Adaptive LearnERS, not LearnING

In an interview with EdSurge ‘Our Technology Is Our Ideology’: George Siemens on the Future of Digital Learning, George Siemens discusses his belief that the current emphasis amongst edtech companies and universities on better and better adaptive learning tools is a wrong direction.  These tools are helping students to execute learning routines that won’t be needed in the future as machines take on more and more processes for us.  He argues learners need to prepare for careers that employ uniquely human traits like self-regulation and communication. Creativity, complex problem-solving and coordinating with others are examples of the skills needed.  There is greater detail on George’s Blog elearnspace.org.

But let me tell you about one of my personal stories that led me to believing in this new world of digital, networked learning.

One of the true joys of the work I did in my previous stint with workplace learning was the opportunity to learn with a network of amazing people that the late Jay Cross introduced me to.  One of those people was George Siemens.  At that time George was an instructor at Red River College in Winnepeg and he was just beginning to pull together all the ideas that have come to form the Connectivism Learning Theory that  he developed with Stephen Downes.  It is at the core of much of the movement toward networked learning  where learners create, collaborate, share, and explore their way to new knowledge.

It was actually as George was drafting his open online book KnowingKnowledge that I got one of my most important lessons in the egalitarian nature and power of hierarchy-less networked learning.  George invited anyone and everyone to review the drafts of KnowingKnowledge.

I thought, “why not.  I’ll want to read the book anyway.”   As I read, I made notes about things that didn’t seem clear, examples that seemed a bit off, etc.  And I sent them to George.  Next thing I know, George and I are discussing my ideas and, lo and behold, some of them are drafted in to the manuscript.  My old way of thinking could’t believe that George Siemens was incorporating my ideas.  He was the expert.  What did I know?

Two principles from George’s landmark article  in December 2004 are demonstrated in my story

  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.

“Experts” are not omnibuses who pass down knowledge too the unknowing. I don’t remember the specifics regarding KnowingKnowledge, but I do remember I had an experience(s) that allowed me to look at a particular concept in a different way than George’s knowledge and experience.    The connection that enabled George to hear my perspective on his manuscript was where the learning happened.

Of course, there are “experts” in a connectivist world.  But there is something potentially to be learned from anyone and everyone around us – and today “around us” includes the other end of a digital connection.  “Expertise” comes in the ability to seek out connections, to build a network that continually expands with each connection made.

  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.

It is an adaptive learner who can make the connections they need in any given moment that we need to be developing.

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