#cck11 Connectivism is a Retroactive Theory to Previous Learning Theories

Mike Dillon asks:

“(H)ow connectivism fits into the scheme of how we learn and how we educate” and states “there is obviously the debate about whether or not it can stand as an independent learning theory”.

I believe that most successful new theories are, as Mike says, retroactive, in that they arise to address what previous theories were unable to address while also explaining the same phenomena that the previous theory addressed. The problem with most learning theories is that the discipline is so conservative. People hang on to their perspective and moving on very slowly.   It what Thomas Kuhn described when he noted that many paradigms change not because people change their minds, but because they retire.  A second reason things appear complicated is that the field does not move in a strict linear fashion.  We still haven’t seen the end of people reinterpreting John Dewey.

I find connectivism most closely resembles the Vygotskian Social-Cultural School. Vygotsky addressed the inadequacies of behaviorism directly in his day (1930s Russia) and his introduction to American’s in the 1970s also served to address the limitations of early cognitivism and provided a more detailed functional view of aspects of social constructivism.  Vygotsky was a contemporary to John Dewey and his thinking was similar in many ways. What I think Vygotsky did not address very well was the creation of new knowledge and he also relied too much on mental representations in his thinking.  (Much of this criticism is also applicable to Dewey.)  I think much of connectivism was contained within Vygotsky’s and Dewey’s work, just under-developed or aspects that were unacknowledged by these thinkers. I think this focus on new knowledge and on a non-representational view of cognition is where connectivism excels.  I usually think of connectivism mostly as a retroactive extension and an update of Vygotsky, yet one that is sufficiently extensive that it warrants a place in its own right.