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Personal Learning Networks, CoPs Connectivism: Creatively Explained

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As part of a graduate course in Social Network Learning, I ask students to create a non-linguistical representation.  Here is the description of this assignment:

The intent of this module is to assist you in developing a personalized and deep understanding of the concepts of this unit – the concepts that are core to using social networking as a learning venue.   Communities of Practice, Connectivism, Personal Learning Networks, create one or a combination of the following to demonstrate your understanding of these concepts:  a slide show or Glog of images, an audio cast of sounds, a video of sights, a series of hand drawn and scanned pictures, a mindmap of images, a mathematical formula, a periodic chart of concepts, or another form of nonlinguistic symbols. Your product should contain the major elements discussed in this module: CoPs, Connectivism, and Personal Learning Networks.  These are connected yet different concepts.  As such they should be portrayed as separate, yet connected elements. In other words, you should use at least one symbol per concept and somehow show how they are related and connected

This assignment supports several of my beliefs about what represents “good” education:

  • Learners should be producing as much as consuming content.
  • Learners (of all ages) should be adding value and contributions to knowledge bases.
  • Learners should be given opportunities to express their unique voices.
  • Learners should be given opportunities to be creative and innovative.
  • Learners should be asked to synthesize and analyze content in unique ways tapping into higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
  • Using on-linguistical representations support visual thinking skills.

Here are some samples from this term.

A Powtoons Animation

A Musical Expression

Communities of Practice are demonstrated by multiple instruments playing a major scale. All the musicians share the same passion (the scale). At first the musicians are out of sync but as they continue to work together and learn more the music begins to come together. By the end they are all playing together (Wenger, n.d.). I felt this was a good representation of how learning can be facilitated through Communities of Practice.

Personal Learning Networks are demonstrated through the use of drum beats. It starts with just one beat and slowly more and more beats are layered on top making the music (the learning) grow. The use of all drums represents the similar interest shared by people in a PLN and the variations in the beats represent how each person brings a unique perspective to the learning environment (Kharbach, 2012).

Connectivism is demonstrated by different instruments slowly being layered on top of each other. As the music becomes stronger it’s representing how learning can grow by connecting with others around the world through web 2.0 (“Connectivism”, n.d.). It also shows how learning with others is more effective than learning alone. (Creative Expression: CoPs, PLNs, and Connectivisim)

A Color Wheel – Of Sorts


I created this graphic of concentric and overlapping color sections with faint lines spreading out from the center of the image.  It looks a bit like a colorful radar screen and I thought that was a good analogy to what we are learning in this course – how to develop an internal radar for new ideas and how to evaluate and share information through social media and knowledge networks.

I wanted to represent this idea with an image that could show a meta-view of connection levels and the varying types of intensity and interaction that can be found in each level. The graphic appears concentric but information and connections can actually move in either direction – between the PLNs and CoPs as well as the specialized nodes and fringe connections at the outer edges.  The variety and intensity of colors represent the diversity needed at each level for learning and knowledge creation. Color tint and opacity also represents the blending of new ideas and information to create original digital content in both the PLN and CoPs levels. 

The graphic contains layers of browns orange, tan and green colors – these are connections with more intense and dynamic interactions happening in the PLN and CoPs layers. Thus, the PLN area at the center of it all, represents a trusted “inner circle” of practitioners that know each other’s skills and areas of expertise well. Diversity, to a certain extent, is important in a PLN, but not so much that strong bonds and bridges can’t be built between areas of expertise and content. The relatively solid color of center area in the graphic represents this consistency dynamic found in productive PLNs. 

As the colors layer and blend, they create new colors, tints or shades that represent skillful intent of CoPs. The analogous color blends and variations in the CoPs area are  also meant to be reflective of Wenger’s idea that learning is not just for the individuals within a CoP, but also for the community as a whole – this results in enhanced practices and a more effective CoP overall. 

There are several distinct slices in the graphic where it appears that a member of the inner PLN could bypass the CoPs all together and venture out to the less focused and intense (teal blue) connections that are on the fringe of the image (and the fringe of our areas of work or interest). I wanted to be sure that I somehow represented a healthy practice of seeking out new and seemingly unrelated content (beyond our favored PLNs and CoPs)  that could be brought back to the group, evaluated and integrated if found useful. This would represent the pure exploration of that outer space of knowledge connections and sources with no other goal than to find interesting things to bring back and share or discard as desired.(

Postcards and Molecules


I feel as though these ideas work as a set of nesting bowls, each one a bit larger than the next. I see the PLN as the smallest unit of knowledge sharing since it is based on the individual and their learning interests (Lalande, 2012; Trust, 2012). The next largest unit is the CoP as it is based on a membership of interested shareholders working towards the same endeavor (Smith, 2010). Each CoP member brings their own PLN along with them resulting in a much larger set of networks and knowledge connections. Connectivism is the theory that consolidates all of the ideas. It is the framework or mechanism that describes the way in which networks function and knowledge is shared or acquired within a PLN or CoP.

As a means of showing these concepts are connected, I maintained the structure of each postcard. Likewise, there are images in each postcard that are similar to show the relationship. For example, both the PLN and connectivism postcards feature social media references. Likewise, the CoPs and connectivism postcard have images depicting groups of people.

There is an image at the bottom center of each postcard that relates to this topic. The PLN postcard features a depiction of an atom. The CoPs postcard shows a molecule and the connectivism postcard features a macromolecule (specifically DNA). Since the atom is the smallest unit of all three, I felt it best portrayed the PLN. The PLN is determined by each individual in terms of the connections made, tools used, and people or organizations included. A person is free to determine whether or not they will lurk or share within their PLN (Lanlande, 2012). A CoP is much larger than that of a PLN because it requires a group of people committed to the same problem or endeavor (Smith, 2010). Each molecule is made up of a series of atoms, much like a CoP which consists of group members and their respective PLNs. Connectivism describes something a bit different than the PLN or CoP. Connectivism deals with the new landscape of information and technological advances that characterize the modern world. Its focus is on the complexity of information and the means of networking to acquire and share information (Kop & Hill, 2008; Siemens, 2005). Thus, the macromolecule (DNA) seemed to be a good fit for the concept. DNA simultaneously represents a colossal collection of atoms and molecules (PLNs and CoPs) that share information via their connections. No one molecule or atom stands out as superior to the others, much like one individual can no longer exist as an expert as argued by Siemens (2005).


A Thinglink of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man

My non-linguistic representation is an interactive version of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. My idea was that our feet are the base of a person. I see one’s personal learning community as their base that provides support. In that area I included a spider developing his web or network as it represents how over time people build their web/network. I included a picture of a map because it looks like the veins and arteries of the city as it connects people across boundaries just as our personal network connects us across space and time. A picture of fabric for knitting is a metaphor for how we knit our own network to fit our individual needs. As Dr. Buchem explained in her presentation, when people feel personal control over their learning, they approach it with more passion and commitment. Finally, if the creation of something complex and interwoven had a sound, I always envisioned it sounded like Struggle for Pleasure by Wim Mertens.

For the main joints, I placed images of connectivity. Some are obvious, like the Chain Bride in Budapest, a chain link fence or a satellite. The grand canal of Venice (Blue Venice) by Manet works in two ways. It is a boat traveling across the water which is a way of travel and staying connected, but also with it being from his impressionist period, it is made up of seemingly random strokes of color. Up close, it appears a mess. From a distance, we can see each color and each mark works perfectly with each other and creates a beautiful image.

For communities of practice, I thought the hands were a proper symbol as they are the appendage that we most use to interact with our world. We touch, hold, build, and break mostly with our hands. To represent idea of communal practice, I included a video of the Liverpool fans singing to their soccer team. Nothing says community in practice like 45,000 people singing, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” This is true trust and humanity. The song guarantees that even in the face of failure, even in the darkest times, there will be unwavering support. It is a fine example of a positive communal relationship. Also, I included a time lapse video of London. When we see the hours of the city in this sped up manner, it reveals the hidden way the people of a city all work together like the blood pumping through the city’s veins.   (

Exploring Music: PLNs, CoPs, and Connectivism

PLNs create individualized learning experiences through sharing and creating resources to further help individuals gain expertise in an area of interest. In my analogy, I use pictures of singular musicians playing a variety of different instruments. They all share a common interest—music, but each instrument is unique to what the individual wants to develop mastery. Similarly, PLNs are personalized to the learning wants and needs of the individual learner. For example, individuals interested in multimedia can connect and share with other individuals that have the same interest(s). Analogous to this with my non-linguistic representation, guitar players can connect with guitar resources, drummers with drummers and saxophonists with saxophonists. Back to my representation, as singular musicians expand upon their knowledge and expertise wtith their chosen instrument, the drive to share beyond their personal expertise grows. This growth takes place when an individual forms a bigger collective, like a band, whose common goal is to create a bigger scale of creative music in unison. This idea leads to a CoP, where similar endeavored individuals connect. (

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 25, 2014 at 11:17 pm

Education 3.0 and the Pedagogy (Andragogy, Heutagogy) of Mobile Learning

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The evolution of the web from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and now to Web 3.0 can be used a metaphor of how education should also be evolving, as a movement based on the evolution from Education 1.0 to Education 3.0.  I discussed this in Schools are doing Education 1.0; talking about doing Education 2.0; when they should be planning and implementing Education 3.0.

Many educators are doing Education 1.0; talking about doing Education 2.0; when they should be planning and implementing Education 3.0. This post compares the developments of the Internet-Web to those of education.  The Internet has become an integral thread of the tapestries of most societies throughout the globe.  The web influences people’s way of thinking, doing and being; and people influence the development and content of the web.  The Internet of today has become a huge picture window and portal into human perceptions, thinking, and behavior.  Logically, then, it would seem that schools would follow suit in mimicking what is happening via the Internet to assist children and youth to function, learn, work, and play in a healthy, interactive, and pro-social manner in their societies-at-large.

Most schools are still living within and functioning through an Education 1.0 model.  They are focusing on an essentialist-based curriculum with related ways of teaching and testing.

Similar to Web 2.0, Education 2.0 includes more interaction between the teacher and student; student to student; and student to content/expert.  Some educators have moved into a more connected, creative Education 2.0 through using cooperative learning, global learning projects, shared wikis, blogs and other social networking in the classroom.

Education 3.0 is a connectivist, heutagogical approach to teaching and learning.  The teachers, learners, networks, connections, media, resources, tools create a a unique entity that has the potential to meet individual learners’, educators’, and even societal needs.  Many resources for Education 3.0 are literally freely available for the taking.


Taking this one step further or from another angle, moving from Education 1.0 to Education 3.0 can be compared to moving from Pedagogy/Essentialism/Instructivism to Heutagogy/Constructivism/Connectivism.  This can be looked at as a continuum going from Pedagogy to Andragogy to Heutagogy (PAH).  The following graphic describes these three approaches to teaching. (I understand that educators may differ in the descriptions and definitions especially that of pedagogy).


This translates into moving from an education approach driven by essentialism or instructivism to one that is based on constructivism and connectivism.

Essentialism is defined as:

Essentialism tries to instill all students with the most essential or basic academic knowledge and skills and character development. In the essentialist system, students are required to master a set body of information and basic techniques for their grade level before they are promoted to the next higher grade.  Essentialists argue that classrooms should be teacher-oriented. The teachers or administrators decide what is most important for the students to learn with little regard to the student interests. The teachers also focus on achievement test scores as a means of evaluating progress. Source:

Instructivism can be described as:

In the instructivist learning theory, knowledge exists independently of the learner, and is transferred to the student by the teacher. As a teacher-centered model, the instructivist view is exhibited by the dispensing of information to the student through the lecture format. This theory requires the student to passively accept information and knowledge as presented by the instructor. Article Source:

These descriptions fit the characteristics of an Education 1.0 or a traditional pedagogical teaching framework.

The andragogical, more constructivist orientation takes on the characteristics of Education or Web 2.0 where the principles of active, experiential, authentic, relevant, socially-networked learning experiences are built into the class or course structure.

The heutagogical, connectivist orientation is closely aligned with Education 3.0.

In a heutagogical approach to teaching and learning, learners are highly autonomous and self-determined and emphasis is placed on development of learner capacity and capability. The renewed interest in heutagogy is partially due to the ubiquitousness of Web 2.0, and the affordances provided by the technology. With its learner-centered design, Web 2.0 offers an environment that supports a heutagogical approach, most importantly by supporting development of learner-generated content and learner self-directedness in information discovery and in defining the learning path.  Source:

Even though heutagogy is usually defined and described for adult learners, given these times where we are living with open education resources and information abundance, learners as young as the elementary level have the potential to engage in educational experiences based on heutagogy.   In other words, they can engage in self-determined and self-driven learning where they are not only deciding the direction of their learning journey but they can also produce content that adds value and worth to the related content area or field of study.

Choosing the Teaching Orientation

It should not be as simple as stating that one, as an educator, uses one teaching orientation over another.  Educators need to examine what they are teaching and the population to whom they are teaching.  For example, procedural knowledge such as how to do first aid or fix a car; or a fixed body of knowledge such as human anatomy (for the medical field) or the study of law is typically best taught through a more teacher directed, “pedagogical” style. It becomes teaching with intentionality and strategically using the teaching and learning philosophies and approaches to reach desired outcomes.

Applications to Mobile Learning

The Pedagogy of Mobile Learning

With the idea that pedagogy is in line with a instructivist-essentialism method of teaching-learning, mobile learning in this category typically falls into the dissemination of content knowledge via apps.  [In my opinion, there are way too many apps developed for education fall into this category, with start-ups trying to take advantage of the use of iDevices in educational settings.]  Their goal is to directly teach students content knowledge or a skill whereby they can repeat and/or be tested on the content provided to them through interacting with the apps.  I have classified these apps as worksheets on steroids.  Typical examples include flash card types of apps like Netter’s Musculoskeletal Flash CardsThe U.S. Constitution – Flash Card Trivia, and Math Drills. I use a simple criteria to determine their efficacy, “Would the learner choose to use the app if given the choice or use it during his/her free time?”

As stated above, though, there are cases in which a body of knowledge needs to be learned by the students.  Some more engaging, interactive apps are available (and probably more interesting) to the learner.  Examples include:  Solar Walk™ – 3D Solar System model, Frog Dissection, and highly interactive eBooks.

The Andragogy of Mobile Learning

Again, although Andragogy has been described for teaching adult learning, we can extract his basic principles and apply them to the Andragogy of Mobile Learning for most age groups. Many project-based learning characteristics (authentic, real world problems; networked learning; use of collaborative digital tools) would fit under the category of the andragogy of mobile learning. Here are some resources and examples:

The following presentation demonstrates project-based learning with mobile devices in a High School Science class.

The Heutagogy of Mobile Learning

Creating a heutagogical-based mobile learning environment is in line with some of the recommendations from the ECAR National Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2011 report:

Use technology in more transformative ways, such as participatory and collaborative interactions and for higher-level teaching and learning that is engaging and relevant to students’ lives and future plans. Use technology more to extend learning beyond the classroom.

The learners in a heutagogy of mobile learning environment:

  • Determine what they want to learn and develop their own learning objectives for their learning, based on a broad range of desired course outcomes.
  • Use their own mobile learning devices and technologies to decide how they will learn.
  • Form their own learning communities possibly using social networking tools suggested and/or set up by the educator.  Possible networks, many with corresponding apps, include: Facebook, Twitter, Edmodo, Instagram, Blogging sites, Youtube, etc.
  • Utilize the expertise of the educator and other members of their learning communities to suggest and introduce content-related resources.
  • Utilize the expertise of the educator and other members of their learning communities to suggest Web 2.0 and other online tools for that the students could possibly use to demonstrate and produce learning artifacts.
  • Demonstrate their learning through methods and means that work best for them.  It could include using their mobile devices to Blog, create Photo Essays, do Screencasts, make Videos or Podcasts, draw, sing, dance, etc.
  • Take the initiative to seek feedback from the instructor and their peers.  It is their choice to utilize that feedback or not.

Some general learning activities that have the potential to be introduced by the education using a heutagogical approach include:

Here is a slide deck that I prepared to present the concepts and ideas I presented above.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 13, 2013 at 10:17 pm

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