Connectivists are us!

Some thoughts on the connectivist approach (and I am still hoping that my query about the difference, if there is one, between constructivism [tutor has major role?] and connectivism [tutor has background role?] will get some responses.

This from Wikipedia:

The Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing model of group development was first proposed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965, who maintained that these phases are all necessary and inevitable in order for the team to grow, to face up to challenges, to tackle problems, to find solutions, to plan work, and to deliver results.

Forming:The individual’s behaviour is driven by a desire to be accepted by the others, and avoid controversy or conflict.(we exchanged pleasantries at the start)

Storming: The team addresses issues such as what problems they are really supposed to solve, how they will function independently and together and what leadership model they will accept. (using Google+, twitter and Elluminate, I feel this also happened)

Norming:  In this stage, all team members take the responsibility and have the ambition to work for the success of the team’s goals.(This has also happened for me, without a cross word from anyone)

Performing: It is possible for some teams to reach the performing stage. These high-performing teams are able to function as a unit as they find ways to get the job done smoothly and effectively without inappropriate conflict or the need for external supervision. By this time, they are motivated and knowledgeable. The team members are now competent, autonomous and able to handle the decision-making process without supervision. Dissent is expected and allowed as long as it is channelled through means acceptable to the team. (..and there is evidence that we reached this stage too)

 This is not to say that connectivism is going to work for everyone but like many other learning strategies, it is an approach which can be learned. I remember when I first got students working in small groups in class how it took a while for them to learn how to behave to make the experience positive. Students who are used to chalk and talk take time to get used to a more student-centred approach. 

Courses for horses

Courses for horses

 Whether we are talking about constructivism, where Weller still sees quite an important role for the teacher, or connectivism, which it seems can function without a teacher, courses need to take into account the nature and level of the students they attract. 

1. Some students would not cope with, or benefit from, a very substantial constructivist or connectivist element in their course (eg full-time A-level students) where the emphasis is on knowledge and understanding of specific aspects of the subject determined by the awarding body. 

Of course, teachers have always been able to introduce their students to skills and insights    not specifically required by the syllabus so even A-Level teachers could ween their students onto a kind of blended constructivism if they felt that it was in their students’ interest. Some 16-19 year old students could learn to cope with abundance in a structured environment. 

2. On the other hand, some higher level courses would probably lend themselves to a more substantial constructivist approach though I would suggest that even here there needs to be a study skills element before students are cast adrift in cyberspace. 

3. Our open education mooc seems to be concentrating on connectivism where learning in a network is the key. 

How do we equip learners for abundance? 

Some of us have already been chatting about the need for mental skills as well as digital skills . I’m not sure how we equip our learners but here are some thoughts:

  • “curiosity, fearlessness to reach out to people you don’t know, flexibilty to see the possibilties in lines of thought or people that might not be directly related to your field of interest.” (Liz Lockett)
  • without the courage and curiosity you can’t build a PLN.(Inger-Marie Christensen)
  • resilience, when you lose the thread
  • faith in your own ability is key
  • the realisation that the network is bigger than the individuals
  • the realisation that it is not competitive
  • online skills, like any study skills, can be learned
  • self-motivation
  • being comfortable with the idea of putting your views ‘out there’
  • a clear idea of the learning outcomes of a course is vital for the student, to avoid too many scenic detours which may be interesting but also time-consuming
  • is the ability to thrive with online learning a skill which can be learned or is it a character trait which you have or have not?

 What mental skills would you add?


I looked at 3 MOOCs: ds106, ChangeMOOC and Coursera and found a range of differences but also quite a lot of overlap.

  • ds106 was flashy, tabloid, aimed at a young audience (nothing wrong with that!) and was designed to make maximum use of visual technology. I liked the way it tells the learner at the start which accounts and apps will be needed. That removes some of the unexpected from the course. Its pedagogy was in the spirit of connectivism, with its emphasis on the community of students working together.
  • by contrast, Change MOOC had more of the tone of the OU. It nailed its colours firmly to the connectivist mast. In George Siemens’ words  “our cMOOC model emphasises creation, creativity, autonomy and social networking learning. “ ChangeMOOC tended to explain its philosophy and pedagogy and also included  information about paid courses.
  • Coursera: seems at first sight not to espouse the connectivist pedagogy (it relies heavily on listening to lectures) but in fact some of its courses offer a choice between a more behaviourist, teacher-led  approach (there is a named ‘instructor’) and a more connectivist approach. Some courses have 2 tracks: CORE track and Practicum; the latter includes the CORE track plus 3 action learning assignments and peer assessment of student work.

I do wonder, along with John Daniel, where the money will come from. Students can pay for certification, formal assessment and direct tutoring with marking of assignments and organisations may be able to charge for providing information to potential employers of the students. 

Wiley, FE and speedy learning

There seems to be an infinite range of models ranging from the MIT approach,which is very centralised and which seems to make just about all the MIT’s courses available, to the Rice Connexions model which seems to be self-organising and very diverse.

Issues for an FE college:

  • would we offer courses for teachers or learners or both?
  • would we offer free mini-courses as a kind of taster which might entice learners onto fee-paying courses?
  • who would produce and post the materials in the first case?
  • would there be anyone keeping an eye on what learners were doing?
  • is Terry Anderson right that we should consider offering cut-price, low budget versions of some courses (Ryanair model)?
  • is there scope for Dholakei’s Foundation Model, where a college develops a niche interest in its region, based on a commercial sector, vocational area or local activity, and then seeks funding from that vocational area?

….and can you think of other possibilities?