The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today. A real challenge for any learning theory is to actuate known knowledge at the point of application. When knowledge, however, is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill. As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses.

– George Siemens, Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age


You can lead a student to technology…

Place a student in a library for the first time and tell them, ‘Everything you could want to know is somewhere in this building’, then let them loose. Are they going to find anything they are looking for?

Just because kids have access to the Internet and all the information they could ever want, doesn’t mean they know how to find and use it. The Internet is just a different form of a library. It can fit in your pocket and you don’t have to go out in the snow and walk there.

Too often we will create assignments requiring the use of various technology tools and just assume because we the teacher know what to do, that the students, born into this ecosystem, must know also. It’s important to remind ourselves that this is usually not the case. Just as we learned the ins and outs of libraries as kids, they must be shown how and why new technology can be used to their advantage, rather than just expecting them to figure it out.

As I have mentioned before, I’ve spent a significant amount of time online over the years, which has allowed me to gain access to all kinds of information of interest to me. Although, it has also taken many years to advance past the basics of ‘search and click’ to really use the Internet to my advantage. I was quickly reminded of this the other day, asking one of my classes specifically where and how they would search online to get a quick list of specialized animal and plant cells. One response was ‘YouTube’ and another ‘Google’, without any elaboration. Finally a student suggested Wikipedia search for specialized animal cells.

The big issue with Connectivism theory is that if students are truly going to realize the power of technology in making connections, collaborating and finding/using the proper information and tools at the right times, they must be guided through the process. It doesn’t just come naturally simply because the technology exists.

The potential to transform learning as we move into the future is absolutely huge. However, knowing the snail’s pace of educational change and the immense task of re-directing such a giant ship, even though it is badly needed, I don’t see major changes coming anytime in the next ten years. The video below looks at what may be possible if we can break out of the ‘traditional system’, in an optimistic sense:

No one I know takes standardized tests for a living. So, why are we using standardized tests to see if you’re going to be good, when we don’t have standardized tests after you take it? It’s infected the entire marking ecosystem of education, because famous colleges are famous because they’re picky about your SAT scores. Parents want their kids to go to a famous college. Parents push the school to create kids who will get into a famous college by doing well on the SAT. All of which is corrupting the entire reason we have education in the first place.

– Seth Godin


Down the road

If I were to look ahead and offer thoughts about the next 5-20 years in Secondary Education (what I do) and what revolution may occur due to new advancements in technology, I have to refer back to my time in high school, which was 13+ years ago

  • How much has changed since then?
  • How are teachers doing old/new things in old/new ways that were not happening in that time period?
  • Has the concept of ‘traditional education’ changed significantly (or minimally) since then?

Considering these questions, I see far more parallels between today as a teacher with back then as a student than I see significant differences. The music, movies and clothing may have changed, but put an average student from 2013 into an average high school from 2000 and I don’t think they will find it to be much of a shock.

I conveniently came across the article Predictions About Technology in K-12 and Higher Education for 2024, by Larry Cuban, just as I was developing ides for this blog post. It is a fine read, loaded with links and I must say the ideas presented are far beyond what I can muster at this point. Some of the prediction highlights of me were:

  • MOOCs will advance past the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ up the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’ when they can be used in revenue-producing programs in post-secondary institutions
  • A significant increase of gadgets and tablets, thanks to policymakers, are available to many students and will continue to rise, but access does not equate to proper use and improved learning.
  • It has always been (for the last 30 years) the teacher of the class and not the electronic devices that drive learning.
  • The use of digital textbooks, online learning and computerized testing will continue to grow, but not dominate the education landscape.
  • Slow changes will provide more options for teaching and learning, but will not put an end to age-graded schools or teacher-centered instruction.

Final thought

It is the hands of teachers themselves – not the students – to be responsible for Connectivism truly taking flight and being successful. How many of us are ready for this and what steps must be taken in order to prepare teachers for this potential future of education?

Photo Credit: TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ via Compfight cc