CCK08: First Assignment

Connecting the Dots

Strongly suggested through the readings is the view that information growth, technology, developments in social learning theory, and advancements in our understanding of minds and cognition require a reconsideration of learning theory (Downes and Siemens, 2008).

I do not disagree with this assertion. However, I am less convinced than ever before that this reconsideration requires the replacing or reformulating of existing learning theories with a new one.

Terry Anderson’s presentation for the Online Connectivism Conference includes the following realization:

…Put your thinking caps on for a moment and talk about what educational research has really made a difference for you as an educator or as a learner. I got asked this question in Hong Kong one time when I was on a panel at the International Council of Distance Ed. about what’s the one thing that really education research has contributed. I was blindsided. I thought, here am I, big researcher, and I can hardly even think of one thing that has really made a difference (Anderson, 2007, para. 7).

In my own experience there are many educators who express disdain towards theory in general for its lack of practical, pragmatic applications in the classroom. Formal theory can inform practice, but especially with informal learning, it does not always.

In response to criticisms levelled by Bill Kerr on George Siemens’ Connectivism blog, Siemens states:

…I don’t imagine too many theories today gain value based on philosophical grounding. Our world asks for proof…evidence…history…or in the term you use, “practice”. I don’t imagine too many people will be satisfied with me saying “well, connectivism has merit because it’s what bloggers and social networkers are doing all the time.” Intuition doesn’t sell well as a theory :). On this front in particular, more formal research and publication is needed…At this stage, I know I’m providing an unsatisfactory answer to an important question (Siemens, 2007, Comment #5, para. 7).

Certainly more discussion has ensued since Siemens first posted this reply to Kerr. Is the Connectivism & Connective Knowledge course an example of connective practice? Undoubtably.

Is Connectivism a new theory of learning?

In the paper Connectivism: Learning Theory of the Future or Vestige of the Past? [Hill and Kop, 2007, pp. 4-5; pending publication] Connectivism is characterized as best fitting the description of a developmental learning theory. That having been said, I agree with Mathias Melcher, however, that

Connectivism would, IMO, suffer from restricting definitions such as being a learning theory, which has to obey traditional criteria of an empirically provable but very narrow scope of application (Melcher, 2008, para. 3).

Connectivism, as formulated in the course, is a living curriculum to the extent that the Connectivist stance resides in the “diversity of opinion” (Siemens, 2008, para. 8). Earlier position papers on Connectivism and connective knowledge are relatively succinct. For example, the principles listed on Siemens’ Connectivism blog [Ibid], and Downes’ (2006) delineation of the properties of effective networks are useful points of entry into an understanding of knowledge and learning in Connectivist terms.

Now that such a huge number of people are grappling with what Connectivism might be, a whole range of positions are informing what Connectivism looks like. This is consistent with a networked view of knowledge, and it lends itself to a decentralization and redistribution of power, since for each learner the Connectivist model will look different. This is a strength in terms of the stranglehold with which traditional knowledge brokers have approached the development of curriculum and canonical thinking. I also think that it is a weakness in that this approach to teaching and learning may lend itself to confusion, though confusion can lead to important breakthroughs in learning.

Connectivism absolutely resonates with my learning experiences. I am a student of philosophy, and speaking broadly, the associations that can be drawn between Connectivism and Continental philosophy and critical theory, as well as Buddhist philosophy, are numerous.

The two questions that I would like to continue to try and answer in this course are:

  • What might a Connectivist ethics look like?
  • To what extent can work on the biology of cognition (namely, the principles of autopoeisis, structural coupling and natural drift) inform an explanation of Connectivist philosophy in terms of evolution?




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