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How to improve one’s skills and develop professionally in the network society of knowledge?

Using cyberspace in the process of formal and informal professional development becomes the everyday life, and especially acquiring professional knowledge at various internet fora and social networks. The ability to acquire knowledge in the digital age, that is, to select the received information, effective use of technology, learning via social networking becomes an education challenge in the modern times. In the network society the starting point to learn is the ability to see the appearing connections and reaching the most current knowledge.

The creation of the network is an indispensable element of the process of learning both in the traditional way and via multimedia distance education. At the beginning of the 21st century there was a concept created, by some defined as a theory emphasizing the meaning of learning in the dispersed social networks. Connectivism concentrates on the social transfer of knowledge by means of social networks being created in the virtual society. George Siemens and Stephen Downes are the authors of connectivism, the concept established as a result of a critical analysis of limitations of such learning theories as: behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism. The main purpose of the analysis was to explain the influence of the advanced information and communication technologies on the process of learning, communication as well as the perception of the everyday reality. Studying people create their own, often advanced technologies of learning environment more and more commonly. They make use of advanced and easy in use applications of social Internet. These are the tools which enable them to participate and intensify of interaction, and thanks to this also to build meanings or knowledge to some extent beside or even instead of the formal working environment, which is e-learning platform or a lecture room. New communication tools of the social Internet cause that the vital role in the learning process is played by the skills of independent goal setting, learning, our own development planning, not only by the knowledge transmission – from experts to the students, using new technologies and information transfer media. According to Donald G. Perrin, the publishers of the International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, the theory suggested by G. Siemens and S.V. Downes combines crucial elements of many theories of learning, social structures and technological tools, creating a very strong theoretical basis to understand learning in the digital age.

Connectivism is defined as a network theory of learning, however the word network does not mean in this case only, and even not above all Internet. Siemens concentrates rather on social networks, which make use of latest achievements of technology in fact. In his opinion learning is a process, which is not fully under control of learner or teacher. There is no need to have everything in mind. Knowledge we possess does not have to be kept in our mind at all, but can be stored in the resources outside (e.g. in the organized resources or databases), and only the connection between these resources or databases starts the process of learning. The act of connection itself (for educational purpose) becomes more important than that what we know at the moment. The theory of connectivism assumes that the decisions we take on the basis of a certain information resource which continuously changes. New information is added to it all the time. The key skill is distinguishing what is vital and what is not. It is as important as realizing the moment new information significantly changes the motive of a certain decision we made. In other words, know-how or know-what is replaced by know-where as this is the key leading to the searched-for resource of knowledge. It becomes a metarule of the effective learning, as important as the resources of knowledge we have.

Siemens in his breakthrough publication concerning connectivism, titled Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age[1] suggested the following assumptions:

  • science and knowledge are based on the diversity of views;
  • learning is the process of connecting clusters or specialist sources of information;
  • the elements of learning can be found in technology and devices, outside the human mind;
  • the range and capacity of know more knowledge is more important than knowledge that everyone has;
  • establishing and maintaining connections is an indispensable element simplifying the process of permanent education;
  • the basic critical skill is the ability to perceive connections between subject matters, ideas and terms;
  • the circulation of knowledge (knowledge update) is the aim of all connectivist educational actions, knowledge we need now (exact and current), is the basis of education;
  • process of learning is the process of making decisions. Selection of the content we want to master, assessment of the received information and seeing its meaning are done through the prism of reality. Decision you take is temporary. It may turn out in the future that it is not accurate anymore with regard to changes going on in the reality, which had influence on the previous decision.

One of the most crucial aspects in connectivism is making use of the metaphor of knowledge as a creation of network consisting of clusters and connections. In this metaphor the cluster is understood as all that can be connected with another cluster, that is information, data, feelings, images etc. Learning in this concept is the process of creation of connections between different clusters and taking actions supporting network development. According to the assumptions of the metaphor of learning not all connections are equal considering their strength. In fact many connections can be very poor and short-lived. Siemens defines connectivism as a theory of independent organization, in which we observe the integration of rules of information chaos exploration, thematic networks and their complexity. Therefore learning in this case is understood as the process ongoing in a chaotic, constantly changing environment and is not completely controlled by the learner. Learning and knowledge can be located outside the organised structures or knowledge bases. Activity of a learner focuses on connecting information in a special sets of connections, which let us learn more and are more important that the current state of learner’s knowledge. The dynamics of connectivism results from the action based on decisions, which fundaments are fast changes in the everyday reality and basic knowledge. This causes the new information to be absorbed and processed all the time. Therefore, both the skills concerning the distinction between the rank of information and its usability and the skills of critical thinking towards the decisions already made in the past are becoming so essential. Meta-learning is becoming as important as the traditional process of learning, described as know-how and know-why; in the network society it is completed by the skills of searching for knowledge, that is, the process called know-where. More and more frequently the research indicate that the basic component of the cognitive processes used by our brain is recognizing the patterns, and not only information processing.  Stephen Downes[2] expands on this statement in his works, considering that learning does not result from the direct causal interaction between the teacher and the learner. Currently there is a perceivable exchange of the causal model of education into the model based on a network phenomenon. That results from the fact that online education process has a much wider range, which is related to the opinions that:

  • network can be based on lack of physical location in space;
  • an individual can make a decision of becoming the network member or resign from being its member;
  • an individual can take many identities in different networks or many kinds of membership statuses in them.

If we take the assumption concerning the online learning content distribution, this may have a great impact on the didactic process design. Its elements refer not only to communication, but above all this is the process in which the learners delve into the presented material and identify themselves with it. It is worth emphasizing that learning, understood this way, is the process based only on the information processing focused on one aim or task. However, both formal and informal actions regarding acquiring knowledge from different sources of information are valuable. The advanced knowledge is not created as a result of isolationism, but is activated the moment of it is necessary. That is possible thanks to understanding its direct and indirect character as well as the possibility to manage it. The process of a living unit is in a way full of educational experiences, which may lead to the creation of the dynamic network of knowledge, enabling the learner to receive new information and combine it with the knowledge already acquired. As a result of that, the decisions concerning our professional and personal life are more effective.

In the United States of America connectivism is considered by many scientists as the model supporting the design of the online didactic content and multimedia materials. It is typical of the digital society learning in the social networks and cooperating with the multicultural network environment. As far as the connectivism is concerned, depending on the discipline, level, age, context of the situation, in which the course is conducted, there is a different approach to the design, development and the way the educational resources, e.g. e-learning are provided. In order to increase the effectiveness and simplify the process of designing the didactic content of the electronic resources, Siemens recommends the authors of the course considering the following elements, such as:

  • context,
  • relations, connections,
  • necessity of choice.

Siemens claims that nothing influences the design more than the context, in which the process of learning is set. Corporations cannot assume that everyone in the global educational project will have access to the broadband Internet. Language and cultural conditions are as important as those technological one, similarly to the level of the information communication technology skills of the teachers and students.  Due to the fact that the information appears in various environments to the greater and greater extent, it is vital to consider also the alternative channels of education via mobile devices, simulation games or virtual worlds. The other element essential in the design is to take the relations and knowledge connections, being created during the process, into account. Knowledge is disseminated via social and technological networks, therefore, the development and the further exploration of these networks should be assumed. Effective design of the learning process should be concentrated above all on supporting the learners in the development of their capacity to participate in the network. Learner must be able to find the information and gain access to the expert services.

The next element is to give the learners the opportunity to choose the educational resources. The course designers are not able to predict all needs of the course attendants. In this case the selection and diversity are the important factors in the design. They have to give the opportunity to select: different subjects, pace, learning method (e.g. online or mobile), level of support (e.g. mentoring or self-education). Instead of getting stuck in the details of the education path through the whole material, the course attendants should be given the opportunity to choose the way of using the personal and social networks. In this model it is essential that the students are still able to access the important resources as well as own social and information networks after the end of the course.

Picture 1. Learning Development Cycle, G. Siemens

Learning development cycle

Source: own analysis on the basis of G. Siemens, Learning Development Cycle: Bridging Learning Design and Modern Knowledge Needs, http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/ldc.htm, [12.04.2010].

Siemens suggested Learning Development Cycle – LDC, which was to complete the gap between the classic approach to the didactic process design and the alternative models resulting from the needs of the society connected with the global network of knowledge in the corporate and academic aspect.

The cycle of the development of learning described on the picture no.1 is a metamodel of didactic planning, which takes above all the subject of the planning process into consideration. 

As a rule, an organization needs a model, which includes various ranges of learning and taking different concepts, intentions and desired results into consideration. LDC cycle proposed by Siemens consists of the following stages:

  • range and aims of the planned educational resources;
  • creating educational resources;
  • experiences of the receiver of the educational resources;
  • metaevaluation run in order to define the effectiveness and accuracy of the resources planning process and the project assumptions;
  • educational and concluding assessment of the project and experiences of the resources recipient.

As Downes explains, to teach means to suggest a model and experience, to learn – practice and reflection in this concept. Since 2008 Siemens and Downes have been running courses titled Connectivism and the connective knowledge, explaining the basic of the new theory. Over 2000 people from all over the world attended already the first online course. In the United States of America the connectivism is becoming more and more popular as the new theory of learning, which influence on the shape of the governmental transformation plan of the American education concerning application of new technologies in the education process is visible.

Roksana Neczaj-Świderska

 

Bibliography:

1.      Siemens G., Learning Development Cycle: Bridging Learning Design and Modern Knowledge Needs, blog elearnspace, 2005.
2.      Siemens, G., Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age, „International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning”, nr 2 (10), 2005.

Netography:

http://www.elearnspace.org/KnowingKnowledge_LowRes.pdf

http://www.connectivism.ca/



[1] G. Siemens, Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, blogelearnspace 2004, http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm, [03.02.2011].

[2] S. Downes, Are the Basics of Instructional Design Changing?, 2005

http://www.downes.ca/cgibin/website/view.cgi?dbs=Article&key=1120241890&format=full, [12.04.2011].

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