Connectivism, CoPs, and PLNs

September 10, 2013 – The following image represents the basic tenets of my present understanding of the theory of connectivism and the principles of a community of practice (CoP) and a personal learning network.



Like the athletes, each of us is an individual in a larger social context (a random, seemingly ever-changing playing field), but our social interactions and collaboration within that context are a matter of individual choice as much as demographic or innate characteristic (like those who have chosen to play tennis as opposed to another sport) (Siemens, 2005, Wesley & Buysse, 2001). This similarity brings us into a group, each having a common desire to create a product or outcome. Those with whom these social interactions begin may become part of our personal learning network (just a bit of corny emphasis on the NETwork here) and a part of our larger community of practice that our shared endeavor hopes to inform (Lewis, et al., 2010).

In today’s digital age, information flows very freely (not too much unlike balls of various kinds whizzing about on all sides) (Hogan & Quan-Hasse, 2010). Additionally, in this information saturated age, the purpose of the game isn’t to consume each shot (or play the shot in a traditional sense), but it is simply to make connections, make individual sense of what we encounter within our community of practice, and pass on a few of those connections as we’re able (Annabi & McGann, 2013, Dunaway, 2011, Siemens, 2005) . It doesn’t feel like the purpose of connectivism is necessarily to play the game in a traditional sense, but to participate or experience the activity instead (Tu, et al., 2012).

Beyond the edges of this diagram, there may be many communities of practice: one for the football player, another for the basketball player, and yet another for the bowler. Each community, network, and learner, must negotiate the deluge of activity passing through his/her personal learning environment to connect with his/her network in a larger community of practice (Dabbagh & Kitsanis, 2012, Siemens, 2005).

A final word. I will admit, I have never been a fan of connectivism and I’m not sure how I feel about this theory from a holistic point of view. In other words, beyond using social media and other networking situations as learning tools, I don’t believe this theory is worthy of replacing behaviorism, cognitivism, or constructivism (each in its place, digital or otherwise, according to the order of thinking required at the time). This assignment in module 2, however, by explaining connectivism in the context of social media and personal learning networks, has been enlightening and helped me see a valid application for this theory.

Image Sources: Microsoft Clipart

Works Referenced

Annabi, H. and McGann, S. (2013). Social media as the missing link: Connecting communities of practice to business strategy. Journal of Organizational Computing and Electronic Commerce. 23:1

Dabbagh, N. and Kitsantas, A. (2012). Personal learning environments, social media, and self-regulated learning: A natural formula for connecting formal and informal learning. The Internet and Higher Education. 15:3

Dunaway, M. (2011). Connectivism: Learning theory and pedagogical practice for networked information landscapes. 39: 4, 675

Hogan, B. and Quan-Haase, A. (2010). Persistence and change in social media. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society. 30:309

Lewis, S., Pea R, and Rosen J. (2010). Beyond participation to co-creation of meaning: mobile social media in generative learning communities. Social Science Information. 49:351

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. 2:1

Tu, C., Yen, C., Chan, J., and Blocher, M. (2012). The integration of personal learning environments and open network learning environments. Tech Trends. 56:3, 13

Wesley, P. and Buysse, V. (2001). Communities of practice: Expanding professional roles to promote reflection and shared inquiry. Topics in Early Childhood Education, 21:2, 114

One thought on “Connectivism, CoPs, and PLNs”

  1. Some of the notes (in parenthesis) that I took when preparing this diagram. They explain in more detail why I chose certain symbols and what I intended to convey.

    “Self-organization on a personal level (I think of this as a PLE/PLN) is a micro-process of the larger self-organizing knowledge constructs created within corporate or institutional environments (I think of this as a CoP). The capacity to form connections between sources of information, and thereby create useful information patterns, is required to learn in our knowledge economy (focus on the balls coming from the only the PLN being considered … in this case, tennis. The tennis balls are tennis balls because they form a pattern pertinent to the PLN/CoP … symbolized by a particular sport … and not because they are yellowish green and round)” (Siemens, 2005).

    “Albert-László Barabási states that ‘nodes (symbolized by the balls) always compete for connections (player’s attention) because links represent survival in an interconnected world” (2002, p.106). This competition is largely dulled within a personal learning network, but the placing of value on certain nodes over others is a reality. Nodes that successfully acquire greater profile will be more successful at acquiring additional connections. In a learning sense, the likelihood that a concept of learning will be linked depends on how well it is currently linked (is this a function of a PLN? PLE?). Nodes (can be fields, ideas, communities) that specialize and gain recognition for their expertise have greater chances of recognition, thus resulting in cross-pollination of learning communities” (Siemens, 2005).

    “Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) (like the balls that the tennis player will play … won’t whack a football with the racket … not a good idea) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets (implied ignoring of other information sets not connectable, ie., the other balls pertinent to the other CoPs, assuming all knowledge can connect to some CoP somewhere, hence other, unrelated sports are shown), and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing (recognizing the balls is more important than playing each one in a traditional sense, hence the player is not returning every serve in a traditional manner, but observing them)” (Siemens, 2005).

    Principle of Connectivism: “Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known” (in other words, it’s not critical to play every ball, but to recognize every playable ball. Notice that the player is not connecting with non-playable balls) (Siemens, 2005).

    Principle of Connectivism: “Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities” (player is noticing all of the balls that appear to be connected to the Tennis CoP) (Siemens, 2005).

    Notes from Wesley and Buysee, 2001: This article defines communities of practice as groups with common desire for change (symbolized by the same sport), as providing opportunities for collaboration and reflection (playing the game together), as catalyst for development of societal products and tools (the match, or better said, the outcome of the match being the product created for the larger community). CoPs transcend traditional barriers or demographics to groups formed by individual selections and are more open to sharing with the broader community (man and woman playing symbolizes this transcendence of traditional barriers or demographics while both being engaged in same sport symbolizes personal choice). Communities of practice, like other collaborative models, focus on interaction and ongoing dialogue as well as development of core practices and desired outcomes, but differs in terms of the scope, being the most open to the broader community.

    Notes from Dabbagh and Kitsantis, 2013: Authors present framework for using social media. The levels of the framework are: (1) personal information management (symbolized by the primary player’s focus on tennis balls within a personal learning environment), (2) social interaction and collaboration (symbolized by the tennis match itself with a networked person), and (3) information aggregation and management (symbolized by the CoP circle which encompasses the social interaction and collaboration of the two tennis players). Note: this article was very influential on the layout of the symbols in my diagram.

    “Researchers in psychology, anthropology and sociology have long endeavored to understand the relationship between the tools humans invent and the social, representational and relational systems that emerge and co-constitute historical development. Materialist historians point to a dialectical process: the artifacts we manifest in the world elicit new forms of social and material interaction that in turn give birth to new artifacts, conditions and consciousnesses (this is what started my looking at networks as being more than tools and why I didn’t portray the network as tools only, but as an ongoing activity)” (Lewis, et al, 2010).

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