I Connect, Therefore I Learn

Is it possible to learn without being connected? How does the strength of an individual’s network impact their value as an employee? Why should employers encourage their employees to build robust personal and social networks?

Established learning theories, like behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism, are grounded in the idea that learning occurs inside the human brain. However, technological advances are challenging that assumption. The explosion of artificial intelligence is a testament to the reality that knowledge can be created and stored outside of the human mind.

People no longer need direct experience with something to learn about it. Instead, humans can access the information they need to make decisions and take actions by tapping into their personal networks, computer networks, and social networks. 

A single person can only experience or learn so much; however, connection to a broader network allows them to draw on specialized data sets in their networks as needed. Given the massive amounts of knowledge being generated all of the time and the shrinking half-life of knowledge, our ability to connect with relevant and current information quickly is invaluable. This makes networks an essential part of the learning process.

George Siemens’ asserts that a new learning theory is needed for the digital age. Connectivism is grounded in the idea that “learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.”

Siemens points out that learning theories must mirror the time period and that traditional learning theories do not account for the significant impact that technology, and our hyper-connectivity, has had on our lives.

In addition to reflecting the changing landscape of learning in a technology-rich world, connectivism attempts to “address the challenges of organizational knowledge and transference.” Siemens describes a new cycle of knowledge development. Knowledge begins with the individual, who brings his/her personal knowledge into an organization. That personal knowledge is composed of a network on which the individual draws to contribute to the organization. The organization gains knowledge and feeds the network. As a result, learning is happening at every level and information flows between the individual, the network, and the organization.

Given this new cycle of knowledge development, organizations (e.g. schools) should encourage their employees to build robust learning networks. The stronger the individual’s network, the more valuable that individual will be to the larger organization.

Even though many school districts and universities invest in professional development, that learning is often treated as an event when learning should be an ongoing process. Individuals with a strong network will continue learning and growing between these learning events and their learning will be more personalized because they are seeking information that is relevant to their specific needs.  

Siemens, G. (2005). “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age.” InternationalJournal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 1, 1-8.

Posted in Learning | Leave a comment

Math Journals: Adaptive Software + A Metacognitive Practice

As a blended learning coach, I spend time in classrooms where teachers use adaptive software to provide students with personalized math practice. Often a station rotation lesson for math is composed of:

  • a teacher-led station for direct instruction and modeling.
  • an online station at which students work with an adaptive math software program, like Aleks, IXL, or Dreambox. 
  • an offline station where kids work offline to practice problems on a worksheet. 

I know that “personalization” is a hot topic in education right now and adaptive programs are a great way to provide personalized practice. My concern is that I see many students at these online stations simply clicking buttons and guessing because they get bored or frustrated. 

I’d like to see teachers pair personalized practice using an adaptive program with a metacognitive routine. Students should be encouraged to think about their thinking and learning. Simply asking students to engage with a program for 20-30 minutes each day does not do this.

Instead, I encourage the teachers I coach to ask students to spend the last 5 minutes in their station writing in an online math journal. Students take a screenshot of a problem they encountered and write a brief journal entry explaining both the problem and their process solving it. This simple practice has several benefits. 

  1. It builds a reflective process into their math practice.
  2. It encourages them to articulate their thought process in writing using math vocabulary.
  3. It provides teachers with insight into their students’ thinking and valuable formative assessment data.  

Below is the math journal template I designed for a 3rd grade math teacher I coach. You are welcome to make a copy of it and adapt it to use with your students. 

The more we encourage students to slow down and think about problems and how they solve them, the more confident they will become as learners. 

Posted in Learning | Leave a comment

Blended Learning: 8 Respectful Routines

One of the biggest challenges many teachers face when shifting from traditional teacher-led instruction to blended learning models is the release of control from the teacher to the student.

Ideally, blended learning models are designed to give students more control over the time, place, pace, and path of their learning. As a result, students enjoy more agency and autonomy which can have a positive impact on their motivation and engagement. However, it demands that teachers have created a classroom learning environment (physical and virtual) characterized by respect. 

Below are 8 simple routines can help teachers to establish and maintain a respectful learning environment. 

I invite other teachers and coaches to share additional routines they have used with success to create respectful and productive classrooms. Thank you in advance. 

Posted in Learning | Leave a comment