learning ecologyDecember 22, 2006
From:Georg Siemens http://connectivism.ca/blog/ecosystem/
Instead of designing instruction (which we assume will lead to learning), we should be focusing on designing ecologies in which learners can forage for knowledge, information, and derive meaning. What’s the difference between a course and an ecology? A course, as mentioned is static – a frozen representation of knowledge at a certain time. An ecology is dynamic, rich, and continually evolving. The entire system reacts to changes – internal or external. An ecology gives the learner control – allowing her to acquire and explore areas based on self-selected objectives. The designer of the ecology may still include learning objectives, but they will be implicit rather than explicit.
What does this “learning ecology” look like? First, it holds “content” in a manner similar to courses, but the content is not confined and pre-selected by the designer. Instead, the ecology fosters connections to original and knowledge sources, allowing for “currency” (up to date). The ecology fosters rich interaction between disparate fields of information, allowing growth and adaptation of ideas and concepts (i.e. “the verge”). Each participant in the ecology pursues his/her own objectives, but within the organized domain of the knowledge of a particular field (after all, some form of learner competence should emerge as a result of existing in the ecology). Nodes (content and people) and connections are the basic elements of a network. An ecology should permit these networks to develop and flourish without hindrance.
Learning Ecology, Communities, and Networks: Extending the classroom
In order for learning institutions to be relevant in an era of life-long learning, they must move past the concept of start/stop learning. Learning is fluid. It impacts other areas of work and life. It’s ongoing. Courses are start/stop. As stated previously, a course is an artificial construct, erected at the start of the term, that assumes to provide learners with the information and knowledge they need…and is torn down twelve weeks later.
An ecology is an environment that fosters and supports the creation of communities. The definition applied to gardening applies well to learning communities: ““Ecological gardening is about gardening with nature, not against it.” A learning ecology is an environment that is consistent with (not antagonistic to) how learners learn. John Seely Brown has written extensively on the concept of a knowledge ecology. He defines an ecology as an open system, dynamic and interdependent, diverse, partially self organizing, adaptive, and fragile. This concept is then extended to include the following characteristics of a learning ecology:
A collection of overlapping communities of interest
Cross pollinating with each other
Largely self organizing
Learning ecologies can certainly exceed the characteristics presented by Brown. In more formal education environments, the concept of self organizing gives way to a more structured process for knowledge transmission. The Instructor plays the role of gardener.
Within an ecology, a knowledge sharing environment should have the following components:
Informal, not structured. The system should not define the learning and discussion that happens. The system should be flexible enough to allow participants to create according to their needs.
Tool-rich – many opportunities for users to dialogue and connect.
Consistency and time. New communities, projects and ideas start with much hype and promotion…and then slowly fade. To create a knowledge sharing ecology, participants need to see a consistently evolving environment.
Trust. High, social contact (face to face or online) is needed to foster a sense of trust and comfort. Secure and safe environments are critical for trust to develop.
Simplicity. Other characteristics need to be balanced with the need for simplicity. Great ideas fail because of complexity. Simple, social approaches work most effectively. The selection of tools and the creation of the community structure should reflect this need for simplicity.
Decentralized, fostered, connected…as compared to centralized, managed, and isolated.
High tolerance for experimentation and failure
Virtual and physical communities share many similar traits:
A gathering place for diverse people to meet
Nurturing place for learning and developing
A growing place – allowing members to try new ideas and concepts in a safe environment
Integrated. As an ecology, activities ripple across the domain. Knowledge in one area filters to another. Courses as a stand alone unit often do not have this transference.
Connected. People, resources, and ideas are connected and accessible across the community.
Symbiotic. A connection that is beneficial to all members of the community…needed in order for the community to survive.
A network consists of two or more nodes linked in order to share resources.
A node is a connection point to a larger network.
Learning communities are nodes.
Courses need to be redesigned to reflect networked economy.
A network, in the context of an ecology and communities, is how we organize our learning communities…resulting in a personal learning network.