Many years ago, one of my teachers stressed the importance of knowing how to find and use information to support us in our work. That meant a trip to the library, a look at a printed manual, or maybe a conversation with a colleague. In those days, my access to these resources was pretty minimal. Now, with the advent of worldwide computer networks and the Internet with its social networking tools, search engines, and volumes of information resources it is expansive and often overwhelming. If I want to find information about something, I simply need to go to my favorite web search engine and perform a query on my selected key words. No more trips to the library; I can easily find books and articles by accessing the online library catalog at the university where I work. If the material isn’t available in electronic form, I can choose to have it delivered to my physical work mailbox. As for personal communication, I can send an email to my colleague in the office next door or across the ocean with each one getting the message almost instantaneously. By using social networking tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Yahoo Groups, I can communicate with people I would most likely never have met. Using Yahoo Groups to discuss my passion, horses, moved me from being an isolated horse lover to an active member of a worldwide horse community. I made connections that led to my participation in face-to-face events such as trail rides and clinics, sometimes heated debate, and lasting friendships with people I have never met face-to-face.
Although I often long for the simpler days, I know I don’t really want to give up the information support and sense of community the digital age provides me. Connectivism, a proposed learning theory for the digital age, refers to the people and digital tools I have come to depend on as a ‘Personal Learning Network’ or PLN. This term was coined prior to its use in connectivism but the emphasis then was on connections among people (Lalonde, 2009)(Tobin, n.d.) and did not include digital technologies. Much like my teacher, connectivism places an emphasis on navigating and connecting to information (Siemens, 2005). In connectivism, learning occurs through the process of connecting to and feeding information into a learning community. In addition, courses are not the primary method of learning. Other methods include email, communities, conversations, web search, email lists, reading blogs, and so on (Connectivism, n.d.). A core skill required for learning is “the ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts” (Siemens, 2005, para. 10). My own PLN supports these and other tenets of connectivism. However, I haven’t experienced any support in my PLN for one particular tenet of connectivism – “Learning may reside in non-human appliances” (Siemens, 2012, para. 10). I find great value in storing information in ‘non-human appliances’ that I can retrieve and use later. However, I haven’t experienced any sense of my ‘learning’ residing or occurring in them. It may be that I have documented something I learned in a format that I stored outside of myself. For example, when I give a presentation or write a paper. Nonetheless, it is nothing more than stored information that I can find and use when I need it.
For a representation of my first attempt at documenting my PLN, see my previous post titled My Personal Learning Mindmap.
Connectivism. (n.d.). Description of Connectivism. Retrieved April 5, 2014, from http://www.connectivism.ca/about.html
Lalonde, C. (2009, October 8). On historically defining Personal Learning Network. ClintLalonde.net. Retrieved April 6, 2014, from http://clintlalonde.net/2009/10/08/on-historically-defining-personal-learning-network/
Siemens, G. (2005, August 10). elearnspace. Connectivism: Learning as Network-Creation. elearnspace. Connectivism: Learning as Network-Creation. Retrieved April 5, 2014, from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/networks.htm
Siemens, G. (2012, January 19). Connectivist Learning Theory – Siemens. P2P Foundation. Retrieved April 4, 2014, from http://p2pfoundation.net/Connectivist_Learning_Theory_-_Siemens
Tobin, D. R. (n.d.). Building Your Personal Learning Network. Corporate Learning Strategies. Retrieved April 4, 2014, from http://www.tobincls.com/learningnetwork.htm