-information, or being the expert and providing content?

Thursday, February 1, 2007

MIT laptops project is gathering momentum

The project by MIT to develop laptops and facilitate equality in ICT access between children in developing and developed countries is gathering momentum. The test phase will start in February.
This seems a massive step in the direction of unleashing the creative potential of people in communities and countries whose voices have been marginalised for so long.

Will the laptops end up and stay with the people they are being designed for? The production cost might be low in Western terms, but in developing countries one laptop would feed a lot of empty stomachs! Link