Connectivism and MOOCs: The Web We Weave

Photo Credit: mkhmarketing via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: mkhmarketing via Compfight cc

“Connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired. The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital. The ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday is also critical.”

Despite being written in 2004, long before the advent of Twitter, Google+ (Facebook was in its infancy), the article on Connectivism presents ideas that equally transcend the past decade and absolutely apply to learning today. Connectivism and MOOCs are expansive topics and could be approached from many different angles, so I’m sure we’ll see a variety of perspectives in your posts.
We could investigate these topics through an objective view of the material provided through the referenced readings, links and videos explaining the premise and definition. And yet through a community such as COETAIL, you’re all involved hands-on with the experience to some extent, so it may be easier for you to approach it in a subjective manner. While COETAIL is not actually a MOOC per the definition, the nature of learning in an online environment such as this allows you to connect in a similar way.
From the 2013 Horizon Report

The movement toward open content reflects a
growing shift in the way scholars in many parts
of the world are conceptualizing education to a
view that is more about the process of learning
than the information conveyed. Information
is everywhere; the challenge is to make effective
use of it. Open content uses Creative Commons and
other forms of alternative licensing to encourage
not only the sharing of information, but the sharing
of pedagogies and experiences as well. Part of the
appeal of open content is that it is a response to both
the rising costs of traditionally published resources
and the lack of educational resources in some regions.

What better way to understand the implications current and future online learning has and will have on your students than to reflect on your own learning through this model? Surely for some people learning online has been an amazing experience, providing ultimate flexibility, inspiring connections and interesting conversations beyond the walls of your own schools. Learning takes place at your own pace and in your preferred schedule. And yet others may find that learning online simply doesn’t suit them as well; perhaps it’s too unstructured, too open, or you may struggle trying to adapt to such a different model than our traditional education has provided.


Photo by Brandon Hoover

On a personal note, I’ve taken courses where I was literally a number in the system, the instructor never had any contact with me, and I had very minimal interaction with the other students. Although I’m highly accustomed to working online, I found this environment to be too extreme; too stark and isolated. I could not thrive and it made learning much less conducive. I can’t imagine how those students who had minimal experience with learning online must have felt. Fortunately COETAIL is nothing like that! For some of you this may be your first venture into online learning; others may have already dipped their toes in these waters. A couple of points to reflect on:

How have you adapted to learning online? What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them? What has been the most positive aspect of partaking in this model of learning? How do you feel this may impact students in developing countries? (that’s a whole other topic to consider!)


A phrase that came up in the reading is the need to nurture relationships; specifically it stated, “Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning”
Twitter as a PLN (Personal Learning Network)

That quote can easily apply to both students and adults. Let’s frame it around Twitter as an example that most of you can relate to. Twitter for many people becomes a temporary PLN with usage that flares up during PD sessions, conferences and the like, and yet extinguishes quickly once the event concludes only to do so the next month or year ahead. By doing so, you never truly get to know the intricacies of sharing and learning together; of extending your learning and connections beyond the scope of a PD related event, and absorbing the full experience of using tools such as Twitter as a powerful networking and information sharing medium.

Your PLN shouldn’t become something like a business card; one that you only pull out and refer to when a professional connection is made. It should be flowing, meandering and always evolving – and something you nurture in order to keep it active. Coming back to the quote above, maintaining connections is vital; you can see this in action – the more you give of yourself and your ideas to others (and beyond just social media of course), the more you receive in return.

It’s important that we can relate this back to our students. The students we teach are growing up in an unprecedented time of connections and the nature of an ‘online’ community vs ‘offline’ community simply blurs together for many of them. They’re not ‘online friends’ for them; they’re simply friends. We should be cognizant of this when we apply our own perceptions of what connections mean for students today. This has implications for understanding their use of social media, the policies schools put into place regarding blocking of services, and what it means to be a digital citizen.

This also applies to COETAIL in terms of interacting with others in this cohort. If you wait until the last couple of weeks to begin posting and reflecting, bunching all the posts together, you’ll likely get much less out of the experience – the conversations and topics have already moved on. It may be in your best interest in terms of learning and connecting with others to strive to keep somewhat in sync (outside of the week off Jeff mentioned). The more you delve into each others’ posts and get involved in commenting and reflecting, the more variety and perspectives you garner to enhance your own learning.
Your Own Web

As a side note, here’s an intriguing way to consider your own connections. You can visualize your connections to others (with LinkedIn in this case but you could do so with other services as well) with tools such as LinkedIn Maps. I just had a play; it’s interesting to view just how intricate these connections and relationships are; give it a try yourself. Is there anything that surprises you? Do you see patterns develop from the differing aspects of your life? (personal, professional, university, etc)



Wading Through the Data

Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today. A real challenge for any learning theory is to actuate known knowledge at the point of application. When knowledge, however, is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill. As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses.

From Fast Company:

  • From 2005 to 2020, the digital universe will grow by a factor of 300, from 130 exabytes to 40,000 exabytes, or 40 trillion gigabytes (more than 5,200 gigabytes for every man, woman, and child in 2020).
  • From now until 2020, the digital universe will double every two years.
  • 68% of the data created in 2012 was created and consumed by consumers– watching digital TV, interacting with social media, sending camera phone images and videos between devices and around the Internet, and so on.

I won’t rant too long about this, but think for a moment how much of a paradigm shift this is for education and our students today – and how much different it will be for the following generations. The accumulation of information, content and data is growing at an incredible exponential rate. The ability to filter information, to quickly detect what’s valuable and what’s fluff and to formulate connections that will result in increased opportunities for learning and development will be key. With the world’s data at their fingertips and the scope of human knowledge carried around in their smartphones and devices, learning how to learn will be an increasingly vital skill.


One thought on “Connectivism and MOOCs: The Web We Weave

  1. 1. “the more you give of yourself and your ideas to others (and beyond just social media of course), the more you receive in return.” I really like the way you put it Brandon. When I’m looking for people to follow on Twitter, I’m very wary of the people who have thousands of followers but follow only a couple hundred (or less) people. They might be giving a lot…but what are they receiving? Are they even open to receiving? It needs to be a mutual relationship…and I would even say the more you receive, the more you can give!

    2. The ‘Wading Through the Data’ quote you pulled out. Maybe that’s a key to my thoughts on why MOOCs work so well for adults but K-12 education needs some fixing. It seems like most kids don’t really feel as though knowledge is needed. They have a hard time connecting what they are learning in school to how it’s going to help them in the real world. MOOCs do so well because adults realize what knowledge they need and they now have a place to find it. So how do we help K-12 students realize what knowledge they need and motivate them to get it?


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