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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]


EQ said...

Hi Steve,
I read your article with great interest. I share your views on connectivism. And I am looking towards the philosophy (science and art) of connectivism rather than just the sceintific validation.
How do you see the implications of connectivism in adult education (not just learning)?
Renewed thanks for such great post.

Steve Mackenzie said...

Hi eq,

thanks for your comments. Difficult to give a simple answer :-), but there can only be positives to me Teachers that 'feel it' are important - they are needed to enthuse and educate. Those learners that get it (and the majority will eventually) will find connectivist learning invaluable). I believe it can enhance local groups, but obviously allow for connection to people worldwide that share an interest.

Sui Fai John Mak said...

Hi Steve,
I hope you know that it is me Sui Fai John Mak in the pal name of EQ when I left my comments on your post.
At that time, I wasn't sure whether an avatar would be better in online learning. Now, I realise the importance of persona, and being an authentic self in social networks, and in expressing our inner voice courageously, backed up with reasons, and logical claims. Do you see any significant changes in your views on connectivism as a learning theory?

Steve Mackenzie said...

Hi John,

I did not realize. Your all at it :-). I will read up on your recent posts and feedback more on connectivism. You give us plenty to think about - thank you.

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