Connectivism works with us, never against us is my belief.
I work in a conservative Manitoba Credit Union with about 470 employees. Our training team of three, shrunk to a team of one, and considering the budget cuts related to COVID, it looks to remain that way for at least the next year. Foreseeing the shortage of resources and acknowledging the need to create a learning environment where seasoned frontline employees can share knowledge with peers without having a learning and development team to initiate knowledge sharing, we went live with Learning Café, our own open online learning environment. Learning Cafe was designed to be an active learning environment where every employee is both a producer and consumer of knowledge. It was modeled after the MOOC format, encouraged learning partnerships, open discussions, team-based learning activities and co-creating learning pathways.
The launch was met with phenomenal success, with us going on to win a National Credit Union award for Learning Excellence. Employees were thrilled to share knowledge openly because it gave them organization-wide visibility. There was a social aspect to it that worked so well in a pandemic situation and the discussion forums were buzzing with tips, best practices sharing, and positive exchanges. My manager and I felt we had struck gold. Here was a learning environment that worked with the existing Intranet, did not ask for additional people resources, and was visible across the organization as a source of knowledge and positive knowledge sharing, organizational dialogue, cross-functional collaboration and boundless, yet resourceful learning. Above all, the friction between frontline and back-office teams was withering away as the ability to connect the dots increased.
The euphoria lasted little over a year.
What happened? Weller reflects “In general, though, it feels that the sense of experimentation and exploration that connectivism represented has dried up.” (p, 121.). Was this what we were experiencing? Had Learning Café worn out its novelty?
The leadership team started finding Learning Café chaotic. They questioned the ability to retrieve information from the discussion forums, wanted to evaluate the business impact of the learning that was happening, and stated that the job of the frontline was to attend to service delivery and sales, not share knowledge. The frontline were knowledge consumers and were not getting the support needed from the learning team, they said. Then came the much-dreaded question; about learning evaluation- “How are you evaluating learning? What is the ROI? How do you know how many employees have completed the course? ” My team of one had no answer to any of this.
I believe in Connectivism. It works for me and I am firm in my belief that it will work in the organization of today.
It works for me because it aligns with my working, learning, and facilitating philosophy for most of the past decade, which is ‘Engage, Explore, Experience’. When I started my practice; my working, learning, and facilitating philosophy was ‘Engage, Empower, Excel’. Although I discovered the power of exploration beyond the confines of a curriculum and experiencing learning beyond achieving objectives, late in my career; I have been able to make it a part of life and help many employees break the barriers of learning objectives and four walls to be learning sponges taking in and squeezing out knowledge during and day-to-day activities. As Weller puts it “This is perhaps its most significant contribution — whereas other pedagogies sought to bring order to this chaos, connectivism takes this chaotic nature as a core principle and seeks approaches to navigate through it meaningfully. “ I continue to find this remarkable, because an organization in itself is not simple, and thriving in an organization requires the ability to navigate complexity successfully.
There is a place for Connectivism and there will be for the foreseeable future. As a concept, it will continue to evolve, yet I do see the core principles relevant even today. However, can it exist as the sole learning methodology in an organization like mine? I argue not.
On the other end of the spectrum lies our LMS, UKG Pro. Closed, and full of canned courses.
Most employees also viewed the LMS as a bit of a snitch. It tells managers when employees logged in, if they sped through their compliance course simply to reach the end or if they completed all the readings and tasks embedded in the module. Here is where it got interesting, employees who found Learning Café disorganized were more responsive to e-learning modules offered through UKG Pro. Employees who needed the social aspect of Learning Café and thrived on discussions and dialogue did not enroll in our UKG Pro courses. They had to do their mandated compliance courses and they did.
My thoughts around the LMS vs Connectivism is that there is no one way. It is not this or that. It is this AND that.
It is about finding ways to manage the polarities that exist and to be conscious of what is needed when. The need to exploit our interconnectedness is not going away, neither is the need to reflect and process independently. After journeying with Weller this far, I am firm in my belief that learning is and has always been about finding space in a crowd, independence in togetherness, uniqueness in a group, simplicity in chaos, parts in a whole and vice versa.
Weller, M. (2020). 25 Years of Ed Tech. Athabasca University Press.