Connectivism – an umbrella or frame or?

Our Friday session about CCK08 triggered my mind to ponder connectivism generally. Jenny gathered many conception of George Siemens and Stephen Downes, please read her post Some notes about connectivism. I had read an article of Rita Kop and Adrian Hill in Rita’s blog. I did not notice it earlier and perhaps it is good, because I can now follow it better. I have made almost the same conclusions in my mind during last two years.

I have to use quotes because of my poor English. The writers and references are found in the article Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past? published 2008. The starting point was that Siemens and Downes initially received increasing attention in the blogosphere in 2005 when they discussed their ideas concerning distributed knowledge. The question was (as we  know )

Would a new theory that encompasses new developments in digital technology be more appropriate, and would it be suitable for other aspects of learning, including in the traditional class room, in distance education and e-learning?

Kerr (2007d) identifies two purposes for the development of a new theory: it replaces older theories that have become inferior, and the new theory builds on older theories without discarding them, because new developments have occurred which the older theories no longer explain. – These are questions I have been asking during my studies. At the beginning I thought we need a new theory, but now I am not sure.

Existing theories satisfactorily address the needs of learning in today’s technologically, connected age. Verhagen (2006) criticises connectivism as a new theory, primarily because he can distil no new principles from connectivism that are not already present in other  existingg learning theories.

Where connectivism draws its strength is through using Web-based activity as an example of learning looking through the connectivist lens.  The analogy is intuitive and powerful because of the ubiquitous use of the Internet in today’s world.  In addition, Downes (2006) has elucidated an epistemological framework for distributed knowledge which provides a strong philosophical basis for the connectivist learning framework. – Now in CritLit2010 we are participating in Stephen’s experiment (?) about new media as language: how linguistics help us to understand learning in digital Age. Right?

Kerr: no theory, including the connectivist model, sufficiently explains higher order thinking “as a mechanism spanning brain, perception and environment.”  He states that “knowledge is not learning or education.”  He challenges connectivism to explain “transferring understanding, making understanding and building understanding”, and the internal processes that lead to “deep thinking and creating understanding”.

I wonder if theories ever could explain human learning, it is so complex that it cannot be reached through neural network models or any neuroscience. I believe in Psychology which deals with human mind, identity, self-concept – this must be near Philosophy. Mathematics or linguistics cannot solve this problem 🙂

Verhagen (2006) sees that connectivism fits exactly at this level of pedagogy and curriculum rather than at the level of theory, since, in effect, people still learn in the same way, though they continue to adapt to the changing technological landscape.

Also the writers Rita Kop and Adrian Hill agree with pedagogical influences: A paradigm schift may be occuring in educational theory and a new epistemology may be emerging but it does not seem that connectivism’s contributions to the new paradigm warrant it being treated as a separate learn theory in and of its own right. it may help the schift in Pedagogy from tutoring to more autonomous learning.

At last I have to say that I implemented the new self-directive pedagogy in 1980’ies and didn’t need any connectivism to do it. Networking was the concept we used and networked learning still is the main concept I need. But connectivism is a lens or umbrella or … something like good practice for training networking skills.

After writing this out of my mind I can turn to our last week theme, semantics. It makes sense, I suppose 😉

I add a link to Maria’s post which includes some further discussion between three great men: Siemens, Snowden and Downes.

9 thoughts on “Connectivism – an umbrella or frame or?

  1. Since my exposure to the concept of ‘connectivism’ in 2007 I’ve wondered that it is more about pedagogy than learning theory. Thanks for your post, you cover many of the main criticisms of the argument that connectivism is a theory. Did you watch Downes’ presentation on the representative student? It is interesting that he seeks to differentiate himself from Siemens; Downes of course is the complex and Siemens is the simple, in his rendition.

    As I understand it, Downes is theorizing that the mind works the same way as networks. He bases this conclusion on the observable properties of networks, but I don’t understand how he makes this leap. Is it a leap of faith? Siemens’ theory (simple) seems more believable. What do you think?

  2. Hi Ken, I have noticed your critical, questioning mind many times.
    I suppose that Stephen wants a theory of his own – and used another concept in his presentation of Representative Student. It is not my job to tell what they think nowadays, but here is some discussion – Maria has analyzed that in her arenastudies (rhetoric, dialogical etc). Very interesting! I didn’t find Maria’s post but I have a note to it somewhere.

    Connectivism will live as an umbrella or lens .. not a theory. Perhaps it is a dream? Empirical evidence of CCK08 tells it is not working :[

  3. Hi Heli. Thank you for the reference post, I saw it a few weeks ago and found it quite interesting then, and enjoyed reading it again. I will have to have a look at Maria’s post if I can find it. I think your suppositions are very accurate. My view of this course is that Downes is attempting to prove some points and perhaps attain more disciples/weight for his assorted agendas. I think that the argument in favour of this ‘theory’ must be considered in light of the normative impact of the agendas involved, in the same way that other theories must be judged. In CCK08, while sometimes inflammatory, Catherine provided some interesting views on the intentions of the course facilitators. While considered extreme at times, I am of the opinion that there may be elements of truth in any statements made by anyone, therefore I don’t discount her views in totality either.

    I hope you keep asking your questions! Your mind is sharp, and your senses are finely tuned.


  4. I think that more attention should be put on the normative aspects of the ‘connectivism theory’ when we are attempting to understand what is meant by this ‘theory’. Downes emphasizes openness, autonomy, etc. and I think these are sought-after qualities as opposed to necessarily being absolute observable realities of networks. That is not to suggest that these qualities should not be sought after, but it is to suggest that these qualities are not necessarily the sine qua non of networks. Downes has proposed previously that they are the qualities of networks, but I don’t believe he has demonstrated this empirically sufficient to consider them intrinsic to networks.

    If these are also sought-after qualities of a pedagogy of connectivism, and when seen in combination with the statements made against current institutional methods of education, then the normative theory underlying the pedagogy of connectivism is more aligned with a democratic social ontology than with a learning theory. In other words, connectivism is not a theory, it is a political movement that seeks to democratize access to learning and move it away from a capitalistic institutional form. In this sense perhaps it is an umbrella for one manner of social change but I don’t believe it is an umbrella for learning theories in general.

  5. Hi Heli,
    Enjoyed reading your post and discussion with Ken. Here is my response
    So you are looking forward to conversation and feedback from Stephen. I won’t have that luxury as I have to sleep at 2:00 am in Elluminate. There are still plenty of avenues, though. I would be ” opaque” though, in this course (not being seen) better…. as I am just talking with a few of us around – Steve, Jenny, Maria, John, Ken, Roy, and Nicola (not revealed), Linda, Ruth, Matthias, and you and few others in and outside the media (Edwebb and Pat on Amplify those on Facebook)etc., so yes, we are talking amongst us only, with Daily as the link or aggregator with this course. Are you motivated? I am not you, so I can’t tell, but surely I am listening. But for me, as usual, I never looked back, or checking on whether my voice would have any echoes or not…. “struggling”? May be

  6. Good morning world and thanks to Ken and Sui Fai John about comments! It is very hot in Finland just now, I can study some hours in morning and some in evening, I begin to undestand day-rest cultures (siesta in Finnish).

    This discussion has been important to me (and Ken I suppose). I am always inquiry-oriented and pondering basics, what ever I do. I don’t know what was the phenomenom 2005-2008 when connectivism was found in blogoshere, it could be analyzed sociologically, as a normative phenomenom – has somebody done it? How this movement will continue, nobody can predict it. It is not only leaders job to tell it, we can all decide how this continues. We have got an possibility to be connected – as John tells in his list – it is our task to know how we use the connections. Better to be connected than isolated, do u agree?
    My post deals both Rita Kop (article 2008) and Steven but I don’t want to push anybody to answer. I am looking forward to find mine.
    That’s a cultural difference between John and me: I am pondering what and why, John can take things “as such” and look forward to future. I have my Zen book Tao-Te-King (like it) but I am an active and independent Finnish woman 🙂 John is always polite, I speak directly, I am polite when I do so: connectivism needs critics, it is worth criticizing.

  7. Hi Heli,

    A few thoughts on connectivism below. Be interested in what you think of the notion of externalisation.

    I have struggled with “IS CONNECTIVISM A LEARNING THEORY”, like all on the CCK08 course (and i am not as experienced or as well versed as many others in the connectivist debate, and i welcome my own views being scrutinised and critiqued), but i am coming around to the view that yes it is a new learning theory that is amplified with the advent of the internet, but the key thing for me is that i think the case can be answered that internally we do (can) think and therefore learn connectively i.e we connect things in our minds.

    Secondly the other key issue that George has highlighted is that all other psychological theories focus on internalisation (learning that goes on inside us) whereas connectivism asserts that learning is achieved through externalisation, which ties in nicely with John and his view that we learning by sharing not only resources, but our ideas and thoughts.

    Some of my thoughts on connectivism


  8. Interesting comment, thanks Steve
    Yes, we learn connectively and connect things in our minds. It is said in every learning theory, I can’t see internet changes anything. More overloading and problems in selections, but else. Abundance has always been, more knowledge than human mind can stand.

    It is not true that other learning theories focus on internalisation. All theories see the meaning of externalisation and shared knowledge is found long time ago.
    Thanks for links, I should have read them before answering but I did not. Stupid me. I took the link to your dissertation, too and I will read it some day. And i do not stop asking questions, I only do not trust George or Stephen any more, first I supposed that they know what they are speaking about..
    I appreciate your comment

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