Simon Fowler's Blog

Implications of Connectivism in the Workplace

Posted by Simon on January 21, 2011

One of my interests in Connectivism is rooted in my work – researching, creating and supporting the kind of workplace learning that leads to better performance (however defined).

In George Siemens’ authoritative overview of “Connectivism – A Learning Theory for the Digital Age”, while acknowledging that Connectivism has implications for all of life he identifies these implications specifically:

  • Management and leadership. The management and marshalling of resources to achieve desired outcomes is a significant challenge. Realizing that complete knowledge cannot exist in the mind of one person requires a different approach to creating an overview of the situation. Diverse teams of varying viewpoints are a critical structure for completely exploring ideas. Innovation is also an additional challenge. Most of the revolutionary ideas of today at one time existed as a fringe element. An organizations ability to foster, nurture, and synthesize the impacts of varying views of information is critical to knowledge economy survival. Speed of “idea to implementation” is also improved in a systems view of learning.
  • Media, news, information. This trend is well under way. Mainstream media organizations are being challenged by the open, real-time, two-way information flow of blogging.
  • Personal knowledge management in relation to organizational knowledge management
  • Design of learning environments

The traditional locus for ‘learning’ in corporations has been the L&D (Learning – or Training – and Development) department within Human Resources. When most people in a corporation think of ‘learning’ or if they have a skill deficit, they think of L&D as the first place to go. Everyone does it; L&D people themselves, line leaders & individual contributors, everyone.

If it is true that “Chaos is a new reality for knowledge workers” and that “Experience has long been considered the best teacher of knowledge. Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge.” (quoting Karen Stephenson) – then it is imperative that corporations change how they think of and enable workplace learning.

I’ll be intensely scrutinizing Connectivism over the next few weeks, and testing the implications for workplace learning. It seems revolutionary, not evolutionary, so it seems to bring chaos. My challenge will to see find ways to help corporations change without the violence of revolution and without the naturally-selected death of evolution!

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3 Responses to “Implications of Connectivism in the Workplace”

  1. cbriggs said

    I’ll be interested to see if/how you think Connectivism is different from Distributed Cognition (Hutchins), Actor-Network Theory (LaTour). I just read through George’s authoritative overview, and Connectivism seems like a combination/extension of these, applied to learning, with a smidgin of Complex Systems thinking from folks like Luis Rocha (with whom i have studied here at IU). If this is true, then it seems like it may be worthwhile.

    • Simon said

      I do think it’s a combination/extension of those (the little I know about them!). We’ll likely explore those three over the weeks ahead too, so I’ll see what they do with them. I also think it is (or requires) an extension/combination of traditional learning theories, or elements thereof. I suspect many people will use Connectivism as a hammer or blunderbuss to accuse, reject, and eliminate “the old ways”, but Stephen Downes’ in his post on what Connectivism is not , is careful to say that “learning is not … (solely or reliably)”. In other words, Connectivism isn’t a wholesale rejection of behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism, but it’s saying they are all inadequate on their own.

      I don’t know what boundaries they put on what Connectivism is or is for. It has a tendency so far to sound like a theory-of-everything. We’ll see.

      • cbriggs said

        As you start comparing/contrasting these sorts of things (theories, frameworks, models, etc) it might be helpful to keep Elinor Ostrom’s simple classification loosely in-mind [1]:

        Frameworks:
        Provide a metatheoretical language that can be used to compare theories. Organizes diagnostic and prescriptive inquiry

        Theories:
        Enable specification of which elements of the framework are relevant to certain kinds of questions and make general working assumptions about those elements

        Models:
        Make precise assumptions about a limited set of parameters and variables

        [1] Ostrom, E. , 2006-08-31 “The Institutional Analysis and Development Framework in Historical Perspective” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Marriott, Loews Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia, PA Online

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