The Networked Health Educator

October 10, 2010 at 3:27 pm 1 comment

On any given day, my work requires me to draw on knowledge from the fields of health science, instructional design, communication, and behavioral science. I might also have to set up a wiki, or design an e-learning module with audio and video. It’s a multidisciplinary world and it’s moving fast. I can honestly say that it’s my personal learning network that keeps me working effectively.

We can’t know everything, so we construct networks to connect disparate sources of information. Or at least we should. This is a core idea of Connectivism, a learning theory that proposes that learning is the process of making connections between nodes of information (Davis, et. al). Nurturing and maintaining these networks is essential to continuous learning.

My personal learning network has changed the way I learn in significant ways.  First, it is available when I need it. I don’t have to wait for the next conference and hope there is money to go, and then hope someone will present the information I need. The information is out there in websites, databases, blogs and the heads of people who are an email away. I don’t have to wait to start learning – it is just in time. Second, my network is wide. Knowledge exits everywhere, and my network allows me to go outside of the people around me to access it. I don’t just learn from other health educators or instructional designers. I also learn from people who make movies or create video games. Third, my network is deep. I have limited daily access to gurus, mavens, and deep thinkers. I know maybe 4 that I can pick up the phone and call or see on a regular basis. But there are lots of smart people I don’t know personally who are blogging, Tweeting, podcasting or otherwise putting their knowledge on the web. This gives me greater access to people who are focused on specific topics that have relevance to my work.

Much of this ability to build large and diverse learning networks is made possible by social media tools. These are the digital tools I use most frequently to build and maintain my learning network.

  • Blogs. I like to follow thought leaders on blogs – researchers and practitioners – because they use the forum to write about what’s on their minds and the work they are doing. On a blog, you get a better sense of the process. Published articles and presentations are so final to the point where they are sometimes not that helpful because they don’t show how you got there. Blogs allow people to show their work.
  • Social bookmarking. There is so much information out there that it can sometimes become overwhelming. Social bookmarks are like getting a personal recommendation about what you should read. Someone else, maybe someone smarter than me, has filtered the content and created a list of useful links.
  • Twitter. I’ll admit that I didn’t get Twitter but it is growing on me. I like Twitter because I get real time updates about what’s going on at organizations that impact my work. It is also another way to see what thought leaders are thinking. I recently participated in my first Tweetchat about health literacy (#healthlit). It was exhausting but stimulating.

One limitation with Web 2.0 tools is that not all of the information you want in your network is online. My learning network includes many offline links because you still have to go to the mountain to see many of the gurus and you still need to grab coffee with a colleague you haven’t seen in years. In person networking activities are important. At the same time, we need to encourage our colleagues to come on in to the online space. After all, learning networks are only as good as their links.

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Connectivism Modern Learning: It’s All About “We”

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Conni  |  October 13, 2010 at 9:53 am

    I am really enjoying your posts. CRM

    Reply

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