I admit that I am not a great one for theory. I can discuss the ins and outs of how to birth a breech (bottom first) baby and the evidence for and against vaginal breech birth until the cows come home. But if you start talking to me about Foucault and postmodernism, I'll just turn up my toes and rapidly decline into a semi-coma. So to say that I am struggling to get my head around connectivism is a huge understatement. The only reassuring thing is that I am not the only one by far.
What is connectivism?
Connectivism is a learning theory that has been mooted by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. The theory postulates that learning is based on networks and connections - people learn from the connections they make to other people and information. This is in contrast to other learning theories such as constructionism, behaviourism and cognitivism that suggest that knowledge is formed as a result of previous experience or is something that is given to the learner. Or as Ron Lubensky puts it:
Most people view knowledge in one of two paradigmic ways. First, as objective stuff to be acquired, stored, gained, transferred, distributed, etc. Second, as action depicted in skills, performance, problem-solving and professional identity. Connectivism articulates a third paradigm, locating knowledge in the relationships that we have with each other and objective resources. Knowledge is the network. Knowledge is rhizomatic (multiple entry points, rather than hierarchic) and fractal (portrayed at the social and neural levels).
Difficulties with conectivism
There are a number of people who criticize connectivism, and to be honest I am not knowledgeable enough to be able to comment sufficiently. Nevertheless, I do struggle along with people like Sinikka to see how this self-determining approach to learning works in a formal education context which is over-ridden by assessment, learning outcomes, structures and agendas.
Applying connectivism to my own teaching
But as Mike Bogle says, connectivism will not be all things to all people - it will depend on individual needs and context. And I would say that that applies to all learning theory. Indeed, one course probably contains approaches that takes its roots from a number of theories, depending on what is being taught.
Needless to say, connectivism challenges me to think about how I can encourage networked learning in a way that fulfills course outcomes.
You cannot empower learners and encourage them to seize hold of their own learning experiences while at the same time controlling what they learn, how they interact, who they listen to, the networks they form, the way they are exposed to the information, and the time frame in which they are expected to learn it. You can’t both give away control and keep it at the same time. Mike Bogle (2008).
So how I do that in the course that I have just designed and start teaching on Monday will be cause for reflection in the next few weeks.
Image: 'More closeups...' Xiol