Friday, October 23, 2009

Thoughts on connectivism and H1N1 influenza

For a variety of reasons, including H1N1 planning, connectivism has not been my top priority recently. Having said that, my connectivism "goggles" have been on and screening my world for signs that connectivism is "true" (in as much as a theory can be true) and I keep returning to H1N1.
The H1N1 influenza pandemic is unprecedented, and I say that with the knowledge that there have been previous pandemics, but it is unprecedented with regards to the environment that it is evolving in. The state of medical knowledge, technology, and communication and collaboration world wide make it unique.
I think I am seeing many of the principles of connectivism in action, as health care professionals like myself and the lay public, "find our way" through this "complex, chaotic, and rapidly shifting situation". The thesis that "knowledge is networked and distributed across connections" and "knowledge is emergent from the connections, not contained in it" seems obvious when applied to the pandemic. Connectivism seems to fit learning during the H1N1 pandemic better than any of the other learning theories (behaviourism, cognitivism or constructivism) and I hope that the following thoughts will demonstrate why I think that.
  • No single person, agency, business or organization knows everything H1N1, connections and networks between people, ideas, and research result in emergent knowledge almost on a daily (hourly?) basis and are central to learning about this virus.
I would consider myself a "hub" in the network, not because of what I personally know about H1N1 (which is very little), but because of the various multi-directional connections I am capable of. I work in a drug information centre that takes questions from health care professionals; therefore I am capable of receiving incoming connections more frequently many other pharmacists. I am also responsible for making outgoing connections; I know the major information sources and who the major decision makers are in the province and in Canada. So, I am serving as a hub, not because of my expert knowledge about H1N1, but because of my unique connecting role. Looking at my role as a "connector" and not a "knower" has eased the stress of trying to "keep up" with the amount of information available on the topic. My priority is knowing where to go (or to connect) when I get a question, not trying to retain information for the unknown future question. I like this role and didn't realize that this is what I did, until I put my connectivism goggles on. This contrasts with my attempts to be a "knower" in the connectivism course, which is stressful and impossible to keep up with, because the "information overload" in CCK09 is very similar to the H1N1 situation. I need to remember that "learning is the capacity to construct and traverse connections" and that "knowledge is not acquired or a thing". I seem to be very successful at this in one environment but it does not seem to translate to another environment.
  • The addition of new connections to the H1N1 network results in a "ripple effect, which amplifies beyond the original connection."
Medical research is a hard science where evidence base medicine prevails, and a randomized, double blind, controlled trial is the gold standard for determining optimal treatment. In the case of a pandemic there is no time to conduct this type of study and optimal treatment is being shaped by the connections made between various entities or hubs (i.e. practitioners and centers with prior experience). The treatment of the critically ill patient in hospital today will not be the same as the patient treated in the first wave because of the knowledge transmitted via networks and hopefully the "amplification effect" results in exponentially better outcomes for those patients. It is interesting to see parallels between connectivism, a theory that was developed because of the rapid changes in learning and knowledge in a digital environment and pandemic planning, another rapidly evolving field. Based on this, one could argue that the principles of connectivism could apply in any digital or non-digital, rapidly evolving field (and I'm sure that someone has).
  • Connectivism and networked learning is "increasingly aided by technology", which in the H1N1 pandemic is both beneficial and detrimental.
Positively, most of the scientific publications on H1N1 have been published online first as early releases, allowing rapid communication of detailed information. Negatively, media reports that seasonal flu vaccine increased the risk of H1N1 were communicated before data was released by the investigator, leaving other researchers and health care professionals unable to respond. Email, blogging, and microblogging, alerting services, RSS feeds, etc allows up to the minute updates and facilitates rapid transmission of information via the "strong and weak ties" in a network. Important hubs (FDA, Health Canada, CDC, etc) are easily accessible via the internet. It is relatively easy to tap into the network, the lay public has access to a large portion of information that the average health care professional has. The announcement that the Canada H1N1 vaccine was approved for use was issued via a press release simultaneously to the public and health care professionals. In fact, the media and news networks have been just as an important source of information as the official documents from Health Canada, or other organizations.

  • So, one could say that my connectivism goggles are my way of explaining what resonates with me, which is another important characteristic of networked learning.
In my short experience as an "official" adult learner (which to me means learning something as an adult that is non-medical in nature), I have found that I need to make connections to what I already know (pharmacy/medical stuff) in order for it to make sense. If I can't find or make this connection I find it very difficult to engage in the material. Now that I have linked H1N1 influenza with connectivism, they will be permanently tied together, which is probably a good thing because I am not likely to forget my H1N1 experiences!

Postscript:  I started this post with the intention of completing the first assignment, What is Connectivism? but got side tracked by my H1N1 analogy.  I am not sure if I accomplished the intended objectives of the assignment, but my connectivism goggles are hurting my eyes at this late hour, so stay tuned for futher posts.


  1. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. You have helped me appreciate the idea of Connectivism in a new and more personally relevant way. I never thought to look at where I fit into my own network (it seems so obvious now!).

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