Norm Friesen has a new article in First Monday on Education and the Social Web. The article addresses concerns about the growing reliance on “web 2.0″ tools – driven by advertising – on education. This concern has been highlighted by numerous bloggers over the last several years (I’ve whined about this as well – i.e. easy-to-use replaces the principle of free in open source). The start of the article solidifies much of the discussion around the presence of advertiser-driven education. After reading the article a few times, I’m a bit confused. He appears to be making two arguments: PLEs are increasingly advertiser driven (I agree with this) and that social networked learning isn’t real learning (I don’t agree with this and I don’t understand how those two points are related). The latter point comes in the conclusion – usually not the best place to provide a new argument – when he states:
Despite the current prominence of social–psychological and connectivist theories, it is easy to make the case that learning is just as much about division as it is about connection. In fact, the consistent pattern of suppressing division, negativity and interpersonal dissent that is central to the business model of social networking services runs counter to some of the most common models and recommendations for online student interaction and engagement…Knowledge is not exclusively embodied in ever growing networks of connection and affiliation, and it does not just occur through building and traversing these proliferating nodes and links.
I’m confused about the main point being made in the article – is it a criticism of social networked learning or of commercial advertising presence in popular web tools? I follow Norm’s criticism until he takes this sharp turn and draws a random, unsupported relationship between social networked learning and existing social network tools. He is equating learning in networks with advertising. The open courses that we have offered over the last several years are based primarily on open source tools (we use Elluminate for the live discussions as we haven’t found a suitable open source replacement). We have significant dissent, debate, and disagreements. This may sound a bit nonsensical, but embedded within a connection is a disconnection. If you have 30 options in front of you, by selecting one, you are in essence disconnecting from the rest, assuming, of course, that you have only one choice to make. Disconnection is rarely a conscious choice -because to think of disconnection is to reinforce a connection. The way to disconnect is to form other connections that, over time, reduce the strength of an existing connection.