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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Connectivism - My Position (CCK08: Paper 1)

Is it a new theory of learning? Or is the concept of theory distracting?
In establishing connectivism as a learning theory, the nub of the question becomes does connectivism describe a way of learning or is it more of a prescriptive teaching strategy that embraces other already established learning theories as suggested by Kerr (2007). Prior to the CCK08 2008 MOOC, whether connectivism was a learning theory or not was largely irrelevant for me and was very much a distraction in the early MOOC debates. It has become more important to me to establish that connectivism is indeed a new learning theory as it gives credence to connectivist approaches to learning.

My position at this stage is that connectivism is a new theory of learning for the following reasons:

1) the concept of learning by externalisation of knowledge, ideas and opinions. Externalisation is not emphasised in the three main psychological theories of behaviourism, cognivitism or constructivism to any great extent and although the social learning theories of Bandura (1977) and Vygotsky (1962) recognise the value of social interaction the focus is still on the internal mental processes of learning. The importance of externalizing by either verbal conversations and presentations, writing through blogs, forums, articles, books etc or through a multimedia art form has no primary emphasis, as would be the case in connectivism.

2) The proposed internal mental process of learning would appear to be a new way of understanding how we learn. The network model of learning that underpins the connectivist philosophy of learning can be easily recognised, when used externally in the current Web 2.0 world, where strong networks and random connections facilitate incidental learning. The conversations of Parslow (2008) in the CCKO8 Moodle forum discussion and the paper by Downes (2006) which emphasizes making meaning through connections have helped to convince me that internally that there are mental processes that work in a connective way that enable us to learn. I am not saying the connective way is an exclusive way of learning and I do not discount cognitive or constructivist descriptions of the internal learning process, although I am still to work through the differences between the mental processes.

What are the weaknesses of connectivism as formulated in this course?
I described my view of connectivism in email correspondence with a fellow CCK08 learner as the end game in autonomous, self directed learning. Extrapolating out from this viewpoint I believe the weakness of connectivism could be conceived as: For those learners new to connectivist learning techniques and/or the specific subject matter that connectivist learning could be confusing, bewildering, lonely and frustrating. In the early stages of connectivist learning, students (and teachers) need to be guided and assisted as outlined by Phelps (2003):

“From my reading this semester I know that there is a massive push towards empowering all students to be self-directed learners... I feel that learners need to know how to own their own learning, but that this does not come automatically, and teachers themselves need a lot of help in altering how they teach to achieve this aim”. Phelps (2003, para #34)

What are the strengths?
The undoubted strengths are that the ‘world is your oyster’. With connectivist learning skills and attitudes, learners will become knowledgeable more quickly and with relevance to immediate needs. They will be able to help not only help themselves, but help others also. Just as important as the practical advantage of living in an era where connections via the web is now so very easy (for those in developed countries anyway) is the mentality. Once a learner embraces the value in connecting and externalizing the more opportunities, be that learning, social or career will present themselves. Prior to my awareness of connectivism, I would say “the more doors you knock on the more chances you have of making something happen”.

Does connectivism resonate with your learning experiences? If so, how?

Most definitely. I started an MA by Independent Study in the summer of 2006 and have just completed (successfully J). My focus was the use of Interactive and Collaborative technology to enhance adult distance learning. Prior to the course I was vaguely aware of ‘Web 2.0’ and did not know of connectivism as a learning theory. My study can be characterised by a connectivist approach to learning, I attended no formal lessons and my learning was achieved by connecting to people and resources, through practical experience, reflecting on my experiences and connections and having an interested and approachable supervisor who I could discuss things with on a face to face basis from time to time.

What are your outstanding questions?
Need further reading and connecting to truly convince myself of the validity of connectivism as a learning theory. I need to read up more on other theories to appreciate the differences.


DOWNES (2006) Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge Retrieved [23/10/08]

KERR (2007) a challenge to connectivism Learning Evolves Wiki Retrieved [23/10/08]

PARSLOW, P. (2008) Re: Social Constructivism vs. Connectivism
by Pat Parslow - Monday, 15 September 2008, 02:34 AM CCK08 Moodle Forum Discussion Retrieved [23/10/08]

PHELPS, R. (2003) Developing Online From Simplicity toward Complexity: Going with the Flow of Non-Linear Learning
Retrieved [23/10/08]

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Conversations (Connectivism in Action)

To steal a catchphrase from an old famous UK Comedian Max Bygraves, I want to tell you a story….

It all started 48 hours ago and a conversation with the new girl in the coffee shop at the train station on how her real profession was working with adults who have autism. Bang – this simultaneously fired up a couple of synaptic pathways within my mind. I’m thinking “connecting”, trying to connect with people with autism that’s great, maximum respect; I’m thinking “awakenings”, Robin Williams, what a great film that highlights this issue. – I had not seen the film for 15-20 years, but on an emotional, affective level that has been lodged well and truly deep into my memory (or is that a synaptic node).

Fast forward 24 hours, I am on the train now and I bump into an occasional train travelling acquaintance, we always tend to have interesting conversations. I get talking to him about connectivism – he has never heard of it, but likens it to in his words Hagel’s ‘ideological dialectic’ where we learn from a thesis and antithesis, and then a synthesis of the two positions.

I’d explained that connectivism works on two levels; internally in our brains and externally in how we interact with the world. Our conversation continued during which time he brought up the subject of autism and how maybe connectivism as a new learning theory may have something to offer in helping those with autism. After a few questions from me to extrapolate the idea, we settled on the notion of developing some connectivist techniques that could be applied in order to provoke some ‘connection’.

And my point is…

Over the last couple of years through my formal and informal learning, I have come to appreciate the value for learning purposes in connecting, socializing, and externalizing more so than ever. As I grapple with the arguments as to why connectivism may not be a new learning theory, I thought my story above illustrates some noteworthy points about connectivism and gives me a base from which to look more deeply into connectivism as a learning theory.

What have I learnt about connectivism
Well this to me is a powerful example of networks influencing my learning. Previously my view of connectivism was strongly influenced by the Internet as the catalyst that makes connectivism relevant as a learning theory of the digital age and I still believe that to be true. However what these brief encounters have done is to reinforce some underlying principles related to networks and learning. I now realize that I have a very powerful informal network that aids my learning every working day. My informal network of occasional travelling companions includes teachers, lawyers, graphic designers, students, nurses, secretaries, retirees and many more different types and through our conversations, like the one a recanted above I am always learning. I am becoming more aware of strong/ weak networks and strong/weak ties.

Emotional weighting and synaptic nodes
Now to my memory of the film “awakenings”. The way I view this is that if this memory is stored in a synaptic node. Then I believe that stored within this node is not only memory of the node, but that this node also has an emotional ‘weighting’, that keeps this node strong and alive and ready to be called upon when required. Nodes without an emotional ‘weighting’ will wither and die. Need to explore this notion further.

More emotion
Although my travelling acquaintance is in many ways a weak tie in a weak network, I have had a strong personal connection in our conversation and his description of Hagel’s ‘ideological dialectic’, I know already has a strong emotional weighting and will be a strong node .

So this emphasises for me that emotional connectedness is an important part of learning.

Add me to your network

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