Why we need connectionism: A Relevant Metaphor for Practice

In spite of the growing support for the social-cultural, situated, social constructivist, distributed, hermeneutic and dilogical nature of learning and cognition; educational, business and cultural practices remain firmly rooted in a paradigm of individualism.  Why?  I can only infer that the aforementioned perspectives are too abstract to move the paradigmatic barriers in moat people’s thinking, but this is where I think connectivism can contribute by making things more concrete.  Instead of looking at abstract social cultural environments, connectivism highlights that these environments are actually networks of people connecting in concrete ways and situations.

For instance, Hagel Brown & Davison tell us to get ourselves connected into knowledge flows, but what does this mean.  What I think they mean is that we need to be in environments and networks that allow our thinking to sense and be open to the expressions of many other people.  It applies to digital networks as well as in our physical surroundings.  In fact, since we are not digital devices, our digital networks need to be integrated into our physical personal and cognitive spaces.  Instead of thinking only of knowledge flows, think of physical environs, their cognitive predispositions, their diversity, their intellectual richness and their digital connection to people in similar environs.

Metaphors actively shape our thinking.  I don’t think of connectivism as being opposed to the first mentioned perspectives with which I began this post, but I do think of connectivism as a new and important metaphorical perspective.  Connectivism should help these perspectives to be understood in new ways that are directly applicable to our daily practices.  In the end, it is like Wittgenstein suggested: the meaning of connectivism, or any other perspective on thinking and learning for that matter, is not to be found in a philosophical discussion.  Rather, it is found in the way that it relates to and helps us to better our everyday practices and the ways that we go about relating to each other.

The Real Relationship: An Idea to Support Collaborative Practice

Gelso, C.J. (2011). The Real Relationship in Psychotherapy: The Hidden Foundation of Change, Washington D.C.:APA (www.apa.org)

Most human practices, like management or education, have a social interactive foundation.  (Managers manage and collaborate with people and educators guide their development.)  Consequently the insights of psychotherapy, the most studied of all interactive processes, are usually very relevant; as is this book.  Gelso’s premise is that a tripartite relational foundation underlies successful therapeutic change: (1)The working relationship (agreements instrumental to completing the task at hand), (2) transference [“a client’s experience of the therapist that is shaped by the client’s own psychological (and social historical based) structure”] and counter-transference (the effect of the therapist’s psychological and social historical based structure), and (3) the real relationship.  He defines the real relationships as:

(T)he personal relationship existing between two or more persons as reflected in the degree to which each is genuine with the other and perceives and experiences the other in ways that befit the other.  . . . In the strongest real relationships persons communicator genuinely with one another, and are willing to let themselves be known deeply, and perceive and experience the other realistically, to an important extent (p. 58).  . . . the theory is bidirectional and represents a two person psychology (p.60).

This makes sense to me.  We have very nuanced relational capabilities and we need to seek collaborative relationships that maximize people’s potential, not seek simple command and control structures that have been shown to be inadequate.  This fits in with the ideas in the real relationship.

Gelso sees the strengthening of the real relationship as involving disclosure (he says relevance is more important than the amount of disclosure) and empathy.  The real relation is presented as critical, but it exist alongside the other two and does not necessarily subsume the other two.  To me this means that:

  1. You need to agree on and clarify your purpose for working together.
  2. You need to be careful regarding your own biases and what you project onto others.
  3. But, success in working with others may depend on putting together a deeper dialogue and relationship.