When creating a visual expression of the three concepts in this module: Communities of Practice, Connectivism, and Personal Learning Networks, I chose to begin with the idea of gears. Alone a gear (or cog) does not serve much purpose, but when linked with other gears and a common purpose, these individual gears become part of a valuable network. That is how it is with educators. Alone we are isolated and less productive, but when we become part of a learning community, we can achieve so much more.
Communities of Practice are all about togetherness, which is why I chose images of hands reaching in together and small groups of people collaborating. According to Lave and Wenger (2014), in Communities of Practice, learning involves a deepening process of participation. Learning is done in groups and the focus is on lifelong learning rather than a short-term project goal. In CoPs, learners collaborate, communicate, and create through social networks over extended periods of time. People in Communities of Practice share a common interest or passion.
Connectivism is a learning theory developed by Dr. George Siemens and Stephen Downes. It “seeks to explain complex learning in a rapidly changing social digital world”(Education2020). According to Dr. Siemens, Connectivism is a social connected process of learning. The visual interpretation of a network of rapidly firing neurons that are connecting through external social spaces is the image I hoped to portray through my next slide. Learning is a process of connecting information through social sources such as blogs and social media. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have redefined learning in the 21st century and build on the theory of Connectivism.
Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) have, for many educators, redefined professional development. Rather than meeting with a predetermined (by administrators) team of colleagues to discuss a predetermined (by administrators) topic, PLNs use social media and technology to collect, communicate, collaborate, and create with like-minded individuals. PLNs can meet any time and any place. Each PLN is unique and each member is a potential source of information. A PLN can be thought of a “collective knowledge”. Facebook and Twitter, as depicted on my PLN slide, have become a central part of PLNs.
My final slide is a visual image bring these three concepts together. Over time, learning has evolved from an individual practice with a fixed beginning and end, to a community of learners committed to lifelong education. It is no longer separated from other activities. Professional development is no longer fixed to one place and time with one “instructor” or leader commanding all of the attention. As individuals we have a lot to offer, but as a community, we gain so much more.