MSc Technology and Learning: The network is the medium

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* This is my first post for the MSc Learning and Technology course I’m now following at Glyndwr University. Subscribe to the RSS or follow me on Twitter for updates.

Olivia, three, is at the pre-operational stage – in the parlance of the educational theorist Piaget.

Her sister, Maya, aged seven and a half, is at the operational stage.

What do I observe about learning from my daughters [pictured above]? How do they learn? And, as I’m chief homework monitor around the house, how do I facilitate learning in between episodes of Scooby Doo and playing on scooters in the park opposite?

For me, there are some basics:

  • A safe, stable environment with a regular routine
  • Quality one-on-one time whereby we sit and read, talk together
  • Time for free play to read, play, jigsaws etc.
  • Me sharing nuggets of learning through out the day eg. talking about using nice describing words in a story over dinner, or counting in tens while we walk to school

But my daughters are not typical students.

Many students never even access the news – on radio, TV or online. Many lack support in secondary school with their writing.

What to do with them? Can we apply historical educational theories of Piagetian Cognitive Development to this group?

And, while my personal approach borrows from the ideas of Vygotskean Social Cognition in relation to Maya and Olivia, will factoring in the social environment be enough to inspire?

In the age of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), the parameters are shifting.

The traditional theories worked before but now it’s time for a rethink.

I favour a new connectivism approach, based around open conversations to spark new ideas, as espoused by George Siemens of the University of Manitoba. He says:

“Learning is fundamentally networked. When we connect to other people and other ideas, we gain a depth of knowledge in a subject.”

Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor of learning technology in the Plymouth Institute of Education at Plymouth University, writing on his blog Learning with ‘e’s, addresses this in terms of rhizone theory.

How can, he asks, we reach a place in education where students find their own level and make their own pathways through learning? In a well-argued blog post, he calls for a living-curriculum approach and support for students to create their own personalised learning pathways.

“The self-determined pathway to learning is fast becoming familiar to learners in the digital age, and is also the antithesis to the formal, structured learning found in traditional education”

Dave Cormier of the University of Prince Edward Island writes a slightly less accessible post, Rhizomatic Education : Community as Curriculum, taken from his rather cluttered Dave’s Educational Blog, in which he goes one further.

The design is poor but the idea strong. He says:

“The community is not the path to understanding or accessing the curriculum; rather, the community is the curriculum.”

So, it’s time to rip up the rule book.

Step back from the PowerPoint and encourage learners to find their own path, trying to facilitate this via increased social online learning.

Besides, by the time Maya and Olivia are filling in their UCAS forms, the view from the ivory tower could look very different.

What do you think of the views expressed in this post? Post your comments below.

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