From self-directed to networked-directed learning

Excerpted from George Siemens:

“Self-directed learning has a long research and philosophical tradition. Malcolm Knowles figures prominently in discussions, but roots go back to Dewey, and even further, to humanist philosophers.

While connectivism begins with the individual, it stresses the growth of connections and connectedness in learning and knowledge. Self-directed learning explains the attributes of learners who learn at their own pace and interest. Is that sufficient to describe our knowledge needs today? I don’t think so.

When faced with learning in complex environments, what we need is something more like network-directed learning – learning that is shaped, influenced, and directed by how we are connected to others. Instead of sensemaking in isolation, we rely on social, technological, and informational networks to direct our activities.

With MOOCs, we emphasize that early course experiences tend to be overwhelming and chaotic. After all, learners face hundreds of introductions, blogs posts, and reading resources, in addition to dozens of new tools and technologies. As the course progresses, small sub-networks form based on shared interests and goals. Learners also gather in various social spaces that we as facilitators don’t create (Facebook was common in CCK11 as was SecondLife) and in language specific forums – a key requirement with global courses.

To address the information and social complexity of open courses, learners need to be network-directed, not self-directed learners. Social networks serve to filter and amplify important concepts and increase the diversity of views on controversial topics. This transition is far broader than only what we’ve experienced in open courses – the need for netwok-centric learning and knowledge building is foundational in many careers today. For example, the discovery of the corona virus (SARS) was achieved through a global distributed research network. New technologies are increasingly assemblies of innovations that often span millennia – a process that was wonderfully covered by William Rosen in The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention . To be competent, to be creative, to be adaptable, requires that we are connected.

Most importantly network-directed learning is not a “crowd sourcing” concept. Crowd sourcing involves people creating things together. Networks involve connected specialization – namely we are intelligent on our own and we amplify that intelligence when we connect to others. Connectedness – in this light – consists of increasing, not diminishing, the value of the individual.”

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