#cck11 Hope for Connectivism as a Theory for the Future

These are 3 things I’m thinking about in regards to theory in psychology, education and for evaluating Connectivism as an educational theory that can provide a pathway to the future.

  1. The difference between reducible physical objects and non-reducible psychological properties.
  2. The hermeneutic nature of cognition and theory’s conceptual role in hermeneutically informed science.
  3. Recent criticisms of connectivism as a standalone theory that I think it should be judged within a wider field of educational theory.

Social Action is not Reducible to Individual Behavior: The Complex Emergent Variable Field of Social Science

This continues a previous conversation with Alan Cooper about the nature of theories and educational theories.  See here and here for that conversation.

First, start with an example of the development of communication between mother and child (From Vygotsky, need reference) .  The child randomly grasps for an object, but the mother interprets this as intended communication to obtain the object.  Overtime, the mother helps the child formulate efficient communicative actions by presenting objects and interacting with the child to refine the resulting communicative acts.  This demonstrates the social genesis and nature of communicative action.  Neurology is not the only foundation of action.  Communicative action also functions at a higher social level. You will never see the complete neurological correlates of social behavior because it involves the neurology and practices of other people.   Social action is not reducible to individual behavior.

This is also just one example that shows why the variable fields social and educational research are so diverse.  Natural science is able with some success to reduce experiments to a narrow field of variables, but in ways that are not available to social sciences.  This does not mean that education and social science research is not possible or valid.  It is just that it cannot operate within the same standards for validity as natural science research.  Validity is an integrative evaluative judgement of the degree of support for research.  Standards cannot be established a-priori, but must fit a situated holistic understanding of the method, intentions and variable field in which the research is operating.

Digging Deeper: The Hermeneutics of Psychology and Education

But during the 60s (Paul) Ricoeur concluded that properly to study human reality one had to combine phenomenological description with hermeneutic interpretation. For hermeneutics, whatever is intelligible is accessible to us in and through language and all deployments of language call for interpretation.  Paul Ricoeur Entry in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

First Aspects of Hermeneutics: Our Horizon, Our Prejudice and Our Ability to Change

Our field of interpretation is often referred to, through a vision metaphor, as our horizon.  This horizon represents our field of experience.  The object we interpret stands in this field and we compare and contrast it to our experiential field to make our interpretations.  It is both our horizon and the basis of our prejudice, the preconceptions that we bring to any interpretive task.  These preconception are the horizon with which we see or interpret any subject or object.  Our horizons are not static, but are ever changing.  They change in the process of fusing different horizons.  The primary work of interpretation to take something alien and interact with it in a way to expand our context of meaning.  What first appears alien can later be understood as a function of our initial perspective or prejudice.  (Note – Prejudice in this usage is about all preconceptions not just bigotry)

Second Aspect of Hermeneutics: The Dialectic Between Part and Whole

The hermeneutic circle expresses the central idea that interpreting any text (or experience) is by reference to the whole, whether it be a body of texts, a discipline or the whole of one’s experience.  In turn, one’s experience (our horizon) is made up of other experiences and texts.  No idea, project or theory can be understood by itself, but only in reference to other ideas, theories and projects.  While this does presupposes no ultimate or final interpretation, is does not preclude the ability to make judgements about the validity of interpretations.

The Hermeneutics of Theory

Theory, like any concept, cannot be understood except as a reference to a wider conceptual field.  This mean convergent and divergent differences with other theories as well as it’s position relative to broader intellectual movements and by considering lower level concepts that can be juxtaposed and compared with the concepts of other theories.  Therefore, evaluating the validity of connectivism involves (1) situating it within broader intellectual movements, (2) by comparing it’s structure and concepts to the structure and concepts of other theories, and (3) by evaluating conceptual parts of the theory for comprehensiveness and consistency.

How do reviews of Connectivism fit within this evaluation framework and what theories and movements would I consider relevant for evaluating Connectivism.  I’ll leave those questions for future posts.  I am looking for the pragmatic ability to peer into the future.  This is the future question posed by John Hagel at Edge Perspective:

(H)ow do we embed teams in increasingly rich platforms that will scale by encouraging the formation of  more and more teams. How do we then motivate and help these teams to connect with and learn from each other? What would these platforms look like?  . . . a pathway that is pragmatic and provides short-term value while also building the foundations for much more powerful long-term learning and performance improvement.

This is the next killer app. for education.  How do we create knowledge flows, the pragmatic web, the places that bring everyone together in increasingly empowering ways?  I don’t think that existing theories can foot that bill.  And we can’t wait 25 years for traditional theoretical development pathways to work their magic.  This is the hope I have for this Connectivism journey.

Validated Methodological Operationism: Improve Analytics by Validating Your Operations

Many measured processes can be improved by validating your process operations.  This is true whether your are talking about business, experimental, or educational processes.

A New View Of Operationism

Interesting read on operationism by Uljana Feest – (2005)  Operationalism in Psychology: What the Debate is About, What the Debate Should Be About [Journal of the History of Behavioral Sciences, 41(2) 131-149].

The basic gist: Psychologist’s historical use of operationalism was methodological rather the positivist (even though they may have referenced positivism for philosophical cover).  So criticizing operationism using positivist arguments is somewhat misguided, but operations can be criticized through validation arguments.

What does Feest mean by a methodological reading of operationism?

. . . I mean that psychologists did not intend to say, generally, what constitutes the meaning of a scientific term.  . . . in offering operational definitions, scientists were partially and temporarily specifying their usage of certain concepts by saying what kind of empirical indicators they took to be indicative of the referents of the concepts (p. 133).

She concludes by saying:

. . . the debate should then be about what are adequate concepts and how (not whether) to operationalize them, and how (not whether) to validate them (p.146).

So any debate about operationism is really about constructs and their validation.  Within this framework, I will list 4 specific types of operationism.

Positivists, Empirist Operationism

This idea can be represented by Percy Bridgman’s original conception of operationsim

in general, we mean by a concept nothing more than a set of operations; the concept is synomonous with the corresponding set of operations (Bridgeman, P.[1927]. The logic of Modern Physics, Macmillan:NY. p.5).

The biggest problem with this approach is that any set of operations can never be said to exhaust the entirety of meaning in any construct, a position that is also supported by cognitive psychology’s understanding of cognitive processes in the meaning and use of concepts (Andersen, H., Barker, P & Chen, X. (2006). The Cognitive Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Cambridge University Press).

Methodological Operationism

The idea that operations are the empirical indicators of the construct (Feest).

Naive Pragmatic Operationism

Regardless with how you conceive of a construct, within any measured process, no matter if that process is an experimental, business or any other process that is controlled by measures, those measurement operations are methodologically defining that construct in the function of that process.  If you throw any measure in place without determining how and why you are using that measure, you are operating in the same fashion as any operationists in the positivist empiricist mode and you are subject to the same kinds of problems.  Garbage in = garbage out; this is the real potential problem with this approach.  There are many business process that do not meet their expectations and those problems can be traced back to poor quality measurements whose construct are not appropriately operationalized.

Validated Methodological Operationism

This represents measured processes whose operations are clear and whose quality and validity has been adequately evaluated.


Feest references the gap between qualitative and quantitative research as being about operationism.  I believe this is incorrect.  Operationism is about construct validity (unified theory).  Criticism of qualitative research is usually about research validity (a different validity) and the value of different research purposes.

#cck11 – The Role of Theory in the Human and Learning Sciences

This post is in response to Alan in the cck discussion forum, Learning Theories in CCK11.  It has mostly to do with how theories in learning and the human sciences differ from the natural or physical sciences.

I believe Alan’s assertions are right, that in terms of practice, theory in the social and human sciences plays a very different role than in the physical sciences. But, explaining this is getting me into the intellectual deep end of the pool – so, I’m going to fall back on the thoughts of others, specifically John Shotter, from his book: Cultural Politics of Everyday Life (1993, University of Toronto Press).

(W)e say our theories are true theories if the predictions we derive from them match  or ‘picture’ the outcomes of the processes we study.  So, although we can bring off some quite spectacular results in the sciences, it is just in terms of such results, not the whole structure of a theory . . .  Our knowledge, as Quine (1953)* said later, “is a man-made fabric which impinges on experience only along the edges”. (Shotter p.74)

Two points: (1) This assertion is debatable, and although the social and the hard sciences share the problem space laid out here,  you can also say that this argument is superfluous in the hard sciences in terms of everyday normal scientific activity.  (2) But from the social or human sciences, this type of problem is much more of an issue.  In my experience, Skinner’s behavioral methods, while successful in the predictive sense, were most unsatisfying because of how dissimilar it was to normal experience.  In a sense, behavioral methods did not match with the complexity of experiential life, nor did they respond to what seemed to be most pressing in an ethical sense.

(T)he human sciences now appear to be increasingly irrelevant to our times,  to the pressing social issues of the day.  For they are quintessentially products of a moment in the history of the West, the Modern Age (Foucault, 1970), that is now passing, if not already over. (Shotter, p.1)

(A)s we begin to confront the others in the world around us as genuine others who possess an otherness worthy of our interest and respect (unlike the indistinguishable atoms in a natural science), so our ways of knowing must begin (and have begun) to diversify.  Now we need to know the nature of the backgrounds, the different forms of life from which our different ways of knowing emerge.  . . . It is to do with the fact that we have failed to grasp not only what it is that we must theorize here, but what the task of theory in this sphere is like.  Indeed as Taylor (1987:477) remarks: “We cannot turn the background from which we think into an object for us.  The task of reason has to be conceived quite differently.”  It must now be seen “as including – alongside the familiar forms of the enlightenment – a new department, whose excellence consists in our being able to articulate the background of our lives perspicuously” (Taylor, 1987: 480-1)** (Shotter, pp.2-3)

So what is the background of which he speaks.  Much of it is shared and social, such as how we use language, common social practices, shared ways of understanding and the openness of everyday life that allows us to find joint ways of creatively working together.  To a great extent, I believe that making satisfactory progress in psychology was stymied by (1) jumping to empirical explanations before adequate description had been achieved (in the behavioral period) and (2) by ascribing behavior to individual mental processes before adequate description (in the cognitive period).  In the first case the wrongly held assumption was that empirical predictive findings would lead to correct theory without having an underlying framework to organize our empirical facts.  In the second case, the wrongly held assumption was that all behavior was caused by cognition, when much behavior emerges out things like people interacting, social norms, common practices, socially based habits and the like.  In the first case facts cannot lead us to theory.  In the second case theory cannot organize our facts unless theory and facts operate in an emergent dialectical fashion, each shaping the other.  Speaking further of relationships, Shotter states:

(T)he unsatisfactory state of ‘theory’ in the understanding of what a personal relationship ‘is’, does not arise out of a continual failure to formulate ‘the correct’ theory, but that it arises out of a failure to understand what ‘theory’ in this area should be like.  . . . we can perhaps see that theory in the natural sciences and theory in the understanding and study of personal relationships must differ fundamentally (p. 184).

Shotter goes on to assert that theory in fact plays a very different role in something like the study of relationships.

(F)or we do not want ot predict (or control) behavior but to see the ‘connections’ between things, thus to understand what in the circumstances we ought to do (p. 185).

*Two Dogmas of Empiricism. In From a Logical Point of View. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

**Overcoming Epsitomology. In K. Baynes, J Bohman & T. McCarthy (eds) After Philosophy; End or Transformation? Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

#CCK11 – Does Connectivism Help Us Face Modern Super-Complexity

Are you confused by all the different theories of learning?  Welcome to the ailments of the world of modernity.  This is the subject of an interesting article: University Knowledge in an Age of Supercomplexity by Ronald Barnet.  In this article he states:

The modern world is supercomplex in character: it can be understood as a milieu for the proliferation of frameworks by which we might understand the world, frameworks that are often competing with each other.  In such an age of supercomplexity, the university has new knowledge functions: to add to supercomplexity by offering completely new frames of understanding (so compounding supercomplexity); to help us comprehend and make sense of the resulting knowledge mayhem; and to enable us to live purposefully amid supercomplexity.

In other words, the variety of perspectives (theories) creates supercomplexity.  New perspectives (theories) are still needed, but instead of making things even worse by only adding to complexity,  they should recognize supercomplexity and should be constructed in a way to help us make sense of and live purposely amid this complexity.  Barnet calls it a therapeutic pedagogy offering:

(A) purposive equilibrium in the face of radical uncertainty and contestability.  . . . It does so by allowing space for meanings to come from within the person.

A therapeutic pedagogy offers a chance of recovering the self.  It looks back to that which was suppressed (by radical uncertainty) but also looks forward to new realizations of being.

So my question is;

does connectivism help us to make sense of all the different ideas on learning and education, or is it just another source of complexity and uncertainty?

Barnet does help by giving us a list of epistemological requirements for future frameworks.

An age of supercomplexity, accordingly, calls for nothing less from the university than an epistemology for uncertainty. It has, as we have seen, four elements:

  1. The capacity for revolutionary reframing;

  2. The capacity for critical interrogation of all claimants for knowledge and understanding;

  3. The capacity for enabling individuals to feel at ease in an uncertain world

  4. The capacity for developing powers of critical action.

Managing Relationships, Supporting Performance

Interesting NY Times opinion piece today that extends my recent posts on validity and performance management.  It is entitled: Why Your Boss Is Wrong About You, By Samuel Culbert.  In that article he states:
In my years studying (performance) reviews, I’ve learned that they are subjective evaluations that measure how “comfortable” a boss is with an employee, not how much an employee contributes to overall results.
Samuel Culbert in this statement leads us to believe the problem with performance reviews is their subjective nature.  From a measurement perspective I believe this is incorrectly stated.  The problem is one of validity, that performance measurements typically measure the bosses level of  comfort with an employee, not their performance.  Greater objectivity will not help us if comfort is still the construct being measured.  Instead we must look at validity.
Culbert proposes a performance preview process as an alternative.
It’s something I call the performance preview. Instead of top-down reviews, both boss and subordinate are held responsible for setting goals and achieving results. . . . bosses are taught how to truly manage, and learn that it’s in their interest to listen to their subordinates to get the results . . . “Tell me your problems as they happen; we’re in it together and it’s my job to ensure results.” . . . . It encouraged supervisors to act as coaches and mentors.  . . . But understand that the performance review makes it nearly impossible to have the kind of trusting relationships in the workplace that make improvement possible.
This preview process may be a good idea in and of itself, but it does not logically get at the root problem.  Measurement within this new process can have just as many validity problems as the old process.  This is why validity is important.
Two additional things I’m thinking:
Culbert doesn’t quite get there, but I sense he is looking at something like Action Analytics, measurement tied to real-time feedback that can support performance while performance is still in formation.  Instead of measurement in the service of performance review it is measurement in the service of performance support.
The second thought is this.  The central point in Culbert’s process is trust between an employee and a boss, that is, a management relationship.  This is the central construct in successful management and it may be important to measure.
This leads me to an interesting final conclusion and maybe a management axiom:
In managing people, we management relationships, but support their performance.