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.

Higher Education – is it worth it? Valuing Action over Thinking

George Siemens prompted these ideas when he asked the question: Higher Education – is it worth it? To answer this question, it is time to move to another metaphor.  From the idea of education creating a difference of thought to a difference of action.

This question was originally prompted by Peter Thiel (PayPal)  suggestion that people drop out of school and start companies.  George backgrounds his ideas by contrasting 2 thoughts:

The higher education model is antediluvian, it is no longer aligned with the information and knowledge ecology in which it exists (see Reinventing Knowledge and Reconstructing the University for more detail on this line of thinking). The fatal logic in education-abolisher’s, like Thiel, thinking is that a broken system is an unneeded system. Higher education needs to change. It needs to be more effective, more flexible, more cost-effective, more equitable (in terms of access), and aligned with the knowledge structures and spaces of today’s society. However, as Edgar Morin states (.pdf) the purpose of education is to prepare each individual for “the vital combat for lucidity”. Thiel’s model doesn’t achieve this. When we learn, we are not only fulfilling a responsibility to ourselves but to society and to the future. This learning need not be formal, but it needs to be broad, diverse, and non-utilitarian…i.e. not learning only to achieve a task or get a job but learning in order to increase our capacity for greater future options (or, for that matter, to become a better person).

I disagree with Morin, who’s first statement is:

The purpose of education is to transmit knowledge. . .

This puts us into Ann Sfard’s two metaphors of learning, the Acquisition and Participation Metaphors.  Sfard’s metaphoric analysis does not go sufficiently deep for this discussion.  The acquisition metaphor must assume that knowledge is stored in memory to be drawn upon and adapted to the context (transferred) when needed.  I have to research this more, but I don’t think cognitive psychology supports this aspect.  The acquisition metaphor still has some use, but this severely limits that use.

The  participation metaphor is based on Situated Learning Theory, which is based on Vygotsky’s idea of activity as the primary unit of analysis.  (Wittgenstein’s thoughts also support this view.)  Community participation is usually the location of that activity, but activity is the psychological and education unit to which attention should be paid.  Most of the criticisms Sfard makes of the participation metaphor do not hold up if you properly place activity at the center of that analysis.

Morin’s “combat for lucidity” happens in communicative actions.  Even in soliloquy, we posit an “Other” to which our active  is directed.  This is why my first response to George was to Quote Evans & Mackey in this comment to his blog post:

I would like to see universities organize around greater flexibility in learning communities so this (college vs. entrepreneurial activity) does not become an either or question. I noted Terry Evan and Julie Mackey’s article in IRRODL’s Special Issue on Connectivism

where they say:

(The) insular view of community, bounded by course curriculum and timelines, is problematic for professional learning and highlights a tension between the underlying philosophical stance and the pedagogies adopted by universities. A central tenet of sociocultural epistemologies is that learning is vitally situated within the context of its development and that “understanding and experience are in constant interaction” (Lave & Wenger, 1991, p. 51). As Lave and Wenger (1991) describe in their theory of social practice, there is a “relational interdependency of agent and world, activity, meaning, cognition, learning, and knowing” (p. 1).

Higher Education needs to be re-structured so that it is imbedded to support our ongoing activities.  This fits with social-cultural, situated and connectivist perspectives, it fits with Hagel, Brown and Davison’s Pull metaphor of learning and it is not against Thiel’s idea at least from a learning theory perspective.  And ultimately, this question cannot be answered without referencing a theory about how we learn.  Why must you study than do instead of studying and doing as an integrated activity.

Again I am left with the impression that Higher Educations past is based on developing an educated class; creating a class distinction.  Morin’s lucidity was not practiced except in activity and that activity was valued by the educated class.  The value of education and lucidity of thought was the separation it created from the rest of the population, a difference that disappears as more and more of the population becomes educated.  If you want that distinction now you’ll need Harvard, Yale or Stanford, and maybe even not than.

How will Higher Education create value, how will it become worth it?

To answer this question, it is time to move to another metaphor.  From the idea of education creating a difference of thought to a difference of action.

#cck11 Exploring the Validity of Connectionism: IRRODL’s Special Issue on Connectivism Part 2

This post completes my look at the Connectivism Special Issue of IRRODL e-Journal (International Review of Research on Open and Distance Learning)  Connectivism: Design and Delivery of Social Networked Learning (Vol 12 (3)).  The first half of this 2 part review is here.

Three Generations of Distance Education Pedagogy by Terry Anderson and Jon Dron

Interconnecting Networks of Practice for Professional Learning by Terry Evans & Julie Mackey

I see these 2 articles as related.  First, Terry A. & Jon have a great insight, that the design of distance education has been driven by technological development, but I don’t think they takes it far enough.  There is substantial infrastructure and 19th Century technology dedicated to higher education, but the technological infrastructure of distance education has pretty much been just bolted on to that traditional infrastructure.  The changing needs of learning cannot be met with the infrastructure of the past.  Many of the limitations of connectivism that Terry A & Jon presents are rooted in the fact that connectivist networks are not yet well developed.  Many of the participants in those courses do not interact outside of the course, making it necessary to re-create an interactive network for each implimentation.  Imagine if the entire university infrastructure had to be re-created for each course.

Terry E & Julie discuss a similar problem in the way that Higher education is organized by pointing out the philosophical contradiction between social cultural / situated learning beliefs.

A problem with institutional perspectives of socially constructed learning is that the zone of interaction is usually confined to the online course community.  . . . This insular view of community, bounded by course curriculum and timelines, is problematic for professional learning and highlights a tension between the underlying philosophical stance and the pedagogies adopted by universities. A central tenet of sociocultural epistemologies is that learning is vitally situated within the context of its development and that “understanding and experience are in constant interaction” (Lave & Wenger, 1991, p. 51). As Lave and Wenger (1991) describe in their theory of social practice, there is a “relational interdependency of agent and world, activity, meaning, cognition, learning, and knowing” (p. 1).

The biggest challenge in redefine the integration of working and learning is to change the traditionally idea that learning and working are separate activities.  Learning happens in the university and is separated from work activities.  That is no longer the case today.  Another problem is the growing gap between the knowledge services higher education offers and the knowledge needs of professional practices.  Hagle, Brown & Davison (The Power of Pull) state that the pace of change is outpacing our knowledge infrastructure.  Their advocacy of pull learning models could be implemented by professional communities supported by higher education and online services in a connectionist pedagogy, but traditional practices in higher education seem hard to break.  All of these issues can be related to the 19th Century infrastructure of the university as compared to today’s changing learning needs.

So what would make more sense.  The basic technology and web infrastructure are already available and waiting to be appropriated by professional dialogic communities of practice and inquiry.  The infrastructure we lack is the organization of professional communities that would be a natural home for professional learning.  I do believe that this also entails dovetailing the organization of universities and professional organizations with new digital infrastructure.  The university could act as a gateway to and an enabler of this community, but currently higher education remains separated from professional practice.  Students could be ligament peripheral participants in this community.  Knowledge development could be accelerated through cooperative interaction that is supported by advanced communication and mash-up applications.  One technological need is advanced filtering tools that will coordinate network activity and keep everyone in the flow of knowledge at their chosen and appropriate level.  Long-standing core participant will act as peer reviewers and validators of activity, except they will act in a dialogic fashion rather than current monologic practices.

Of course, this is all sometime in the future.  Here’s a great article about self-reinforcing powers in business management and there are just as a many barriers in higher education.  So, until that day finally dawns  –  May you live long and prosper!

The Challenges to Connectivist Learning on Open Online Networks: Learning Experiences during a Massive Open Online Course by Rita Kop

Referencing Sfard (1998) (I favorite article of mine), Rita points out that Connectivism is inline with the theories that expect learning to accrue through participation.  She points to the PLENK course (Personal Learning Environments and Network Knowledge) and to the struggle that some learners have with developing the participation skills to support their PLE.  Inline with the participatory idea, enabling Legitimate Peripheral Participation could solve these problems, but first we need to strengthen ongoing online learning communities.

I find it interesting that the largest block of leaders were 55 years of age and older.  Learning goals may have a significant impact on participation and it may be interesting to investigate individual participation goals further.

EduCamp Colombia: Social Networked Learning for Teacher Training by Diego Ernesto Leal Fonseca

Diego presents a case study that describes a successful workshop whose implementation was modeled after the concepts of a Personal Learning Environment, the Unconference, over the shoulder learning in software.  These are 3 concepts that I hope to study in more detail.  The article mentioned many practical aspects of organizing an event

The EduCamps have served as a testing ground for the exploration of ideas concerning the design of learning environments. The results suggest the experience has an important impact on the perception of attendees about technology and its possibilities as a learning tool, but there are questions that remain open.  . . . It is clear that the workshops have the potential to be a trigger for the development of a community of practice around the social software platforms explored, which helps participants to sustain and enhance the connections they create during the workshop. However, this potential currently remains unrealized.

Once again the question of how you can foster the development of professional ongoing online communities of learning remains an important question.

Frameworks for understanding the nature of interactions, networking, and community in a social networking site for academic practice by Grainne Conole, Rebecca Galley & Juliette Culver

Grainna, Rebecca & Juliette describe the application of a social networking site named Cloudworks.  The site has been used for workshops, courses, as a discussion space, to facilitate reading circles, for open reviews, to aggregate resources, to explore practice design, and to find expert consultations.  They were able to analyze site usage through 4 frameworks: Communities of Inquiry, Communities of Practice, Activity theory and Actor-network Theory.  What I would really like to are case studies where professional oriented learning communities move onto these types of platforms and how to strengthen and develop the potential of these communities through social applications.

#cck11 Exploring the Validity of Connectionism: IRRODL’s Special Issue on Connectivism

THe IRRODL e-Journal (International Review of Research on Open and Distance Learning) has released a Special Issue – Connectivism: Design and Delivery of Social Networked Learning (Vol 12 (3)).  Though cck11 has officially ended, I am looking at these 9 articles as a continuation of my thought on the validity of Connectivism (4 articles are considered in this post, the remaining 5 in a part 2 post.).  These are not meant to be reviews, but rather my impression of  what I consider to be important points raised by my reading of these authors.  I encourage all to follow links to the original.  All articles are worthwhile additions to the connectivism literature.

Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0 by Roy Williams, Regina Karousou & Jenny Mackness

Roy et al state that the information age is being overtaken by the interactive age in that simple data transfer is now accompanied by interaction, collaboration and emergent learning.  There are questions that that these changes foreground: what structure and constraints support learning ecologies that can support this type of learning, how is the resulting knowledge validated and can prescriptive and emergent learning co-exist together.    There currently are institutions and frameworks that support web learning ecologies like Open Source and Creative Common Licensing, and cloud-based applications, but more pluralistic learning ecologies are needed.  These questions will continue to be at the forefront of building validity for Connectivist practices.

Connectivism: Its Place in Theory-informed Research and Innovation in Technology-Enabled Learning by Frances Bell

Frances states that Connectivism is not a sufficient stand-alone theory to guide a wide range of technology enabled learning projects, though he does acknowledge that we need new models for learning.  I would agree, but I don’t expect any theory to capture every perspective.  Instead I would look to include the ideas of other theories to expand upon and extend the ideas of Connectivism.  My personal belief is that many academic research projects that look into practices are based on rather narrow (and therefore weak) theoretical structures.  Strong structures are only developed by inter-relating multiple theories that address different levels and understandings of practice.  Many of these articles in this issue do just this type of theoretical development.

Note – Bell contrast blog supported Connectivism with Peer Review supports Actor_Network theory.  While this is basically correct, what it points to is the inadequate and slow moving nature of peer review, which is ill-suited to a fast moving interconnected world.  Peer review is more suited to the interests of the publishing industry and the academic hierarchy than it is in supporting knowledge building in connected world of practice.  Validation of knowledge is important, but new practices are needed beyond traditional peer review and publishing practices.

Proposing an Integrated Research Framework for Connectivism: Utilizing Theoretical Synergies by Bopelo Boitshwarelo

Bopelo moves on to connects other theories in a “functional synergistic relationship” with Connectivism.  Specifically he considers Design-based Research, Activity Theory and Communities of Practice (Situated Cognition).  Not only can these theories extend our understanding in Connectivism, but they also provide methodological examples for how to approach research.  He details a Connectivist informed case study, but I think that this study (based in the WebCT) might not be the best environment for evaluating Connectivism as most implementations of learning management systems are not recognized as the most innovative environments for collaborative web learning.

Dialogue and Connectivism: A New Approach to Understanding and Promoting Dialogue-rich Networked Learning by Andrew Ravenscroft

Andrew claim a social constructivist perspective, although I find his ideas include a broad understanding that includes a deep understanding of social cultural theory (Vygotsky), the dialogue theory (Bakhtin), and knowledge building (Beretier).

So this article argues for greater attention upon, and the pedagogical shaping of , the learning dialogue process within network learning spaces (and) . . .without a reworking of attested dialogue theory into more open and ambient pedagogies we will be less successful in converting mega-social interaction into mega-meaning making and learning.  . . .shouldn’t our endeavors still fully appreciate the role of language and dialogus as our oldest and arguably still most powerful semiotic System.

In my last post I mentioned Zhuge’s active dynamic nature of knowledge flows.  The root of these flows is also meaning-making or sense-making as discussed by theorist like Jerome Brunner.  In a quote of Bakhtin, Andrew points out that meaning, in the final analysis, is not a result of Hegalian logic, but rather comes from the clash of voices in dialogue.  I think this is compatible with Connectivism’s view of learning.

#cck11 Exploring the Validity of Connectionism: Three things

#1 The Nature of Theoretical Standards

All theories are abstractions.  They hope to model concrete aspects of our world, but the abstract and the concrete never coincide.  This is the main point expressed by Jonah Lehler.  In the Wired Article The Mysterious Decline Effect, he says:

One of the philosophy papers that I kept on thinking about while writing the article was Nancy Cartwright’s essay “Do the Laws of Physics State the Facts?” Cartwright used numerous examples from modern physics to argue that there is often a basic trade-off between scientific “truth” and experimental validity, so that the laws that are the most true are also the most useless. “Despite their great explanatory power, these laws [such as gravity] do not describe reality,” Cartwright writes. “Instead, fundamental laws describe highly idealized objects in models.”  The problem, of course, is that experiments don’t test models. They test reality.

This is a pragmatist stance.  Connectivism is not true, but neither is any other theory.  It is a map of reality, but it is not reality.  When seeking pragmatic validity, our quest is to understand how it relates to other theories, as well as where and under what circumstances it can be considered useful.

#2 The Hermeneutic Relational Nature of Knowledge

My previous post discussed the hermeneutics circle, which seems that it might generally be consistent with the connectivist idea that we form new concepts by joining other concepts together in new ways.  A common place we see this is in the practices of designers using white spaces.  Ideas are placed on a wall or whiteboard and moved around in physical space in order to experiment combining these ideas in different and creative ways.  Similar practices are the increased use of mind maps, graphic organizers, and visualization in eduction.  It’s seems that these practices tap into visual cognition abilities, but I think it also implies how our functional cognition is organized.

I don’t think Connectivism’s description of these process is yet fully developed, but I do think it addresses these aspects of cognition better than previous theories.  As visualization practices increase, this aspect will become more important.

#3 The Dynamic Nature of Knowledge Flows

I am coming to believe that there is a sense in which peer interaction with other people helps us to construct useful knowledge.  The nature of how interaction helps us goes beyond general constructivist ideas to ideas that are better reflected in Connectivism.  This idea is also implied in The Pragmatic Web.

In contrast to the Syntactic Web and Semantic Web the Pragmatic Web is not only about form or meaning of information, but about social interaction which brings about e.g. understanding or commitments.

And also consider the Action Language Perspective on which the ideas surrounding the Pragmatic Web are based.

Language/Action Perspective (LAP) is based upon the notion as proposed by Terry Winograd that “expert behavior requires an exquisite sensitivity to context”

I’m thinking that knowledge is dynamic, not static, and that using knowledge entails appropriating it to the needs of oneself and one’s context.  When we tap into knowledge flows, we see knowledge at it’s most dynamic and we are also exposed to how others are appropriating that knowledge for their use.  Knowledge does not flow in a static form, but is constantly evolving.  Hai Zhuge speaks of this nature in scientific knowledge flows.

Scientists have developed many approaches to the static representation of knowledge, and to extracting, discovering, learning, and reasoning about it. However, knowledge is dynamic—it goes through human brains for knowing, invention, propagation, fusion, generalization, and problem solving.  . . .The knowledge flow network implicit in the citation network consists of knowledge flows between nodes that process knowledge, including reasoning, fusing, generalizing, inventing, and problem solving, by authors and co-authors. (Discovery of Knowledge Flow in Science, Communications of the ACM, May 2006/Vol. 49, No. 5)

Once again, connectivism may be better able to represent this aspect of knowing better than previous theories.

#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.

#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.

#cck11 – Where Should We Find Knowledge Production: Disciplinary Peer Review or Networks of Practice.

Reviewed a recent article by Susu Nousala (2010) that I thought was related to cck11: Improving the peer review process: an examination of commonalities between scholarly societies and knowledge networks, (Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1762876)

Discussing general peer review systems the author ask:

(W)hat other ways may be used or incorporated to better serve emergent interdisciplinary and/or hybrid disciplines, creating a more holistic community based process to improve overall review outcomes.  . . . Over time the emperical approach to peer review has led critics to discribe the whole system as generally allowing conventional work to succed whilst discouraging innovative thinking.

I would add some things that I feel are not specifically addressed in the article:

One, for scholars interested in research on practice, the peer review process tends to be organized by disciplinary interests for people who are intending on advancing within a disciplinary hierarchy.  Research on practice tends to be a primary location for interdisciplinary – hybrid research, while peer review often subjects research to disciplinary requirement that are not about furthering practice.  My basic point is that furthering practice is not the same as furthering disciplinary knowledge.  This is a potential place where innovation in interdisciplinary research is hampered. Disciplinary requirements can do as much to hurt knowledge development as it can to encourage it.  As pointed out by Wenger (1998 and Nousala, Organizations are made up of many overlapping communities of practice.  There is a case to be made that these communities are the natural place for knowledge development and the negotiation of peer meaning; not disciplinary organizations.

Secondly, the peer review process is about individuals reviewing others individual efforts that exist in a finished form.  Since knowledge can be seen as existing and developing within communities of practice, you can see that it is the community as a network where ideas combine and meaning is negotiated.  Peer reviewing individual papers at best obscures this knowledge creation process.  At the worst, it discourages the dialogue that is needed and necessary to negotiate and synthesize new forms of knowledge and practice, thereby needlessly restricting knowledge development.  The authors state;

In more recent times “peer review has become a powerful social system” [9] which has multiple layers of knowledge networks linking and supporting its members within these communities of practice.

In my mind, peer review processes do not acknowledge most knowledge networks and are restrictive in that the first requirement of knowledge is acknowledgment.  Acknowledgement should be a community or network process, not the pervayence of a few individuals.


The authors conclude;

Without the foundation of sustainable practice and processes, the build up of the internal knowledge networks will not occur. Instead, there will only be information systems and management, which do not function in the same way and can not take the place of tacit knowledge networks.

In my view, at least a portion of the peer review process should occur within network processes.  Supported by the development of Open Educational Resource and student personal learning environments, learning is becoming network centric.  It is time to acknowledge that knowledge production is also network centric and it is time to move scholarly activity into open network processes.  This would acknowledge the importance of networks in knowledge development, enable the integration of digital networks to improve productivity in knowledge production, enable practitioner communities to participate in scholarly processes and would align scholarly processes with current theories of learning.

#cck11 – Adding to a New Model of Education: John Seely Brown’s New Book

What is learning?  What does it mean to understand and what does it mean to be an educated person?  You can give a definition, but your answer will be incomplete without going beyond a simple definition to include a specific a model of learning.  Adding to a new model seems to be what Brown and Thomas are doing in A New Culture of Learning as presented by John Hagel’s blog post.  (I’m still waiting for a copy of the book; possibly more to follow?)  John says:

We all have the uncomfortable feeling that the education we received is serving us less and less well. The reassuring notion that the concentrated dose of education in our younger years would serve us well for the rest of lives appears increasingly suspect.  . . . What if there was a different model?  . . . (A) fundamentally different approaches to acquiring knowledge.

The meaning of the differentiation this book proposes came to me when reading a critique of social media learning by ryan2point0.  If you think about technological changes in education when you are guided by old models, they will look much different then when they are seen through the prism of Brown and Thomas’ model.  We need a new model of learning that embraces tension, imagination and play.  John Hagel add these 4 claims that he draws from the book:

1. Tacit knowledge is becoming more important when compared to explicit knowledge.

(T)acit knowledge cannot be taught – it can only be learned, but only if the environment is designed to do that. In a stable world, focusing on explicit knowledge perhaps made more sense, but in a more rapidly changing world, tacit knowledge becomes increasingly central to our ability to thrive.

2. Questions are more important than answers.  (Hagel, quoting from the book)

(L)earning is transformed from a discrete, limited process – ask a question, find an answer – to a continuous one. Every answer serves as a starting point, not an end point. It invites us to ask more and better questions.

3. Learning is a social process

Collectives provide the context for learning and the learning process involves a complex interplay between the personal and the collective.

4. Brown and Thomas’ new model of learning is derived from imagination and play.

Imagination is about seeing possibilities and generating the questions that frame the learning process. Play is about the engagement and experimentation that drives the learning process.  Both of these become even more powerful when they move beyond the individual and drive collectives that can learn from each other.

This book seems to be devising a way that educators can think about learning processes when guided by the book The Power of Pull.  It’s a much different from traditional educational processes and the organization of most educational institutions.  I think there has always been a pedagogical distinction between passing on received stable knowledge and the generation of new knowledge where we don’t necessarily know the right answer.  But most education is about learning what the teacher already knows.  In traditional education, it is only after you have reached the pinnacle of learning that you deemed ready to venture out to find new stuff.  What we are seeing more and more is that this is a false distinction.  There may be some knowledge that we want to pass on in a stable form, but there is also room at all levels of education to explore new knowledge.  This is not just a constructionist pedagogical trick.  There really is room for new understandings at all levels.  Discovery learning is really about finding new knowledge, not about finding knowledge and then testing the student to see if he really found the correct knowledge.  The world of knowledge is very big indeed!

This looks like a good book.  I’m sure there will be more thoughts to follow.