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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Connectivism - Legitimate Learning theory?

Bill Kerr in critiquing connectivism initially offered that a good learning theory should:
  1. contribute to a theory/practice spiral of curriculum / learning reform,provide
  2. a significant new perspective about how we see learning happening
  3. represent historical alternatives accurately
his ongoing views can be read at

Bijdrage van Pløn Verhagen concluded that the ideas that George Siemens had about connectivism were more to do with a pedagogical approach rather than a theory of learning and as such suggests that his theories should be considered at the curriculum level, rather than at the instructional level, where learning theory should be considered.

In reading through George Siemens response to Bijdrage van Pløn Verhagen's critique i am trying to establish in my own mind the legitimacy of connectivism as a new learning theory. I don't expect to do that at this one sitting, but i shall make a start here.

Firstly to say with regard to Kerr's three points about good learning theory, i am not sure exactly what the first point alludes to, the third point i need to review to see what George Siemens has claimed for alternative learning theories and whether this concurs with others general view in the field. It is the second point that i think i can start an argument in favour of connectivism as a learning theory. NB: I do intend to research what others say that a good learning theory should contain to test the validity of this criteria.

With regard point two above, connectivism it would seem does provide a significant new perspective about how we see learning happening.

George Siemens states "We are social beings. Through language, symbols, video, images, and other means, we seek to express our thoughts. Essentially, our need to derive and express meaning, gain and share knowledge, requires externalization."

George Siemens points out that connectivism sees the aim/function of learning to be social. In order to learn, to make meaning we need to socialize, interact and collaborate - to do this we need to externalize our thoughts, feelings and ideas. The process of externalizing will confirm understanding, provide feedback and thus consolidate and confirm the acquisition of knowledge that an individual has constructed.

He goes on to say that " Most existing theories of learning assume the opposite, stating that internalization is the key function of learning (cognitivism assumes we process information internally, constructivism asserts that we assign meaning internally�though the process of deriving meaning may be a function of a social network, i.e. the social dimension assists in learning, rather than the social dimension being the aim of learning)."

The following paragraph from George Siemens offers a view on how externlization fits into the connectivism learning theory

"While the external environment is critical, both Vygotsky and Wittgenstein mistook the environment for the space in which thought gains life, when in reality, the external environment is an additional space for knowledge, thought, expression, and reflection. As an extension of humanity, the external is in itself a space in which we exist�rather than an environment in which our words find existence. When objects and other external entities are viewed as extension of humanity, the notion of learning as a network formation process becomes more palatable. If knowledge exists in external structures of similar nature, as it exists physically within our minds (distributed, neurologically), then it is possible to ascribe knowledge and learning attributes to the distributed nature of networks formed between people."

George Siemens on understanding learning:

"We are growing in our understanding of learning. Research in neuroscience, theories of social-based learning, and developments in learning psychology create new understanding of the act, and process, of learning. As Downes (2006) stated,

Learning�occurs in communities, where the practice of learning is the participation in the community. A learning activity is, in essence, a conversation undertaken between the learner and other members of the community. This conversation, in the web 2.0 era, consists not only of words but of images, video, multimedia and more. This conversation forms a rich tapestry of resources, dynamic and interconnected, created not only by experts but by all members of the community, including learners. (Network Pedagogy section, � 6)"

Important other elements to review from George Siemens article are:

  • Emerging Philosophy of Knowledge, Learning, and KnowingWhat
  • What Makes Connectivismvism a Theory?

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