MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses is a new concept to me.  The social justice aspect of providing education to the masses, for free, is appealing and inspiring albeit a little daunting if I were the professor.  The Connectivist philosophy, underpinning the design of the course – creating community with peers online (through social media, blogging, etc.) to have collaborative and conversational learning, flexible access, and self-directed learning where the teacher is more of a guide and less a “sage on the stage” is both exciting and troubling, depending on the perspective.  I was first convinced by Keith Brennan’s perspective that Connectivism is too broad a philosophy to adequately serve the needs of individual students and that likely, for the “novice” (like me) I would fail under such design.  As a digital literacy newby I felt that Brennan was compellingly supporting my case as I struggle to find my way in this new technology world.  I agree that “motivation is the engine of effort, and the sense of self is the ticking heart of motivation,” and that if the task set before me is too challenging (because I do not even speak the language of the task) then I am certain to fail.  Brennan’s arguments go on to support more of a Constructivist and Behaviourist theory of learning.  For me to be successful, I need to hear from my professor’s that I’m on course, and that with the right schema in place, and tasks placed within my “zone of proximal development” I will move forward.  Too much stress (i.e. cognitive overload, lack of prior knowledge), most specifically derived from a Connectivist philosophy of learning and program design, and I will fail.  Brennan’s article had me on-side, hook, line and sinker.  And then I read Downes rebuttal.

My gut is telling me that what my professor’s think or feel about my learning is irrelevant.  ”Success or failure is found in the quality of the experiences you do choose to have, and are reflected in your own assessment of yourself, not against some arbitrary and impossible external standard” (Downes).  I’m very engaged in learning (to the best of my ability, right here right now) and I’m moving forward.  The information is available whenever I need it, and I’m connecting with, and learning from my peers constantly.  I’m motivated, regardless of the fear of failing and know that despite what others can do, I am in a process and slowly but surely I am moving forward.  In a sense, after reading the Downes article, I feel that learning based in a Connectivist philosophy allows for pure differentiation, providing learners with the opportunity to access information where they are at.  It does not target “novices” nor “experts” but allows for the freedom and flexibility needed for each individual learner.

In my blended teaching/learning environment the Connectivist philosophy stands as good place to start.  Home based/online learning with a minimum of once per week contact with me suits this philosophy well.  Connecting my students with each other, families to families, peers to peers, and multi-age groupings allows for sharing, communication, modeling, with me – teacher as the guide, support and sometimes model of what can be created.  We are indeed moving our students away from a graded, product oriented outcome and focusing more on the big ideas, “practiced and lived and experienced” (Downes) – recognizing that it is the process and development that matters most.


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