This reflection can also be found at this Google Doc link.
The explosive growth and development of networked learning technologies in recent years has changed the way students generate, analyse, sort and disseminate this ever-increasing wealth of information (Harley, 2008). A core challenge for students involved in formal and informal learning is managing and traversing this overwhelming growing mountain of knowledge and rapid multiplication in techniques for capturing, exploring and distributing this knowledge. There is a demand on individuals to develop a Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM) in order to make sense of our world (Jarche, 2011) and as Downes (2011) notes aggregation, remixing, repurposing, and feeding forward are particularly connected to how students engaged in a connectivist perspective. Personally, through active participation and engagement in principles of networked learning I have seen a vast improvement in my ability to manage and access endless sources of information, build relationships with others, and collaborate to develop knowledge, consequently enhancing personal and professional learning opportunities.
An argument can be made that networked learning is “akin to a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something” (Meyer & Land, 2003, p. 1). When I initially started engagement in this course I was clearly within a ‘troublesome’ state, as highlighted by Kligyte (2009, p. 541). I was overwhelmed by the abundance of resources, and the emphasis on generating knowledge and maintaining relationships within a network rather than accentuating what is actually known (Siemens, 2014). It is believed that this “industrialist consumption-based model of learning” (Downes, 2011) where I was practiced in reading all the materials and using all the tools was left remnant from previous courses of study. I was now challenged to understand, embrace and transform to a new way of how learning and development is understood. Through the process of engaging on and with an online learning community I found myself in a state of ‘liminality’ – “messy journeys back, forth and across conceptual terrain” (Kligyte, 2009, p. 541). I had not engaged in the use of social bookmarking or blogging previously; therefore, in the initial stages, the comfortable and traditionalist strategies I had developed from the past were evident. However, through social engagement with others in the knowledge-based learning community I soon realised that as a student I needed to find my own unique pathway to transformative understanding of networked learning and that there was not going to be a simple and straightforward way to mastery (Riel & Polin, 2004).
Downes (2006) notes, “learning occurs in communities, where the practice of learning is the participation in the community”. Through engagement in a blogging process and development of connections with others, a knowledge-based learning community was developed. This facilitated and challenged my perceptions of concepts as there was a ‘diversity in opinions’ presented on all of the participants blogs which enabled the connection of ‘specialised nodes or information sources’ (Siemens, 2014). Additionally, given the abundance of opinions, connections and links to other content, one of the key realisations I had ‘as student’ was deciding what was important for my personal and professional learning, and what was not. Siemens (2014) recognises that this ‘decision-making’ is itself a learning process. Initially, I found myself gravitating towards certain participant’s blogs as I believed there was a commonality in their thinking, context and opinions, as my own. Goodyear (2014) notes that when this homophily is present, communication is more likely to be rewarding for participants in the learning community; however, there is also a caution here in that without diversification and openness to others thoughts and opinions there is a limit of our “horizons of observation” (Little, 2003, p. 913). The double-edged sword is that in order to develop an effective learning network we need diversification in ideas, while also ensuring that we have a filter and PKM process to manage the abundance of resources. Jarche (2011) offers an analogy of breathing to conceptualise this process – when we breathe in we filter information, we sense, create something new, discern and share content back out as we exhale.
Through engagement in the concept Bigum and Rowan (2013, p. 2) refer to ‘Public Click Pedagogy’ – a “public sharing of the steps made as one attempts to climb a ladder: mistakes, mess and missteps as well as ‘aha’ and ‘click’ moments” I have developed my blog and archive of my understanding of connectivist perspectives in learning. In multiple blog posts (1, 2, 3) I noted the benefits I was experiencing of the blogging process, particularly the critical reflection and consolidation of thinking. Connectivist learning relies on the active participation and artefact creation of self-directed learners (Anderson, 2009; Downes, 2012). Learning artefact creation (as in this blog), required cognitive engagement, and amalgamation of networking opportunities through construction and sharing artefacts on the open network, where they are both accessible and tenacious. Coherence in much of the subject matter came from dialogue and an ability to contextualise content through blog contributions (Siemens, 2009). Overall, the power of the social network in information connection, sharing, filtering and aggregation was utilised in order to take advantage of the collective knowledge (Downes, 2011; Wang, Chen, & Anderson, 2014).
Additionally, given we are blogging in an online community it is the comments, feedback and pingbacks from others to confirm or challenge our thinking, which in turn lead to deeper learning. As a peer (Annelise) noted – “It is through writing our ideas down that we make what we learn explicit, thus enabling us to “reflect upon it, and reanalyse it in light of new and sometimes conflicting information” (Goel, Johnson, Junglas, & Ives, 2010). This is further emphasised by Glazer, Abbott, and Harris (2004) who recognise that when individuals reflect internally, they miss valuable alternative perspectives, do not always work systematically through their problems as they would when discussing with peers, and may not take the time to reflect on practice. I also noted that by engaging in blogging as part of my ‘sense’ and ‘share’ elements of my PKM routine I was engaged in the higher-order thinking process of synthesising. Additionally, though engagement in this knowledge-based learning community I decided to share my formal assessment blogs (via my blog and also Google Docs) for ‘looking forward, looking back’ for ‘as learner’, ‘as teacher’ and this ‘as student’ in order to receive feedback and critique from my network. Even though I found this a very anxious and risk-taking exercise, the benefits and critique I received far outweighed the negatives. On the other hand, this was also a disheartening element in my experience of networked learning, as I perceived my network to be larger than the reality, the amount of comments and feedback was minimal and also the engagement of others in the polls (1, 2) I developed was more minimalist than anticipated. Moreover, another core benefit of blogging that I experienced ‘as student’, was having my thoughts and opinions archived online for reference anywhere, anytime on any device. The asynchronous nature of engagement with the blog and others in the course also made the experience able to embed into my working life routine. Through engagement in the blogging process I also noted that my level of motivation was increased, when compared to other courses of study, as I was working with a group of members who are active participants in the learning process and there was a development of a trust relationship (Hsu, Ju, Yen, & Chang, 2007) all with a common learning goal (Brindley, Blaschke, & Walti, 2009). Overall, the ‘as student’ experience of blogging allowed my engagement in authentic experiences involving the active manipulation and experimentation of ideas and artefacts, ultimately leading to a deeper consolidation of understanding (Riel & Polin, 2004).
After watching the clip ‘Obvious to you, Amazing to others’ it was not just the formal education assessment requirements of the course that has ignited the continuation of my blogging experience, but also realisation that what seems obvious to me is amazing to someone else, hence, I need to share my learning publically. I have also reflected on an analogy for networked learning of driving a car on the road. When we are in the car we are seeking an intentional destination, sometimes the destination changes, sometimes we stop at lights and wait for the ‘hussle’ to pass, sometimes we are stuck on a roundabout, sometimes we reach a dead-end, sometimes we are going faster or slower, sometimes we drive past neon signs that attract our attention for a moment, but we drive on towards our destination and transformation.
Overall, I have found that through engagement and participation in networked learning aligned with Connectivist principles, I have had the opportunity to practice and develop important lifelong and life-wide learning skills, such as the management of complexity, ambiguities, and large capacities of information (Siemens, 2005). Moreover, through consistent involvement, strong social presence and practical application, global online learning communities can create platforms for students and educators to share information and construct knowledge through interaction with diverse sources and dialogue (Brindley et al., 2009; Siemens, 2005).
“The forces of technological change, new opportunities to create and share information, and increased ability for interact with peers globally require a new model based on networks and ecologies. The current age should be one of throwing open doors of learning to bring as many potential contributors to our future as possible.” (Siemens, 2008, p. 18)
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