Putting It All Together: Connectivism, Personalized Learning Networks, & Communities of Practice

As I began exploring the concept of Connectivism, I couldn’t help but liken lifelong learning to building puzzles. Puzzles range in skill and complexity, much like one’s learning, whatever it may be focused upon. “Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, complexity… Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements…Learning is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.” (Siemens, 2004, p.1)

Even as children, many of us can remember putting together our first basic puzzle. It was probably primary in its colors and contained a small set of pieces. At the center of my image, we see a lightbulb representing the concept of learning, with component pieces representing Personalized Learning Networks (PLNs) and Communities of Practice (CoPs), which are different and yet the same in that each tie back to the initial learner (Me) and may/may not be comprised of other similar participants. One thing is certain, these fit together like our childhood play puzzles. We select them based upon our interests whether it be our favorite butterflies, dinosaurs, or technologies.

The Ripple Effect

As we grow older and become more skilled at piecing concepts and ideas together, the puzzles grow larger and entail more pieces. This is much like our PLNs and CoPs. Gutierrez (2016) notes we should conceptualize PLNs in layers with ourselves as the starting points. The PLNs closest to us may include friends and personal mentors, and this layer expands to another with groups of professionals sharing our interests (CoPs). As the layers from which we learn ripple outward, the people within these layers may not involve much personal interaction, but we may view them as inspiration and learn from them. The concentric rings of networking icons and silhouettes of professionals graphically represent this.

As we grow older, our puzzles are not merely selected from those offered to us; we seek them out based upon our personal interests and skills. Our CoPs are the groups we recognize as professionals who share our interests. We seek guidance from them to help us piece ideas and concepts together; we learn from them and share, another skill obtained in our childhood years. Our childhood skills of solving and sharing evolve much like our CoPs. “The dynamic nature of communities is key to their evolution. As the community grows, new members bring new interests and may pull the focus of the community in different directions” (Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002, p.1). As we change through practice, our skills and learning expand, often into other related areas, thus representing the growth of our connected learning in the center of the image to those in the outer circle.

Often, we reflect upon our younger years as times of folly and inexperience, But I’d rather think of those years as full of wonder and excitement that grew from our favorite activities and how we shared them unabashedly. They are, afterall, what helped us piece together our learning then and formed the foundation for making our current connections.

References:

Gutierrez, K. (2016). What are personal learning networks? Retrieved June 8, 2018, from https://www.shiftelearning.com/blog/personal-learning-networks

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Retrieved June 05, 2018, from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge-seven principles for cultivating communities of practice. Retrieved June 8, 2018, from: https://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/cultivating-communities-of-practice-a-guide-to-managing-knowledge-seven-principles-for-cultivating-communities-of-practice

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