Where does content live in connected learning?

In the vlog I posted below I finish by stating that I think we can’t just forget about content and the value of content expertise, we need to figure out what role it plays in a connected learning environment.  I plan on posting the following question to the #ETMOOC Google plus group soon, but wanted to try and flush out a few ideas here first.

What is the value of content expertise (especially in Math and Science) in a connected learning model?

My response to this question is very much influenced by the book ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You‘ by Cal Newport.  I recently wrote a blog post about some of the ideas in this book because I found them quite compelling.  One idea that I liked was the notion of building ‘career capital’ that can then be leveraged to pursue passions and live a happy, fulfilling life.  I see ‘career capital’ as being a bit like ‘content’; it is not always fun to learn, and takes dedication and hard work to get good at.

So, if learning is really about conversations, then maybe content is the key to being engaged in deeper and more meaningful conversations.  In a connected environment anyone can join in a conversation, but to be truly engaged and feel like you are contributing you need to have put in some time learning about the content on which the conversation is based.

Does this make sense?


  1. Christina Hendricks

    I think your questions about content are very important (and I listened to your vlog as well)–there are some things learners just need to know in order to really move forward in their learning about certain subjects, and to have, as you point out, the most meaningful conversations. Dave Cormier, in his presentation on rhizomatic learning for etmooc (http://etmooc.org/archive/) emphasizes that different sorts of content are best suited for different sorts of teaching and learning, and that some things just really are best suited to a more traditional style of teaching as in a course. But the little bit I’ve read and watched about connectivism, from George Siemens (see, e.g., http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqL_lsogeNU) indicates that all learning and teaching is making connections anyway (we make connections for our students when we give them things to read, for example, connecting them to certain theories and people). Siemens argues that it’s best to allow for more freedom in making those connections by students themselves rather than limiting those connections by making them ourselves only, as teachers. Still, he also says that for things with a stable body of knowledge, teaching a traditional course is not a bad idea. It’s just that not everything should be taught this way, or learners won’t get what is most meaningful to them. At least, that’s (part of) what I got out of the video by Siemens.

    But I agree that in order for learners to really make their own connections well, as well as possible, and to progress in their knowledge, it might be necessary to provide some information for them, perhaps especially in math and the sciences. After that, I tend to agree with Cormier, Siemens and others that giving learners the tools and allowing them the freedom to make their own connections and learn what they need given their own contexts, background knowledge, etc., is a good thing!

    — Christina, a fellow etmooc-er

  2. Ben Wilkoff

    I like your concept that content is required for conversations, and I think in many cases it is true. I also think that the concept of “expertise” is one that should be further developed in a connected learning model. Having expertise (and experience) is still prized, but how do we measure becoming an expert if we can gather “factual knowledge” from wikipedia anytime we need it.

    I think it probably has something to do with defining the learning “experiences” that allow us to gain that expertise. Without the experience, there is no expertise. Or, something like that.

  3. pmacoun

    Christina: I found your comment really helpful. I particularly like “all learning and teaching is making connections”, and I think it is important to realise that everyone needs to make their own connections and that no two people will connect with a piece of content in the same way. My frame of reference is that of a middle school math teacher, which is a VERY stable body of knowledge. After years of trying all sorts of different ways of teaching this subject (inquiry based, using technology etc) I have ended up teaching in a much more traditional way than I would have guessed when I started my career, but the thing is that it works. That said I hardly ever ‘lecture’ from the front of the classrooms because I find each student needs me to work with them individually to find ways to connect a new topic with their prior knowledge; any attempt to ‘teach to the middle’ just seems to be a waste of time.

    Ben: I really appreciate the energy you are putting into supporting so many conversations in this ETMOOC. I like the idea of defining expertise in a connected learning model. I like David Warlick’s idea of becoming an ‘expert learner’. Maybe that’s the sort of expertise we should be trying to define.

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