CCK08 Week Four: What ‘Good’ Is It? — Putting Connectivism to Work

Critical Life Skills
A remarkable synchronicity this week has me thinking about the Purpose of connectivism. I spent an extraordinary three days this past week with about thirty other facilitators from across North America at a retreat on Bowen Island BC, honing our craft. The work of these people is enabling meaningful conversations in the workplace and with customers and the public, directed to making work more effective and ultimately to making the world a better place.

At the same time, at my own work I have been asked to identify the five most important, indispensable projects that my group is working on, in case the current recession and financial system meltdown require some austerity. Some of our projects are about connectivity and conversation, and all of them are about learning important new knowledge, ideas, insights and capacities.

So I began thinking about connectivism and about what ‘good’ it is (in both senses of the word — usefulness and betterment). Just to recap, for those not following the CCK08 Connectivism MOOC course, here’s my understanding of what it’s all about, and key definitions:

  1. Connectivism is a theory of learning that asserts that knowledge and learning are not (about) content, but connection. Hence:
  2. Knowledge = patterns of connections, of three types:
    1. neural = know-what
    2. conceptual = know-how, and
    3. social = know-who)
  3. Networks = loci of knowledge.
  4. Learning = making new connections (of the above types).
  5. Understanding / coherence / sensemaking = forms of pattern recognition.
  6. Community = those with shared knowledge and shared learning interests.
  7. Workarounds = the mechanism by which individuals make sense of and apply their own learning, regardless of mandated knowledge (instruction) or accepted knowledge (‘conventional’ wisdom).
  8. Accepted knowledge (wisdom) = what evolves as power shifts, people die and the make-up of communities changes; wisdom is inherently ‘conventional’ and tyrannical.
  9. The ‘wisdom of crowds’ is not ‘wisdom’ at all, but rather collective knowledge = the aggregation and appreciation of patterns of knowledge of large numbers of independent people, shared; this is much better than wisdom!

This past week’s course materials have been about the history of networked learning and the emergence of the social Web, so the issue of its usefulness and social value is pertinent. What ‘good’ can it do to think about and apply the principles and constructs of connectivism to the way we do our work, particularly (in the broadest sense of the term) ‘social work’?

My experience suggests that some of the greatest challenges to doing ‘good’ work are knowledge and learning related:

  • Most people are ignorant of how the world really works.
  • We live in a world of great imaginative poverty, with a dearth of practical ideas about how to make work, and our world, better.
  • Our conversational skills are abysmal.
  • While we learn mostly from conversation, from being shown, and thenceforth from practice (all collaborative processes), our learning institutions, programs and systems deprive us of all three, and instead force us to try to learn from reading, listening, and being told (all individual processes), after which we are expected to be ‘expert’ without any real practice.
  • This individualized approach to knowledge leads us to depend on ‘experts’, ‘executives’, ‘managers’ and ‘consultants’ and build systems that are hierarchical and support a cult of leadership, instead of drawing on collective knowledge, collaboration and community and building systems that are egalitarian and cooperative.
  • We are propagandized to be competitive and to lack empathy for others, which deprives us of the will and opportunity to work and learn collaboratively and to share knowledge with others.

One could speculate on the reasons for the emergence of such dysfunctional learning systems. My thesis is that they have been created to keep the majority, in our horribly overcrowded world of growing scarcity, from challenging the power and wealth of those at the top of the hierarchy, i.e. to create obedience and learned helplessness, stifle imagination of better ways to live, and ensure ignorance of dangerous (to the elite) knowledge.

How might the application of connectivism help us deal with these challenges? It seems to me there are five possibilities:

  1. Refocusing Social Tools: Just as Knowledge Management is now shifting focus and attention from collection to connection, social media need to turn their attention to enabling more, more effective, more informed, more valuable conversations. They need to help us identify ‘the right people’ (to live with, make a living with, love, and talk to) and then connect with them in real time in simple yet powerful ways that mimic, as much as possible, face-to-face conversations. They also need to help us make these conversations and meetings and social interactions more effective — bring more clarity and context, reach consensus, enable stories to be told and remembered, capture non-verbal communication, and pick up from where we left off at the end of the last conversation — keeping us connected, all the time, everywhere.
  2. Showing Us How the World Really Works: Take learning out of the classroom and into the real world. Visit real workplaces and communities with real needs, and interact with people with different perspectives. Base learning on conversations, not lectures. Let us witness what is happening — show us instead of telling us. Trust us to draw our own conclusions — we don’t need written examinations to try to assess what we’ve learned. Let the learning be collective, the result of us experiencing together, instead of studying individually a world away from the subject we are studying.
  3. Emphasizing Practice Over Mastery: In complex systems, the very idea that one can achieve expertise, mastery, is arrogant and dangerous (just look at what the ‘experts’ have wrought in the US financial markets). The pursuit of excellence is a lifelong and humble apprenticeship towards getting ever better. We need to enable and encourage practice of the capacities listed on the mindmap above, and other, more specialized capacities that fall within areas where we have a Gift or a Passion. We all need to practice imagining, and conversing, and critical thinking, and story-telling, and collaboration. We need to find ways to become much better at these core competencies of living in the 21st century.
  4. Rebuilding Learning Institutions Bottom-Up and Community-Based: Our learning institutions are not responsible to the needs of our communities, largely because they are too far removed from those communities, and to some extent because our communities are so fragmented and confused (and lied to) that they no longer know what they need their members to know. The reconstruction of the educational system therefore needs to be a partnership in which those whose work it is to teach can help those in the community understand what is needed and what is possible, and in which the members of the community can then empower the ‘teachers’ to provide for those local needs and to realize what is possible. Thence the whole community becomes the place of continuous learning for all its members.
  5. Creating a Society of Caring: Perhaps more than anything else we need to smash the systems that encourage and tolerate indifference, cruelty, selfishness, fear, greed, anomie, cynicism and uncaring. Our political systems, our educational systems, our economic systems, the corporatist workplace systems, and the mainstream media (both information and entertainment) bombard us with messages that the world is harsh, that only the strong (should) survive, that we must compete or fall behind, grow or die, take or be taken, and that since nothing can be done by us as individuals there is no point is even learning how terrible the world us. This is dangerous propaganda, driving us to defensiveness, distrust, hopelessness, fear and anger, and wearing away our natural inclination to care for others and to want to do whatever we can for the good of the community, the planet, the whole. We must fight it by showing what is possible and by confronting the propagandists and telling the world the enormous harm their dishonest, violent, manipulative messages convey. If we stop caring, we are lost.

I want to thank the MOOC participants and organizers for their responses to my Week 3 post on the Eight Questions; I hope to get around to responding to them in the comingweek.

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