Friday, December 19, 2008

Communities of practice

Many of the explanations of how learning occurs start with the assumption that learning is something that happens to individuals. Learning theories that explain situated cogition are based on the fact that learning happens as people interact with the living world. Situated learning describes the notion of learning knowledge and skills in contexts that reflect the way they will be used in real life.

Lave and Wenger proposed that efficient learning was not a solitary activity, but a process of engagement in a "community of practice." Instead of examing learning as the acquisition of skills and knowledge, they asked what kind of practical contexts and social engagements provide the framework for effective learning to take place.

In studying different apprenticeships, they found that rather than a master/apprentice relationship there was actually a complex 'community of practice'. Attaining mastery in the field involved beginning on the periphery of the community, and then gradually becoming a full participant in the community of practice.

Friday, December 12, 2008

New conceptions of knowledge

Our task for his week in CETL-IET is to contribute to a particular Wikipedia entry. The class has been discussing how difficult we are finding this, particularly changing someone else's text, contributing publicly on a subject we are not experts in, and writing in a medium where we are unsure of the rules, let alone the conventions.

In an excellent post to the class forum Richard commented that he saw the reluctance stemming from:
  1. Conceptions of knowledge that are connected to expertise, rather than collaboration.
  2. Assumptions about truth as being absolute, and already existing.

Richard said "But, what if truth is primarily a dynamic uncovering? (The Greek word for truth is aletheia which literally means uncovering.) That moves knowing into a more fluid realm." and went on to say that, in wikis, "The key is for thoughtful people to engage the process so that knowledge gets created."

If knowledge ever existed as something that could be packaged by experts and delivered to novices, it certainly no longer exists in that form.

Shifting describes how the last decade has fundamentally re-written how we:

  • acquire knowledge
  • collaborate in creating knowledge
  • find and store information
  • authenticate and validate information
  • express ourselves and our ideas
  • relate to information/knowledge
  • function in knowledge intense environments

Friday, December 5, 2008


John Anderson and I with our NSW Minister for Education and Training Quality Teaching Award citations. There were four awarded for excellence in teaching in New South Wales universities.

The awards are given after a lengthy process that involves the submission of a portfolio, three referees reports and an assessors' visit that includes sitting in on classes and talking to students, peers and supervisors.

My citation says, in part: "Marjorie combines a genuine concern for students with exciting, innovative and creative approaches to online learning."

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My PLE - a draft

What is a PLE?

Connectivism looks at learning as taking place through a network of connected sources of information, opinion and experiences. This network forms a personal learning environment.

For some a PLE is a product - a package that can be added to an instutions' course management system, portal, or e-portfolio, to provide a greater range of tools and enable access beyond the formal education period.

For others, constraining the personal learning environment into something that can be mapped and labeled is an impossibility, the PLE is:

In between these two views debate rages as to what constitutes a PLE, and as to how valuable they might be.

Terry Anderson asks PLE’s versus LMS: Are PLEs ready for Prime time? and compares the advantages and disadvantages of an educational system based on the familiar LMS versus an emergent one based on a PLE. His conclusion, with which I agree, says that a learning management system offers little that can not be done outside the system. Their widespread adoption by educational institutions is a result of the packaging of the features for convenient use - not the features themselves. While individual teachers might allow students to choose their own learning sources and tools, on the whole I think we will see PLEs implemented as plugins to Blackboard such as Learning Objects' Campus Pack.

But if we can think of PLEs not as a product, but as a process, it becomes a productive way of focusing attention on how we, ourselves, learn. Every few years in the staff club someone says, "You know that 90% of education funding and attention goes to formal learning, but 90% of learning takes place informally." This might be becoming truer by the year. Opportunities for acquiring information, sharing experiences, expressing opinions, and creating texts have increased exponentially with the widespread use of networked technologies.

Documenting these connections is a way of thinking through how we learn, helping to frame questions about what, how and why we are learning, and assisting in framing personal learning goals.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


In Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age George Siemens outlines a learning theory that he suggests better explains how learning takes place in an era when:
  • most people move through a variety of occupations, hobbies, personal situations, and practical needs;
  • people learn not only from institutionalised education, but from a range of sources including working through new tasks, searching for just-in-time information, and asking connections for their experiences;
  • learning is a life-long activity, we don't go through a period of learning information, followed by a period of applying it - the two are integrated throughout life.

Connectivism theorises contemporary learning as a process that "is focused on connecting specialized information sets" whether these information sets reside in libraries, databases, workmates or cyberbuddies.

The article describes the limitations of earlier learning theories as that they are based on the premise "that learning occurs inside a person" and do not address learning that is manipulated by technology or happens within organisations.

I'm not sure I understand this. My teaching is based on a social constructivist philosophy. Lev Vygotsky died young in 1934, and his work was based on language learning in children, yet his theory can be applied to learning in a digital era. Essentially it is based on the notion that we learn by doing something in the company of others who can already do it at some level.

I think that learning has to be internalised before it can be called learning. Machines can learn, organisations can learn but this is a change that happens inside the machine, inside the organisation, inside the person.

This line of thought inexplicably reminds me of Groucho Marx's "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."