Latest posts by Ken Carroll (see all)
- How To Get The Content Advantage - December 11, 2015
- Why I’m Buying Jay Baer’s New Book Even Before I Know The Title - December 10, 2015
- The Managerial Class Sucks At Content And This Is Your Opportunity - November 19, 2015
Although they come in an infinite variety, all networks are ultimately about nodes and connections with things (like data, for example) passing through them. (The flow can be two-way, such as on the internet, or a cell-phone network, or one-way, as with broadcast radio.)
Apart from information flow, networks exhibit other learning-friendly properties. We see these clearly on the internet. From random access data retrieval, to an endless array of presentation formats, the network allows us to learn in unique ways.
Networks have emergent qualities
Sometimes these properties are more than the sum of their parts, and emerge in ways you cannot predict. A thousand networked computers are not the same thing as a thousand computers without the connections. The connections mean that data can be shared and the learning can begin, which is good because human beings are pre-disposed to do just that if the environment supports it. I find it remarkable to see how people instinctively look for ways to collaborate (a powerful way to accelerate learning) in these contexts, so the trick is, obviously, to design for the possibility.
This chicken/egg relationship between the technology and the pedagogy (nature/nurture) has been a revelation to me. There is an element of simply starting out with an effective network and working from there. (The origional design must, obviously, know what its purpose is.) The academic team at ChinesePod know that the learning properties are sometimes invisible, but inherent to the network, so often it is a matter of uncovering them. What emerges, then, is not just the knowledge itself, but the knowledge also of how to go about learning it, and of the knowledge of how networks lead to learning in context. The learning is a product of the interaction, rather than something pre-packaged .
Learning groups versus networks
Learners necessarily behave differently on a network than they would in a learning group. Stephen Downes recently pointed out how groups tend towards unity, coherence, segregation, and ‘focus of voice’. They require hierarchical organization, a central authority, and a pre-determined sequence of activities. They act in a synchronized way, as with a school, for example, because the knowledge to be imparted exists in advance (it is the teacher’s possession). The upshot is that a particular viewpoint is magnified by the perspective of the teacher, or external agency such as a textbook.
By contrast, the ChinesePod or SpanishPod users are not really groups at all. Those networks are about diversity, autonomy, openness, and individual pursuit. Although there is constant and endless interaction in the communities, no two of the users follow exactly the same path. In this sense, the learning is not managed by some external agency, but by the individual, based on his own needs. This, to me, is important. I beleive the element of choice, personalization, and autonomy will inform the standards of the next phase of online learning.