Saturday, September 13, 2008

Connectivism: Too much Noise?

George Siemens commented in the Connectivism and Connectivist Knowledge Moodle this morning on "how structure influences the ability for students to learn. Too much noise and learners are overwhelmed. Too much order and learners are not challenged. Some ambiguity in the learning process permits room for exploration and creativity." Noting that the course itself was 'traditionally' structured, he said "it's the conversation that's more chaotic...does that detract from the learning experience?"

My reply

We often hear that the goal of learning is to prepare a learner for a real-life experience of some sort. As a language teacher and learner, I can think of sitting in classes where the teacher tried to reduce the whole of the language into an ordered subset (here, learn these conjugations, that's what the test will be on). Later you find you were not prepared for the real world. I would say, too little noise, too little challenge definitely, but also too little emulation of what the real world is like. In fact, ambiguity is rampant and managing work and learning tasks involves filtering and reduction. If the work of filtering is done for you then the opportunity to learn is reduced, not only of the knowledge to be acquired, but of the heuristics to be applied in the real world. I think field dependence and independence describes how comfortable individuals are with coping with noise, but I would say it is a necessary part of the learning process.

Connectivism and noise in real life

Writing that was almost the first thing I did over coffee this morning. It's Saturday in the UAE, a day off, and though I'm not on the east coast diving, I still woke up at six thinking about how much I had to do (noise in my head) and switched on the computer. Do I then systematically work through my task list? No, that would be too structured and would ignore the wealth of connectivist activity (noise and clamor) that had accumulated in email and on Twitter and Google Reader while I slept, and which in fact impacts very much how I carry out the tasks I choose to do on my day off. Reflecting on what I just said I see that if I did not connect with my network today then I would be doing my work as if it were yesterday and I might be seriously out of date (as in 'that's sooo yesterday' ... on the other hand I might actually get some work done ;-) So perhaps touching base with the network is succumbing to the siren call of all that noise, and distracting me into procrastination. I'm not the first to have observed that this might be the case. So I decided rather than discipline myself into efficiency (after all, it's my day off) I would ADD to the noise (with this blog post) and try and document some of that noise and in the process see how connectivism fits into my workflow (or work stoppage, as the case may be).

Now where was I (sorry got up to make coffee, glance at morning papers, another part of my distributed learning network). Oh yes, how many windows are open on my computer? Here's one with an email I wrote but didn't send. Why not? Perhaps the answer will be in something I was looking up in another window (clicking, searching).

Scrolling through windows I come on Twitter. Let's see what the latest is there. That window has lots of tabs open because when I click on what people in my Twitter network suggest I check out, each item opens in a new tab. Twitter is very convenient in this respect. You can click on a tweet, the item appears in its new window, and when you click on the Twitter tab you're back at exactly where you left off. I like to keep Twitter running because it's the epitome of connectivism and connectivist knowledge. And noise. There's a lot of noise in Twitter, but never more than 140 characters of noise, so the noise is almost a whisper. Yet the pearls of wisdom shine there. I've learned a lot through Twitter, not only about things I can use in my practice, but also about how networks and the people who comprise the nodes in them work (and play, and interact both frivolously and seriously, and also that both are important; that you're not your best at work without taking time for play, and visa versa).

So Twitter is a big part of my day-to-day (hour-to-hour? minute-to-minute? nanosecond-to-nanosecond?) connectivist tools and influences, and one of the elixers I feel I need so that I can keep my work up to (today's) date. Email is another, obviously. I follow a couple of really good professional mailing lists. One of them is Learningwithcomputers,, an offshoot of Webheads that is active and well moderated in a way that Webheads isn't. Webheads is the other list,, and the flip side of the coin. There's a lot of noise in both places, but people keep coming back to and swear by Webheads. And they've been doing that for ten years now. In fact, Webheads is ten years old today:, which is something I should mention on Twitter shortly (assuming I dare put off doing my real work for just a little while longer; oh, what the heck, the whole morning's gone already!)

Now it's pretty amazing that a group, which started as an eGroup before it was a YahooGroup, and which we then came to look on as a community of practice, and which we now see as part of an even larger distributed learning network, can grow and remain not just cohesive but effective and inspiring, for an entire decade. There may be many other groups and communities and networks in play at the moment, one of the most impressive being the one that has jelled around the Connectivism and Connectivist Knowledge seminars, yet none have stood the test of time as have Webheads. This is really interesting because Webheads has in all that time been essentially leaderless. It's been a mob phenomenon, as Claire Siskin once said, refreshingly without any one person pushing an agenda. It's been a truly co-operative venture, which has sustained itself on the learning that each individual achieves through working within the network. And playing also, not just working.

So to complete this post, I was going to try and document all the stepping in and out of windows I've been doing this morning as I sit alone at my computer while remaining incessantly in touch with my network. Speaking of which, stop presses! Miguel Guhlin just twittered about TipCam free screen recorder (for Windows) that uploads to YouTube! How cool is that? And Jeff Utecht twitters to say he is planning to podcast every presentation at the Learning 2.008 conference in Shanghai so that's another network we can avidly follow while we're engaged in CCK08, as we get our proposals in for EVO which starts rolling now through February, and I'd promised to announce the next Webheads in Action Online Convergence today, on the tenth anniversary of Webheads. All this assuming I can skim off time from the demands of 'real' work, the kind that pays the bills and sustains my DSL pipe from my home and workplace to the network where my 'real' work gets done (now which is the 'real' work; will the 'real' Slim Shady please stand up?)

Whoa!! too much networking. Stop the noise, I wanna get OFF! Maybe I should go for a jog (hang on, first gotta download the latests podcasts from so I can stay connected via my iRiver ... What else would I do with my brain while exercising?? ... )

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Carla Arena said...

LOL, Vance! I find myself in every bit of this post, for after I joined the Webheads, I added more noise, whispers, fun, learning, pleasure to my learning process. Yes! I'm noisy and love noise. While teaching, thouhgh, I'm always trying to find the balance between noise and silence periods of learning with my learners. Silence periods would be those moments that each one of us are all by ourselves immersed on a good book, reading, listening to a podcast without adding to much noise to that particular calmer moment of learning. We need both, for in the noise the connections strengthen, in silence they mature.

Happy 10th Anniversary! You inspire us all.

Elvira said...

Hi! I cannot tell you if it is calm or it is noisy but I have found a social network where we can learn a language while making friends from all over the world
Its name is Babelyou