A few years ago I participated in a conference in Stockholm. As I registered for the event, the instructions also said to follow the hashtag of the conference. I remember being sucked in to the discussions that went on in the “digital backstage” on Twitter as presentations where given. Much of the content was related to the topic, but from different perspectives, and even with somewhat differing opinions, than the people presenting on stage. The discussions also clarified some of the concepts discussed or presented. In a way, it worked as an “online crowd source tutor” (if that is even a word), and in that way made the learning experience broader. This of course was strengthened by the large amount of participants gathered around a topic that all shared a similar interest in. This was an experience that was very different from all previous conferences, as I felt I got a much broader perspective on the topics. In addition to this, the networking effect was much more present online, in the back drop of the conference.
This type of learning is similar to connectivism, a new theory proposed by Siemens (2005), who argues that in the age of digital information technology, learning is reliant on the connected learning that occurs through interaction with various sources of knowledge and participation in communities of common interest or social networks (Brindley, Blaschke and Walti, 2009). In Siemens connectivism, collaboration and collaborative learning is crucial, as learning happens when individuals connect with each other and with technology, and collaboratively create knowledge. Having experienced this first hand, I must to some degree concur that the power of connecting with others, in this case strangers with similar interests, through technology can have a positive impact on learning. However, it needs to be pointed out, that connectivism, with all its online connecting and collaborating can get at bit overwhelming, and cause information overload, or difficulties in concentrating. But by careful planning and perhaps facilitating, this can be alleviated.
I have some times wondered if (and secretly hoped that) similar discussions are ongoing somewhere (for instance whatsapp) in more normal classroom settings, at universities. Similar to comparing lecture notes in the 80’s and 90’s, I hope that students nowadays conduct similar peer-learning, as the tools for this are quite more advanced then back in the analogue days. And as Brindley, Blaschke and Walti (2009) point out, education should be about more than just access to content, and providing a rich learning environment with peer-support, peer-learning, interaction and connectedness an important part of education today.
Nowadays I find Twitter somewhat uninspiring. I rarely engage in any discussions or topics, and have in some way fallen out of love with it. Maybe my twitter peak, from a collaborative learning perspective, is already reached. Or maybe I haven’t found the right topic or hashtag to engage with. However, other online collaboration tools have emerged, and similar connectivism has occurred, on platforms like Slack and Teams.
Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M., & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in open and distributed Learning, 10(3).
Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm