Monday, January 31, 2011

Getting sorted

OK, it's high time that I try and get sorted somehow.
I've read a lot of stuff during the last two weeks or so and I think it would be useful to get some order into what I'm doing.
What I've done up to now is browsing through cck11 material, like blogs of fellow participants, the reading material on the cck11 website, #cck11 tweets and so on. When I found a link, that I thought was interesting I followed it and often there were new interesting links, which I also followed.
I was kind of meandering through unknown landscapes using means of transportation like Twitter, RSS feeds, Diigo groups I haven’t been familiar with up to now. When you start somewhere and everything is unfamiliar, I think that’s a great way of getting a feel for your surroundings. But now, I have the feeling that to make it more productive for myself I want to get some structure into the whole process.

So I identified some areas of interest, I want to follow up the next few weeks.
As a first step this seems very important to me. I am interested in lots of different things and I get sidetracked easily. I don’t want to reduce the range of things I find exciting but rather make an agreement with myself on what I’m going to concentrate on to become more productive – personally and professionally. As this blog for me is work related in a broad sense, I want to concentrate on topics that fall into that area. It might still be fun to list or visualize my other more private areas of interest in some other place. After all on the highest level - that for me is “my life” - they are all connected and can cross-fertilize each other. And what is private today may become job related at some time in future. But still, for pragmatic reasons, I want to concentrate on a few defined subject matters for the time being, as they are:

1. Personal knowledge management (or PKM as it’s also called, as I found out)
This will be the corner stone of everything else I’m doing here. PKM is about developing a personal strategy to identify, collect, interpret and share information. What are useful tools, what is the best way to organize this process, how can this process be adapted to different contexts – my own and that of clients?

2. Remote collaborative working
This is about ways to jointly work on a specific project. At the moment I’m involved in designing a course on quality management with colleagues from all over Germany. How do we get organized? What platforms are there, that we could use? Are there any additional useful tools?

3. Online supported learning and education
This is a huge field, I know. I’ve always been interested in that topic, but I’ve never been convinced by classical elearning concepts. I once participated in a course on quality management offered by a German university just to see, what methods they use and how it works out for me and was very disappointed. The concept was to provide scripts online and ask a few questions afterwards. When you sent in the answers you got a certificate at the end. There was a forum for participants, that wasn’t much used and the facilitators weren’t very communicative. I know, this is not representative but it was a German university and it was just 18 months or so ago.
There are many very exciting projects out there and a wealth of theoretical reflection. Connectivism, the topic of the cck11 course I take part in, is closely linked to that topic, so is the lifelong learning concept promoted for example by the EU. At the moment I want to approach that topic very broadly and give myself some time to find out how any of this is applicable to specific projects of my own.

4. Social media and knowledge management (KM) in organizations
How can an organizations use social media for their internal and external communication? What are effective ways of knowledge management in an organization? There is a discussion going on about the difference between social business and “enterprise 2.0”. Is this discussion relevant to my context, what are the different positions?
Again, this is a huge topic and it is connected to other topics, I’ve identified for myself. How does PKM of individuals tie in with knowledge management in an organization? How do people within an organization collaborate on projects? What about workplace learning?
And of course it ties in with quality management, the area I’m mainly working in at the moment. So, lots of interesting aspects and as with online supported learning I want to keep a very open mind in the beginning.

5. Quality Management in social and educational organisations
It’s funny – up to now I haven’t found any lively discussions going on about the theory and practice of quality management. Maybe I haven’t looked in the right places. I tried a few key words on Twitter, I looked for relevant blogs – and I haven’t found a lot. Maybe that’s because the whole QM business is very regulated, which doesn’t necessarily encourage open discussion. In Germany there is a central accreditation institute, which in its turn accredits other organizations, giving them the right to issue ISO 9001 certificates for example. To work as an ISO 9001 auditor, you have to have a certain training and take an exam in the end. When you offer these trainings, you as the trainer and the training material you work with have to be accredited again, otherwise your participants are not permitted to take the exams. And I suppose it’s similar in other countries as the ISO norms are publish by the ISO – the International Organization for Standardization
But I certainly will go on looking for relevant discussions of that topic and if there really aren’t any  - maybe it is possible to get one going.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age

The suggested reading for the first week contained among other texts an article by George Siemens, one of the course leaders, called "Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age".
This sounded, as if it tried to explain what connectivism is all about, so I thought it's a good place to start reading, which I did.

Right at the beginning the article puts connectivism alongside behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. Oh wow - this is obiously intended to be a "big theory", competing with the important ones in the field. I'm always a bit wary of another -ism, that wants to substitute everything that has been. It often wastes a lot of energy to show that it is different, thus proving it's right to exist. To do that, it has to overemphasise what is new and neglect similarities, parallels  or indebtedness to other theories. But maybe that's going to be different this time, let's see.

The article states, why a new learning theory is necessary:
  • technology has changed the way we live and learn nowadays
  • the half- worth of knowledge is continually decreasing
  • many people are going to live and work in lots of different contexts and in different fields during their life time
And learning itself must be "a way of being – an ongoing set of attitudes and actions by individuals and groups that they employ to try to keep abreast of the surprising, novel, messy, obtrusive, recurring events…” (Vaull, P.B.: Learning as a Way of Being, 1996, p.42).

If you define learning like that, there is not much difference to living in general or at least it's an occurance that pervades all our lifes all the time, not an isolated activity, that happens at a certain time, at a certain place - a notion I quite like and support.

So, a learning theory that reflects learning in that sense, can't just be a theory of learning in a narrow sense, to a certain extent it must be a "life theory".

And towards the end of the article Siemens states:
"The notion of connectivism has implications in all aspects of life." That ties in with what went before, though in my opinion, it shows that connectivism is not really a learning theory, that is it doesn't try and explain the way human beings learn on am individual level, but more a broad view on how knowledge is produced, developed, changed, in what systems it is stored, what means are best to retrieve it, work with it and so on. But maybe that depends on the definition of learning. Learning in my understanding is still a process referring to an individual. No matter how networked the world is, we live in, there still remains the question, how do I personally learn - or you for that matter... It doesn't happen automatically, I have to develop strategies, find my place in the network, reflect on how I learn best, what I want to learn and so on. Learning in my understanding can also refer to organisations - learning there is very different from individual learning but it still refers to a subject - the organisation in that case. For me that's the decisive point: the notion of learning requires a subject: an individual or an organisation or maybe a family, a town - a community of some kind. Without a subject learning cannot occur, and as far as I can see up to now, that is, where I differ from this article.
It states:
Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.
To me that doesn't make sense: information can be stored in a database, yes - but learning?

But in the end this is not really important - I'm not in need of a learning theory but I'm looking for methods to act and interact in networks and to use them for facilitating learning in individuals and organisations. And here the concept of connectivism looks quite promising. Two quotes from the article, I really liked:

"The organization and the individual are both learning organisms. Increased attention to knowledge management highlights the need for a theory that attempts to explain the link between individual and organizational learning."

"The starting point of connectivism is the individual. Personal knowledge is comprised of a network, which feeds into organizations and institutions, which in turn feed back into the network, and then continue to provide learning to individual. This cycle of knowledge development (personal to network to organization) allows learners to remain current in their field through the connections they have formed."

To further explore, how exactly that is going to work, what possibilities there are to implement these principles in a given context and in what way this concept can help to acchieve learning goals  - those are my reasons to further explore "connectivism".

As an aside note regarding the decreasing of the half-worth of knowledge: I read Goethe's Elective Affinities at the moment and one of the characters in there complains: "It is a bad business (...) that we cannot nowadays learn anything that will last a life time. Our forefathers stuck to the teaching they were given when they were young but we have to unlearn everything every five years if we are not to go completely out of fashion."
So the problem is not a new one - the novel is from 1809. Comforting somehow... 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Live Session

We just had our first cck11 live session on Ellunimate.
It was great! I've felt a bit overwhelmed for the last two or three days. Setting up this blog, subscribing to Twitter, reading the blogs of my fellow students, joining Diigo, trying everything on my IPad (not everything works), reading course material, surfing the web for "connectivism" and then the feeling - oh god I have to be more creative, I've actually got to produce stuff - it's all a bit much...
But - that is my own fault or maybe better my own choice... It's up to me, what I do or don't do - the thing is, I have to get organized somehow and yes I know, confusion is an integral part of learning.
I loved the live session, because you could hear Stephen and George while chatting with the other participants in the back channel. Made everything a bit more personal - and now there is also a Facebook group and a Diigo group - so the connections are sprouting all over the place. Which means increased knowledge and better learning according to connectivism...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Just another blog

So this is yet another blog. I’ve just read that there are about 152 million blogs on the Internet, so one more or less won’t make a big difference – except for me!
I’ve signed up for a MOOC – a Massive Open Online Course – on Connectivism and Connective Knowledge. It “explores the concepts of connectivism and connective knowledge and explores their application as a framework for theories of teaching and learning.”
This sounds perfect to me. I’ve always been interested in how to use the Internet for education. I’ve done educational projects using “new media” as it was called then, I’ve set up websites and mailing lists for youth projects, I’ve taught Internet basics back in the days when it was new. For the last few years I’ve watched the web become ever more communicative and mobile, but I’ve only watched. I haven’t taken part actively. I’ve never written a blog, I’m the typical lurker on  newsgroups and mailing lists, I’ve never used twitter, I’ve got a Facebook account but I hardly ever write anything. In this course now, they expect you to use Twitter, set up a blog, comment on other people’s websites – anything to express yourself somehow on the Internet. As they said in the Newsletter today – it’s about forming a digital identity.
How scary!
And I think, it’s good for me!
So this blog is going to be my course diary. A place to record and share my experiences with the MOOC, with the reading material provided on Connectivism and possibly with new ideas on how all that might be applicable to some of my professional projects.