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 It’s seems amost every article I read to do with technology enhanced learning has some reference to Connectivism. I thought I needed to have a better understanding of this new learning theory so here is my rough guide to connectivism.

Since the release of George Siemens’ Connectivism: Learning as Network Creation (2005) and Steven Downes’ An Introduction to Connected Knowledge (2005) a debate has developed about Connectivism. Whether it can be considered a new learning theory? and its relevance to understanding developments in technology enhanced learning. Siemens has explicitly responded that a new learning theory is need to due to the large and ever growing complexity of information available as a result of the web and digital communications.

In the connectivist model the starting point is a node, which is always part of a wider network. Nodes can vary in size and strength, they could be a person but equally could be a computer or a thing.  Knowledge is distributed across connections between the nodes in these networks. . It is whatever is created when information is sent from one entity to another entity. When information is sent from one entity to another it can change the state of the receiver. Knowledge therefore is not something that is acquired, it’s not something that’s a thing, rather it the growth and development of these connections between two or more things. In fact anything that can have connections, such as  a mind, a computer or  society can be a learning thing.

Also Knowledge is not ‘propositinal’, it is not composed of sentences:

“Where connectivism differs from those theories, I would argue, is that connectivism denies that knowledge is propositional. That is to say, these other theories are ‘cognitivist’, in the sense that they depict knowledge and learning as being grounded in language and logic. Connectivism is, by contrast, ‘connectivist’. Knowledge is, on this theory, literally the set of connections formed by actions and experience. It may consist in part of linguistic structures, but it is not essentially based in linguistic structures, …..In connectivism, there is no real concept of transferring knowledge, making knowledge, or building knowledge. Rather, the activities we undertake when we conduct practices in oeder to learn are more like growing or developing ourselves and our society in certain (connected) ways” (Downes 2007).

The set of connections in a network, the knowledge is not contained in the network but emerges out of it. Knowledge requires a perceiver, a knower. Therefore if you have two different perceivers they might see different things depending on their own knowledge. Learning and Knowledge are said to “rest in diversity of opinions” (Siemons, 2008, Para. 8) Therefore the validity and accuracy of this knowledge may change over time “The capacity to know is more critical than what is actually known” (Siemons 2008 para. 6)

Consequently there are two major objectives of connectivism

  1. How networks are grown and developed – how can we foster a network. If Downes and Siemons assertion that learning happens via the transition between nodes then it follows that to increase the level of learning we need to increase the properties of effective networks.
  2. It describes successful networks. Some are unreliable eg mob psychology

 

There are criticisms that there is nothing new about Connectivism. Kerr (2007) asserts that the relationship between ‘internal and external knowledge environments’ was accounted for in Vygotsky’s notion of social constructivism. Verhagen (2006) goes further in this regard suggesting that the main ideas of connectivism are already present in other established learning theories Students, still learn in ways that are explained by already established learning theories, even if they are now working in different (electronic) learning environments.

 

Kop and Hill (2008) point out that whilst Downes’ notions of effective learning are based fundamentally on recognising the properties inherent in networks, Siemens’ connectivist approach is essentially about cognitive development, and does not attempt to explain the socialisation processes inherent in the networked world. A common criticism of connectivism is the lack of supportive empirical research (Verhagen, 2006; Kop and Hill, 2008). Whilst Kop and Hill admit it would be difficult to apply Downes’ distributed knowledge theory to applied educational research, they suggest Siemens’ connectivism is “a ripe training ground for further studies” (p.?).

As Kop and Hill point out there are practical consequences of Siemens and Downe’s theory and the increasing influence of elearning. As Knowledge is grown, nutured or exercised; it is not constructed the role of the teacher will change. The teacher will either be to facilitate that knowledge transfer or the teacher’s role will disappear altogether. “People can move from a learning environment controlled by the tutor and the institution, to an environment where they direct their own learning, find their own information, and create knowledge by engaging in Networks away from the formal setting” (Kop and Hill 2008).

However, this can bring its own problems. As groups come together, they will tend to be like-minded people and without the role of the teacher who will point out the alternatives? A key question is: if the teacher is merely to play the role of facilitator who will provide the critical role in the discussions and dialogue? It also assumes a very high level of learner autonomy that is not present amongst a big proportion of learners.

Useful links:

Downes, S. (2005) An Introduction to Connected Knowledge. Available at http://www.downes.ca/post/33034.

 Downes, S., (2007. New Technology Supporting Informal Learning. Available at http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2009/04/new-technology-supporting-informal.html

 Kop, R. & Hill, P. (2008) Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past? Available at: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/523/1103

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