Open Social Learning: Connectivism, As Practiced By A Teacher of English as a Foreign Language

Connectivism, a learning theory for a digital age. (Credit: Clix)

Hi my friend(s). I’m writing this piece to follow-up my last post. Briefly, that post was a response to my friend Marisa Constantinides, who asked her PLN to provide her with our views on using FaceBook as a PLN tool.

To begin, I contend that people can be mobilized to help someone who is a member of a PLN, and this mutually beneficial relationship motivates the positive sharing of expertise, knowledge, and resources.

I feel that when people are connected, socially, in the manner that any social-networking site allows you to be connected, and then you respond appropriately to a request for information from someone whom you have established a mutually beneficial relationship with, then regardless of what the content of your actual response is, positive or negative, fully useful, partially useful, or not useful at all, but in terms of moving someone forward in achieving a particular learning objective, then you must accept that you have participated in using a particular medium as a PLN.

The PLN: Connected learning in a digital world.

Now that medium could be any social-networking site. There are so many available, and freely so, without paying for using the site, that I can’t even do justice to the many options. What I can credibly do, however, is talk about a few that I use, hoping to illustrate my point by giving concrete examples.

Media literacy facilitates connectivist learning

Here, it would be helpful to quote George Siemens, who in conjunction with Stephen Downes, are to the best of my knowledge, the most advanced thinkers in the field of Connectivism. I read somewhere that connectivism could be understood as a learning theory for a digital era, a 21st Century Pedagogy. Allow me to quote George now:

George Siemens: “Why is open, social learning important? It is responsive to the needs of the individual. It is adaptive. It is fluid, varied, and contextual.”

Next, I would like to include the principles of connectivism, according to Siemens:

Siemen’s Principles of Connectivism:

•Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
•Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
•Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
•Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
•Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
•Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
•Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
•Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.
(Source: )

Here I would like to finally share a few of the ways that I learn, through a PLN, using connectivist learning theory for a digital age:

Firstly, I don’t see myself as a member in a closed group or particular set of people. If someone says: “I need to find out..” or “I’m going to give a talk on a topic and I need to survey my PLN…”, well, in such cases, I always respond.

I don’t ask myself about whether or not I have a prior, long-term, established relationship. What do I mean by relationship? I try to be transparent, within prudent limitations, with what my personality is like, what kind of topics move me, and what kind of expertise you could expect me to have.

Anyone going to my Facebook page, or reading a blog post of mine, would come away with that information. I think we could call this, “reading a person”. So, a “relationship” would mean something deeper, achieved through sustained interaction over a longer period of time, which leads someone to say, on an interpersonal level, “I know you”.

For me, this isn’t necessary to respond to a request from someone who requests assistance from “my PLN”. I see the term, PLN, as being automatically inclusive of me. You, yourself, would have to exclude my contribution, based on criteria which you have established.

Since the knowledge being sought is primary, I am willing to share any knowledge or resources that I may have. I truly believe that every little bit of information, essentially, is helpful in the eventual formulation of an understanding of the problem being dealt with.

I am aware that there are others that have formed more limited, smaller, more restricted, closed groups of individuals whose expertise, knowledge, experience, and opinions are valued. This is likely to happen over a period of time as valuable sources become more recurrent and less relevant contributors become evident through the quality of their participation. I want to add that this is a legitimate, valid approach, which delivers information, and expertise, fast to someone who needs a rapid response.

An example of this would be Marisa’s call for assistance yesterday, needing information which she would then be using today, less than 24 hours later. No one can doubt that her PLN immediately came to her assistance, providing the help that was asked for.

Socially-mediated connectivist learning: Connectivism

Turning now to my social networking sites that I use, in the fashion I described above, include:

Twitter Newspaper
Google Bookmarks
Google Buzz
Wordpress Blog
Google Reader

Now, that looks like a ridiculous list, were it not for the fact that it is an incomplete list. I actually use much more than this, but simply don’t think an exhaustive list serves my purpose, or yours, either.

What does it all mean? I mean, what kind of digital footprint, or digital profile, does my use of all the above PLN tools, create? This is a fair question.

Let me answer it this way, to conclude. Here, in Chile, the term teacher could be translated two ways: “Maestro” or “Profesor”.

“Maestro” looks so much like “Master” that I’m quite content that most Chilean students, to be honest, rarely use it to refer to a teacher. The term “Profesor” is most often used by students, with “Profe” being the short form, to refer to a teacher.

When I decided that “pantherpunch” was not a very professional sounding email address to use, I chose, “profesorbaker”, which translated means, “Mr. Baker is a teacher”. I tell you this because you can now go to Google, and google, in quotation marks, “profesorbaker”. The result is: Approximately 25.500 results (0,22 seconds).

That’s 19 pages, which provide my digital footprint / digital profile, primarily related to my professional activities, yet inclusive of my personal interests also.

As you see this, you are seeing, how I learn, in a digital world, and I would contend, that it exemplifies the learning theory: Connectivism, as practiced by a teacher of English as a Foreign Language…

Tom Baker
Teacher of English as a Foreign Language
Santiago, Chile

The PLN: Connected learning in a digital world.

About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
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3 Responses to Open Social Learning: Connectivism, As Practiced By A Teacher of English as a Foreign Language

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Open Social Learning: Connectivism, As Practiced By A Teacher of English as a Foreign Language | Profesorbaker's Blog --

  2. Great post Prof..I’m in total agreement with the theory as this is what EOT does, pretty much! I don’t think many people have worked out yet that social media can be used to facilitate highly effective connectivist learning if you prepare properly. The prep is crucial for the learner…they get so much more when they have a plan.BTW, sorry I was so crap at getting back to you about that thing…just flat-out all the time 🙂


    • Hi Jason,

      Thanks for your response. In principle, I agree with you about prep being crucial for the learner, so we do have a mutual starting point from which to look at connectivism. From there, being divergent is most likely a good thing when working with new ways of thought and actions. So, In sum, I’m fine with where we are at. If I may change the subject, I would still be happy to have anything you could give me about the way you go about teaching English. I think your story would be very interesting for many readers.

      Best regards,


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