The Division of Knowledge

I was re-reading the paper by George Siemens entitled: Connectivism: A Learning Theory For The Digital Age. While I was reading, something hit me.

Siemens talks about the way the abundance of information in today’s world is forcing us to do things differently. He explains how the continuity that existed for people in days gone by is all but gone. People living in previous generations may have trained for one career and remained engaged with that their life long. Now, however, we have an ever growing pot of knowledge which would be almost impossible for any one person to handle or evaluate.

A solution, which Siemens calls connectivism, stores knowledge across social networks instead. In connectivism, groups of people benefit from laterally stored knowledge, which is then evaluated almost phenomenologically by the collective intelligence of the group.

Now all this is very smart, but where does it fit in to the real world?

Well. Once upon a time, a couple of hundred years ago, there was a different revolution: the industrial revolution. We discovered that we were sitting on an abundance of fossil fuels. Through organisation and the division of labour, the production capacity of what had been until very recently a manual process, grew exponentially.

In the UK, productivity benefits from the division of labour have been commemorated on the £20 note.

In the UK, productivity benefits from the division of labour have been commemorated on the £20 note.

 

This is the information revolution. Our fossil fuel is computing power. As we use one another as a surrogate for knowledge (Stephenson, undated), our modern replacement for the division of labour is the division of knowledge. Just as our industrial ancestors created highly productive patterns out of the chaos, businesses and researchers alike can benefit holistically from team work and effective divisions.

When I hear talk of the knowledge economy, I am aware that this is not merely a transition to office jobs. Those who will thrive will be those who can sift through the meaningless noise and identify the applications that will yield a real benefit.

Rigor and Relevance

Have you ever been told to ‘try and go to sleep’? Or to ‘try and forget something’? It’s one of those things that we just don’t do well. Ironically it is the same with remembering. Some things one remembers well, other things just don’t come. Yet even at higher education it seems to be the make or break for academic success.

Last week I wrote touching upon the processes that take place within learning, and how understanding these processes is the key to understanding learning. Connectivist learning theory furthers this in suggesting that with the changing in times – to the world of information abundance – which the real benefits of being educated are not that one is a walking book, but that one knows how to manage information (Siemens, 2004). Where to find it, what it really means, whether it is valid or not and so forth. Knowing things was never any use to anyone until it could get a job done.

I want to give mention to another topic that affects the learning process: academic rigor. We had a semester of blogging last year. It was one of the most intense experiences of my life. I thought I had been thrown off my feet, and it felt like I had been giving every waking minute across 9 weeks to getting these blogs done. Needless to say it was one of the most time intensive exercises since coming to university. But when I broke it down, I probably spent 15-20 hours a week maximum on it. And I called it hard…

This week I set a goal to have the introduction section of my dissertation complete. Most of my peers thought this was a very ambitious goal – to write a 2500 word argument. And by comparison they would be right. The thesis is by far the largest assignment we will write. But it is only 6000 words. My blogging experiences of last semester, however, have brought me to accept that it is reasonable for the academic world to demand rigor.

On the topic of rigor, I would like to draw attention to the ‘Rigor/Relevance Framework®’ (International Center for Leadership in Education, 2012). This theory postulates that real learning goes far beyond acquisition of knowledge. Assimilation, adaptation and application are all further steps in learning something to a higher level (Daggett, 2005). I might know now the mechanics of long term potentiation within brain neurons. But have I taken that knowledge and found out how it is used in practise? Have I considered how I could add to the research? Have I spent any time really getting into the opposing theories and the critiques? Sufficiently that I might properly be able to form novel ideas? Or am I held to ransom by the tyranny of more course content, to pass the exam?


Image is copyrighted (2012) by the International Centre for Leadership in Education

Even so, the idea of having more analysis, synthesis and evaluation doesn’t sound that demanding does it? Here’s how I see it. The dissertation is demanding, because I have never done it before. And it is a piece of work that does call for the above described skills. I have a novel challenge to meet, I have something to become. A change needs to take place in me.

We all know plenty of tricks for knowledge acquisition. It is often an associative process, so Skinner boxes and behaviourism tell us we will all get there in the end. The problem is that it’s boring! It’s just how it is that actually changing who we are, and learning new skills is hard. We are teaching ourselves new processes. And the content looks after itself.

After I complete my dissertation, I presume the next one will be easier in some respects. On the other hand, it will likely be longer, deeper and therefore harder. But that is its way of breaking my intellectual muscles that I can grow further. With that in mind it is no more complicated than the old adage: nothing ventured nothing gained.

The Rigor/Revelance Framework® is a registered trademark of the International Center for Leadership in Education

Internet Identity: Fear of Failure

This week I had a fantastic opportunity to attend the ‘Flexible Teaching, Flexible Learning’ conference at Bangor University. I was particularly moved by the keynote speaker, Steve Wheeler from Plymouth University.

I am already doing research on social networks and connected learning and the way Steve talks about it is just music to my ears. Let me share some of the points that he put across so elegantly.

People were never designed to be factory taught or put to work in batches. There’s just something that doesn’t resonate through drill or monotony. The most ‘optimal experience’ takes place when we are challenged at a level that corresponds to our skill level. That is why the production (or synthesis) as opposed to a consumption centred model of learning leads to better understanding and higher creativity.

With that in mind, the ubiquitous computing of the postmodern age serves as a tool for the mind, to curate, share and enter into discourse over the how’s and why’s of all things. Never before has the blog or the tweet empowered the common man into a content curator. Never before could people across the world speculate and critique in matters of seconds, and benefit from the enhanced serendipity that comes with the state of flow.

And what’s exciting is that it’s not just about finding information. It’s about being found. With tweets, wiki’s, slideshare presentations and sites such as scoop.it or linked in, there’s never been a better time for the inquiring mind.

This thought provoking video was shown too, which had been produced by a student in one of Steve’s classes. She talks about her online identity and asks different soul searching questions about why we do what we do, and why we might want to hide such trails.

This is something I found really interesting because I am currently in the process of applying for jobs, and I’ve been considering my own various blogs and social networks that I have written online over the years. Some of them I read and wonder how a potential employer might feel reading them. Even now as I write, I feel to choose my words carefully because of what this could imply. The reality is I don’t drink, or engage in destructive rebellious behaviours. But I have blogged about politics and the economy. In today’s climate these can indeed be dividing topics.

Some might suggest abstaining or moderation; however I can genuinely say that it is through the putting of my thoughts and feelings into words that has helped me recognise the efficacy of my view points. In a very real sense, sometimes you have to go somewhere to more fully understand it, and that includes contemplating the extremities of political opinion. Yet because it is an incomplete work I feel to hide it away from the world in case I be misjudged. The problem with the internet being written in ink is that it leaves little sympathy for mistake.

Another remark of Steve’s that I liked was his acronym for failure. A ‘fail’ is simply a First Attempt In Learning. In the attitude of tearing down walls, why should errors and mistakes made using the fantastic infrastructure for social learning that we have hamper those engaged with the best learning of the day. Can the internet just be a little more forgiving?

Personal Knowledge Management

This year I will be taking on a teaching role within the university. I’ll be teaching a class called ‘PITTS’. It’s an orientation course teaching the Apple interface, and then equipping students to use the internet for research and the production of well formatted APA documents.

A new addition to the course this year is ‘Personal Knowledge Management’, a component of the module in which we are going to try and teach students from day one of their degree to begin networking.

PKM is a concept that has been developed by Harold Jarche. The idea is that one builds ones own personal network, engineered entirely autonomously, to connect with those in a research discipline that excites you – the learner. This network of both people and documents grows over time and aides learning.

This blog is a form of my own PKM, which I have been doing on and off throughout my university time. But as I continue to write here, I am taking the information which relates to my own study, and am making sense of it, which advances my own personal learning far better than any memorisation ever could. If I extend that into using twitter or linkedin, or if I start following peoples’ blogs I am expanding my academic peripheral vision and making myself a more effective learner, and thus making my career more effective for both me and my employer.

I have spent a lot of time this year studying how the connected world has a holistic effect upon learning, in anticipation of the dissertation project I will be starting. I think it is a terrific idea to begin learners on this at as younger age as possible.

Links:

http://www.jarche.com/pkm/