Sunday, July 31, 2011

My Learning Connections--Connectivism

This map does not fit the blog space extremely well so, when viewing, if you get too far out in the weeds, just click the home node with my picture or click here to view the entire map in a new window.


“The pipe is more important than the content of the pipe” (Siemens, 2004).

There is little doubt that learning has changed drastically over the last 40 years, especially with all of the advances in today’s technologically saturated society. I, personally, missed the computer age of learning with my first degree because I finished college before computers were highly prevalent. I had to use brick and mortar libraries for all of my research, which was a rich experience, but today seems highly inefficient.

As George Siemens illustrates with his quote about the pipe, our "ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today" (Siemens, 2004).

Siemens derived basic principals of connectivism and a few noteworthy ones being that 1) learning and knowledge depends on the diversity of opinions, 2) learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources, 3) currency is the intent of all connectivist learning activities (Davis, Edmunds, & Kelly-Bateman, 2008). Connectivism learning acknowledges the dynamic shifts where learning is no longer a private, singular activity. New learning tools are discovered every minute, and these tools alter how people operate and learn. Connectivism learning provides insight for learners to thrive in a digital era (Siemens, 2004).

My network is small by most comparisons but is a supportive example of the central tenets of connectivism. It has rapidly advanced my visibility into an overwhelming mass of information. So much so, that I find it hard to digest it all at times. One of the major advantages of having access to a network is that I can search the Internet, ask my social group for ideas, and post questions to related message boards. These connections bring me instant information from peers and experts. I use Google search and visit Facebook religiously. I value my LinkedIn groups for their diverse peer insight into my profession and education; and I especially like my blog reader because it functions as my virtual morning newspaper. I can receive news, blog posts or website information gathered into one location, thus customizing my morning paper just for me. Pursuing a master’s degree through Walden University has also exposed me to an entirely different way of learning. Because it is online based, I have more control over my education. The university is a highly connected information hub that gives me access to professors, other students, and endless online information. The one social technology that I have not explored is Twitter. As any typical adult learner, I have to see the value in something before I am motivated to learn about it, and I have yet to see my personal value in Twitter. I have come to realize that it has become increasingly critical for me to keep up with the changes in technology, the various ways of connecting, and simply learn how to learn on a daily basis(Siemens, 2004).

Siemens, G. (2004, December 12). A learning theory for the digital age. In eLearnspace organization online.   Retrieved from
Davis, C., Edmunds, E., & Kelly-Bateman, V. (2008). Connectivism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Traditional versus Virtual

In its bare essence, social constructivism refers to learning that occurs because of some sort of social interaction. I was able to understand the importance of the theory of social cognitive development, after listening to Dr. Jeanne Ormrod explain one of Vygotsky’s examples. As we mature, we develop our own view points or opinions, and often find that they are different from others. As we discover other view points, we can expand our thinking to integrate information from their view point with ours. So gradually, we start thinking about various view points on our own and learn to explore dilemmas with more than one view point (Laureate Edition 2009). This expansion of knowledge could not be possible without the social aspect of sharing one’s view point.

I looked at several resources about Vygotsky’s theory and social constructivism trying to find any pointed reference that states that his sense of social interaction is, indeed, defined as a "face to face" interaction. Granted, back in the early 1900’s, there were limited social alternatives to being with other people; however, I think that his theory refers to any kind of social interaction and can be applied to our social mediums of today, such as online classes, virtual worlds, skype, and web cameras. It is all the same social interaction, just through new technologies. These technologies can expand and build on traditional forms of social learning, leading the way for improved and a more multidimensional approach to learning.

There are many advocates of the traditional learning approach, and they would argue that technology takes away from the real and tangible aspect of learning, thus leaves learners feeling isolated. Just the other day, I was talking to a retired Biology professor about my graduate studies online. “I don’t know how you do it these days, get a masters online, all that technology…I am glad I am retired” she said.  Clearly she is not part of the emerging social technology wave, and probably she will never be a supporter of online learning or see its true value. Another example, closer to home, is from my older sister. She opted to get her masters at a “brick and mortar” school solely on the principle of social learning. She felt that she would not gain the knowledge she needed online and said that she needed “real” social interaction to learn. In both cases, I argued that online learning is not isolated or muddled by technology but, just the opposite. Additionally, learning through technology does not necessarily mean doing away with the values associated with face to face communication. I don’t believe that I go through to either of them. Personally, when I was in college, I went to class and studied hard but could rarely tell you who was in my classes much less talked to them. (unless it was a class requirement) This is my first experience with online learning, and I have to admit that the reliance on self direction and motivation was a bit hard for me to get used to. However, I have interacted with more people, been exposed to more points of views, found a flooding amount of information via blogs, wikis and online libraries than I ever had in my college days. I now find it empowering and I feel that I have more control over my learning experience.

Betsy Barret's Second Life Classroom
 Perhaps there is a middle ground for those traditionalists and virtualists in learning online. For the traditionalists, there are new trends that use virtual worlds for education allowing for a simulated face to face and real-time experience. I found a compelling article about a popular virtual world simulator called Second Life. It highlights one contemporary literature teacher that creates a virtual 3-D world model of the books that she teaches. Students can meet in that world and explore the book’s setting, converse with the book characters and all classmates can have this experience simultaneously. This not a new concept, because more than 300 universities back in 2007, including Harvard and Duke, used Second Life as an educational tool (Sussman 2007).

Lastly, leading Instructional designers are getting on the 3-D education band wagon. Just this week, Karl Kapp blogged about conducting his first summer class in Second Life and included the comments from the students on their experience. (Kapp 2011) Something tells me that this new technology is not going to sway my sister or my friend, the retired Biology professor, to leave their traditional views and come on over to the virtual side-even with the face to face interaction….well, actually… avatar face to avatar face interaction.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). Theory of Social Cognitive Development [Video program]. Dr. Ormrod.

Sussman, B. (2007, January 8). Teachers, college students lead a second life. USA Today. Retrieved from

Kapp, K. (2011, July 13) Learning in 3D-First class summer 2011. [Blog message] Retrieved from

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cognitive Load and How the Brain Learns Best

Cognitive load in layman’s terms actually amounts to how much the working memory can process at one time. The cognitive load theory was largely formulated by an Australian educational psychologist named John Sweller. His theory provides guidelines for presenting information in ways that allow the learner to optimize their brain power. Sweller does this by emphasizing the inherent limitations of working memory during prolonged instruction (Sweller, J. 1988). Instead of delving further into Sweller’s theory, I would like to turn the microscope dial down a little and look at cognitive load on the neurological level.

Educators are literally trying to change the brain of their learners. This does not mean that we all have to study neuroscience to be effective educators, only that we understand what might be happening inside the learner brain while we are narrating, animating, demonstrating or exercising our points of education. Learning requires attention, and attention is controlled by specific parts of the brain (Perry, B. 2009).  After five minutes or less, our neurons become less responsive or fatigued. After a short rest, they can recover and be ready to go again; however, neurons will tire again after sustained, continuous stimulation. Dr. Bruce Perry provides an “aha” metaphor for neurons and how they operate, by discussing the differences between a piano and an organ. If you place your finger on an organ key, it will continue to make sound until you lift your finger. Conversely, if you put your finger on a piano key, it makes only one short note, regardless of how long you keep your finger on the key. Neurons are like pianos in this example. They respond to patterned and repetitive stimulation rather than lengthy or continuous (Perry, B. 2009).

Our brain creates cognitive structures called schemas that help us to process data, according to Sweller. Once again, Dr. Perry has an excellent explanation of Sweller’s schema structure that simplifies it for the everyday educator. When a learner is presented a basic fact, they use one neural system. (call it A) When the learner is presented a concept related to that fact, a slightly different, but interconnected set (B) of neurons is used. When the learner is presented a story about that fact and concept, other sets (C and D) of neural systems are engaged. These interconnected neural systems are all essential, and learners will remember lessons more thoroughly if they can tap into all of these neural systems (A, B, C and D) during the learning experience. So how can you avoid cognitive load and exercise each of these neural systems? The same way boxers avoid getting punched – bob and weave (Perry, B. 2009).

To create the most effective presentations of material, you should move back and forth through these neural systems, weaving facts, concepts and stories; adding analogies, humor, and emotion. Link facts with related concepts, and connect them to a story, then on to additional facts, and tie the new facts back to your story. Thus, bobbing and weaving, in and out of these different methods of presentation are key, along with elements of originality, newness and novelty.

This is how the brain learns best.

Dr. Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D., is an internationally recognized authority on brain development and children in crisis. Dr. Perry leads the ChildTrauma Academy, a pioneering center providing service, research and training in the area of child maltreatment (


Sweller, John. (1988). “Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning”. Cognitive Science 12 (2): 257–285. Retrieved from

Perry, Bruce. (2009).  How the brain learns best.  Retrieved from

Bonus Video on the anatomy of the brain presented by Pinky and the Brain 
(a must see)

Other interesting articles and case studies about Cognitive Load

A brief introduction to cognitive load theory and dissertation excerpt by David Lewis, PhD

A case study on cognitive overload by Jennifer Harrod

An article that discusses nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia presentations by Richard Mayer and Roxana Moreno

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Entering the Blogosphere

Photo Credit
Most reports state that there are over 60 million blogs in the blogosphere.  The mapping would look something like this image, according to social media expert Matthew Hurst  who collected link data for six weeks to produced this plot of the most active and interconnected parts of the blogosphere (Ornes, 2007).  I find it mind boggling, to some degree, but that is probably because I was born in the 60's, the pre-electronic age, and I have been dashing to keep up and to keep the mind boggling to a minimum since it all began.

Today I am launching my blog and website into that sphere of 60 million, so I set out to add interesting Instructional Design and Technology blogs to my reader and link them in my blog.  I instantly found myself on a linking highway to tons of blogs; so many that I found it hard to narrow down a list to only a few.  I used google, as a start, to locate many of them.  I found that some instructional designers have pages within their blogs with consolidated lists of recommended blogs.  I started reviewing, checking other blogs current instructional design bloggers recommended and before I knew it, hours had gone by and I was lost in the Blogosphere.

My interests are in the technology aspect of Instructional design, interactive game based and virtual learning, and corporate adult education.  Some bloggers stated exactly what the intent of their blogs were, others did not. Those unspecified blogs seemed to be a mish-mash of all types of instructional design topics.  Luckily, I stumbled upon the EduBlogAwards page. This helped me gain my bearings somewhat as I could see what categories of Instructional Design blogs were out there, and thus allowed me to select a few blogs closer to what my interests were. 


The Learning Zealot
Thoughts on ID,Social Learning, Androgogy, & elearning
Mark Britz-Syracuse New York
Performance Specialist, Social & Informal learning aficionado, eLearning Designer

Immediately I noted that Mark Britz's blog was down to earth, real and, that he liked to use metaphors.  Metaphors and analogies are hard for me to resist, when I write, so I immediately connected with his posts.  Once a history teacher, now a Manager of Learning Solutions with a company in New York, Mark has a lot of experience and knowledge to draw upon which should help me in getting my feet wet.

My favorite recent post of his is the microwave as a metaphor for Organizational Learning.


The Useable Learning Blog

Julie Dirkson authors this blog and she is an independent consultant in Instructional Design and e-Learning in Minneapolis MN.  She teaches part time at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.  Julie writes a lot about educational game design and gamification in her blog, which I find extremely interesting, and she even does instructional design web comics.  She also, graciously, shares her presentations and other work with her followers.   She has a perfect mix of topics that pique my personal interest and others that provide insight into the working world in a fun and quirky way.  Check out Julie's latest ID web comic.


Making Change
Ideas for lively e-learning

This blog is piloted by Cathy Moore, an independent expert with more than 25 years experience in using technology to help people learn.  She also helps people strengthen their instructional design skills and designs\writes elearning for businesses. She is practical in her approach to her blog entries, no-nonsense, and can speak to real world experiences.  She, in part, is what I want to be when I grow up.  Her blog is organized, easy to follow and extremely informative.  She has way too many amazing blog posts to recommend just one.

Ornes, S. (2007). Map Welcome to the Blogosphere.  Retrieved from