In his article, ‘In Connectivism , No One can hear you Scream’ (2013),  Keith Brennan takes a swing at MOOCs with his statement ‘ experience is the proving ground for Theory’ and his contention that connectivism is not working for all students, especially for novices. In his view,  inexperienced individuals all start at different bases (prior knowledge) and they need direction, support, encouragement, and persuasion to be successful. The tasks need to be set with their ‘cognitive load’ in mind so that they can take in, process, and retain what is placed before them. For the individual, the task has to be perceived as achievable (self-efficacy) and the learning environment has to be conducive to that achievement. And then there is the dynamic of the group. Seeing like peers succeed and learning from a like instructor encourages and motivates towards success. Connectivism (online learning) places too many hurdles in the way, in the form of the technical learning curve and in the disconnectedness and aloneness of its modality. Many people need to engage all the senses (including smell, touch, and taste) in order to benefit from an experience.

In his rebuttal, Connectivism and the Primal Scream, Stephen Downes echoes some of the same concerns when it comes to traditional education. He compares the prerequisite of learning to connect to learning to read. He adds to the notion of self-efficacy that the student has to feel that the task is worth doing. Students only require motivation when they don’t really want to do a task. Educators coerce them with threats and promises – you need to do this to pass, to get  a credential, to get a job. Students voluntarily participate in connectivism and so motivation is not necessary. He further contrasts traditional knowledge that is acquired, measured, and tested with knowledge that is practised, lived, and experienced. Connectivism shifts dependence on the instructor to dependence on peers and on self.

The connectivist pedagogy works well for some, especially for those who come well-equipped with technical know-how. For others, you need a hook.  The trick seems to be able to lure them in to a venue that is fun and fulfilling with some instant gratification. And then they enter their comfort zone, they relax, and they learn. I think that Brennan is advocating such a strategy, what he calls ‘sensitive, careful, and thoughtful design’.

For carpenter apprentices, the first step would be to provide them with the tools for online learning. There is a perception that the young generation consists of ‘Digital Natives’, but that is not true for the group that has been shuttled into the trades. They shrink from computers, but they like their smartphones and their games. I see definite possibilities for instructional designers to team up with the trade instructors to create activities that will draw the apprentices in to learn. The motivation is already there so we just have to deal with the anxiety that the ‘new’ technology fosters. That also means that the internet connectivity at the college has to work 24/7.

The connectiveness goal of online learning has already been achieved in the trades classroom. Short lessons (10%) are given, followed by an instructor-centred demonstration (25%), and then the  students have their turn (65%) to emulate, experiment, and enhance the activity while working in small groups and learning from each other. This is also the primary mode of instruction on the job site.



3 Comments on 3.2 – Networked Learning

  1. Mary Wilson says:

    Michael, I’m really interested in your thoughts on using online resources for trades. I spent a lot of years at BCIT, and I agree that not all tradespeople are as ‘digitally native’ as their age would suggest. (Interestingly, I found the same thing with physicians and other health professionals. It may have something to do with the way time is spent — working with people and things, rather than with computers.)

    What kind of apps are available for tradespeople? For instance, is the building code available on smartphones and such? In the medical field, it seemed to me that as that sort of resource became available, those involved became more interested in using online resources generally.

    • Michael says:

      Hi Mary

      I was going to contact you tonight. I tried to put my intro on EDDL5111 but for some reason I couldn’t make it happen. Can you help me with that. I will need to post my other work.

    • Michael says:

      Hi Mary

      As far as using the online resources that are available, most of the apprentices have no problem with that. They have learnt to access the code in pdf format and to do a search by keywords, but that is a n older version of the code. The current code is available for a price but what frustrates them is that the ease of access, at the college and at home, with several different devices such as smartphones, Ipads, laptops, and desktops, is uneven and sometimes sporadic. This is a big problem for PSE with so many courses being offered as hybrid and with e-texts. The first week is a nightmare for IT, and many technophobes give up. It is also a problem at home since most of them live in the country where they have dial-up or slow cable. Even in Ottawa, Bell Fibe sings its own praises, but it is only available in certain parts of the city.
      They like apps – stair building, roof rafter geometry, etc. – and these are available sometimes free and sometimes for a cost. The big deterrent is that their Certificate of Qualification Red Seal exam requires them to do everything by hand, even with supplied calculators. We have had to find out which make of calculator the exam uses so that we could let the apprentices know in order to ease a bit of exam anxiety and to train them in its correct use.
      I see that the biggest barrier to online PSE is the failure to sync smoothly with Apple products. I have had to set my Macbook aside for my online courses. There is a way to make it work (so I am told) but it is like having to fix a car before you can drive it. Most of us would rather ride a bike.

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