Connectivism, PLNs, CoPs – in a few words

The purpose of this Week 1 assignment for EdTech 543 was to create a non-linguistic representation based on my understanding of the three main topic areas – connectivist learning theory, personal learning networks (PLNs) and communities of practice (CoPs).  I created this graphic of concentric and overlapping color sections with faint lines spreading out from the center of the image.  It looks a bit like a colorful radar screen and I thought that was a good analogy to what we are learning in this course – how to develop an internal radar for new ideas and how to evaluate and share information through social media and knowledge networks.

connections_02

Each main color section represents the connections and interactions stemming from an individual’s PLN and spreading out to communities of practice and the larger space of all knowledge available to us through a variety of tools. According to Couros, connectivist theory stresses the development of meta-skills of evaluating and managing information and network connections (2010). I wanted to represent this idea with an image that could show a meta-view of connection levels and the varying types of intensity and interaction that can be found in each level. The graphic appears concentric but information and connections can actually move in either direction – between the PLNs and CoPs as well as the specialized nodes and fringe connections at the outer edges.  The variety and intensity of colors represent the diversity needed at each level for learning and knowledge creation. Color tint and opacity also represents the blending of new ideas and information to create original digital content in both the PLN and CoPs levels. 

The graphic contains layers of browns orange, tan and green colors – these are connections with more intense and dynamic interactions happening in the PLN and CoPs layers. Couros defines a PLN as a space where all the social capital and connections converge and allow the individuals to develop and facilitate their own Personal Learning Environment. Thus, the PLN area at the center of it all, represents a trusted “inner circle” of practitioners that know each other’s skills and areas of expertise well. Diversity, to a certain extent, is important in a PLN, but not so much that strong bonds and bridges can’t be built between areas of expertise and content. There is constant sharing and interaction in the PLN through social media tools such as blogs, wikis, image and video sharing and social bookmarking. The relatively solid color of center area in the graphic represents this consistency dynamic found in productive PLNs. 

The CoPs area of the graphic represents the wider variety of communities, interests and practices that are available immediately outside of the PLN. According to Jane Bosarth,

“communities of practice are focused around practice, not a hobby, like stargazing, and not a community in the sense of location like a neighborhood- but people working to improve practice and enact more skillful work.” (2010, pg 149)

As the colors layer and blend, they create new colors, tints or shades that represent skillful intent of CoPs. The analogous color blends and variations in the CoPs area are  also meant to be reflective of Wenger’s idea that learning is not just for the individuals within a CoP, but also for the community as a whole – this results in enhanced practices and a more effective CoP overall. 

There are several distinct slices in the graphic where it appears that a member of the inner PLN could bypass the CoPs all together and venture out to the less focused and intense (teal blue) connections that are on the fringe of the image (and the fringe of our areas of work or interest). I wanted to be sure that I somehow represented a healthy practice of seeking out new and seemingly unrelated content (beyond our favored PLNs and CoPs)  that could be brought back to the group, evaluated and integrated if found useful. This would represent the pure exploration of that outer space of knowledge connections and sources with no other goal than to find interesting things to bring back and share or discard as desired. Siemens reminds us of the importance of these weak ties or connections made at the fringe of our networks when he states “Most of the revolutionary ideas of today at one time existed as a fringe element.” (2004).


References

Bozarth, J. (2010). Social media for trainers: Techniques for enhancing and extending learning (pp. 149-150). San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Couros, A. (2010). Developing personal learning networks for open and social learning. In Veletsianos, G. (2010). Emerging technologies in distance education (pp. 109-128). Athabasca University Press. Retrieved June 30, 2015, from http://www.aupress.ca/books/120177/ebook/06_Veletsianos_2010-Emerging_Technologies_in_Distance_Education.pdf

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved June 29, 2015 from www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

Wenger, E. (1999). Communities of practice: learning, meaning and identity. New York: Cambridge University Press.