An update on my view of Connectivism (CCK08)

During my last post I realized that I needed to update my view on this theory.  Constructivism is a sound theory on human learning except for one thing, it really didn’t change practice all that much.  Its central insight (especially in the Vygotskian version) is that learning and knowledge are social, but that insight changed very little in educational practice where it should have turned practice on its head.  I have come to believe that this is because there was no adequate model of social learning.  Even Vygotskian ideas like the ZPD (zone of proximal development) limits the social model to teacher to student or peer to peer interactions.  Connectivism provides an adequate social model as a wide network.  This is a true social model that shows how learning is expanded by expanding one’s network.

Support for Connectivism, with a Hope and a Small Critique

1. Why I differ from Kerr and support a distinctive theory of connectivism.

I will start by expressing another perspective on my comment that artifacts (like technologically enabled networks) reflect back on and change the practitioners who use them.  Vygotsky’s daughter, Gina, made the following statement regarding the dialectic her father perceived between theory and practice.  

“He made science with his hands.  Vygotsky’s theory was fruitful because it arose from the demands of practice, and practice was fruitful because it was grounded in deeply considered theory” (Remedial and Special Ed Vol 20, p.330-332)

Discussions surrounding the googlization or the dumbing down of people, information overload and the depth of thought in blog entries; all these issues indicate that networks are changing people practices and are asking us to adapt and change as humans.  This reality expresses the demands of practice from which learning theories must lead and to which constructivism must adapt.  I see the possibility of connectivism making this adaption.

My hope for the continued development of connectivism

I believe that connectivism will reflect the demands of practice discussed above, although I have not seen evidence that it is doing this yet, and I think there is room for growth.  My hope is that a sense of mind, a core constructivist principle, will be maintained as history shows this is an important perspective.  Let me start with a historical account of learning theory adapted from Bruner’s Acts of Meaning (1990).  He, like William James, considers psychology to be a science of the mind.  Both William James and Wilhelm Wundt (referring here to Wundts book Volkerpsychologie, not his work in physiological psychology) advocated for a non-reductionist study of mind, but progress in this direction was averted by the behaviorists with their grounding in positivist objectivism.  Jerome Burner participated in the cognitive revolution with the goal of reintroducing mind to psychology.  He recounts how a focus on computation again moved mind to the background, bringing back many of the same limitations that caused behaviorism to wain.  If was this caused a shift to constructivism.

In believe that connectivism can best continue by extending constructivist principles into new challenges, new practices, and new theoretical understandings.  But, there is ample opportunity to focus to much on nodes and information to the neglect of mind once again.  If that happens, history will repeat itself again with a turn from connectivism, back to some form of constructivism.  Some day neurology or philosophical associationism may progress to the point that a science of the mind will no longer be needed.  Some people in Wundt’s day believed that, but I believe that even today, that day is still very far in the future.

A small critique of some graphics

The use of some matrix type graphics is not always meaningful to me.  In many cases a dichotomy is drawn that over simplifies and covers nuanced differences.  In the case of learning theories a concept map may be more informative to show historical development as well as concept breaks and similarities.  This is a small matter with primarily a pedagogical goal for addressing people who are not well grounded in the history of learning theory.

Response to S Downes 09-10 Post

Further thoughts on the Connectivism course:

I like inclusion of the negotiation of meaning and the nature of network nodes instead of hierarchy.  A favorite author of mine has been John Shotter who also speak in this way.  In a rewrite of a 1994 book (Conversational Realities Revisited; (2008; he says that life as an academic leaves us with something missing, something to do with creativity, novelty and the uniqueness of everyday life.  He says that an excessive focus on linguistic representation (note the similarities to Stephen’s rejection of the centrality of representation) has left us (as academics) unable to be receptive to our “spontaneous bodily reactions to events occuring around us” . . ..  This is a highly philosophized notion of learning and practicing (based primarily on Bakhtin and Wittgenstein) that may be supportive of a connectivism theory and may refute my previous assertion that the theory is not mature.

Also; this is a comment I made to Stephen’s post this morning (9/10/08).

This post reminded me of many of the problem associated with higher ed today.  *Tuition cost are too high!  *The current structure is not conducive to supporting a life course that may include 4 or 5 different career paths, in knowledge intensive environments, where lifelong intellectual growth is expected!  *If innovation is important to the economy, we must ramp up our intellectual infrastructure through community development and make it more accessible to all. Can current pedagogy address these issues? I think experimental pedagogy is needed, just like this course is offering.

I also indebted to Geof Cain’s comment that led me to think in pedagogical terms.  These critiques and Stephen’s responses have a lot to do with pedagogy.  Any learning theory will imply a pedagogy, but I think connectivism’s implies pedagogy even more than most because of the importance of the network aspects and because I think the theory and the course are really directed right at practice and an experimental pedagogy.

An update to a previous post.  I mentioned Vygotsky’s idea of tools and concepts reflecting back on and changing the learner.  I should have referred to these tools and concepts as artifacts.  This word reflects Vygotsky’s approach better and is also consistent with Karl Poppers work on the 3 worlds, physical, mental and artifactual.

On Connectivism – The Course



I have signed up to be part of the mass participation in the learning theory course being offered by Stephen Downes and George Seimans on Connectivism.  The following are my thoughts on an initial reading post.


 Is there a need for a new theory?  Although I’ve voice this question before myself, after lots of thought, I will answer yes, for at least 2 reasons.  

Learning theory continues to evolve rapidly.  It was only 50 years ago that behaviorism completely dominated the field.  It eventually gave way to cognitivism and constructivism and, although constructivism generally dominates today, there are many different forms, not to mention that there are areas where behaviorism and cognitivism are still very important.  It cannot be considered a stable theory or discipline where there is a strong consensus.

I generally follow an idea attributed to Vygotsky  that tools and ideas reflect back on and change the person who uses them.  So the “web 2.0” network does not just enable us to learn as a neutral tool for learning.  It changes not only how we learning, it changes what learning means and it changes who we are as learner and as human beings.  Vygotsky was looking at how our use of language changed  what it meant to be human, but technology has the potential to do the same.  In a sense we are already becoming cyborgs.  The use of technology will defiantly require substantial change in learning theory.

Concerning the listed criticism of:

Pløn Verhagen (2006);  I would agree that connectivism is not yet a mature theory, but that does not mean that it is without merit or unable to be developed further.

Bill Kerr (2007); I mentioned reason above for why existing theory might be considered insufficient, although there is much that might be borrowed.

Curtis Bonk; Most current iterations of learning theory depend on anthropological and sociological thinking.  This is in order to avoid an excessively individualistic account that does not reflect the collective aspects of our lives.  The framework of study in connectivism I would consider educational and psychological, not sociological or anthropological.  

Otherwise, I will list one concern and one development idea:

Concern – there is a reference to neuro-science, but I don’t think we know a lot about learning from a neurological perspective in order to use the knowledge or to use it metaphorically.  There has recently been some talk on the net about the misuse of neuro-science.  It can be used as a rhetorical device rather than reflect a substantive linkage between disciplinary knowledges.

Idea: I like to use the metaphor of propagation as a way to think of (constructivist) learning.  We are given a root stem whether it is some existing knowledge, the results of an experiment, or an innovative thought.  To make it usable or actionable knowledge, however, it must be planted in a garden of practice.  Only then can it grow and fill the garden.  I guess I like organic metaphors.


Oh well; till later