“Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age” by ‘theorist’ George Siemens (nice job title) is a paper that was published in 2005 in the ‘International Journal of Instructional Technology & Distance learning’ in which he imagines a new epoch in learning, devoid of the constraints of the ‘classic’ learning theories behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism. Throwing in hip concepts from the middle of the last decade such as chaos, self-organisation, complexity and networking (the only thing that’s really missing to complete buzzword bingo would be ‘AI’ and ‘Fuzzy Logic’) he states that ‘Personal knowledge is comprised of a network, which feeds into organizations and institutions, which in turn feed back into the network, and then continue to provide learning to individual.’ which for me sounds like a constructivist ideal of learning. For him the learning individual sits within a (social or electronic) network of nodes and hubs in which knowledge flows both ways, but with the ‘pipe being more important than the content within the pipe’. Don’t know whether I agree with this. Even in our networked world (I recently counted 15 wireless devices hooked up to our domestic wifi router. This is a 2 person household!) content is still king and learning is still done within a constructivist framework. Yes, our motivation for learning has shifted and our potential sources for knowledge have ballooned as much as the number of connected items we use for learning, but we can’t escape the necessity for quality educational content. Even the biggest pipe can’t deliver good knowledge is it’s full of sewage.
As suggested by the course facilitator, I had a look at some of the e-learning projects that the OU is associated within the OER movement. Unfortunately the majority seem to be dying a slow death by lack of funding and uptake, as the seem not to have been updated for a few years. xDelia, Cloudworks, Coherere and Compendium all must have felt like a good idea at the time, but it looks like their websites are now all gathering dust. This reflects the fickle world of open educational resources: it’s not enough to rent some domain space and plonk some content in there. You have to have both the funds, the manpower and the motivation to keep these up to date and relevant. So many excellent e-learning content, devised with good intentions and a lot of money, is now languishing in abandoned directories on web servers, but even making them available for free doesn’t make them more attractive (or easy to find). That’s why the RCGP invests in regular update cycles of their courses and their content management systems: there is no point in having a few gigabytes of learning lying around, gathering dust. It needs to be curated, edited and updated regularly, otherwise it will end like one of the previously mentioned projects.
Last year I thought I had finally finished my Open University studies. After more than a decade of on and off studying this and that module (from Linux to child development and onwards to innovative design) I had finally gathered enough credits to get the OU’s special BSc Open. That’s it I thought. No more weekends in front of the computer. But then I found out that they also offer a masters in e-learning. That was it, I was sold. So here I am, being forced to blog regularly for “H817 Openness and innovation in elearning” and use this blog as a diary to reflect on the learning that has been achieved the previous week. This does not come easy, as the actual physical process of sitting down in front of a computer and coming up with something noteworthy for me is a rather painful one (as you can see from the previous entries on the website), especially after a day in the surgery. But it can’t be helped. So, for today’s exercise I had to read this 6 year old paper from Educause Review by Seely Brown and Adler, the magazine of a nonprofit with the task to “to advance higher education through the use of information technology”. The authors state that ‘the most profound impact of the Internet is its ability to support and expand the various aspects of social learning’, which with my e-learning hat on is of course is a wise and accurate truism, although the captains of the adult industry and the peddlers of cute pictures of cats and possums would – on hearing this – likely have a prolonged attack of the giggly fits. For them (in 2008) the most visible impact of the internet on education was the Open Educational Resources movement, an initiative by the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education that attempts to make access to high quality learning material and course free and easy. To my shame I’d never heard of them and wasn’t aware that the principles of OER had now been taken up by national and multinational organisations. Live and learn. The authors go on and praise the benefits of social learning – something I am doing this very moment by blogging to a -admittedly small – audience as a step forward from the traditional Cartesian method of learning, in which one only engages with one’s peers after years of studying. This being an article from 2008, the authors get quite excited about the then severely hyped ‘second life’ virtual environment in which -if I remember correctly – one walked around and looked at blocky buildings built by corporate sponsors who fell for the model and tried to dance awkwardly to music from bands who thought that streaming audio to SecondLife was a hip thing to do. Another example used by Seely Brown and Adler is the ‘Decameron Web‘, a collection of resources around a seminal 14th century text, hosted by the Brown university. The site was to be used an example on how academics interact and how content is created. Interestingly, the initiative created its own trail of papers on the impact of social, web based learning with an impressive list of publications using the decameron web as a particularly noteworthy example of e-learning. Mach and Bhattacharya for instance pick up on both Seely Brown/Adler’s paper and the Decameron Web in their 2009 review ‘Social Learning Versus Individualized Learning‘. It’s interesting to see how the Open University attempts a similar model with this course, which seems all around creating, sharing and comparing content around the course work. It will be interesting to see whether the impact is as different as promised.
I have been intricately involved with the production and curation of the RCGP’s Essential Knowledge Updates since 2008, first as the clinical lead for the programme, then in a more supervisory role and it has always been one of my favourite projects of the RCGP. Like the College’s Online Learning Environment it’s been growing steadily and currently has now has ca 28000 GP users who keep themselves regularly updated. Unsurprisingly I was rather chuffed when EKU won the Gold Award for Best eLearning Project (third sector) at the annual E-Learning Awards in London. Being picked as the best programme from fifty entries was a huge boost for the amazing team I get to work with and it felt great to attend the ceremony and pick up the award.
It’s been quite a few weeks.
Apart from the usual work in primary care and the RCGP with all its delights and downfalls, there were just a few extra chores:
- A Radio 4 feature on lipoedema had to be recorded
- A speech for the RCGP’s national conference had to be written
- A viva for the RCGP’s advanced substance misuse course had to be passed
- A chapter on access to general practice had to be written
- An Open University end of semester essay had to be finished
- A presentation for the e-learning awards had to be done
My brain hurts.
I have been lucky enough to work with the amazing people from Lipoedema UK for the last 12 months, curating and authoring a joint project for the RCGP’s elearning site, the Online Learning Environment. For some reason outside my realm of understanding, this has suddenly brought me in front of the dashing Dr Mark Porter, his producer and a microphone to talk about Lipoedema on Britain’s best medical radio programme, ‘Inside Health’.
Thanks to an amazing editing job by the show’s producer, it actually turned out quite ok. It was great fun to walk around the hallowed halls of Radio 4, almost trip over Terry Wogan and feel incredibly glamorous for exactly 14 minutes.
Thanks to the team of ‘Inside Health’ for making my 5 minutes of limited fame sound for once quite professional.
So, in an never ending cycle that revolves around Harrogate, Liverpool and Glasgow, this year the great RCGP circus arrived in Harrogate, that loveliest of Yorkshire spa towns. It was great to catch up with friends, colleagues and fellow GPs and do some communal moaning about the state of general practice and engage in some gossiping. There were some amazing talks and presentations, and as usual there is plenty to take back to the surgery. This year I learned:
- Maureen Baker, our new chair of council is excellent and the next three years will be cracking
- There will be no extra money
- Delivering end of life care at home is not only better for the patient but also saves oodles of cash
- More practices should sign up to be sentinels for the RCGP Research and Surveillance Centre to improve early warning for influenza epidemcis
- Jeremy Hunt has hypnotic powers
- Ben Goldacre is even better when he is sleep deprived
- The RCGP should not save money on comedians or food
Can’t wait for next year!