If infants and animals can do it, does that make it simple?

This blog post relates to my study of CCK11 and is in response to a statement made by Stephen Downes in his blog post entitled What Connectivism Is.  The statement by Stephen in response to a criticism of Connectivism by Tony Forster:

Tony continues, “Connectivism should still address the hard struggle within of deep thinking, of creating understanding. This is more than the process of making connections.”

[Stephen responds] No, it is not more than the process of making connections. That’s why learning is at once so simple it seems it should be easily explained and so complex that it seems to defy explanation (cf. Hume on this). How can learning – something so basic that infants and animals can do it – defy explanation? As soon as you make learning an intentional process (that is, a process that involves the deliberate creation of a representation) you have made these simple cases difficult, if not impossible, to understand.

I have had a reasonably long held belief that teaching is incredibly complex, a view also held by Richard F. Elmore (sorry I don’t have the original source, but I do trust the citation in this link).

If you consider that the network and connections between nodes in a network is what important for learning, then learning is part of a system.  I consider a network to be a system – “System is a set of interacting or interdependent system components forming an integrated whole.”  An integrated whole through connectivism in terms of scholarship could be the “body of knowledge”.  Inherently, systems become more complex – the larger and more interrelated they become.  Think of the butterfly effect.

However, there is a distinction between teaching and learning.  The original quote was with regard to teaching.  Stephen also made this comment:  “As soon as you make learning an intentional process (that is, a process that involves the deliberate creation of a representation) you have made these simple cases difficult, if not impossible, to understand.”

So when we allow learning to occur spontaneously, without man-made structures/frameworks/objectives, do we see a simple act occur?  Do we make it more difficult when we put constraints around the learning process?

When I first started writing this blog post, I was still attached to my view of learning being complex.  I am now not so sure.

Perhaps we do make it more complicated than it need be.  Society however is very outcome driven – means to an end, and to ensure the ends are being met, we develop these structures.

Perhaps if you consider learning on a continuum of purely spontaneous organic learning situations, to those that are highly structured and planned, the answer is somewhere round the middle in terms of meeting societal needs, while retaining simple effective learning?

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2 thoughts on “If infants and animals can do it, does that make it simple?

  1. “If kids can do it so easily….” Welcome to the world of language acquisition 🙂 I’ve heard this line of argument quite a few times when people are trying to explain that “teachers are doing it wrong” 🙂

    I do think that learning is intentional, no matter what the context. Take a child trying to put a square peg in a round whole. He can’t, but he hammers away at it, until one day he discovers the square hole and learns that these two fit! In the quest of solving a problem, the child learned. Of course, the issue with teaching is not “how to teach” but “how to make uptake faster”. If left to our own devices we could learn, I don’t doubt that, but how long would it take us?Once you factor in national mandates that children need to lean X by Y time…well then that muddies things further!

    I think learning is complex, if it weren’t we’d already be uploading information to our brain like they did in the matrix 😉

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