#NRC01PL – Stephen’s Learning Networks

I was a bit taken back at first with Stephen’s video when he started to read his Learning Network paper from 2004, especially when you realized that this was going to go on for another 52 minutes. In fairness, he did warn us. A talking head reading a paper looked like a throwback to what I think is wrong about current online learning of xMOOC variety and not what I was expecting from a cMOOC coming from Stephen.

To be fair it was a bit of a history lesson of educational technology, IMS’s Content Packaging, SCORM, Aggregated RSS feeds, the beginnings of Stephen’s Grasshopper, etc. I appreciated his shout out to Wayne Hodgins who chaired the IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee with Eric Duval that led to a set of standards and the birth of the LMS industry, for better or for worse, which is still with us today.

But the other piece of history is to hear the beginnings of what becomes connectivism and CCK08, all of which is born out of this 2004 Learning Networks paper.

The punch line comes almost at the end when Stephen says, “we need to rethink our definitions of learning objects, to move beyond static concepts, and to start thinking about learning objects as resources generally, not just textbooks and tests. The long answer involves rethinking what it is when we think about offering to learn online. Instead of offering classes and courses, learning online ought to be structured along the model of environments, games or simulations.”

I think what we are hearing is the first glimpse of what Stephen describes as a new form of pedagogy – Networked pedagogy which becomes a bit clearer in 2006 when he says-

“Learning…occurs in communities, where the practice of learning is the participation in the community. A learning activity is, in essence, a conversation undertaken between the learner and other members of the community. This conversation, in the web 2.0 era, consists not only of words but of images, video, multimedia and more. This conversation forms a rich tapestry of resources, dynamic and interconnected, created not only by experts but by all members of the community, including learners.”

If you stuck with him for the first 50 minutes you now come to the gem – and that is to think about a learning environment as “the output layer of the learning network” and “it becomes clear that these output points may be located anywhere in the environment, whether that environment is Microsoft Word, a process control system, a grader or a fishing rod.”

A learning network for Stephen is the ecosystem-

” a collection of different entities related in a single environment that interact with each other in a complex network of affordances and dependencies, an environment where the individual entities are not joined or sequenced or packaged in any way, but rather, live, if you will, free, their nature defined as much by their interactions with each other as by any inherent property in themselves.”

The maturation of this theme later leads Siemens and Stephen to describe a networked pedagogy – connectivism – by simply saying that “learning is distributed within a network, social, technologically enhanced, recognizing and interpreting patterns” and go on to test this theory in their first MOOC, CCK08.

One of my first takeaways from CCK08 was that the act of blogging was a form of reflection, a learning activity of doing, that you shared with others that led to further discussion and reflection and that learning occurred in that network of connections.

P.S. If you are interested in seeing the text of Stephen’s Buntine Oration, delivered to the Australian College of Educators (ACE) and the Australian Council of Educational Leaders (ACEL) conference in Perth, Australia, October 9, 2004, the download of the pdf is at the International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning here.