Connectivist Learning: course Prerequisites:
your own device, internet connection, oxytocin and adrenaline
This is my last post before the edcMOOC course starts tomorrow. Through this blog, I've been living out the connectivist experience of not one, but two MOOCS, both which are experimental in the connectivist "genre".
According to the good folk at ETMOOC, the key principles in the design of such a MOOC are:
• The course is developed with a weak ‘centre’. While etmooc.org will provide a level of aggregation, detail, and direction, the majority of interactions are likely to occur within groups & networks, facilitated through various online spaces & services.
• Participants are strongly encouraged to develop their own reflective, learning spaces. We’re hoping that every learner in #etmooc creates and maintains their own blog for continuous reflection, creativity, and resource sharing.
• Sharing and network participation are essential for the success of all learners in #etmooc. Thus, we’ll be needing you to share your knowledge, to support and encourage others, and to participate in meaningful conversations.
To fellow students who will embark on eLearning and Digital Cultures tomorrow, this is a familiar scenario. With an email to participants suggesting some online platforms, the two themes for the course and an artefact which is to be produced, course coordinators left us to our own devices for nearly 3 months and look what happened! All of the above and more, not a teacher in sight! (Not quite true, most of us are educators of some sort). Students have been blogging about this extraordinary experience, and those who have become part of the group later in the piece say they have never seen anything like it in other MOOCs.
I will don my academic hat and hopefully write something of a more scholarly nature a bit further down the track. But for now, I'd like to consider my experience as a person, what it feels like to do a connectivist MOOC and what my concerns are for those students we might recruit to learn in this way. Yes, concerns.
Firstly though, what does the connecting in connectivism mean? How do we learn by connecting? Are we talking "connecting" as in the Matrix where Neo and friends plug into a computer to enter a virtual world where skills and knowledge are "learned" through the uploading of programs direct to the brain? I don't think that is the intention of a MOOC. But I will come back to this point.
|The Matrix: Trinity cares for Neo's physical body while his conscious self lives out an adventure in the constructed virtual realm of the matrix.|
I understand the philosophy behind connectivism to be based on collaborative learning where we need to connect and engage with other people, and in the process, create personal learning networks (PLNs)
"The PLN consists of relationships between individuals where the goal is enhancement of mutual learning. It is based on reciprocity and a level of trust that each party is actively seeking value-added information for the other", ETMOOC reminds us.
Herin lies my concern. The bit about connecting, trust and reciprocity. Going to do my science thing now, but I'm only going to ask some questions. As reductionist as it sounds, I think we need to pay attention to how humans, and in fact most (or maybe even all) mammals connect with one another. Without suggesting that we are just a stack of chemicals with no free will, I believe that much of who we are and what we do depends on biological substances which play a huge role in shaping our social behaviour.
Two of the big guns are oxytocin and adrenaline.
Most of know about adrenaline, it's the hormone that gives us a pleasurable rush in response to stress; quite addictive for some, gaming software companies depend on it! The pounding heart, the rush, the feeling of power, the excitement, we've all felt it. It's true, studies show that internet addicts have a much higher "sympathetic nervous system activation" (ie adrenaline) when surfing the net. It's measurable, real and problematic that we can become addicted to our own adrenaline through our online activities.
And oxytocin? It's known as the "love hormone", best known for its role in reproduction, birth and maternal bonding. Huge surges in oxytocin ensure a new mother only has eyes for her baby: it is one of the most powerful human bonding responses we see. We're only just beginning to understand its role in romantic attachment, stress reduction and tribal bonding. What is even more interesting when we consider "connectivist learning", is that oxytocin is known for increasing trust and activating the neuroplasticity required for learning. Paul Zak reports that online social activities such as facebook or twitter interactions cause measurable oxytocin surges, so one would assume that the social activities required for bonding, connection, engagement and trust combined with the brain stimulation of the learning process would all involve a strong, complex partnership with oxytocin.
This is absolutely not my area of expertise, but I don't think it takes too much to join the dots and realise that we are playing with some pretty significant biochemical processes here. I've felt them. I've bonded with my "peeps" as Laurie refers to us. I look forward to our online interactions, reading their blogs, being inspired by their writing, their use of tech tools, their enthusiam for learning and their leadership within the group. We've all fully embraced the premise and actions of connectivism, and I'm 100% certain I'm not the only one in the group who might be just a teeny bit guilty of neglecting some real world activities like sleep, conversation, social interaction, and OK, laundry. But mainly those oxytocin related bonding things that are the glue that holds relationships together.
And today, I had another edcmooc hormone response in the tweetchat. Talk about adrenaline! Those tweets were coming at us so fast it gave me a rush! And again, I know I am not alone in that response because I sent out a short survey and results that have come in already are littered with words like "buzz", "excitement", "exhilaration". Fellow student Chris confirms it. Adrenaline!!!!!!
I think when we ask students to enroll in connectivist courses, we should perhaps warn them that the pedagogy requires hormonal input. We need to warn them that these activities might be addictive and that nothing is quite like the deep pleasure of the oxytocin driven social bonding experience or the rush of our own adrenaline. And importantly, that we don't yet fully understand the health and social implications of activities which are part of the learning environment which depends on those and other hormones. (well we have a few clues that too much time online is not healthy for real world activities, so we can't plead ignorance)
Has anyone at the helm thought this through yet, or are they so busy getting a rush out of watching enrollments climb to tens of thousands in a matter of weeks that they have missed this? And so immersed in the engagement and social experience themselves that it hasn't occurred to them what this might mean for students, for families and communities in the greater scheme of things.
Maybe I've jumped the gun in exploring some of the things that make us human, and what that might mean in the online learning context. But I have spent some time reflecting on my evolving connectivist experience and I couldn't help looking at Trinity in that scene from the Matrix and wondering of there is any real difference in the disconnect that exists between Neo's consciousness and his body and the resulting disconnect from Trinity and what students may experience with online learning, not through a direct wired in physical connection, but a biochemical one.