Connectivism, Dromology and the Compression of Time

Dromospheric pollution on the information superhighway

“From dromological perspectives puzzling paradoxes emerge. The massive proliferation of information leads not necessarily to greater understanding but potentially to disinformation and confusion. ‘The sudden multiplication of “points of view”’ heralds not diversity and difference but media-controlled conformity”

Land, 2006

Dromology. I like the shapes the mouth has to form to produce the word. There’s something about how it’s all centred towards the front of the mouth that I like, and the particular way the combined movements of the jaw, lips and tongue control the escapes of air as the rhythm of the syllables are uttered. Especially if you say it slowly…But that’s about the only likeable thing about it, and, it isn’t about slowness. In fact, in a dromotological landscape stopping to consider how a single word feels as it is spoken, and other such contemplations, could become obsolete. Unless perhaps you’ve read it in a meme or seen it on a GIF. I’ll explain more about dromology in a minute.

On my MA this week we’ve been looking at ‘connectivism’. It’s presented as a contender for a learning theory relevant to harnessing opportunities afforded by 21st century technology. The original proponent was George Siemens (2004). An early guru of the still rapidly emerging online learning scene. Siemens talks about the ‘half life of knowledge’. That is to say, how quickly knowledge becomes obsolete. Siemens quotes Gonzalez (2004) as putting it at a 10 year half life. He goes on to quote the American Society of Training and Documentation in saying that “Half of what is known today was not known 10 years ago. The amount of knowledge in the world has doubled in the past 10 years and is doubling every 18 months”.

That was in 2004. It’s hard to imagine what that stat would be now, although, as I write this out my attention is caught by the use of the word ‘knowledge’. I can’t help but wonder if it should read instead ‘access to knowledge’. Or perhaps better still ‘access to information’?

Siemens saw that a new form of learning was already emerging and sought to establish a framework under which this could be defined and developed. This became connectivity. I like that connectivity is based on principles drawn from chaos, network, complexity and self-organisation theories. There’s also a fair sprinkling of constructivism in there. The learner as central in the process of decision making, choosing what to learn and valuing diversity all sound great. However, the shifting reality of information acceleration and access to wider communities places the emphasis on the principle that “Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known” (p.5). In other words, the quest is on to acquire more information as fast as possible. A guiding principle for this is that focus is on how to access and filter information in order to remain current and up-to-date. This is described as ‘currency’ within connectivism. But how can those judgements be made if what you know already is given no value?

Decisions are based on rapidly shifting foundations. This currency is achieved, in Siemens’ theory, by networking. Connecting to a series of learning communities seen as ‘nodes’ or information sources, which can also be ‘non-human’. Siemens opens his conclusion with the somewhat concerning statement that “The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today”.

What damage is it likely to cause I wonder if we are enticed to dissociate our present understanding and interpretations of the world around us in favour of an unknown coming our way? Be prepared by all means, but by looking away from the present and past surely we are relinquishing control of our futures? Arguments around connectionism abound both among my course colleagues in our forums, and in online debate. There’s a particularly good one to be read at the end of the Downs 2007 post What Connectivism Is. All of these debates seem to centre on the theoretical questions of whether or not connectivism can be considered a ‘learning theory’. I think this is a red herring and quite irrelevant in the scheme of things. It could perhaps better be described as a prediction of what learning would (has) become left to its own devices while the academic world ponder the theoretical frameworks.

As traditional academic establishments grapple with how to best exploit the constantly emerging phenomena that is technology, informal learning has exploded as we are bombarded with information. The incessant dings, buzzes, pings, chimes and etc that we now live with are testimony to our connectedness. Not only do these connections all too frequently distract us from the here and now, in order for us to deal with the continual input of information highly complex ideas have been reduced down to simplistic memes or GIFs. Siemens’ ‘nodes’ have self-formed throughout the connected world but the world has no foundation of knowing how to deal with it. Knowledge has become information and multitudes of connections based on human desire for different forms of capital and self-gratification have been formed. Collectively humanity doesn’t have the tools needed to filter the vast quantities of information. Nor does it have the resilience to manage the number of connections. Or grasp the meanings and implications of messages originating across cultures from such a diversity of experience and background. When such vast amounts of our time is consumed making and managing connections in order to process ever increasing quantities of information, where are we to find the time to delve beyond the superficiality of instantaneity? To think beyond the oversimplified meme? Where does the space for sense-making come in? My mind can’t help but wander back to the question of dromology…

Dromos is from the Greek meaning ‘race’ or ‘running’. The term “Dromology relates to an idea argued by theorists such as Virilio (1999; 2000) and Purser (2000). They say that one of the biggest challenges and ‘hazards’ of our era is the inexorable acceleration and compression of time as a direct result of our digitally connected lives, Land (2006, p. 1) describes it as “a defining characteristic of our society”

Slightly concerning?

The theory of Dromology centres around the idea of compression of time and the associated impacts (as a result of technology)…

Virilio talks about a shifting of time perception from ‘chronological’ time, marked out by a horizontal trajectory of ‘before during and after’ to which humanity has previously related, to a new ‘chronoscopic’ phase of instantaneity where time is ‘vertically stacked’ and carries a sense of immediacy. Land (2006) argues that this immediacy leads to “the erosion of deliberation.” He quotes Virilio:

For Virilio new digital technologies are the primary means of instantiating a globalised or, in his preferred phrase, a globalitarian reality. Drawing on Halévy’s (1948) Essai sur l’accelération de l’histoire, he argues that in this transformed reality citizens give up their understanding of the broader political context in which they have their being and in which their lives are conducted”

Land states that “From dromological perspectives puzzling paradoxes emerge. The massive proliferation of information leads not necessarily to greater understanding but potentially to disinformation and confusion. ‘The sudden multiplication of “points of view”’ heralds not diversity and difference but media-controlled conformity”

I wonder how he had this foresight in 2000 but it has sobering implications from where we’re sitting right now in history.

Interestingly, rather than seeing the online setting as the democratising platform its supporters promote, Virilio goes on to argue that digital environments discredit the value of action in the name of interaction, and that interaction is more of a ‘reactivity’. In total contrast to Siemens’ view he cites this as “eroding difference and diversity, and removing human prioritising and agency.”

Land follows this with Eriksen’s

Six dysfunctional effects within an informational society:

  • speed is an addictive drug
  • speed leads to simplification
  • speed creates assembly line (Taylorist) effects
  • speed leads to a loss of precision
  • speed demands space (filling in all the available gaps in the lives of others)
  • speed is contagious – when experienced in one domain the desire for speed tends to spread to new domains.
  • gains and losses tend to equal each other out so that increased speed does not necessarily even lead to greater efficiency.

In accordance with these effects, or principles, duration and continuity lose out whilst spontaneity and innovation (per se) win. Everything becomes, in principle, just as important as anything else and, as in Virilio’s observation, distance becomes bracketed. “

(Eriksen, 2001)

Purser further links this to the idea of our collective perceptions and sensibilities having been shaped by the evolution of communication media throughout history. Mostly this has been slow moving, bound by the realities of geographic space and the media of the time following a ‘before, during and after’ chronologic time pattern. McLuhan’s (1977) “The medium is the message” springs to mind – whereby the medium itself constructs a message that is disseminated into society. Similarly to Siemens, McLuhan believes that the medium is more important than the message itself. But, if we don’t understand the medium how can we possibly understand the message, much less begin to frame it? The current mass flow of information, the instantaneity of our current medium…what is the message being sent and how do we address this within society and learning?

There are concerns over a number of “post-modern forms of malaise” brought on by the shift from chronological to chronoscopic time, where instantaneous consumption and production are the rulers. “The shift from chronological to chronoscopic time involves a radical change in temporal orientation, and the very means by which we make sense of our lives. Chronoscopic time signals an intense compression. The extensive time of history, chronology, and narrative sequence implodes into a concern and fixation with the real-time instant. What used to comprise a narrative history—sense-making based on a knowledge of the past, present and future–contracts into the buzz of a flickering present.” (Land)

Speed has always equalled power and Virilio (1999) points out that today nearly all technologies are operating at the speed of light, no more ‘before during and after’ as it all becomes present. If we are to take Virilio’s (1999, p.15) premise that “Speed is power itself” does that make us all into superheroes? No, because although Erikson (2001) argues that fast time will always drive out slow time and like Virilio points out that our history has been based on acceleration, in my view we haven’t evolved fast enough to cope with the current speed of change, or not cope well at least. The problem is that thanks to having speed of light communication at our fingertips we might feel like superheroes but we aren’t. And there lies the disconnect.

Purser in “The Coming Crisis in Real-Time Environments: A Dromological Analysis” (2000) looks at how technology is shifting us from chronological time towards chronoscopic time and the impacts it can have.

“The Coming Crisis in Real-Time Environments: A Dromological Analysis” Purser, 2000

There is much here for us to be mindful of both as educators and as part of society as we see the effects of dromology being enacted. How do we then harness the enormous potential offered by modern technologies without allowing the Information Super-Highway to run us into a state of crisis? I do prefer the somewhat slower rhizome based learning eco-system described by Cormier, yet still the learner is fully adrift. Engestrom’s Intentional Enquiry goes some way towards addressing that, but to me the contradiction seems to be that you should find these hubs in which you can learn and contribute to learning but are essentially given no framework to support the decision making process. It’s altogether too easy for many to become lost.

As a student I don’t want to be told how I should learn. For example, I resent being ‘told’ to blog. As far as I can tell that is just one way of promoting the connectivist structure. One that has been latched onto by the academic community, but may not be my preferred way. I’m always lagging behind. Once I get stuck into something I want to get right in there, look at it from different perspectives, sit and contemplate it… and understand it. Is that so wrong? But what with the blogging, the forum discussions, the building connections and the next topic appearing on the syllabus horizon there is little opportunity for this to happen. We are asked to engage briefly then move on with little time to follow up or actually to really explore a subject in all its actual connectedness. So busy we are in the fast paced pursuit of fresh knowledge. It feels like study is in some ways simply promoting the ‘magazine mentality’ of fleeting, surface-scraping information that we then re-label as knowledge.

What exactly then are our responsibilities as educators? Nearly two decades have passed since technology as we now know it started to emerge as an unavoidable feature of our lives yet we are still trying to figure this out. Surely it’s time we got a grip on ourselves and start looking at what is actually here now instead of trying to re-imagine and mould it into a future that will only continue to morph and change to its own rhythms regardless? Would it not instead be more useful to engage in a series of activities designed to support the learner through a thorough exploration of the options available, the types of connections and situations that might be encountered and how to negotiate these and seek out the most useful experiences? An opportunity, for example, to co-create with course colleagues and tutors a framework of parameters drawn from personal experiences on how to deal with shifting realities, which could then be passed on to our own future learners? How to filter information, make the right decisions and choices and how to capture these processes? How to actually respond to evolving experiences not simply engaging in ploughing on through an out of date pre-determined syllabus regardless of what is occurring in the world around you? Why are we still bickering over learning theories and who is right or wrong when it’s been long acknowledged that every person will learn differently and will learn different things in a variety of ways depending on the subject or skill? Why are we not just supporting each learner to understand how to best achieve that for themselves? If formal education is to survive, should it’s aim become to support students to be better self-directed learners? Effective self/directed learning doesn’t mean just letting go of our students and seeing what happens. It means understanding who can be ‘let go’, when and how. What scaffolding they might need to help them on their way. It might also mean helping our students to find a balance. A point where they can pull back from the power rush kick provided by operating at the speed of light and back into chronological time. Back into a time frame away from instantaneity, where they can learn to appreciate the sensations created by a word being uttered and other similar delights.

References

Downes, S. (2007) WHAT CONNECTIVISM IS, Half An Hour, [Online]. Available at https://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html (Accessed 18 April 2020).

Kop, R. and Hill, A. (2008) Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past?, The International Review Of Research In Open And Distributed Learning, vol. 9, no. 3, [Online]. Available at http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/523 (Accessed 18 April 2020).

Land, R. (2006) Networked Learning And The Politics Of Speed: A Dromological Perspective, Glasgow, University of Strathclyde [Online]. Available at http://www.networkedlearningconference.org.uk/past/nlc2006/abstracts/pdfs/P16%20Land.pdf (Accessed 16 March 2017).

Nerdwriter1 (2015) The Medium Is The Message, [Online]. Available at https://youtu.be/gCr2binb4Fs (Accessed 18 April 2020).

Purser, R. (2000) The Coming Crisis In Real-Time Environments:  A Dromological Analysis, San Francisco, [Online]. Available at http://online.sfsu.edu/rpurser/revised/pages/DROMOLOGY.htm (Accessed 15 March 2017).

Siemens, G. (2005) Http://Www.Elearnspace.Org/Articles/Connectivism.Htm, ITDL.org.

Virilio, P. (1989) WAR AND CINEMA The Logistics Of Perception, London & New York, Verso [Online]. Available at https://www.academia.edu/9698260/WAR_AND_CINEMA_The_Logistics_of_Perception_PAUL_VIRILIO_Translated_by_Patrick_Camiller (Accessed 15 March 2017).

Disruptive Technologies and the more Democratic Future of Education?

Nearly every education based report I read these days is reiterating in some form the message that change is needed. There is general acceptance that these changes need to support students to be able to function effectively in an unknown and rapidly changing world. The life and work skills being defined as ‘necessary’ are evolving nearly as fast as everything else. Except it seems, our policy makers, educational institutions and even our teachers, who for the most part simply don’t know how to respond and certainly not as quickly as circumstances appear to require.

In journalist Adi Bloom’s TES article “Ofsted wants a change in the law so it can inspect multi-academy trusts”  Luke Tryl, Ofsted’s director of corporate strategy, is quoted as having said: “There has been a huge amount of change in the structure of education, and actually inspection legislation hasn’t kept pace with some of the changes”. The context for this comment was with reference to multi-academy trusts but can be equally applied across many areas of education today.

I was recently asked how OFSTED inspect 100% online delivery. I couldn’t answer and neither can anyone else I’ve asked. It’s conceivable that they will simply be able to extrapolate the existing Common Inspection Framework (CIC) to cover online delivery, but how effective is this? The updated ‘Further education and skills inspection handbook’, in use from September 2017, contains scant mention of online delivery. In fact, other than referring to their own surveys and safety online, it is mentioned just once on p. 45: “how well learners attend learning sessions and/or work regularly and punctually, including through participation in any distance learning activities, such as online learning and the use of virtual learning environments“. I would suggest that in light of the exponential proliferation of on-line education somewhat more than this is required.

I suspect though that things are beginning to overtake the education establishment faster than any care to admit. I’ve been reading reports urging change since around 2006, when the wonders of Web 2.0 first began to make their way into our classrooms. While the changes suggested, by researchers; case studies; forward thinkers; have remained fairly consistent, the urgency behind them has increased almost to panic level. The message is now closer to: ‘change or become extinct’.

I also suspect that in large part this paralysis in terms of the bigger shifts has as much to do with assessment as holding onto old habits. It’s all very well to suggest that students need new ‘collaborative’ skills or to choose their own learning paths, but how on earth do you keep control of this? How do you assess it, especially if they are all busy developing their collaborative skills in a whole host of new ways that aren’t necessarily constrained to the classroom? And how do you inspect organisations where this happens?

IMG_1779 (1)
  Stuck in the assessment equation? How to remove bricks without the wall crumbling?

Ok, the establishment is taking some steps to try and address these questions but in my opinion they are way too small and way too slow. Just take a look at the government’s proudly announced plan to introduce new “T Levels”. Julia Belgutay‘s TES article “First T levels subjects announced” (11th October 2017) quotes Justine Greening, Education Secretary, as having said the “government was transforming technical education in this country, developing home-grown talent so that Britain’s young people have the world-class skills and knowledge that employers need”. 

Have a closer look at the proposed timeline. Really? I fear that by the time this is implemented these will be obsolete.

The government’s plan for T levels:

•        2020 – three pathways delivered by a small number of providers

–        childcare and education (education pathway)

–        digital (software applications design pathway)

–        construction (building, services, engineering pathway)

•        2021 – all pathways from the first six “priority routes” delivered by selected providers

–        legal, finance, accounting (full route)

–        childcare and education (full route)

–        digital (full route)

–        construction (full route)

–        engineering and manufacturing (full route)

–        health and science (full route)

•        2022 – all pathways from all routes available to be delivered by providers that want to/are able

–        hair and beauty (full route)

–        agriculture, environment and animal care (full route)

–        business and administration (full route)

–        catering and hospitality (full route)

–        creative design (full route)

•        2024 – vast majority of providers offering T levels

What does Blockchain have to do with education?

IMG_0026 (2)
Blockchain is like a huge networked ledger – curated by the world and unchangeable.

Perhaps it’s time that we all really start to take on board the fact that the internet is no longer the disruptor in education, we’ve missed that one, too slow, it’s been around for 30 years now after all. Time for another disruption and this time it could be one that actually does lead to the extinction of education as we know it. Unless of course we educators figure out how to harness it and adapt our systems, structures, assessment processes, organisational cultures, methodologies and pretty much everything else.

I’m guessing that disruption will come in the form of Blockchain or something similar that democratises ownership of, well, pretty much everything. If the world can store open but unalterable records of every transaction, then power is shifted dramatically and could bypass the need for the traditional gatekeepers. If, for example, students collaborating in the common room or canteen, via online chat, through Web 2.0 platforms, their VR headsets or IoT devices, could log these as ‘learning events’, credits for learning could evolve in a whole new direction.

Some while ago during discussion with colleagues about how assessment could evolve to encompass change, I suggested that it might be shifted from the hands of educators, to the hands of employers. My idea was that students could study whatever interested them and as they progress through the education system this could become more guided and fine tuned towards their employment goals. However, rather than being examined at the end of school, college or university the ‘testing’ could fall to the employers, who would be free to decide how they would measure whether an applicant was suitable for their organisation. In this way ‘students’ could develop sets of skills useful for specific industries or wider employment. This suggestion was met with…total silence soon followed by a change of topic. As if I hadn’t spoken. I tried again on my module forum to a very similar response. But really, is it so bonkers?

I was of course delighted to come across this article by Audrey Watters (07-04-16) “The Blockchain for Education: an introduction” where the idea of using Blockchain to  tie learning to earning is presented:

“Onsite in Austin, the promotion of the “Learning is Earning” initiative was framed as a “think like a futurist” game and intertwined with a keynote delivered by well-known game designer and writer Jane McGonigal, who is a research affiliate at the Palo Alto-based IFTF.”

An excerpt from the “Learning is Earning” promotional video:

Welcome to the year 2026, where learning is earning. Your ledger account tracks everything you’ve ever learned in units called Edublocks. Each Edublock represents one hour of learning in a particular subject. But you can also earn them from individuals or informal groups, like a community center or an app. Anyone can grant Edublocks to anyone else. You can earn Edublocks from a formal institution, like a school or your workplace. The Ledger makes it possible for you to get credit for learning that happens anywhere, even when you’re just doing the things you love. Your profile displays all the Edublocks you’ve earned. Employers can use this information to offer you a job or a gig that matches your skills. We’ll keep track of all of the income your skills generate, and use that data to provide feedback on your courses. When choosing a subject to study in the future, you may wish to choose the subject whose students are earning the most income. You can also use the Ledger to find investors in your education. Since the ledger is already tracking income earned from each Edublock, you can offer investors a percentage of your future income in exchange for free learning hours. Our smart contracts make these agreements easy to manage and administer. The Ledger is built on blockchain, the same technology that powers bitcoin and other digital currencies. That means every Edublock that has ever been earned is a permanent part of the growing public record of our collective learning and working.

The article goes on to say “There’s a lot to unpack ideologically in this vision of the future of education and work…But the video hits on many of the key themes that are echoed across various other education-related blockchain discussions – that is to say, the blockchain could be utilized to better manage assessments, credentials, and transcripts. (See, for example OTLW or BadgeChain.)”

The article is well worth a read in full. For me it starts to bring focus to possible alternatives to our current outdated structure. Could a model really begin to emerge from this where we are not only able to choose where, when and how we learn but have a ‘recognised’ and valued system for logging this?

My own relationship with education sits in the ‘complicated’ category. This started when at the age of 15 I announced, to the horror of parents, teachers and school friends, that I was done with formal education and would do just what I wanted without the ‘stupid qualifications’. A rash stance for a 15 year-old to take but I was fortunate in that I was able to prove myself right, over time using my accumulating ‘life-learning’ to get my next job role and eventually some qualifications of my choice. I deliberately sought out situations that I knew I could enjoy and where I could learn as I worked, and sometimes these opportunities sought me out. However, I’m very aware that this strategy couldn’t work for everyone so while I’ve long been a promoter of ‘do what you love’, the flaw has always been there, alongside the argument “that route won’t get me, my son/ daughter, my student a job” which admittedly, while not true for me could be an issue for many. So, how great would it be if we could collect the crumbs of all our experiences to turn them into the currency of learning via something like Blockchain? And where would we teachers fit into that? I’m not worried about the future of teachers – I know there’s a place for them, but in what guise will that be?

IMG_0028 (1)
Curating the crumbs of experience into something meaningful or following a disappearing trail?

Educators, still holding on to old practices and struggling to accept digital technologies?

Testerman’s article (15-06-17) in ‘Testin Tech’ got me thinking about the divide between real-world use and academic use of tech.

Employers are looking for new skills and traits, influenced by digital technology. Students and most of the rest of the population spend vast amounts of time connected in various ways and yet as Testerman points out in her article “Blended and Hybrid Environments are Driving the New Global Movement in Education” (Testin Tech, June 15 2017)

“Students today are bringing a whole new set of skills to the classroom, yet the classroom is one where teachers ask students to “power-down” when entering it.   Students are ready to learn – at home, on the bus, in the grocery store, in the community, and students can multi-task in part due to the digital world that surrounds them. Unfortunately today for many students, they are in a state of “passivity” with learning. Learning is done to them, not with them. According to Shibley (2014), the influx of technology has not changed this fact yet. Instead of the possibilities opening up, students sit placidly by while instruction is shown to them, instead of engaging with it. She suggests instead that students take “the driver’s wheel” and lead where the content and activities go. This is a change to an instructor’s role in the classroom. “Instead of the teacher being the only one who works with technology to create learning objects, students become creators of learning objects” (Shibley, 2014).”

Why is this? Testerman goes on to say that it is the reason “blended and hybrid environments are driving the new global movement in education.”

The trouble is, as I see it, they aren’t. For some reason much tech is still viewed with suspicion by many teachers, a bit of joke sometimes, and very often still as some sort of ‘bolt on’ to their teaching, definitely an optional extra. Researchers it seems also largely still treat ‘it’ as some entirely separate aspect of learning, when in reality it long ago ceased to be that.

I’m interested in exploring the reasons behind this practitioner resistance and which areas are particularly affected.

REFERENCES

Testerman, K. (2017) “Blended and Hybrid Environments are Driving the New Global Movement in Education”, Testin Tech, [online] Available from: https://kctestandtech.org/2017/06/15/blended-and-hybrid-environments-are-driving-the-new-global-movement-in-education/ (Accessed 24 June 2017).