I’ve been thinking more about connections over the past several years than I have about networks. That might seem like an odd thing to say since networks and connections are obviously related. Networks though are bigger, aggregated, more formidable to control and understand than individual connections. While it is helpful to see a social network analysis of learner interaction in a course, it doesn’t necessarily give either the educators or the students the type of information that they need to understand what they need to do differently (or more of).
Connections are individual units of control – networks are the larger patterns that those connections create.
Let me provide a simple example. This past week, Udacity announced a new partnership with Pearson:
Today, we’re excited to announce a partnership with Pearson VUE, a worldwide provider of testing services. Students may still complete a Udacity class on our website as they always have. And now, students wishing to pursue our official credential and be part of our job placement program should also take an additional final exam in a Pearson testing center. There are over 4000 centers in more than 170 countries.
Again, this is strictly optional and only for students who want to participate in our job placement program or be considered for our official credential. The testing centers allow students to show off what they’ve learned in an environment that ensures academic honesty.
This can hardly be described as a network, but a connection has been formed that may have significant long term impact. In itself, this connection has limited power. But if you take a look at the potential implications – emerging pedagogical models (MOOCs) being validated by existing testing procedures – it becomes apparent that Udacity and Pearson both win in the short term, but Udacity loses long term while Pearson wins. Udacity is recognized as an innovative model of learning in the future, but, in order to gain legitimacy, decides that a connection to the established testing system is more important than blazing a new trail. This connection serves to reinforce the existing educational model rather than to continue the path of creating a new one. As Udacity creates similar connections to other education companies and organization, it quickly becomes apparent that the network being created is one of validation and lockin, rather than innovation and a new vision for learning. You can’t do much innovation if your point of departure is blocked by existing testing and assessment models.
Anyway, I presented to SUNY last week on What do connections do – the presentation/slides are below (note slides 16, 18, 38, 44 click through to videos). My argument in that presentation – i.e. that “the integrator rules” – is exactly what is demonstrated by the Udacity/Pearson partnership.