With a Little Help From My Friends

While I understand the importance of understanding how we learn, if I’m honest, I tend to drift a bit when it comes to reading about learning theories.  I start to understand how my middle school students from across the globe feel as they read about a bunch of white guys in knickers and wigs deciding they are tired of paying taxes to a bunch of other guys in fancier knickers and wigs.  Granted, my students are probably facing a few more distractions, but you get the idea.

But then, while I’m listening to some tunes, messing around on the internet and browsing, mostly educational, articles in between working on a proposal for professional development at my school, things start to click.

I re-read what George Seimens says in Connectivisim: A learning theory for the digital age: “Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge.” I realized that my proposal for edCamp style professional development is based on something I’ve never actually experienced myself.  However, I’m quite keen on trying it out at our school and believe that it would be a breath of fresh air for our school’s staff development program.

edcamp Ghana
Hopefully coming soon…

So how do I go about building my knowledge?

Well, I’ve previously Skyped with one of the founding members of edCamp, when I first had the idea months ago, who offered all kinds of great advice and resources. There’s also a previous connection made (via Twitter) with one of the organizers of edCamp Denver who shared the entire planning process for their large scale event via Google Docs. So I’ve got some prior knowledge built from primary sources.

My next stop is Twitter again where I ask my PLN for info on their experiences.

A little help from my friends
A little help from my friends

Within an hour I’ve got three blogs to read and four other people saying they’ll put me in touch with the people who planned similar sessions at their schools.  Pretty soon emails are rolling in from colleagues of my Twitter contacts and I’ve got a ton of information to work through and create a proposal.

In the course of a day I realize I’ve exemplified most of the significant trends in learning outlined by Siemens and hopefully put together a pretty good proposal constructed almost entirely with other people’s knowledge and experiences.  I just had to take that information, make sense of it and apply it to the situation I was facing.

Now some of that lofty lingo from the deep thinkers about thinking is starting to make sense.  I’m still not certain I have a perfect grasp on the connectivism theory, but by being connected, I’m slowly figuring it out.  I never knew that messing around could be so productive.

Thanks guys.



  1. Stephanie Thompson says:

    When you mention that the edcamp model is not something you’ve experienced that perhaps you are hard on yourself.

    1. You followed your passion ( a must at ed camps)
    2. You decide who to follow (the rule of two feet).

    Perhaps a better question might be ‘how can I adapt the features of the learning environment to the online world to the offline world.


  2. Cate Jarvis says:

    Nice piece – I too find it hard to engage with educational theory unless I can see real practical uses and I have had the “drift” feeling at many PD days. Although I am not sure what I think about connectivism theory – I should probably do some more research – I do think that modelling good practice helps with using it effectively in the classroom and can show how PLN’s can be created. I just wondered how did you feel when you put your request out there? Any worries?


    1. Ryan Harwood says:

      Thanks Cate. No, I didn’t have any worries about putting a request out for help. I’ve found that a majority of educators on Twitter are eager to help and share resources. For most of them, it is why they are using it as well. I’ve gotten so many valuable resources and tips by throwing out a question. On the flip side, I love it when I can help someone by sharing a resource as well. Its a great community.


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