Element of connectivism
Chaos appears to be inevitable in courses where a connectivist approach is taken to learning. You only have to look at the 'Connectivism and Connective Knowledge' online course that is currently running, and to a lessor degree 'Facilitating Online Communities'. Both courses use an open learning environment, have networking as a main tenet and encourage the use of a number of online communication technologies. According to Stephen Downes, connective knowledge develops when learners engage in diverse environments, diverse discussions and with diverse information; and are in charge of their own learning environments and learning. But this lack of structure and control and resulting chaos can be very threatening and painful for both students and teachers.
www.flickr.com/photos/73645804@N00/612350664The connectivist approach to learning can be very difficult for students who is used to being organized by their teachers and having their knowledge delivered to them. I am sure that Allison Miller is not alone when she says she has met many learners who do not know what questions to ask, are unable to filter information or construct new knowledge, have no idea how to use networks to build or share knowledge. Yet these skills are key for students to be able to make sense of connective knowledge.
Chaos and the student
For a number of students (and teachers) learning is about achieving a mark or grade. Mike Bogle writes in one of his blog posts about connectivism "Connectivism and childhood learning":
Worse still is the notion of learning being scripted, and the motivation to learn arising from the external in the form of lesson plans with a grade or mark associated with them. In those conditions, learning becomes something to get through in order to get back to real life, and the focus of the experience directed towards the achievement of a mark rather than the curiosity and fulfillment of the process.
What some learners fail to see is the value in the processing or navigating of the chaos, and this can be a huge stumbling block to their learning. This was very evident in the 'Facilitating Online Communities' course that I took last year. And I have struggled with this personally in the 'Connectivism' course I am currently involved with - it has taken me at least three weeks to sort myself out and make sense of what is going on. And I consider myself to be fairly expert at using networked learning principles and online communication tools. If I have felt anxiety about dealing with these complex issues, how much more will students who are completely unfamiliar with autonomous learning? Nevertheless, George Siemens believes self-organization in the face of chaos and making connections between sources of information is vital in today's climate of rapid information development and change.
Image: let's get on with the day woodleywonderworks
Chaos and the teacher
The students aren't the only ones threatened by chaos. Teachers can also feel vulnerable in the face of this chaos - they lose 'control', which in itself may reflect on them and their 'teaching' ability depending on the view of the person reviewing the teacher's performance. Courses can be difficult to 'manage' if the teacher is trying to constrain learners to prescribed curriculum and learning outcomes. They themselves can find it difficult to react and adapt to the changing needs of the learner. Nevertheless, as Bogle says:
...by tying learning interests back to real life examples and applications - and importantly letting the learner dictate the flow of the experience - with all the tangents that may entail - you reinforce the idea that learning is something to be explored, discovered and enjoyed, rather than endured.
Why is chaos good?
Chaos means there is movement - there is action - the learners are doing something. Rather than trying to restrain or structure that movement and activity, it is my role to support students so they can make sense of what is going on and find their own connections and networks.
Image: 'gemini's' Puja