Guerrilla Connectivism: 10 Tips for Taking Control of your Education

Photo Credit: dcJohn via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: dcJohn via Compfight cc

I recently had the misfortune of taking a week-long training course on project management. The instructor was a friendly, experienced, and knowledgable project manager, but her teaching style consisted of reading through a company-prepared deck of over 500 powerpoint slides. For five days. Seven hours a day. There were about 50 of us sitting in rows, quietly listening as she diligently worked through the slides, interjecting a personal experience here or expanding on a bullet point there. Someone would occasionally raise a hand to ask a question, but most sat silently. Many had that glazed-over look with heads about to nod sleepily forward, or were surreptitiously reading email or Facebook.

I spent most of the course frustrated with the experience and developing in my mind how I would do it differently if I were in charge. I devised mental plans for re-organizing the content, engaging the learners, and building a learning community. I’ve been so inspired by what I’ve learned about connectivism from people like Alec Couros, and from my experiences of being part of courses that develop powerful learning communities, that I couldn’t help but dream of better ways to do this.

But this is where, I now realize, I failed. I could have done something more.

I’ve been so busy working on my education degree, studying connectivism and other learning theories, and writing up education plans for my job as a learning consultant, that I lost sight of the actions I could have taken right there and then, in my role as a student. I think this is vitally important, as most instructors are not about to start adopting a connectivist philosophy anytime soon, and connectivist principles need to start making their way into classrooms now. We, as students, don’t need to wait for our instructors to do this for us, and instead, we can take control of our own education by following a few connectivist-inspired tips:

1. Talk to your co-students. The first step in building a learning community is to reach out and communicate with the members of that potential community. This can be as simple as extending an open invitation to go out for coffee during the first day’s break. Introduce yourself, ask about them, gauge their interest in connecting.

2. Tweet. Just before things get started after that first break, stand up and announce a twitter hashtag for the class, and invite people to use it. Twitter often forms a key communication piece in connectivist learning, and it could just as easily be introduced by students as by the instructor.

3. Become a Facilitator. You may need to actively facilitate the initial discussions to kick things off and establish the environment. Start by tweeting an interesting question or reflection on a point made by the instructor or a co-student. Send out a relevant link. When others tweet, send an encouraging reply. But also, be sure to step back when the conversation starts to take off. Not enough facilitation might prevent the conversation from starting, but too much can choke it off. Facilitation is a careful balancing act.

4. Help others. Connectivist courses often start with sessions to help orient students to this new way of learning. To replicate this, offer to spend the first lunch break helping people setup a twitter account or reviewing how it works. Point them to some of the great introductory resources developed by other connectivist educators. Connectivist learning can be disorienting for those new to it, and does require a basic understanding of some of the core technologies like twitter, social bookmarking, and blogging. A bit of guidance can make a big difference to the success of the learning community.

5. Establish a Google Community. Yet another free service from Google, this allows you to quickly and easily establish a connectivist, student-run web space for the course. Remember to tell everyone where to find it. Use twitter, but also let people know face to face. Try not to be exclusionary, but instead keep all information open and accessible to everyone in the course.

6. Start blogging. You and your co-students can use Blogger, WordPress, or other free services to create your own blogs. This can be an important place to narrate your learning, demonstrate to others in the course how narrated learning works, and to comment on one another’s posts.

7. Social bookmarking. Use free tools like Diigo or Delicious to setup social bookmarking groups. This can allow everyone in the class to contribute links and pull in their relevant knowledge from outside of the course. Encourage others to do some content curation using or other similar tools. Again, remember to tell everyone and to seed it with some links of your own.

8. Keep it positive. Although you may be starting this due to frustration with the course instructor, be sure to stay focused on the course content and the learning. Avoid criticism of the instructor or his/her teaching style. This will help with the next tip.

9. Invite the instructor to participate. If things start to take off, share the success with the instructor. Invite him or her to get involved. Take this as an opportunity to share the value of connectivism, and possibly inspire him or her to adopt this approach in the future. Some instructors may not get it and reject your invitation, but many will see the benefits when they are demonstrated right in front of them.

10. Connect with a librarian. If offered by a college or university, there will usually be a librarian responsible for the course. This person really wants to help you and your co-students succeed and can be a great source of related content and resources. Let your librarian know what you are doing, invite him or her to participate, and you may just win another person over to this kind of learning.

These are just some of my initial thoughts on ways for students to take control over their education and pro-actively become part of the learning process, without needing permission. I think it can be done for workplace training, academic courses, or any other kind of learning event, whether online or in-person.

I’ve no doubt missed other important tips, so please let me know what else you think can be done. As well, if you have any experience doing something like this, or being an instructor where students did any of these, please do comment here. I’d love to hear about real examples of how this has played out.


  1. I’m interested in your thoughts on facilitating. I’m trying to get an online learning community going at my college using Yammer and finding it difficult to gauge how much I should post. There are three of us who post regularly; if we don’t nobody else does. However, I’m aware that people are listening (I prefer that term to ‘lurking’), but how do we get them to contribute? Any ideas?

    • This can be hard. Networks with limited participation can only go so far, but people are often reluctant to expose themselves online. One strategy that can work is to post a question to your group that is very easy to answer. Something like — “I’m just trying to gauge where folks are from. Can you post the name of your city?” There is no “wrong” answer, and it may encourage one or two people to take the chance and reply. You can then provide them with a warm welcome, giving them a sense of connection that might encourage a little bit more participation. Others will hopefully observe this and try it as well.

      I’m certainly no expert, and am always to trying to learn ways to be a better online community manager. One resource I find valuable is FeverBee’s Online Community Guide. There is a lot of useful stuff here! Good luck with your community.

    • The idea of facilitation strikes me as a bricks-and-mortar concept in which a group of people who have already identified something they have in common gets together periodically to accomplish something with the help of one or two people who do their best to be catalysts and then stay out of the way.

      Connectivists are catalysts, too, who also need a goal–something to accomplish with others. I’ve started a handful of Google Communities and Circles that have gone not far because, I believe, there was no shared goal to sustain engagement even though I know the members of the forums I created were supportive of what I was doing, there wasn’t enough shared interest in the outcome.

      I know, Debs, you’re part of #etmooc and there’s a lot of energy in our sessions generated by our discussions. We share a common interest in learning about the education technologies under discussion, and when a participant gives expression to what she’s learning it helps others recognize the value of what they’re learning, too.

  2. onepercentyellow says:

    A great post and an experience that so many of us have had. What do you do when you temporarily trade in your educator hat for a student hat? I find it nearly impossible to ignore that sassy voice emphasizing the importance of my own perspective on teaching, but when that voice is nattering away, I lose the chance to learn.

    I have had to forge my own connectivist ties in spite of some of my instructors, and I would say number 8 is the most difficult thing to do! Once I have gone beyond an instructor due to frustration, I find it so difficult to make her/him a major (trusted) node in my learning.

    • I know what you mean — it really can be hard to focus on your learning in these situations. If it is just an hour lecture or a half-day training session, I try to get at peace with the fact that my time isn’t being well used and try to find a couple of relevant points to pull out of the session. For longer sessions, such as a full week-long or semester-length course, it is much harder, which is what inspired this post.

      In terms of staying positive, I do my best to empathize with the instructor. I really believe that “schooling” (in the Ivan Illich sense) has profoundly damaged us, and that this instructor is a victim of multiple years of schooling, and is teaching based on what she or he was taught and/or had modeled. Although anyone who finds themselves in a professional teaching role has a responsibility to explore best practices (and to stay on top of emerging new ones), I know that professional development opportunities aren’t always great, time constraints are huge, other family commitments can get in the way, etc., etc. I try to bring that sense of empathy into step #9 and hopefully can make a small difference.

  3. Thanks for sharing such insightful hints. Here is our Community on Connectivismeducationlearning on FB I have been learning through the CCKs and various PLENK2010, Change11 etc. and your hints are closely related to the connectivist strategies that could be useful both in the classroom and online environments. I have posted on my blog since 2008 on some of the related connectivist concepts and applications that have been researched through action learning. You said: “Avoid criticism of the instructor or his/her teaching style. Invite the instructor to participate. ” That’s a diplomatic way of resolving conflicts and helping the instructor to be engage with her students. You could win over the instructor’s trust on the students by not making her loose face, and that is good. What are some other alternatives that may also help our educators and learners to be connected and engaged more deeply? How about inviting her to some of the communities such as our FB community or Twitter community (on Connectivism)? John


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