Monthly Archives: October 2012

A Connectivism Story

“Connectivism presents a model of learning that acknowledges the tectonic shifts in society where learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity.”  ~ George Siemens

This week I had one of those connectivism a-ha! moments.  It started when I gained a new follower on Twitter.  When I checked out his profile to see if I wanted to follow him back, I found a recent post that read “How people are using e-learning and crowdlearning to change education” with a link to the article of the same name.  The article touched on many of the topics we’ve discussed in class including MOOCs and wiki-based collaboration, and it contained a link to a site called Learnist, which was described as “Wikipedia blended with Pinterest and Storify with more stimulating and constructive subjects.”  Intriguing, yes?  Yes!  So, I clicked on it.

Blah, blah, blah… fast forward to this week’s assignment to create a screencast and post it to our blog.  What better way to introduce you to Learnist than to show you!

So this brings me to yesterday when one of my classmates retweeted a blog post about connectivism (with which, if you’ve been following my blog, you know I am enamored). The blogger summarizes some of the main tenants of Siemen’s theory, writing “connectivism argues that digital media have caused knowledge to be more distributed than ever, and it is now more important for students to know where to find knowledge they require, than it is for them to internalise it.”  That’s when I had the a-ha! moment.  Learnist seems to be a wonderful example of that distributed knowledge, and one that I stumbled upon through a new, weak tie in my network. How seemingly random that that individual saw something in my profile that caused him to follow me, and how serendipitous that upon exploring his profile I found that particular post.  (And yes, I am now following him, too.)

What connections have you made in your PLN that have led you to cool, new discoveries?


Posted by on October 28, 2012 in ADLT 641


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How My Personal Learning Network Sent Me Over The Edge

A few weeks ago, there was a comment made in class by a student who worried she’d be frustrated in other classes by not being allowed to use her Personal Learning Network (PLN).  That comment confused me because I think of my PLN as first and foremost my personal network that I can tap into for anything at any time.  The people in my PLN come from all walks of life and from all walks of my life.  They are my friends, family, coworkers (past and present), fellow students, roommates from college, marathon training buddies, dog rescuers, educators, consultants, friends of friends, neighbors… okay, you get the point.  Much the way we read about how Suzanne used her PLN to complete coursework, find an upholsterer to fix the sofa the puppy chewed, and score a photo of the Galapagos for her daughter’s school project, there isn’t much I do without tapping into the resources of my PLN.

For example, last December I attended a retirement party for one of my bosses at SunTrust.  A friend and former colleague introduced me to a gentleman from the Richmond office of Special Olympics, and we got talking about one of their annual fundraising events called Over the Edge.  The premise is that if you raise a minimum of $1,000 for Special Olympics, you earn the honor of rappelling down one of the tallest (maybe the tallest) buildings in downtown Richmond.  Not only had I never rappelled, I’d never raised $1,000 for anything, but that evening a seed was planted.  I kept that gentleman’s business card on my desk, and six months later, I made the decision that I was up for the challenge.

I decided to use Facebook as my primary tool to get the word out that I had finally lost my mind… I mean the message that I wanted to raise $1,000 for Special Olympics and be able to rappel down my former workplace.  While not all my friends are on Facebook, the majority are, and so it seemed the best way to blast out a request along with a link to my fundraising page.  Additionally, I sent a few emails and posted tweets about my endeavor, but the height of my fundraising was before Twitter really began to click for me, so I wasn’t expecting much from that effort.

To my surprise, I reached my fundraising goal in exactly one month.  Apparently there are a lot of people in my PLN who wish to see me step off a high building!  I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing.  I was a little nervous putting out such an ambitious request for donations for something other than my beloved Golden Retriever rescue group, but the first donation came from the president of the rescue!  In fact, the single largest group of donors were people I knew primarily though the rescue group.  Results of my fundraising as they breakdown in my PLN (by primary association) were:

  • People I know through the Golden Rescue: 7
  • Friends: 6
  • Current Coworkers: 3
  • Family: 2
  • Former Coworkers: 2
  • Other: 2
  • VCU classmate: 1
  • Undergrad connection: 1

My “Other” connections included a friend of my parents as well as a friend of my college volleyball coach who doesn’t know me at all but made a donation because my Coach promoted my fundraising page on her Facebook page.  True network in action!

Upon reaching my goal, reality set in — I was going to rappel down a really tall building!  Once again, my PLN came to my rescue, and I discovered that I know several people who are avid climbers.  Tremendous gratitude goes out to my fellow M.Ed. classmate Lindsey for taking the time to meet me at Peak Experiences and introduce me to climbing and rappelling.  Without that, I would not be able to say that this moment pictured below was when I stopped being nervous last Friday.  Yup, that’s me on the right, perched on the edge of the SunTrust building in downtown Richmond, some 400 feet above street level.

Over the Edge

And this is me — smiling — passing the windows on the 20th floor.

Passing the 20th Floor

An unexpected outcome of this latest installment of my insanity is that through this event, I was able to expand my PLN by making connections with other rappellers as well as strengthening some weak ties in my PLN who have now seen a different side of me and have become a more active part of my network.

I would say this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience – except I want to do it again!  I hope my PLN will continue to expand so I can continue to meet the donation challenge for Special Olympics and be rewarded with the experience of rappelling again… and again.You can do anything!

To tie this all back to my journey through learning, I hope that this story illustrates that your PLN is truly at your disposal for any new learning experience you desire and that assistance may come from a subset of your network that you had not expected.  Anything that you do can be an opportunity to use and grow your PLN.


Posted by on October 21, 2012 in ADLT 641


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Big Data? Big Whoop.

big data

Image sourced from

Score another similarity between marketing and adult education — both seem inordinately enamored with big data these days.

In marketing it’s all about dashboards and return on investment (ROI).  According to one marketing blog, big data provides “better insight about customers, the ability to more precisely segment customers into meaningful groups, and target offers with a higher degree of response. Big data is particularly relevant for predictive analytics where the goal is to model the intention or propensity of a buyer to purchase.”

In education, the growing interest in massive open online courses, or MOOCs, seems to be generating as much stir about big data as it is about what students might actually be learning in these courses.  Nick Carr writes:

Delivering a complex class to thousands of people simultaneously demands a high degree of automation. Many of the labor-intensive tasks traditionally performed by professors and teaching assistants—grading tests, tutoring, moderating discussions—have to be done by computers. Advanced analytical software is also required to parse the enormous amounts of information about student behavior collected during the classes. By using algorithms to spot patterns in the data, programmers hope to gain insights into learning styles and teaching strategies, which can then be used to refine the technology further.

These quotes are just examples of a glut of writing on the subject — some pro, some con — but my point is simply this:  Big data is big business.  My goal is not to choose right or wrong or prove the value of big data, but I do want to caution you not to get too caught up in what Tim Suther calls “a tsunami of data.”  Pick your favorite idiom, whether it’s everything in moderation or don’t miss the forest for the trees.  Heck, there is even a country song about missing What Mattered Most.  I tend to call it analysis paralysis.  You slice and dice the data until it either says anything you want it to… or nothing at all.  And then what do you do with it?

Christa Carone is the Chief Marketing Officer at Xerox.  She was quoted in a recent article on saying, “I wouldn’t want to give up the data that helps us make fact-based decisions quickly. But I fear that marketers’ access to and obsession with measuring everything takes away from the business of real marketing.”  She went on to say, “It’s impossible to measure ‘squishier’ meaningful intangibles, such as human emotion, personal connection and the occasional ‘ahhhh’ moment.”

May I be so bold as to say she could just have easily been talking about teaching and learning?

I didn’t get into marketing to be a number cruncher.  I got into marketing because I had a decent ability to communicate a particular message to a particular audience.  It’s not that I mind having some data to tell me if I’m hitting my mark, but I don’t want to spend all day looking at the numbers and miss the opportunity to make that personal connection.  And as adult educators — whether continuing studies instructor, facilitator, or corporate trainer — how many of us would choose refining the technology over seeing a student have that ahhhh moment?


Posted by on October 8, 2012 in ADLT 641


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