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Connectivism Blog

Connectivism is a learning theory for the digital age.

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November 2006 Archives

November 15, 2006

Connectivism vs. constructivism

Yesterday, during the SURF conference in Utrecht, Netherlands, I presented on Connectivism. Toward the end of the session, a gentleman inquired how connectivism differed from other theories of learning. His statement, in essence, was that other individuals have posited notions of knowledge residing outside of people...and in networks (I believe he referenced Bereiter and Wenger). What, he asked is different about connectivism than exists in these other models?...and Why don't you mention the competition?.

While I don't recall the exact words I used (it was recorded, so I'll follow the video once it's online). I think I gave a bit of a misleading (or for myself, unsatisfactory) answer in stating that connectivism is not really new (the parts of it aren't new, the particular formation of components is - but I think everything in life fits into that model). First, I have not thought in antogonistic lines as competition in terms of learning theory. I've thought more along the lines of relevance. I did state, however, that "there's nothing new under the sun". People have been learning in social, networked ways since recorded history. Not much new here. What is new, however, is that more and more of our knowledge is of the nature that it is required to be held in distributed manner.

For me - call it whatever you want - connectivism, social constructivism, navigationism (pick your own)...learning today must be seen as social, knowledge distributed across a network, capacity enhanced by enlarging the network, learning/knowledge as multi-faceted and complex, incorporating technology, etc. I'm generally not in a mood to argue against other learning theories (though, at times, it's required simply to achieve a frame of reference). I'm much more interested in arguing for effective learning representative of what learners require in order to stay current today. Evangelizing connectivism is a secondary concern as compared with discussing effective, relevant, "sustainable" learning.

The challenge involves creating models in order to cope with information overload and complexity. For example, ineffective models of learning function are not noticed for their weakness when they are not under pressure. When, as we are seeing today, the climate of knowledge and information changes, then the weaknesses of those structures are more pronounced. Connectivism is simply about forming connections - between people and with technolgy. Constructivism, for example, relies on social dimensions of learning as a means of internalizing knowledge - i.e. in the end, constructivist knowledge ends up largely situated in a persons mind, while using the social space as a means to mediate and define the knowledge.

Perhaps the real challenge I have with constructivism - and I've mentioned this before - is that it has so many flavors. It's very challenging to discuss what we cannot at least partially define. Setting up the context for discussion relating to constructivism is key - I've answered too many questions on constructivism only to find it morphing as we become more involved in the discussion. Henceforth, first give me your definition of constructivism...and then perhaps we can talk about areas of similarity or areas of conflict :).

November 20, 2006

Two thoughts

Two thoughts, relating to how learning is changing, have been the focus of my thinking over the last several days.

First - "Content is a conduit for conversation". Content - in classrooms, newspapers, or mainstream media - is intended to be consumed, passively, by the end user. We read newspapers, and beyond sending a letter to the editor, we are largely not engaged. We read and reflect on what someone else has written. When we purchase music or a movie, we are again passively engaged - involved, but not contributing. Classrooms are similar… to varying degrees - the instructor lectures, learners listen. Now it is unrealistic to expect that all learners want to be highly engaged. Many of quite content to listen to a song, and have no desire to contribute to it...but they may have a desire directly engage with the artist. Or after viewing a movie, they may desire to connect with others in order to carry on dialogue (besides Snakes on a Plane :) ).

We are much more active in our content - we desire the ability to move beyond content and toward conversation. In our world today, content is a conduit for conversation. We use content not as an end, but as a means to a greater end - often connecting with others. 43 Things does this does U of Manitoba's Virtual Learning Commons...or other sites like,, and flickr's tag cloud. Each one of these sites adopts an approach to content that is in keeping with how people view content today - not something to be consumed, but rather, something to be discussed. Content is not an end itself, but a means to forming connections with others. I wonder how well we understand this as educators when we design our courses...

Second - "The more complex our knowledge spaces, the more we must rely on technology to present patterns". As I stated in Knowing Knowledge, things have changed in the context and characteristics of knowledge. The abundance of what we encounter on a daily basis requires that we "off-load" onto a network of people and technology. We are not able to "keep it all in our heads". Technology plays a particularly valuable role in presenting emerging patterns. Consider the link to flickr's tag cloud. In order to gain an understanding of what people are talking about, as evidenced in their tagging habits, I would have to review an enormous amount of photos. Instead, flickr provides a cloud of what people are doing/talking about. Instead of trying to recognize what's happening, we can move toward "what does it mean". The same holds true for sites like digg - where the aggregate of many activities provides an overview for what individuals are doing, thinking, or talking about.

Knowing Knowledge

I've completed a book "Knowing Knowledge" - available here for purchase or a free .pdf download. Much of what I've been discussing with connectivism in this forum is explored in the particular, the notion that knowledge and learning are less product-based today, and more process-based. Change is so rapid in most fields today that we don't have time for knowledge to "harden" before it is amended or revised by new discoveries. Let me know if you have any thoughts on the book...

November 21, 2006

Criticism of connectivism

Diversity is critical to learning. When we learn and understand in a vacuum, void of appropriate context - or lack of awareness of the ideas that "book end" critical ideas - we suffer for it in terms of our ability to conceptualize and see an entire discipline.

Over the last few weeks, I've encountered numerous posts critical of connectivism as a learning theory - some authors suggest that I don't understand social constructivism, others question my assertions, and still others wonder if a new theory of learning is actually needed. Here are some posts critical of connectivism that you may find valuable in shaping your own conception of learning:

Bill Kerr: the network is not god: Richard Dawkins once said that there is such a thing as becoming so open minded that your brains fall out. George seems to be falling into a similar trap, becoming so enamoured with the power of the network, to the point of denying the importance of the individual and the learning that occurs inside "our heads"."
(Bill has the starting point of a nice wiki on learning theory)

Pløn Verhagen: Connectivism: a new learning theory?: "The questions that Siemens presents are not to be placed at the instructional level, but at the level of the curriculum. The instructional level deals with how learning takes place, and learning theories are relevant at that level. The level of the curriculum is concerned with what is learned and why. At that level Siemens' connectivism represents his views on a structured development of knowledge that fits the current times and the kind of information skills that pupils should acquire for this. Siemens finds shortcomings in the learning theories that are focussed on the learning processes of the individual. In this Siemens makes a mistake because he finds fault at the curriculum level with theories that do not belong at that level."

"Connectivism" Interesting, Not Sure It's a Learning Theory: "I am not sure we can really call it a learning theory. Siemens defines learning as "actionable knowledge" but this is using learning as a noun. Learning is a verb! Learning is the acquisition of actionable knowledge, not the knowledge itself. Think of learning in this way and it presents several problems for connectivism as a learning theory."

Patricia Deubel: The Value of Connectivism: "I was intrigued by his theory, but wondered: Does his theory have merit? Do we need another theory of learning? Is anyone buying into this? How is it different from constructivism, which also raised my eyebrows when I first learned about it way back when?" (this article does end up speaking favorably of connectivism)

Chill Out George: "The ordinary punter in the street doesn't care if we classify connectivism as a theory or not. Perhaps it is important for Georges' own self worth and his acceptance within the traditional education community, but from an ordinary e-learning practitioners point of view, this type of debate is one reason why the traditional model of education has failed to keep up with the changes in society - it doesn't talk about the learners, or the needs of the learners, it talks about the gate keepers of education and the needs of the gate keepers of education."

Wilfred Rubens - the article is in Dutch...the conclusion essentially states that connectivism "sells" (as a name? an idea?) and that is the reason for the interest it has attracted.

If you are aware of articles or resources critical of connectivism, please post a link in the comments (I moderate comments to avoid it might take a few hours before your comment is posted).

I am in the process of putting together an online conference on connectivism (and learning theories in general) in early February...and I would like to ensure that voices critical on connectivism are heard.

February 2008

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