Sunday, October 24, 2010

Connectivism, Social Knowledge, and Participatory Learning

The main idea behind Connectivism is that learning is a network phenomenon, in other words that we, as social beings, learn better when we interact with others than being alone. In some way, we could say that it is similar to Vygotsky’s Social Constructivism theory in the sense that it emphasizes the social context as a key element for cognitive development. For Vygotsky, learning was also a social and collaborative activity; according to this theory the only way a person can go beyond his/her own Zone of Proximal Development is precisely with the help of someone more capable.

Social knowledge and Participatory learning share similar ideas as Social Constructivism and Connectivism. However, in my opinion it seems that Connectivism attempts to go even further in emphasizing the social aspect of learning. For connectivists like George Siemens knowledge does not only exists in individual persons but it also exists in the network itself, in the material world. Connectivism also pays particular attention to the role that technology plays in allowing people to communicate among them. According to Siemens, learning can be aided by socialization and Web 2.0 technology such as wikis, blogs, podcasts, social networks, etc. (Siemens, 2006).

Personally, I consider myself an advocate of social learning. After all, there are hundreds of studies that have proven that collaborative and cooperative strategies, when well applied, promote more learning gains than when studying alone. Some of these studies were conducted by Johnson & Johnson, some others by Slavin, etc. Likewise, I believe that if used properly, Web 2.0 technology could be effective in promoting learning as well.


Siemens, G. (2006). Connectivism: Learning Theory or Pastime for the Self-Amused?. Retrieved October 18, 2010 from

Open Educational Resources and OpenCourseWare

In my opinion, Open Educational Resources (OER) are the most compelling evidence that the world of learning is truly open. Many academic institutions are embracing the philosophy of knowledge sharing, so instead of keeping their course content confidential and private, they are releasing it to anyone. OpenCourseWare (OCW) was an initiative started by MIT and several other institutions have joined it gradually. According to the MIT’s OCW website ( in 2008 there were 250 universities that formed part of the OCW consortium.

Language is a critical issue of OERs and OCWs. Even though there are online products that translate automatically from one language to another, the translation is not entirely accurate most of the times. So, it is remarkable that there are organizations comprised mainly of people who volunteer their time and efforts to translating the OERs and OCWs content and to adapt it into a specific culture. One of these organizations is the OpenSource OpenCourseWare Prototype System (OOPS) lead by Lucifer Chu. OOPS is in the process of translating and adapting MIT OpenCourseWare into Chinese.

In spite of people’s good intentions to contribute their time and effort to translating the courseware, there is always the risk of the quality of the translation, especially if they do not master the content area they are trying to translate. Critics of organizations like OOPS attack mainly the quality of the translations, arguing that “no information is better than wrong information”. To help improving the quality of the translation process, organizations should not only depend on the work of volunteers but also should consider hiring professional editors who review the final stages of the process. Having access to content about any topic in your own language is only the first step. A second important step is for other academic institutions to design a plan about how to make use of the content in the most effective way.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Movement Toward Free and Open Source Software

Coming from a developing country I have learned to appreciate and value the importance of the open source initiative. The current costs and licensing policies to use commercial applications is simply too expensive for many public institutions in developing countries to be able to afford them. Moreover, many software companies are now charging an annual fee for using an application, so instead of being a just one-time payment, institutions must pay every year as long as they want to use it. No wonder that most public academic institutions in Latin America are using a variety of open source software such as Linux, Apache, and Moodle.

Being free is just one of the advantages of open source software. An additional great advantage is that the source code is available to practically anyone, also free of charge. By providing the source code, anyone who has the programming knowledge and skills could contribute to fix some of the existing issues with the application or to add new features in order to keep improving it. Indeed, the quality of several open source applications rivals or even exceeds that of commercial products. For instance, the Apache web server is used by about 55% of more than 200 million websites around the world (

Certainly, the open source initiative could be criticize from different points of views, such as:
a) Not all open source programs have sufficient quality.
b) It’s difficult to find good manuals and documentation to use some open source programs.
c) There is no guarantee that a specific open source program will not be deprecated very soon.
d) Companies and programmers should be compensated for their time and effort.
e) It takes longer for open source programs to be released or patched.