A blog by George Engel


Personal Learning Networks and Connectivism

My Network

I have been working with personal learning networks for quite some time now, even though I have never officially identified them as such, until today. The mind map you see above is a map of that personal learning network. To the untrained eye, it may look a bit convoluted, with all the various lines and connections. I drew it this way to indicate the connections between various branches. Most of the branches are connected to others along those pathways.

Without this network, I would not be the educator I am today. This would meet Seimens’ (2006) social aspect of his connectivist theory. I use my connections on twitter to gain knowledge about new web 2.0 and 3.0 technologies and teaching ideas. I also use it as a research tool to gain ideas about topics that I am interested in. Additionally, I use my connections with my colleagues at Walden University to gather information, to discuss concepts, and to learn from them. Every aspect of that network adds to my knowledge and understanding of learning, of being a professional, of family, and of life.

When I have questions, I use this network to help find answers. I may begin with the informational aspect of this network. As I seek to know more about a topic or to see another side of that topic, I will seek information from the people in my network. This network is one of my most valuable assets as a professional. I am constantly seeking to enlarge it as I attend events like conferences and make connections with other professionals.

Seimens, G. (2006). Knowing knowledge. Breinigsville, PA: Author.

The Classroom is a Museum and I am its curator

When I began to grasp my own understanding of learning theory and understanding of how that theory applies to my work as a teacher, I had to take a serious look at what type of person I am, a pragmatist, an objectivist, or an interpretist. Driscoll (2009) defines pragmatism as the idea that "reality exist but cannot be known directly." With pragmatism, knowledge is gained through both cognition and experience (Siemens, 2008). Objectivism follows the tenet "that reality is external and objective, and that knowledge is gained through experience" (Siemens, 2008, pg 9.). Interpretism is the belief that "reality is internal, and knowledge is constructed" (Siemens, 2008, pg. 9). At heart, I am an interpretist; though, you might see me as a blend of the pragmatic and interpretist if you were to watch me teach.

Because I see that knowledge should be constructed, you might consider me as someone that follows the constructivist theories of Bruner and others. This is a fairly accurate assessment. However, I am beginning to understand that our youth are, as Marc Prensky and others have stated, growing up as a digital generation, both socially and educationally (Prenksy, 2001). As digital learners, young people are forming connections, not just in the local community, but globally (Palloff and Pratt, 2007). This falls in line with George Siemens theory of connectivism. Connectivism is the idea that learning occurs at its greatest rate through networks and communities. As many would believe the idea that networks are formed purely in an external sense, Siemens states in his blog Elearnspace that these networks are formed "in at least three distinct ways: neural, conceptual, and external/social" (Siemens, 2008a).

Some may question the validity of connectivism as a learning theory. However, it does contain the critical elements of learning theory. Learning occurs through networks and communities, the diversity of these networks and communities are its influencing factors, memory is formed through adaptive patterns in the network, transfer occurs by sharing through the networks, and learning is dynamic, and flows from a diversity of resources (Siemens, 2008). It is important for learners not only to construct knowledge in the digital world but also to be able to transfer that knowledge to new situations and to other networks. This is an example of one way learners can transfer knowledge to others: to teach the topic themselves. This is a video two of my students created for just that purpose:

Figure 1: Calculus Video

Finally, you might be asking, "What does this have to do with museums and curators?" Well, Siemens writes about four metaphors of education. The first is the "educator as master artist" where the teacher is the master who critiques and passes on his knowledge to a new generation of learners. Another metaphor is the "educator as network administrator." In this view, the educator assists learners in forming networks and connections. They also encourage learners to self-direct their own learning in the network. In a sense, the educator is the developer and maintainer of a learning network. A third metaphor, the "educator as concierge," allows the educator to guide, occasionally using lecture or to allow learners to work on their own (Siemens, 2008). The final metaphor is the "educator as curator." "A curator balances the freedom of individual learners with the thoughtful interpretation of the subject being explored" (Siemens, 2007, paragraph 9).

I have long been the concierge, but have recently begun to work as a curator in my classroom. This metaphor makes most sense as I work with my students and shift the focus to what is best for them and not necessarily for me.

I am an educator. I am a learner. Realizing that the same is true for my students was revolutionary to me. They are educators. They are learners. This is why I have shifted to the curator.


Driscoll, M. P. (2005). Psychology of Learning for Instruction. (3d Ed.). Pearson Education, Inc., Boston

Palloff, R. & Pratt, K. (2007). Building online learning communities. (2nd Ed). Jossey-Bass: San Fransisco

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. Retrieved from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Siemens, G. (2008a). Networked learning. Weblog entry. Retrieved from http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2008/12/12/networked-learning/

Siemens, G. (2007). Networks, ecologies, and curatorial teaching. Retrieved from http://www.connectivism.ca/blog/2007/08/networks_ecologies_and_curator.html

Siemens, G. (2008, January 27). Learning and knowing in networks: Changing roles for educators and designers. Paper presented to ITFORUM. Retrieved from http://it.coe.uga.edu/itforum/Paper105/Siemens.pdf