Posted by: arieliondotcom | November 7, 2008

Notes from the George Siemens Talk “Analyzing the Obvious”

Below are my slightly paraphrased notes from the George Siemens talk “Analyzing the Obvious”:

Slide:  “Schools we have today were designed around commen sense assumptions that had never been scientifically tested.”  — R. Keith Sawyer

Siemens — “The primacy of the connection…If we come to understand how and why connections form, we have the capacity to understand the way in which we should foster education.”

Need to shift mindsets away into a different way of talking (from past learning theories) when it comes to designing learning institutions, or how we interact with each other as learners.  Lack of symmetry from theories to the point of action/adoption.

By focusing on networks, we have a perspective on learning that runs end-to-end (from how we perceive learning theoretically to how we design learning through an instructional process, to how we eventually deliver learning).  Applies to any context (classroom, online, etc.)

Rumelhardt (sp?) – Connectionism (vice connectivism) – Knowledge resides in the networks; how we connect things together.  Knowledge is a pattern of connections/connectivity 

Learning = the manner in which one engages with, and navigates,  those networks . 

Knowledge = Network Phenomenon
Learning = NetworkING Phenomenon
(how we create/put systems and structures together)


Level 1 = Neural (analyzing how the connections result in understanding in the human brain and artificial intelligence); It’s not from “pictures in the head” but neurons making connections as they fire.  The image isn’t accessed, it’s the pattern of connectivity and the nature of the connections that sparks recognition.

Level 2 = Conceptual; Define how we explore a particular subject matter.  A novice doesn’t have the deep network patters that an expert has.  Experts have nuances in the networks (context, second and third order effects, etc.).  Conceptual Learning = How we piece together concepts and our understanding of concepts.  If a person doesn’t understand, ask:  “How are they connected to the concepts?  How have they brought together different ideas?  How are they weighting research and beliefs?

Level 3 = Social/Physical; Twitter, Facebook, etc.  No one person can build an airplane.  Flight is a systemic phenomenon.  Old expertise in all areas of a subject  isn’t possible anymore. 

If I want to know something, where do I go to get that information?  It doesn’t make sense to master it myself.  You can’t really.  We make sense by a process of connecting specialized nodes. 

Karen Stevenson (sp?) — “We collect/store our knowledge in our friends.”  It’s how we are connected to other people who influence us that gives us our capacity to know more.


Knowledge = Patters of Connectivity;

Learning = Act of putting together those patterns of knowledge

Understanding = A degree or quality of connectedness between ideas, concepts, and people. 

New “teacher” model = Asking students “How are you connected?  Who are you reading? Is there a connection of repetition in your reading?  What do you need to prune from your network? What people shouldn’t you be reading anymore? Because the people we listen to (as in the past, the books we’ve read, the concepts we’ve thought about, determine our level of understanding.

“Be careful of who you choose as your friends because that influences the person you become.”  How we’re connected, who we’re connected to, determines the depth of our understanding.

– Connections are to learning as atoms are to the physical world

Richard Feinman (sp?) – Everything is made of atoms; understanding this leads to understanding why things do the things they do in the physical world

(All learning is made of connections)

When we understand how and why connections are formed between people and concepts, neuronally and socially, we come to understand learning; Connections are, in an obvious sense, easy to overlook because we speak about them so casually and intuitively but  yet the system lacks the symmetry we’re intuitively aware of versus how we find information when we need it, versus how we teach students in the classroom.

The future of education and educational research will rely heavily on understanding connections in the same way that understanding atoms led to greater understanding of the physical world. 

Growing wave of optimism in education because (theoretically at least, since there is still blocking going on) teachers have the tools to do what they want to do.  It’s exciting to be able to control your own fate. 

Exciting to be a researcher because the validated scientific research Sawyer said was missing in the old design of learning will be made through better understanding of connections.

For both educators and researchers, to understand how/why connections form, and the patterns they exhibit, is to understand learning. (This applies at all three levels of the network:  neuronal, conceptual, and social/physical.) 

(Military planting thoughts in people’s heads?!)

If we understand how the neurons are firing (connections they’re making) we can understand their thoughts (how students are learning/not learning).

Learning opportunities are determined by how we interact with knowledge and others (not just about technology).

Technology is only a tool.  Web 2.0 will morph into something else, etc. Don’t build your education system on blogs, wikis, and podcasts.  Those are only the latest tools to empower creation and distribution of content and connections with others.  They are only strategies to enact your vision.

 In the past, the university provided you with what you needed to know.  And the professor/teacher created the construct in which you would have your conversations.  They created the space where you would think about the very subject that you’re thinking about.  (They planned your small group activities, lecture formats, etc.) 

Today, both the content and the interaction are under the control of the individual learner.  Enormous shift in power to be sharing your opinion and “making it stick.” (Anyone following your hash tag at Twitter can connect to your thoughts/opinions.) to follow Twitter

(Students may be saying “George is an idiot.”  Still traumatized by being “dissed” as “stupid” by Stephen.  Heh-heh.)

Educators today may propose resources but students go to Google Scholar and Scopus to get their own research and perspectives or counter perspectives.  (Though instructors can still “lock down” the network in class/on campus it’s a very short-lived control as students can get to resources through their Iphones, etc.)  Students bring their connections with them.

Technology is becoming a mediative and enabling influence that not only permits this (learner-empowered connections) to happen but amplifies it.

Connective nature of presidential election in US led to highest turnout since 60s. 

Give people (including young people)  the tools to connect and do what they want to do, give them a motivating and sufficiently passionate reason to connect, and they will connect. 

Technology is only a tool, but it’s not neutral either.  Facebook, Twitter and a Learning Management System (LMS) are as much philosopies  as technologies. 

Our views of  knowledge and learning dictate the shape of our institutions.

How do we now teach?  Do we need physical buildings anymore?  (What about Second Life, networks, etc.?)

If the primary business that you’re in dramatically changes, the businesses that are in that field must change as well.

(Wal-Mart “superstore” phenomenon; those other stores which didn’t adjust disappeared.)

Our primary field (as Educatiors) is learning and knowledge.  What happens when they change dramatically?  What is the impact to the existing institutions?  — Potentially absolutely enormous! But may take 5, 10 years or more though it will be dramatic.

What is a learning network?  Any group of people and resources that are connected.  Any time you’re connected to another person it can be learning, though not necesarily for intent.  You and the Library are a Learning Network.  You are connected to a Learning Resource.    You have a learning network with Google because when you access Google you access the full range of resource that Google filters.  Following blogs, newsletters, etc.  You don’t need to respond to be in a learning network. 

Network must have certain attributes to offer me what I want.  Different networks needed for splitting atoms and cooking for guests. 

The type of learning and understanding we require determines the type of network we actually need.

What characteristics do networks exhibit?  Will vary based on intentions you’re trying to achieve or produce as a final outcome.  The characteristics of your network are contextually reflected.  You can’t say “This is a learning network that applies to all situations.”  Your learning task need and context determine what type of network you need.

Complex subjects need complex networks. 

Distinction between  learning networks and social networks relates to intentionality and focus. 

Social networks (“hanging out” on Facebook) – a learning network where the learning or task is not explicit; we socialize to be human, but when we’re trying to achieve a task we have intentionality and focus.  We’re in the learning network (education) for a reason. 

Focus on third level (social/physical) of networks.  Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) used as an alternative to Learning Management Systems. 

Educational use of social networks (Facebook) very “hit and miss” so far.  Some educators love it.  Some educators (and students) hate it. (Social and lifestyle differences may impede.)

How do we foster deep understanding through networks?  Sustain participation through varying contexts.
The difference between shallow and deep understanding of a field is based on the absence or presence of conceptual networks that have been formed.  The ability of an individual to continue to stay current is an attribute of the social-external networks that have formed. 

Within education, our language to define network attributes is nearly non-existent. 

Sociologists and Mathemeticians have theirs (weak/strong links, etc.).  We can learn from those areas but it’s a very different type of network than those used for learning.

We need language to describe minute activities of networks

– Quality of Connection
– Connection attributes in relation to learning
– Expertise vs Novice
– Social connections in support of learning

(You can add to these)

What kind of network language can I use to explain “I understand THIS…”

We literally need to create a field of language that describes the attributes of learning as a connective phenomenon.

This is what Sawyer was talking about.

What is “sense making” nowadays?  Used to be TV anchor, newspaper editor, professor…Now you are your own sensemaker in an overwhelming amount of information.  How you combine those pieces is a by-product of the type and depth of knowledge you have in a particular field.

Darkin (sp?) – Wayfinding

How do we make our way through complex and overwhelming information?  Our institutions aren’t designed to work in this way.  Institutions are designed to BE sensemakers FOR learners, not to MAKE sensemakers OF learners.  Our institutions are about epistemology (knowledge) rather than about ontology (being).  And that’s a critical distinction.

Effective Implementation:
– Openness (can’t form learning networks when things are locked down)

– Learner Control/Personal Agency

– Belonging/Trust

– Culture of Sharing

– Notion of Ecology (networks don’t exist in a vaccum; educators create the ecology…classrooms, internet, etc. which affect the types of networks that are formed.

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