Educational ecosystems

George Siemens has posted in his Connectivism Blog about Designing ecosystems versus designing learning. His point is that many of our contrived instructional designs do not deal well with rapidly changing knowledge. Instead he proposes creating environments, learning ecosystems, in which learners would interact:

Instead of designing instruction (which we assume will lead to learning), we should be focusing on designing ecologies in which learners can forage for knowledge, information, and derive meaning. What’s the difference between a course and an ecology? A course, as mentioned is static – a frozen representation of knowledge at a certain time. An ecology is dynamic, rich, and continually evolving. The entire system reacts to changes – internal or external. An ecology gives the learner control – allowing her to acquire and explore areas based on self-selected objectives. The designer of the ecology may still include learning objectives, but they will be implicit rather than explicit.

What does this ‘learning ecology’ look like? First, it holds ‘content’ in a manner similar to courses, but the content is not confined and pre-selected by the designer. Instead, the ecology fosters connections to original and knowledge sources, allowing for ‘currency’ (up to date). The ecology fosters rich interaction between disparate fields of information, allowing growth and adaptation of ideas and concepts (i.e. ‘the verge’). Each participant in the ecology pursues his/her own objectives, but within the organized domain of the knowledge of a particular field (after all, some form of learner competence should emerge as a result of existing in the ecology). Nodes (content and people) and connections are the basic elements of a network. An ecology should permit these networks to develop and flourish without hindrance.

Creating systems that include tools and starting points may work better in rapidly changing fields than attempting to present a comprehensive and structured view that is inevitably out of date and incorrect the moment it is committed to any medium.