Learning, Connectivism, AI, Virtual Environments

I’m still thinking about the video-conversation of Stephen Downes and George Siemens. Maybe we could change the title of the course from the rather bland ‘E-Learning 3.0, Distributed Learning Technology’ to ‘Human Learning in the Age of Machine Learning’.

After all, Connectivism, the learning theory developed by Stephen en George, is about “the idea that knowledge is essentially the set of connections in a network, and that learning is the process of creating and shaping those networks.”
Wikipedia explains that “learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing”.Connectivism sees knowledge as a network and learning as a process of pattern recognition.

Which means, as is explained in the video, that in times of rapidly developing Machine Learning Connectivism is a very suitable learning theory. It blends philosophy, educational practices and technological skills. It emphasizes the ability to make decisions and to choose what to learn, connecting with others and thus empathizing with those others. The theory is also related with the Extended Mind ideas of the philosopher Andy Clark.

Virtual Reality and Virtual Environments enhance human connections, they turn telepresence into much more than videoconferencing: they enable people who are dispersed all over the planet to share the same space. Downes mentions Virtual Reality in his slide show “Personal Learning versus Personalized Learning“, but I’d love to elaborate on the possibilities and the many aspects involved in VR and learning. Not only humans benefit from virtual environments, simple virtual worlds are also used to train artificial intelligences to acquire a basic knowledge about the world (like elementary physics) which make those intelligences grow in their world-knowledge. There are many other aspects: for those interested in distributed networks, the virtual world High Fidelity (optimized for VR) uses a distributed architecture, a cryptocurrency and it registers digital assets using a blockchain.

In 2008 we discussed Connectivism with a small group of learners in Second Life. It’s not too late to organize similar experiences for this course.

What and how to learn and teach in times of Artificial Intelligence?

The education theorists, practitioners and technologists George Siemens and Stephen Downes united again for the course E-Learning 3.0. Stephen was in a hotel room in Toronto and George somewhere in Australia, but the wonders of YouTube made them unite (after a search for the light switches).

In my earlier posts I referred to the very first MOOC they facilitated (the very first MOOC in general) in 2008, Connectivism & Connected Knowledge (CCK08). There were about 2,000 participants, these days it seems harder to get that many people. Reasons might be the marketing power of Coursera, edX and similar big platforms, the fact that big social media (Facebook) seemed to make blogging and RSS-feeds less relevant.

What else changed? In the video-discussion george Siemens mentions Artificial Intelligence (AI). If machine learning can learn about everything humans can learn, why would we still learn? One part of the answer is that as humans, we cannot not learn. But what is uniquely human? Is it, as he says, compassion and kindness? The ‘beingness’ of humans?

Stephen is not convinced. ML could develop ethics too. But maybe the way we experience the world as biological organisms is different from the way an AI can be aware. So humans could be the voice in the AI’s mind telling that there are more ways to look at the world.

If humans cannot not learn, maybe we should think about teaching. Learning at school can be a frustrating experience, and maybe what we require students to learn is not suited in the age of AI. Stephen point out that the capacity to take decisions and to choose by the learner will become even more important. That was obvious already in 2008 when the learners got an avalanche of learning materials to digest during CCK08 and they were told a that time already to pick and choose. Other important aspects, which are not being measured by universities, is the ability to contemplate about our place in the universe and in the community.

Also in the video: an interesting conversation about fake news and blockchain. Attention: the real conversation starts after about 8 minutes. 

MOOCs explained (by Stephen Downes)

Stephen Downes, the Canadian MOOC-pioneer (Massive Open Online Courses), delivered a talk in Armenia and as usual he generously shares the recording and the slides.

My own MOOC-experiences started in 2008 with CCK08, facilitated by Stephen Downes and George Siemens. Back then we lived in full euphoria about the power of virtual communities and I participated with a group of Second Life residents. It was a bewildering experience and when it was all over, I had far more questions than answers. These days I must admit it was one of the most enriching experiences of my life as a learner.

In the slides you’ll see how Downes makes the distinction between community-based – “connectivist” or “cMOOCs”  such as CCK08ds106 and ConnectedCourses on the one hand and more institutionally based MOOCs (xMOOCs) on the other such as the Stanford branch, with companies offering open learning such as Udacity, Coursera en edX. This for the scene in Canada and the US, nowadays there are a number of emerging platforms in other countries as well.

Downes says that communities are about sharing while institutions are about consuming. “Open” does not just mean “put it for free on the internet”. cMOOCs are about harmony through diversity, about unstated and multiple learning objectives versus concrete and stated objectives.

Audio on the Stephen Downes’ site. I also recommend his OLDaily-newsletter.

For my own experiences and opinion about online learning: I’ll come to that in a next post.

Sometimes, the reputable university press wins out

Interesting. George Siemens, together with Bonnie Stewart and Dave Cormier have agreed (and been contracted) to write for Johns Hopkins University Press. George Siemens launched the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) in 2008 (with Stephen Downes). His book, about the scope and nature of higher education (HE) change, will not be open. So how does a believer in open education such as Siemens deal with this? Easy: by publishing the field notes on a blog (http://www.xedbook.com/). In the discussion about the publication decisions the ‘admin’ answers to objections:

We made a tradeoff between openness/impact and reputable press. Based on who we are hoping to impact with this book, the reputable university press won out. It may well be a non-sensical decision.

(hat tip to Stephen Downes for mentioning this development on his blog/newsletter).
This being said, Siemens together with Rory McGreal facilitates a real MOOC about Openness in Education. It started on September 10 and runs for 12 weeks. The MOOC ‘will explore openness in education – its roots, its growing influence, and economic and systemic impact.’ There is still time to register.
Still confused about what a MOOC actually is? There is a page about MOOCs in the peeragogy.org handbook, and here is a video conversation between Howard Rheingold and George Siemens. A nice quote about that memorable first MOOC in 2008 (which also had a cohort in Second Life): ‘It’s the internet. People did what they wanted to do.’