Our devices have transformed the way we learn. Millions worldwide crowdsource their learning or learn from a network of friends, family, celebrities, or entities they friend or follow on social media.
When we scan our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or text streams, we digest the resources, opinions, and information that our network shares. We comment on, share, like, or even create materials out of the images, videos, or audio they provide.
Our increasing connectedness is changing the way we learn — and creating new global communities around education.
Connected learning has made the acquisition and sharing of resources easier than ever. Its numerous benefits include:
According to George Siemens, who formulated the theory of connectivism (connected learning), our network influences our learning — but we also influence the learning of those in our network. Teachers have created educator networks across online resources and social media sites. They share instructional notes and materials through groups, hashtags, webinars, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), online conferences, podcasts, Voxer groups, Google hangouts, livestreamed conferences, social bookmarking, and blogs. A teacher in Australia can teach — and learn from — another educator in Ohio.
Often, teachers are so proactive about sharing resources because schools do not provide teachers with sufficient professional-development opportunities. Teachers know the resources and training they need, and technology makes engaging with these materials possible.
Teachers can drive and listen to podcasts, participate in Twitter hashtag conversations in between classes, or communicate with fellow teachers in webinars without leaving their homes.
Technology also gives teachers choices on how much time they’d like to spend gathering resources, and allows them to bookmark materials so they can return to them whenever they need.
Perhaps the main reason teachers participate in connected learning is because they find support from teachers worldwide who understand them and help them. Many teachers build meaningful relationships through online interactions and collaborations. Eventually, some may even meet face-to-face at conferences or Edcamps.
Twitter is one of the most popular networks that connect teachers. Teachers who join Twitter search a hashtag (i.e., a word with a pound sign in front of it) specific to any subject and quickly find lesson plans, games, rubrics, templates, or help from other teachers.
Teachers also use hashtags to discuss important topics in their fields. Their discussions can sometimes take the form of a hashtag conversation, where using a certain hashtag allows users to ask or answers questions that others relate to the subject of the tag. These conversations may happen sporadically, or there may be a designated time in which a moderator submits a question that participants engage with.
I am one of the founders of #Edchat, which was one of the first teacher hashtag conversations. #EdChat is a Bammy award-winning Twitter conversation that happens every Tuesday and brings educators into contact with one another and with some of the most influential leaders in the field, including Diane Ravitch and Alfie Kohn.
#EdChat has sparked the creation of more than 400 other such conversations. You can find a list of these hashtag conversations — and their schedules — on the Cybrary Man website. There are hashtag chats for various subjects, grade levels, geographic locations, or teaching trends. Examples of these chats include #Engchat, #Kinderchat, #GeniusHour, #UKEdchat, #ELTChat, and #Edtechchat.
Unfortunately, most online professional development cannot be counted as Continuing Education Credit (CEC), but some networks, such as SimpleK12, are changing this and working with districts to provide CECs via webinars.
Recently, in Arizona, credits have been offered to those participating in MOOCs. The days are coming when connected learning will be accredited and supported by education institutions worldwide.
If you are an educator looking to connect with other professionals in your field, here is some advice to help you get started:
Try connecting with teachers on social media by simply searching the hashtags #Teachers, #Education, or #Edchat.
Search for a few hashtags according to your interests and the subject you teach, such as #ArtsEdChat or #flipclass.
Click on and follow the people who share interesting resources. See if they have blogs, which teachers they follow, and the types of educator networks they have joined.
_You can also use Noodle to search for education experts based on your field of interest. Then, reach out to them directly by asking a question on site._
Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, (2)1. Retrieved from: elearnspace
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