Is the PLE a connectivist construct or a constructivist construct? Or both? Or neither, just influenced by many theories? A statement by Wendy Drexler in her paper prompted this question. I quote:
Principles of connectivism equate to fundamentals of learning in a networked world. The design of the teacher-facilitated, student-created personal learning environment in this study adheres to constructivist and connectivist principles with the goal of developing a networked student who will take more responsibility for his or her learning while navigating an increasingly complex content base. (emphasis added)
It could be worthwhile to consider two interpretations (Wendy uses support from both theories in tandem in her networked student model to construct & analyze the teaching-learning experience she describes):
- PLEs are some combination of constructivist as well as connectivist ideas/principles, or
- There exist two unique types of PLEs – constructivist and connectivist.
The PLE and the MOOC are ideas in Connectivism discussions that are represented not only as direct innovative applications of the connectivist state of art (theory, process and technology), but also raise comparisons, as in this week’s discussion, to entrenched industry-wide systems such as LMSs, as cogent alternatives for the education system.
Learning theories, in the past, have spawned a set of practices unique to their strengths. These practices (techniques, processes and technologies) have made it easier for downstream adoption of theory into the classroom (online or offline) and the eLearning content development and delivery industry as a whole. Further downstream, it has enabled technology development, research and assessment leading to a level of analytics on which the current system is based, directly or indirectly.
The MOOC environments, such as those for the PLENK2010 discussion, and the PLE/PLN environments that participants have been contributing, are now as much centerstage as the concepts behind connectivism as a theory in this discussion.
A lot of insight will be generated by researchers in PLENK2010 on preferences, styles and behaviors with MOOCs and PLEs, which should feed into improvements in these environments for the future or perhaps even new innovations. Obviously, a whole lot of work is being done on the technology architecture to ensure that the state of the art is fully utilized to translate connectivist influences to the platform level.
According to Stephen and George, what sets apart Connectivism from Constructivism and other theories is importantly that knowledge is distributed, the set of connections formed by actions and experience, and learning is the constant negotiation of new nodes in the network being added or removed, gaining importance or losing it.
A new node is a new experience and the learning process dictates that we “dynamically update or rewrite our network of learning and belief”. We do that by continuously adapting, self-organizing and recognizing emergent patterns. Learning becomes a ““door opening” process that first permits the capacity to receive knowledge, followed by encoding the knowledge as a node within our personal learning network”.
In that context, the learning process/pedagogy used in MOOCs and PLEs, with its emphasis on network formation, reflection, open-ness, connected-ness and other ideas, reflect the principles of connectivism.
By definition, they are different from learning processes in other theories such as Constructivism, and therefore, in this sense, it is confusing to term MOOCs and PLEs as both constructivist as well as connectivist.
Let us address the technology aspect. Are there two technological alternatives for PLEs and MOOCs? If for a moment we were to ignore Connectivism as a theory, but recognize the MOOC and the PLE as technological platforms, could they be assumed as a logical manifestation of social constructivist practices in the digital age?
If Connectivism did not exist, would we still have moved to MOOCs and PLEs as they are visualized today (maybe under different names)? How would a Social Constructivist design an open course of the same broad characteristics as the MOOC (large number of people, distributed, no entry qualifications, no credits…) or an open process of guided discovery or problem solving or by defining a set of tools for personal learning in a community of practice environment.
Our current environment in PLENK2010 (or earlier in CCKOx) is built on Moodle (which is an LMS inspired by constructivism, constructionism, social constructivism and connected & separate motivation; also here is their view on the pedagogy that Moodle supports) and extended with tools such aggregators (Stephen’s gRSSHopper), Twitter, SL and Elluminate.
If the design of Moodle is an answer to the question, and due to the way we are using Moodle in MOOCs so far, I believe that MOOCs and PLEs would need to be seen then, technologically, as equally applicable to both theories, to be used in ways that each theory predicates in its belief of what the learning process should look like.
Janet Clarey did a host of interesting interviews early last year on how leading LMS providers are looking at incorporating (or have now already incorporated) informal learning and social learning environments as an extension of the standard LMS offerings.
In my understanding, PLEs/PLNs are not comparable to LMSs, rather it is the MOOC environment that should be generally comparable to LMSs. Comparing PLEs/PLNs to LMSs are an apples to oranges comparison.
In MOOCs (read MOOCs environment), the management part is facilitative of connection forming and collaboration, not dictatorial as in an LMS augmented by social learning. In a MOOC, learning is the “door-opening” process whereas in an LMS it has rigidly expected outcomes inline with traditional models of training and assessment. In a MOOC, connections are openly negotiated with no need for structure, while an LMS must obey structure and authority.
Likewise, LMSs (or more generally Human Capital Management Systems [HCMS]) today have features that allow users to perform many other functions that MOOCs have not addressed – assessment and performance management, talent & succession management etc. – and although these may not be addressed by MOOCs by design and we may want other downstream solutions there. We need to definitely think how needs that HCSMs respond to as also needs for content management (authoring through to publishing and standards therein), are to be addressed.
That said, if the PLE grows to include management features (say additional “environments” for teaching or mentoring or assessing or tracking can be added) in a way that decentralizes the teaching-learning process, it may be worth comparing it with enterprise or institutional LMSs.
My belief was, and is, that thinking that the standard LMSes (including to a lesser extent Moodle itself) can be extended to include connectivist learning is a contradictory approach. It seems to be responding more to a paranoid “need” to go social, on both sides – customer and LMS vendor.
Which then takes me to the next question: Can we conceive a truly connectivist technological architecture that makes it technologically distinct from an implementation that could lend itself ambiguously to both constructivist as well as connectivist interpretations?
Connectivist systems need to address an important aspect – that of sense-making and wayfinding. These systems ways should, in some way, allow us to design environments, generate learning analytics and assess performance at the level of the person, while at the same time allow us to loosely manage, provision and plan the connective learning experience at different levels in the organization.
We would not only have to think of learning but also of connectivist assessment and performance, topics that we have not made substantial progress on (there is an interesting conference coming up in early 2011 on Learning Analytics, please check out the Google Groups site for some discussions).
Among other things, these systems should find ways of integrating with the rest of the ecosystem in the organization in consonance with connectivist principles. These systems should be responsive to the needs for privacy, should be technologically open with well-defined interfaces and should store content metadata in ways that can support the learning process.
Above all, there will be many tensions – personal vs. organizational preferences/knowledge/data, diversity and autonomy vs. structure and control etc. – and connectivist systems must provide for ways to adjust that balance for each organization.
I believe, at the heart of these systems, will be the following design principles:
- Open and extensible mash-up frameworks
- Reliance on Open APIs to deliver mash-ups
- Every object is made collaboration aware (X.0, technologically immune) irrespective of source
- Spaces are multiple views around a cluster of object base types
- Spaces are transferable as units and so are other dimensional views
- All resources are associatively and progressively connected through metadata
- Architecture builds in dynamic any-to-any connections while allowing any combination or view/perspective aggregation of X.0 objects
- NBTs (Network Based Training) will make possible persistent learning and knowledge management environments