Annotated Bibliography, R Kop,

Kop, R. (2011). The challenges to connectivist learning on open online networks: Learning experiences during a massive open online course. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 12(3), 19-38. Retrieved from

This is part of my Annotated Bibliography for the Research Methods module.

The paper sets out to note and sketch challenges to learner’s experiences, and learning in connectivist environments – an idea, and experience in #etmooc that exercised me, and, I felt, might have had a significant impact on participation and completion rates.

“This paper raises questions  on levels of learner autonomy, presence, and critical literacies required in  active connectivist learning.”

My experience somewhat mirrors this. Participants frequently complained of being swamped by information, distributed over multiple platforms, some particpants claimed of a lack of rigor, or ability to discern good detail from bad, and many complained of a lack of relevant technical expertise in the platforms #etmooc occured over.

The MOOC responded, posting detailed resouirce links of howtos, places to find videos, as well as some seminars aimed at providing blogging support, and the community responded to a degree.


That siad, identifying participants with skills gaps in advance, and targetting them in advance with resources to help fill those gaps may have had a beneficial effect on participation.

Kop defines an interesting, and somewhat bibary dual taxonomy, of how learning or resources have been and are accessed, and how we have envisaged what learning looks and feels like.

In terms of acees, she talks about

“Sfard (1998)  used two metaphors to clarify how people engage with knowledge while learning.  The first one is of acquisition, where learners acquire knowledge, pre-packaged  by educators, as in behaviourist and cognitive theories, which have been the norm in formal education  settings for a long time. The other metaphor is one of participation, where  learners are actively involved in a participatory endeavour.”

The second here, is both constructivist and connectivist, and requires participation. As she notes, traditional learning environemnts are not necessarily characterised by the first metaphoir (and, conversely, that most modern of learning experiences, the xMOOC, is distinctly Behaviourist, perhaps Cognitivist, and at times, definitively prepackad).

The taxonomy is, however, a useful and accurate picture of how the pedagogical battleground is drawn.


She further refines the Connectivist idea by referring to Siemens and Downes (2008) and their argumanet that educators be either facilitators, or absent, in distributed netwokls of learning, where knoweldge resides in the communication of resources and active engagement across the participant network, rather than a top down transmission.

This sense of active engagement seems to clearly indicate that Connectivist MOOCs require people who are network and tech literate to some degree, and also posess a degree of motivation, and, possibly, learning strategies that are sufficiently evolved already to facilitate independent and self directed learning.


Kop#s description of the learning activities across the network is succinct, clear, and far more efficient and focused than anything I could write, so I’ll recreate it in it’s entirety here.

“It is envisaged that learning is enhanced  by four major types of activity:1) aggregation, access to and  collection of a wide variety of resources to read, watch, or play; 2) relation, after reading, watching, or listening to  some content, the learner might reflect and relate it to what he or she already  knows or to earlier experiences; 3) creation, after this reflection and sense-making process, learners  might create something of their own (i.e., a blog post, an account with a  social bookmarking site, a new entry in a Moodle discussion) using any service  on the Internet, such as Flickr, Second Life, Yahoo Groups, Facebook, YouTube,  iGoogle, NetVibes, etc.; 4) sharing, learners might share their work with others on  the network. This participation in activities is seen to be vital to learning.”

Summarised, participants collect, share, and compile resources, reflect on the resources they have engaged with (often termed curation), then perhaps create an artefact that is based on their aggregation, reading and reflection, and then share that work with the community. In practice, each step is probably somewhat defined by a sharing ewthic. Reflections occur publically often, in blogposts, on youtube etc, resources are often collated, collected and experienced as a function of sharing, and creation may be  a collaborative effort.

This form of sharing becomes a PLE/PLN – a personal learning environment, or network, that is chosen, created and crafted by the individual as they navigate their wa through resources and personal connections, and becomes the channel and pathway for knowledge.

Kop takes on the idea of the necessity for an autonomopus learner, and gives an account of the skills gthey will have to evince, and roles they will usurp from conventional educators in order to maintain and organise their own learning – in my view this is a both a limitation of connectivism, and a characteristic, and it may also be consoidered a strength. Specifically, the number and type of learners with the skillset necessary to fully engage is a self limiting factor in connectivism. Many learners do not necessarily posess the skills which loan themselves to connectivist learning in it’s most developed and autonomous forms.


“A  connectivist learner has to be fairly autonomous to be able to learn  independently, away from educational institutions, and to be engaged in  aggregating, relating, creating, and sharing activities. Whereas in a traditional  classroom/learning environment, the educator was responsible for providing  information, organizing time, and structuring the learning activities and goals,  in a networked environment the learner him or herself takes responsibility for  this.”

“they have to manage time, set their own learning goals, find  resources, and try out new tools and make them work. These choices would in a  formal classroom be the instructor’s responsibility, but are in an autonomous  learning environment linked to tasks that the learner will carry out  independently, which could be problematic.”

I would argue that, for many learners, the cognitive load involved in mastering new tools, techniques, modes of organisation and communication, while simultaneously attempting to master a new subject, or set of ideas, copuld be profoundly demotivational.

The very real risk of a threshold default, and decreaed motivation, effort, persistence, and possibly self esteem is present. This would, presumably effect participation rates, levels of engagement, and completion rates. It is, in part, this possibility and experience I’d like to address. I think it is by no means a necessary characteristic.


Kop acknowledges intrinsic motivation as an issue – and perhaps more impoirtant in informal learning environemnts, and she also flags the idea of presence


“Other issues related to motivation have been highlighted by Lombard and Ditton  (1997) and by Dron and Anderson (2007) in the form of “presence.” They argue  that the closer the ties between the people involved, the higher the level of  presence and the higher the level of engagement in the learning activity.”


This concept opf presence perhaps mirrors Clark’s idea that feedback, and student acription of value, and increased motivation are in part a function of access to instructors. Courses online with instructor feedback created greater motivation, elicited more effort and persistence from students. But it’s broader than that, and one I need to research more fully, including, as it does, a social, peer dimension. Does it include ideas of group identity and de-individuation?

“Garrison, Anderson,  and Archer (2000) argued that deep and meaningful learning results if three  forms of presence play a role in education: “cognitive presence,” which ensures  a certain level of depth in the educational process; “social presence”; and, in  a formal educational environment, “teacher presence.” In PLE-based connectivist  learning, the teacher would not necessarily be present, but one could argue  that there are knowledgeable others on the Web who would take on that teacher  role to a certain extent. For people to take an active,  participative, and critical role in connectivist learning, they need  communication and collaboration with and feedback from others, the same as in  classroom-based learning.”

Cognitive presence here is, presumably, a function of cognitive load, and challenge level, and is tied to the idea of threshold defaults. Experiences with too high or low a cognitive load – too easy or too difficult – engender a threshold default where effort, motivation and persistence decline.

Social presence needs furthe rresearch from me. And I would think the the idea of peers acting as MKO’s for each other is well enough established to be credible, but not always easy to achieve in practice.


“For people to take an active,  participative, and critical role in connectivist learning, they need  communication and collaboration with and feedback from others, the same as in  classroom-based learning.”


This seems a thotough and sensible approach here. The conventional ideas of motivational theory still hold sway in online environemnets.


“Another important factor is  people’s level of critical literacies. The lower the presence of others in the  learning environment, supporting and providing scaffolds for learning, the  higher the need for particular capabilities in the self-directed learner him or  herself to find resources and information, create something with these, and  push something out onto the Web for others to engage with and learn from.”


This is an interesting idea, that in environments where there is less presence from others ( due to motivation, cognitive load or ability, expertise gaps, knoewledge gaps, disinterest etc. ) there is an increased participation requiremtn from self-directed individuals. This raises interestig questions…to what degree is participation sufficient on it’s own to remedy a knoweledge or expertise gap, what are likely to be the  motivations in an MKO poor environewmnt for MKO’s to step up engagement. Inenvironments where MKO’s are unlikely to gain significant resources from the interchange, how sustainable is that, and what are the mnotivating factors that can enable that motivation to remain sustained?


Citing Siemens and Downes on critical literacies, Kop gives a clear summary of what these might comprise in a connectivist environemnt –


“The onus is on the learners themselves to make these  judgments, to validate information and knowledge, and to find knowledgeable  others who can help them. Moreover, the new learning environment requires  learners to be active in their learning by editing and producing information  themselves in a variety of formats and by communicating and collaborating with  others in new ways. People need to have a certain level of creativity and innovative  thinking, in addition to a competency in using ICT applications, to be able to  do this. Learners need to be flexible to be able to adapt to new situations and  are also expected to solve problems that they come across during their learning  journey in this complex learning environment.”

As a precis of Critical Liacies, it’s clear, and to the point, and points out the requirements excellently.

This, in part, is what I experienced as a limiting factor in #etmooc. The course requirements are high. Conversely, the resources required to run and participate in a course like this are comparatively light. Etmooc, for example, was free for everyone engaged in it.

“The three challenges to connectivist learning highlighted  previously are 1) the need for critical literacies and the power relations on  the network; 2) the level of learner autonomy; and 3) the level of presence.  These can all be overcome by what has in traditional formal educational  practice been seen as crucial to teaching and learning: social interaction.”

“Carroll,  Kop, and Woodward (2008) see as the crux to engaging learners in an online  environment the creation of a place where people feel comfortable, trusted, and  valued.”

This addresses some aspects of the difficulties. A sense of community, safety, and security is key, ditto value. What’s not beung mentioned is cognitive load, threshold defaults, adequate and not insurmountable or too low chalenge levels, and s sense of utility (though this may be attched to value). A safe community is not, in and of itself, sufficient to deal with cognitive load issues ( a context where an individual is struggling to master several technologies, the networkinmg and sifting process, and is perhaps also trying to cope with the new ideas, and skills being transacted and targetted in the process)


“Facilitators provided support by producing videos on  how applications and tools worked and by creating posts in the Moodle  discussion area about the impossibility of reading and viewing all resources;  this helped the learners. One of the participants also started a discussion  thread with scaffolds and helpful hints that had 106 replies and that led to the  participants’ development of a tools wiki and several groups outside the course  learning environment (i.e., on Facebook, Friendfeed, & Flickr). ”

Here are sokme concrete ideas that do address those concerns. In addition, Kop mentions that materials provided previous to the course (“Participants indicated that course resources such as  the Daily newsletter, the Moodle, and the wiki were enough to make them  understand what the course was all about before starting (40.4% of the 55  respondents strongly agreed and 36.5% somewhat agreed).”

So, here, are three strands. Preparing your learners in advance with clear and multiple points of engagement regarding what the course will be about, how it will be transacted, what will be required of yoiu, and then in course tech support, both by the instructors, and from the community. In addition, the posting of exhortations to not engage with everything, to be selective, to edit out material, and be able to ignore things also poroved key.

“Facilitators provided support by producing videos on  how applications and tools worked and by creating posts in the Moodle  discussion area about the impossibility of reading and viewing all resources;  this helped the learners. One of the participants also started a discussion  thread with scaffolds and helpful hints that had 106 replies and that led to the  participants’ development of a tools wiki and several groups outside the course  learning environment”


prior informtion detailing the what, how and why of the course (perhaps detailed with resources) – this speaks to motivation, cog load to a degree, and helps stuidnets prepare, assess their prior knowledge, and guage their competencies against the course requirements. Resource inclusion here would help maximise the utility of this process.

In course resources to deal with tool familiarisation, from both organisers, and participants ( possibly include a help forum?). Better late than never., and perhaps a percentage of people will already have dropped out. SA good thing to do, but better, perhaps, to have had it in place beforehand. That said, many participants may not take advantage of resources until already participating, even if would have been adviseable to do so. Community provision is excellent, and, in fact, one could build this in explicitly as a subset of MOOC tasks.

Clear, guilt assuaging posts, detailing that participants shouldn’t try to do everything on offerm and why. This works well, in my limited experience.


“People valued the twice-weekly Elluminate sessions, once a  week with an invited speaker and once a week as a discussion session among the  group and facilitator(s).”

In #etmooc, this proved key too. The regular seminars (3-5 a week, at two times, archived_ proved a useful anchor. Interestingly, of over 1600 listed participants, the core group numbered circa 40-60.  Roughly 2.5 – 3.75%.


“Not all participants  contributed in a visibly active way. There was a high number of people “following  the pulse of the event” rather than getting involved in producing digital  artefacts such as blog posts or videos. They preferred to read, view, or dip in  and out of the conversation,”


Lurking, though the ethos of cMOOCs is making your learning visible, is also a valuable experience – although adding to the difficulty of estimating impact,.


“It seemed that on the one  hand, some people found it motivating to direct their own learning, and on the  other hand, some people would have preferred more coordination and some  assignments to give their learning direction. In the lurker focus group there  was a consensus that people need time to digest what they read, what transpires  in Elluminate sessions, or what happens in the discussion forums and that it  might not be possible or desirable for people to respond by producing a digital  artefact within the course time frame.”


This, of course, is not unique to MOOCs. Learning styles, and preferences vary. Past educational experiences, cultural norms, and subject/work specific skillsets skew people’s preferences in divergent ways. So, the same question presents itself. How do you present an experience such that it is accessible in multiple modes, and caters to a variety of preferences, while still maintaining focus and momentum?


“We should also not underestimate  the influence of people’s mother tongues on confidence levels in expressing  themselves; several remarks were made about this. English was the dominant  language on PLENK, although a Spanish-speaking and a German-language group were  set up, and especially the Spanish group was visible in their own language on  Twitter, in blog posts, and bilingually in the forums.”

A key idea, especially in a global educational experience, and processing new ideas visibly on a blog, in comments, and visibly in other media is challenging, additionally so when one’s mother tomgue is not the dominant language of discussion or presentation.


Several attempts were made during PLENK to increase  the level of presence, and this was seen to be important. At the start of the  course, participants were asked to introduce themselves, and one of the  participants created a PLENK Google map


sense of belonging that built confidence and stimulated active  participation.

“It became clear during the research that the four  activities mentioned in the introduction— aggregation, relation, creation, and  sharing—were not achieved by the majority of participants. They mostly felt  happy to aggregate, relate, and share resources, but only a minority of 40–60  PLENK participants were engaged in the creation of digital artefacts, such as  blog posts and videos, and in the distribution of these. It seems that people  needed time to feel comfortable and confident to get involved in this type of  activity, while it also seems that people needed some time to digest readings  and resources that were published and produced during the course before being  able to get involved in this active production process themselves. Early  indications from this preliminary research were that people were still learning  without this type of activity.”






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