Week 3 of the CCK08 Connectivism course focused on networks. The metaphors and analogies have been flying in the forums, blogs, and chat rooms in Elluminate and UStream sessions. This is another example of how we, as humans, find meaning in confusion. We make connections with ideas and concepts we already know, comparisons that fit within the established schema.
George Seimens explains, "Knowledge is distributed. Learning is the process of creating networks. This is increasingly aided by technology." George posed a question this week, "If a network structure is a foundation of learning, are our education systems designed to appropriately take advantage of networking opportunities?" A number of course participants have asked for practical applications of connectivism theory. I long for that myself, but I'm beginning to realize that we're putting the cart before the horse. It's a lot easier to observe a highly functioning networked learning environment or situation than it is to create one. Though many early adopters are trying. Newer web applications such as Nings and wikis offer some structure for networked communities. But, it's still quite messy. I'm increasingly challenged to sift through the networking opportunities that come along each day, especially as someone working in the educational technology field. I personally belong to a Powerful Learning Practice Ning, an NAIS Teacher of the Future social network, a Florida Master Digital Educator's Ning, a University of Florida Department of Ed Tech Wiki, student AP Human Geography Wiki, student Great Debate 2008 Ning, K12 Online wiki, and the connectivism course. These are just the ones in which I'm supposed to be currently active.
This is not a complaint. Nor, am I trying to win the most-networked teacher award. I'm actually trying to embrace the cognitive dissonance that is the result of my immersion in this 24/7 connectedness. On the one hand, I'm picking up tidbits of useful knowledge that greatly enhance my research and pique my curiousity. I also hope that I'm sharing useful information with others. On the other hand, I'm losing a lot of sleep and feeling extremely disjointed in my participation in these networks. So, if I exist as a single node within all of these networks, what is my value to the network? Would I be of greater value in one network to which I could devote a greater amount of my thought processing? Or, am I of some value in each of these networks? Furthermore, do I personally get more out of full participation in one network - or disjointed participation in many?
Back to George's question. My answer today is.. we won't be equipped to design a system that supports networked learning until we understand it much better than we do now. It may even require us to rethink our definitions of learning, structure, scaffolding, and other concepts we relate to a learning environment. Rather than teaching students how to learn, we may have to teach them how to effectively manage learning. We don't do a good job of that, even in our current system.