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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Conversations (Connectivism in Action)

To steal a catchphrase from an old famous UK Comedian Max Bygraves, I want to tell you a story….

It all started 48 hours ago and a conversation with the new girl in the coffee shop at the train station on how her real profession was working with adults who have autism. Bang – this simultaneously fired up a couple of synaptic pathways within my mind. I’m thinking “connecting”, trying to connect with people with autism that’s great, maximum respect; I’m thinking “awakenings”, Robin Williams, what a great film that highlights this issue. – I had not seen the film for 15-20 years, but on an emotional, affective level that has been lodged well and truly deep into my memory (or is that a synaptic node).

Fast forward 24 hours, I am on the train now and I bump into an occasional train travelling acquaintance, we always tend to have interesting conversations. I get talking to him about connectivism – he has never heard of it, but likens it to in his words Hagel’s ‘ideological dialectic’ where we learn from a thesis and antithesis, and then a synthesis of the two positions.

I’d explained that connectivism works on two levels; internally in our brains and externally in how we interact with the world. Our conversation continued during which time he brought up the subject of autism and how maybe connectivism as a new learning theory may have something to offer in helping those with autism. After a few questions from me to extrapolate the idea, we settled on the notion of developing some connectivist techniques that could be applied in order to provoke some ‘connection’.

And my point is…

Over the last couple of years through my formal and informal learning, I have come to appreciate the value for learning purposes in connecting, socializing, and externalizing more so than ever. As I grapple with the arguments as to why connectivism may not be a new learning theory, I thought my story above illustrates some noteworthy points about connectivism and gives me a base from which to look more deeply into connectivism as a learning theory.

What have I learnt about connectivism
Well this to me is a powerful example of networks influencing my learning. Previously my view of connectivism was strongly influenced by the Internet as the catalyst that makes connectivism relevant as a learning theory of the digital age and I still believe that to be true. However what these brief encounters have done is to reinforce some underlying principles related to networks and learning. I now realize that I have a very powerful informal network that aids my learning every working day. My informal network of occasional travelling companions includes teachers, lawyers, graphic designers, students, nurses, secretaries, retirees and many more different types and through our conversations, like the one a recanted above I am always learning. I am becoming more aware of strong/ weak networks and strong/weak ties.

Emotional weighting and synaptic nodes
Now to my memory of the film “awakenings”. The way I view this is that if this memory is stored in a synaptic node. Then I believe that stored within this node is not only memory of the node, but that this node also has an emotional ‘weighting’, that keeps this node strong and alive and ready to be called upon when required. Nodes without an emotional ‘weighting’ will wither and die. Need to explore this notion further.

More emotion
Although my travelling acquaintance is in many ways a weak tie in a weak network, I have had a strong personal connection in our conversation and his description of Hagel’s ‘ideological dialectic’, I know already has a strong emotional weighting and will be a strong node .

So this emphasises for me that emotional connectedness is an important part of learning.

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