Reflecting on learning and seeing the world in exciting new ways.

George Siemens photo

George Siemens

This morning, we had the pleasure of hosting George Siemens. George held two one-hour sessions; one for all staff and another specifically for our learning and teaching development team. George had us all captivated without the aid of slides, the web, or any digital tools. He arrived fresh from the Vice Chancellors’ Symposium 2010 at Massey University on Friday, where he gave a presentation entitled Connectivism and Changing Times: Learning for a Socially Wired World.

George had our staff positively buzzing with ideas and questions during and after the session, some of which I will explore here.

Key roles of knowledge institutions

Throughout history, knowledge institutions have mapped their activities to the societies that exist and that they serve. Universities themselves were developed to service the model of knowledge from a time. Libraries essentially ‘capture’ knowledge and information from an era and the development of the printing press allowed this information to be published and generated further. This contributes to the concept of placedness, that is, activities and events occurring in or around a particular place or within its vicinity. Social network learning can help allow learners access to knowledge and information regardless of their location.

Change theory

George talked about three major types of change.

  1. Paradigm shift: It usually occurs about once every century or 200 years, often as the result of an anomaly in current thinking or practice.
  2. Broad technology adoption: Moving to the adjacent possible, while still retaining the essence of the original underlying experience, ie sustaining change. For example, the introduction of the dynamo to aid factory production. I wonder if the same could be said of technology enhanced learning for existing paper-based programmes, rather than a pedagogical shift to e-learning?
  3. Disruption: Google competed with Microsoft by entering the web market. Our institution could do this by offering a distinct style of open distance learning in New Zealand.

The secret to success with regard to information production nowadays is rapid iteration. That is, in order to keep up with the pace of information development and change, we need to be able to throw out ideas quickly, get feedback quickly, change our ideas quickly and move on. We often don’t have the time it requires to wait for the perfect article or learning resource to be produced before publishing and sharing it. Also, ideas need other people to contribute to them and help develop them. The cost for this is essentially zero thanks to tools such as blogging, microblogging, web cam, laptop, tablet, videos, and so on. This contributes to low-end disruptive change, an area explored by Stephen Marshall during his workshop on e-learning and organisational change a few weeks ago. Stephen gave the example of YouTube, with its low-quality, quickly-made videos by its community of users, taking a serious chunk out of the status and popularity of television production for news and other short video items. Sometimes there is a very valid place for resources that are “quick, dirty and disposable”.

Social network learning – connectivism

George asked, “Who can build and fly a 747 plane?” The answer is, “no-one – on their own”. This is a process that requires connected specialisation between individual expertise and a system which connects the right people with the right skills to do the right task. Just as we relied on social systems in the past to teach our children how to farm or build a house, we can create global social networks to help us understand knowledge. The possibilities are endless.


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