Posted by: MandyS | April 29, 2014

Yet more learning theories…

My experience of the MAODE so far is that with every new concept there has to be a learning theory attached to it. I accept that understanding why people do what they do and what they achieve from doing it is a way of moving the world forward, and I admire those that are able to express in words what we do. What I fail to see is why there is such a commotion about it. From my own experience, most people do things differently to each other; I put milk in first, I make the bed before I get dressed. The way I do things is not wrong it is just not the same as someone else. Why do I do what I do? well because that is how it was done in my home when I was small. There are some things I do differently to how my mum and dad did them; I don’t hoard for a start, but that is because I have developed new and, what to me are, more efficient ways of doing things, either as a result of my own experience (not being able to find things) or seeing how others do it (my sister obsessing over lists). Again, it doesn’t mean what my mum and dad did was wrong, I have just decided to do some things differently as a result of experiencing other ways. Once I finally got to grips with reading Stephen Downes’s blog about  ‘What Connectivism is’, I must admit I particularly liked his observation of ” how can learning – something so basic that infants and animals can do it – defy explanation?” Exactly!

For me, learning is simple; it is something I probably do all the time either consciously or unconsciously and I do it by doing things, reading things, listening to others, thinking about things, being told how to do something, watching how others do it, making mistakes, etc. The list is endless really and no doubt demonstrates every learning theory known to man – and perhaps a few that are not yet discovered! The learning theories may be a way of expressing what we do in words but they are not mutually exclusive of one another; the way in which one learns very much depends on what it is one is learning. If I want to learn to drive, other than learning rote the Highway Code, it is something I have to do physically and on the job; no amount of cognitivism or connectivism would help me learn to drive, although maybe some behaviourism and constructivism when I crash into something!

Likewise, learning digitally doesn’t change the way I learn, it just opens up the resources available to do so and of course with that new learning theories!

1. Abundant content (Weller): now one has all this information available to us, how does one go about finding it and what can one do with it. Share it with one another appears to be the answer. From a teacher/learner perspective, although social networking makes the sharing element fairly straightforward, the what one shares and the value it has is less predictable.

2. Connectivism (Siemens): developed to take account of our new networking behaviour. Downes, quite rightly in my view, suggests that this is associated with ‘active learning’ and the ‘ability to construct and traverse networks of knowledge’. He controversially suggests that networks are not built but ‘form naturally’ and are a means by which one develops oneself. I am going on my own experience of using Twitter for the MAODE, but I agree. I started off following people with an interest in law and educational technology, a few followed me back, I followed them and discovered others with similar interests; some relevant, some not but still interesting and I have learned much from them, not necessarily about law or educational technology, but more simple things like how to compose a Tweet, where to find information, what I am interested in and what bores me etc..

2. Rhizomatic learning (Cormier): ‘learning is like the roots of a plant, which grow and propagate in a nomadic fashion’; unstructured. Unless one learns a specific thing (law) for a specific reason (to become a lawyer) then I absolutely agree. In fact, even specific learning can include elements of unorganised learning outside the curriculum and learning outcomes e.g. working in a solicitors, shadowing a barrister, joining a local lawyer group. Cormier sees it as a means of ‘experimenting’ to find out new things. So I might learn at law school how to fill in a legal aid form but it is working in the solicitor’s office where I find out what happens if it gets lost or destroyed. Given what Downes says, it is not dissimilar to connectivism i.e. it develops naturally, but perhaps it is a bit more ‘chaotic’ i.e. there is no particular direction.  Either way, both demonstrate for me the learner-centric ethos of modern teaching/learning.


Embracing Uncertainty – Rhizomatic Learning in Formal Education (2012) YouTube video, added by Dave Cormier [online]. Available at (Accessed 24 April 2014).

Downes, S. (2007) ‘What connectivism is’, Half an Hour, 3 February [online]. Available at (Accessed 24 April 2014).

Siemens, S. (2005) ‘Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age’, International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, vol. 2, no. 1 [online]. Available at (Accessed 21 February 2014).

Weller, M. (2011) ‘A pedagogy of abundance’, Spanish Journal of Pedagogy, vol. 249, pp. 223–36. Also available online at (Accessed 28 April 2014).





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