“Connectivying” your course

The article that Jon Dron and I published in IRRODL

Anderson, T., & Dron, J. (2011). Three generations of distance education pedagogy. International Review of Research on Distance and Open Learning, 12(3), 80-97.  http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/890/1826

And the follow up at:

Anderson, T., & Dron, J. (2012). Learning technology through three generations of technology enhanced distance education pedagogy. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 2012/2.  Retrieved from http://www.eurodl.org/?p=current&article=523.

have gotten generally positive, feedback  and download numbers, I think largely becuase these ideas provide a bit  of a meta theory to describe and understand the different pedgaogical models currently practiced on the Net.  We have a very pragmatic focus in life and research and thus  we conclude the chapter by arguing ”that all three current and future generations of DE pedagogy have an important place in a well-rounded educational experience. ”

Most online courses today are based on cognitive behaviourist pedgaogy (think lots of self-paced training and scalable MOOCs) or on social constructivist paradigms (think LMS, paced course), with a focus on group building in student cohorts of  less than 30 students per section. I outline below various learning activities which can be used to augment/enhance either of these generations, in practical ways, using connectivist ideas.

Two of the defining characteristics of connectivism are that the learning occurs through construction, annotation and maintenance of learning artifacts. A key characteristic of these artifacts is they must be persistent and be open, such that they contribute to knowledge, beyond the temporal or geographical boundaries of the learning group or course.  The second critical element is that students be given opportunity, incentive and support to form networks that may (or may not) persist beyond the course, or with others not in the courses. These two qualities, open artifact persistence and networking opportunity, are for me the primary affordances of connectivist pedagogy.

Connectivying a Cognitive Behaviousist Course

Good CB based courses have clear behavioural outcomes and can and do work well for  individual learners or in groups. In practice, a growing number of such courses have LMS support with options for group work, but these are rarely  used effectively. The web can be used to create a very effective publishing, administrative, marking and assessment tool set, as exemplified in modern LMS. However, artifacts created by students are rarely persistent nor open and networking opportunities are often marginalized if in existence at all. Meeting the requirement for an open and persistent archive creation can be fairly easily done, merely by having students work cooperatively or individually on new or existing artifacts. Some that come to mind are editing Wikipedia articles, creation of pod casts or YouTube type videos, building presentations and content into tools such as VocieThread, curating content or recreating course contents (in groups or individually content on set like tools such as Piinterest or Learnist.  Networking opportunities can be afforded through the creation of these artifacts or as simply as creating compelling asynchronous communication opportunities. I focus on asynchronous, because of the flexibility and capacity to run through multiple sections of a course, but of courses real time web conferencing WITH recording available asynchronously and opportunity for students to annotate and comment on the recording can be used as well. These resources should be left open to at least graduates and future iterations of the course, but they can have additional value if opened and welcoming of professionals or others  interested in the domain of study.

There are obvious privacy and exposure issues to be dealt with when “connectivying a course, so student control of openness is critically important. However, it is equally as egregious to constrict the capacity for students to share openly. What is most  important is the emergent learning that can result from increased network presence and resulting increase in social capital.

Connectivying a Social Constructivist Course

Social Constructivist (SC) pedagogy stresses the collaborative construction and validation of knowledge, so in many ways requires a less vigorous re-make to include connectivist learning activities. The SC courses are based on a group model and have a wealth of tools available within modern LMS to support this model. Indeed Moodle claims to be based on SC theory, but frankly, most of the other LMS systems provide very similar tools and educational paradigms. Making open, accessible and persistent artifacts is relatively easily done, but they must not be hidden behind a firewall or password, where even students in other cohorts are not allowed to view and build upon these artifacts. Once again, using the tools and contexts described above for CB tools can be an effective way to add persistence and openness to artifact construction. Most repositories and web 2.0 tools, allow for licensing of artifacts using any one of the Creative Commons licences (CC-BY – attribution only) being the most open and generally most connectivist friendly – though arguments have been made by Stephen Downes and others about the enhanced value and freedom of (CC-BY NC- SA) Non Commercial, & Share Alike  that restricts commercial use and requires similar open licensing)

Adding a networking capacity requires moving beyond the closed group. The commercial social networks such as Facebook or Linked in and Ning are continuously adding network and group features so as to enhance visitor use of their services, but institutionally hosted systems such as WordPress Buddy,  Drupal, open LMS systems or the ELGG based system that we have developed at Athabasca (https://landing.athabascau,ca) can all be effectively used to support emergent networks. Once again inherent challenges with privacy can arise and again, the only effective solution is to allow students to control permissions, not at the level of generic publication (like all blogs) but at the level of individual post or contribution. However, very liberal and open access is the ‘gold standard” using one of the previously note CC licenses. However, some students may have very legitimate reason for limiting their networked presence and these should be respected and accommodated.

Interaction Equivalency

An avid reader might note that the advice above tends to contradict the 1st theorem of my Interaction Equivalency Theory namely:

Deep and meaningful formal learning is supported as long as one of the three forms of interaction (student–teacher; student-student; student-content) is at a high level. The other two may be offered at minimal levels, or even eliminated, without degrading the educational experience.

This implies that one can still learn without enhanced interaction (that grounds connectivist pedagogy). I still believe this to be true. People can and do learn in a very broad array of models, models, contexts and personal inclinations. However the second theorem posits that:

High levels of more than one of these three modes (os student-student; student-teacher, student-content) will likely provide a more satisfying educational experience, though these experiences may not be as cost or time effective as less interactive learning sequences.

The cost issue, I wrote about when I crafted these ideas in 2003, has been reduced exponentially. Students and can do engage in advanced forms of all three types of interaction, with very low to non existent additional cost to any web based course. Further, continuing research shows the importance of time on task and commitment – often related to motivation. For many, social networking provides the essential glue to a course that enhances completion rates and program persistence. Thus, the efforts for “connectivying” a course may well increase the quality of the course, without grossly inflating the costs or time commitments – of teacher or student. If they do increase the time required, students may be the biggest beneficiaries.


The Net continues to evolve and spin off new tools with new affordances and opens adjacent possibilities for both learners and teachers. As perhaps the most important rationale for connectivying is  for life-long learning capacity and capability.  Connectivying a course empowers, exposes and trains students to be more effective and more literate network citizens. Enhancing such capability allows our students to be more resilient and become as Nassim Taleb (2012) .says – antifragile!

“The antifragile is beyond the resilient or robust. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better and better.

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