CCK08: Reflection on Week 7: Do you Have Your ID?

George Siemens begins his Articulate presentation on Instructional Design and Connectivism by asking the following two questions:

  • How we design for learning in a world that’s rapidly changing?
  • How we design for learning in a world where the individual learner has far greater control over content and interaction than they ever had in the past? (Slide 1)

I would like to take a step back, and first ask the questions, “Who is we?” and “Why is it important that we identify how to design for learners in a rapidly changing world?”

One of Connectivism’s greatest strengths is that it “challenges the perceived linearity often found in learning design theory (Slide 11).”  By extension, the Connectivist framework seeks to “design for adaptability, not mechanistic views” through the use of patterning and wayfinding to refine sensemaking skills (Slide 12). The challenge then remains, how do we “achieve particular outcomes through distributed approaches (Slide 13) ?” Siemens expands on this question with three more:

  • How do we deal with and design for learning that occurs in a complex, chaotic environment?
  • How do we communicate a message that’s much more fragmented than it’s ever been in the past?
  • How do we create learning to ensure that individual participants continue to stay current even when core knowledge within a particular field changes? (Slide 14)

To the extent that Connectivism situates itself as a framework for understanding informal learning, we ought to be looking at examples of both successful and unsuccessful informal learning to see what what they look like. There are a wealth of learners who have chosen not to learn in an institutional setting at all, and there are a wealth of learners learning in an institutional setting, also learning all sorts of material on their own outside of the formal teaching and learning environment. Siemens is correct that we must “pay attention to context, and pay attention to connections formed by learners (Slide 14). What I have found in my own teaching experience is that every learner is different, and by extension, every context is different.

I have a quotation written down somewhere, and I don’t know where or by whom, suggesting that the fact that schools have by and large not had the infrastructure or the financial means to stay up with technology in a widespread manner is a blessing in disguise. That way, teachers don’t have to make a mess of learners making sense of technology for themselves.

I have been a teacher in the past, and my current work as a project manager requires applying the principles of instructional design to the development of courses for distance education students. These courses serve a purpose, and have their place. For some learners, however, we know that the linearity of courses that have been developed with a lock-step linear scope and sequence are not desirable, with the exception of their being the means to accreditation or certification.

Autonomous learners have always found any number of ways to circumvent formal learning. Traditionally, this learning might have taken the form of reading, tinkering and troubleshooting, conversation and demonstration, hypothesizing and experimenting, and exploring without any notion of where those explorations might lead.

Many of our greatest minds have learned via these means, and up until now they have done fine without the Connectivist framework to support and explain their initiatives. Certainly, educators have always scrutinized the behaviour of learners and extrapolated theories on the basis of what they see, often with dire and far-reaching consequences in the form of hastily implemented educational reforms (where funding and political ideology have worked hand in hand with research initiatives.)

Yes, there are numerous points posited by Connectivism that I have no problem accepting as truisms, such as the following:

  • learning is the forming of new connections
  • ecologies are spaces within which networks occur
  • as information changes, so to does the understanding of the individuals in the that field
  • what we define as knowledge is represented in some manner of connectedness and the way that we perceive that knowledge is the way in which we’ve configured that particular network (Slide 5).
  • learning is the ability to create and form…networks. So in a neural sense learning is the formation of new connections (Slide 6).

Siemens contends that designing for Connectivism concerns creating a design for the space and ecology of learning. What is new about this idea? I inherited a great collection of books from the early 1970s by a retired teacher who was involved in setting up some of the first alternative programs for high school students in Montreal. Among them was a book called “The Teacher as Learning Facilitator.” In Shambhala Buddhism, teachers discuss the ability to “create a container” within which the transmission of key teachings may transpire, if a learner is ready to receive those transmissions. How are these two analogies different?


Ecologies are the spaces in which  networks occur. As designers, our effort turns into designing an ecology that permits the broadest range of connections in order to achieve particular learning outcomes or particular learning tasks (Slide 7).

I cannot help but think that the most effective means by which we as designers for learners may permit the broadest range of connections is by expanding our own credentials as experts in education to also include mentors specific to the learning outcome or task that a learner wishes to realize—whether those individuals are familiar with the principles of instructional design or not. The necessitates a move away from an industrialized learning model, towards individualized instruction supported by a broad range of stakeholders.

In the second Elluminate discussion for Week 7 of CCK08. Siemens states, “Insructional design is an optional skill for a teacher to have.” I couldn’t agree more.

In a comment that was posted on Stephen’s Web in response to the Elearn magazine op-ed piece by Jerry Murphy, “Is Instructional Design Becoming a Commodity?” Brian Alger states:

Instructional designers will eventually become obsolete. 
The assumption that people need a kind of expert called an instructional designer in order to determine how they will “learn” is a retrieval of the industrialized mindset. The technology we refer to as “instructional design” is really a process that is used to impose a scope and sequence on information as well as the temporal assembly line we call the online classroom. What we are currently referring to as “e-Learning” really has very little to do with what learning is. It may be better to reduce the claims being made and refer to it as “e-Education” or e-Training.” Unfortunately many “e-Learning” companies and designers cannot see past their own assumptions and biases (October 14, 2003).



5 Responses to “CCK08: Reflection on Week 7: Do you Have Your ID?”

  1. classroom environment | Bookmarks URL Says:

    […] CCK08: Reflection on Week 7: Do you Have Your ID? The technology we refer to as “instructional design” is really a process that is used to impose a scope and sequence on information as well as the temporal assembly line we call the online classroom. What we are currently referring to … […]

  2. Stephen Downes Says:

    > Siemens contends that designing for Connectivism concerns creating a design for the space and ecology of learning. What is new about this idea?

    I would be interested in knowing more about your previous readings along these lines.

  3. Adrian Hill Says:

    Hi Stephen,

    I am peripherally familiar with Gregory Bateson’s “Steps Towards an Ecology of Mind”, and “Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity.” I just found this quote in the intro to the latter:

    ‘I offer you the phrase “the pattern which connects” as a synonym, another possible title for this book.

    The pattern which connects. Why do schools teach almost nothing of the pattern which connects? Is it that teachers know that they carry the kiss of death which will turn to tastelessness whatever they touch or teach anything of real-life importance? Or is it that they carry the kiss of death because they dare not teach anything of real-life importance? What’s wrong with them?’ (

    I also think that Buckminster-Fuller’s popularization of the term “synergy” has contributed to understanding learning using the metaphor of biological systems, as with Maturana and Varela.

    But the question is an honest one: how does an ecology of learning differ from previous understandings of the workings of mind from the standpoint of the work of pioneers in cybernetics? I don’t claim to have a vast working bibliography to which I can point to in the interests of defending my challenge.

  4. Keith Lyons Says:


    I wonder if the ‘lessons’ we have learned about the hidden curriculum in education enrich the possibilities of personal learning environments? If we know of ‘hidden’ aspects of curriculum design perhaps with a connected group of educators we can have an enquiring approach that is profoundly open to all the hidden learning we do. In this sense I see learning as on-going inclusion that goes beyond the chronological constraints of industrial design models.

    I picked up on the ‘we’ point too! The second Elluminate session last week opened up this in a fascinating way.


  5. CCK08: Reflection for Week 8 Part 2 « Memeospheric Pressure Says:

    […]  an earlier post, I made reference to George Siemens’ model of a Connectivist learning design as being based on […]

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