Emergent Learning Networks


For the past chunk of time, I have been doing research into the emergence and evolution of learning networks in learning environments of all kinds. In my slightly (okay more than slightly) schizophrenic way of doing things, I have been looking at secondary science and high ed settings for this work.

Thanks to Stephen Downes, I have been thinking a lot about the differences between groups and networks. This this video and this presentation for the distinctions he makes between these two entities.

While I was still a secondary science teacher, I spent the last two years in the middle school in which I taught having redesigned a high school biology into a completely self-directed experience (or set of experiences) for 8th grade students. They could choose which unit to start with, their pathway through the set of units for the course, with whom they worked (or not), and when they considered themselves ready to be assessed.

Despite no prior experience with this degree of autonomy and accountability, all of those 50 students completed the course successfully and did extremely well on the state mandated final exam.

Most interesting to me was the emergence and evolution of the connections they formed over the course of the year.

Figure 5

This image depicts the arrangements of these students at two points of the school year. The diagram on the left illustrates their working connections (which I have taken to calling “student learning networks”) in about week 3 of the school year. At this point, as with most secondary students doing group work, they have organized themselves into dyads and triads, with a couple of singletons. The diagram on the right illustrates these student learning networks at about 3 weeks before the end of the school year (9 months later). At this point, we can see that some these dyads and triads have evolved into some more complex networks.

So far, I am fairly confident that two things are essential for the evolution of these student learning networks:

  1. Autonomy/Competence Supportive Learning Environment. As Self Determination Theory (SDT) predicts, these students responded positively to have a great deal of autonomy over their learning environment.
  2. Authentic Work. There is much debate about what constitutes authentic work for students. Some argue that authentic work is work that looks like that done by practitioners in the content area being studied. For example, in science this might look like students designing and conducting experiments and then analyzing and sharing their findings.  I have come to think that students are not necessarily budding scientists or historians or writers (although they might be). I am now thinking that the learning environment itself must seem authentic to them. They seem respond to being authentically challenged as learners.  I am still working out what that means.

The next big hurdle is to figure out how to capture and document the emergence of these learning networks.




MOOCs: A Toolbox for Course Designers?

This is a really succinct and focused take on MOOCs and their possible benefits. Added bonus – no hype and no products.

Educational Technology and Change Journal

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

In a video interview, Jonathan Moules1 asks Simon Nelson, CEO of FutureLearn, some tough questions about the current state of MOOCs. Noules’ questions caught my attention:

  • “How much of an issue is it that most of the people signed up for FutureLearn and other online education platforms already have a degree?”
  • “What’s more important, is it broadening access to millions of people across the planet to education or is it about making money?”
  • “How do you make money from online education?”
  • “A criticism of online education has been that a lot of people signing up for these courses don’t complete them. Do you see that as a challenge?”Simon Nelson CEO FutureLearn2

And I found Nelson’s responses succinct, clear, practical, and informed.

As much as these questions and responses are enlightening, however, I can’t help but feel that they continue to pigeonhole MOOCs as fascinating but peripheral, impractical…

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Reflections on the Closure of Yahoo Pipes

I found this really relevant to the issues revolving around technology in education, garden walls, and student ownership.

OUseful.Info, the blog...

Last night I popped up a quick post relaying the announcement of impending closure of Yahoo Pipes, recalling my first post on Yahoo Pipes, and rediscovering a manifesto I put together around the rallying cry We Ignore RSS at OUr Peril.

When Yahoo Pipes first came out, the web was full of the spirit of Web2.0 mashup goodness. At the time, the big web companies were opening all all manner of “open” web APIs – Amazon, Google, and perhaps more than any other, Yahoo – with Google and Yahoo particularly seeming to invest in developer evangelism events.

One of the reasons I became sos evangelical about Yahoo Pipes, particularly in working with library communities, was that it enabled non-coders to engage in programming the web. And more than that. It allowed non-coders to use web based programming tools to build out additional functionality for the web.

looking back, it…

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How IT and the Role of the CIO is Changing in the Era of Networked Organizations

I keep thinking about how this model (see the diagram) could also apply to learning environments. Rather than a top (teacher) down (student) model, what about a network of connections leading to real learning? What would learning environments look like then?

On Digital Strategy | Dion Hinchcliffe

As I’ve examined the case examples below, and talked with many top CIOs about how they were operating their departments over the last several years, it’s become clear that the contemporary IT organization — at least ones that are successfully leading their organizations into the future — is now wielding a new kind of power.

I don’t mean power in the traditional, hierarchical sense through departmental mandate, titles, and the org chart. In fact, those don’t seem to mean nearly as much as they used to, as I hear more and more concerns about the growth of shadow IT and the lines of business increasingly going their own way with their budgets, all with minimal formal IT involvement.

Yet, looked at another way, these very trends — worrisome as they should be for most CIOs — might actually represent vital asset pools and change capacity that we could actually tap…

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