Initial thoughts on connectivism

I am currently doing George Siemens’ Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2011 (CCK11) course.  At the moment, I am reading his article, Connectivism:  A Learning Theory for the Digital Age.

Some very abstract ideas to grapple with, and so I am writing down my thoughts as I process this in mind and try to make sense of it (cognitivising it :)).

As I read though this article, I can see that a major differentiation between connectivism and the other learning theories is the dichotomy between internal and external information.  The article states:

A central tenet of most learning theories is that learning occurs inside a person. Even social constructivist views, which hold that learning is a socially enacted process, promotes the principality of the individual (and her/his physical presence – i.e. brain-based) in learning. These theories do not address learning that occurs outside of people (i.e. learning that is stored and manipulated by technology).

My first reaction when reading the last sentence of that statement was – derr, how can learning occur outside of people – crazy abstract thinkers.  In fact, it then reminded me of a similar challenge with George’s work that I have posted about previously.

Reading on, the following statement helped me to draw the idea together.

“What adjustments need to made with learning theories when technology performs many of the cognitive operations previously performed by learners (information storage and retrieval).”

How I interpret part of George’s ideas with connectivism is that technology easily stores information and makes it relatively easy to retrieve.  Yet this task is a central component of the traditional “old world” learning theories because in that time, technology was incapable of doing it at least on a reliable scale, and so we had to do it ourselves. This youtube video of MOOC gives examples of traditional information retrieval approaches as consulting a book, someone knowledgeable in the area or a school. In that time, these resources weren’t always available or reliable and certainly not as abundant as they are today.  Who has consulted an out-of-date book, or taken a (paid) course that is out-of-date?

George also highlights the “shrinking half-life of knowledge” – the rate of change for information and how it has accelerated in modern times.  Some information stored by traditional means (such as a book) becomes obsolete very quickly.  What we have previously learned and committed to memory may no longer be accurate in the (near) future.

I guess the use of technology frees us of these medial cognitive tasks (memorisation) permitting us to engage in higher level processes of thought.  Or requires us to develop new learning skills that no longer focus on storing information about how to do things because information is scarce, but instead focus on how to find information in abundance.

Another point raised in George’s article:

“How do learning theories address moments where performance is needed in the absence of complete understanding? ”

I run into this challenge on an almost daily basis in my work as an educational (instructional) designer.  The complexity of what we do is very high, and in constant state of change.

I also like this quote by Karen Stephenson as referenced by George:

Experience has long been considered the best teacher of knowledge. Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge. ‘I store my knowledge in my friends’ is an axiom for collecting knowledge through collecting people (undated).

This has probably long been the case.  However, what has changed through technology is accessibility to other people’s experiences – through social online technologies.

Moving onto the focus of connections between information, usually fostered through connections with people – I understand what George is saying, but its pretty heavy.

John Seely Brown’s concept that the Internet leverages the small efforts of many with the large efforts of few was interesting.  Coupled with the example of senior citizens mentoring young pupils as small efforts of many, supporting the large efforts of few teachers has cemented the idea.

Okay the cogs of my mind are starting to seize.  They need lubrication (ie sugar), so off to lunch.


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