Connectivism with Some Restraint

Some rights reserved by PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE

Connectivism is a learning theory created by George Siemens and written about in his article “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age”. The article lists its principles as the following:

• Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
• Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
• Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
• Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
• Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
• Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
• Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
• Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision

Now I’ve been hearing ideas colored by this theory, but I’d never read the source material describing it in more detail. It is definitely worth a read if you haven’t read it yourself. The problem is, the ideas are thick and as much as they excite me, they really bring up a lot more questions in my mind. Let me discuss some of the ideas stated in the article and some thoughts that they’ve inspired:

* “One of the most persuasive factors is the shrinking half-life of knowledge. (Siemens quoting Gonzalez The Role of Blended Learning in the World of Technology) – Gonzalez defines half-life of knowledge as the amount of time it takes knowledge to go from inception to obsolescence. He claims that half-life is a fraction of what it was 40 years ago. Yes! I agree. He has my attention here. He says that our education system is set up for learning under the old regime. I know this is true.

* Siemens discusses the learning theories of behaviorism, cognitism, constructivism and identifies weaknesses in each. His claim is that these older theories are not adequate for learners in this new landscape of non-linear, ever changing knowledge. I think this could be true, but is there evidence to support this? Is it really all that different now?

* What adjustments need to made with learning theories when technology performs many of the cognitive operations previously performed by learners (information storage and retrieval), asks Siemens. This is a burning question on my mind, as well. I am not willing to stop having my students memorize the times tables, but other teachers are. The fact is that the majority of us have calculators in our pockets (on our phones). Is calculating a job that can be left to technology? I’m not convinced. I still value the ability to do it mentally. So where do we draw the line?

* Siemens says,We can no longer personally experience and acquire learning that we need to act. We derive our competence from forming connections. On a certain level, I believe this is true. Things are changing around us so quickly and we don’t have the luxury of time on our side, the time that it would take to gain experience. But this really scares me. I can see this being abused. I’ve seen some interpret this to mean that first-hand knowledge is not important and can be replaced with knowledge we gain through networking with others who do indeed have the firsthand experience. I want to implicitly state that I believe there is no substitution for experience and that we need to guard it and seek it and endeavor to have our students have as many experiences as they can, as well. I am not negating the need for and value of networks. Please believe me. I have learned so much this year through my PLN’s and I’m better for it. But when it comes time to choose a doctor, I prefer the guy with the years of experience and proven history over the guy who reads a lot but hasn’t touched the knife. We are at a unique time in history when so much knowledge is at our fingertips… but please, let’s not undervalue firsthand intimate knowledge and experience.

* In his conclusion, Siemens states: The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today. Again, I agree that learning to acquire knowledge is important and that some concepts that we used to commit to memory in order to complete daily tasks can now be relegated to technology. But… BUT… I see large numbers of teachers taking this to the extreme. In an attempt to embrace this idea (which is also found in the Ubd idea of “enduring understandings”) some have been made to think that they shouldn’t teach any facts that students won’t remember in five years. They’ve taken it so far that they don’t think it’s important to teach anything that students can Google at the point when the knowledge is needed. I have had many conversations about this with fellow colleagues.

If you’re hearing me say that UdB is bad or that connectivism is wrong, please go back and read what I wrote. I am challenging the misconceptions that arise from these frameworks. I’m challenging the throwing out of the three previously discussed learning theories (is that even possible?) both the bad and the good. I’m asking for a little balance. But let’s explore and discuss because these are exciting times and they most certainly call for change. And, our kids are worth it.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Connectivism with Some Restraint

  1. Half-life of knowledge? Pretty darn scary.
    As for personal experience no longer being a requisite, I’m with you. Give me the the guy with the most ‘hands-on.’ (Although on the other hand, I can teach in depth about white sharks, but have never personally come in contact with one). I love the fact you brought up connectivism, as I mentioned this in my blog last week. I seem to be hearing this term more frequently. Balance, as you mentioned, is the key to being a great educator. Choosing which technology, which curriculum, which chapter books, etc., you will use takes careful planning and again – balance.
    How can we ever say that “rote” memorization is bad for everyone? Who reading these blogs or in education didn’t learn that way? I think we need to be careful. The pipe may indeed be important, but I want to be sure I know what’s in that pipe. :)

  2. Keith Hamon says:

    Geoff, I share your interest in Connectivism, but not so much your concern with Siemens’ contention that we must rely on connections as the basis for our actionable knowledge. As I understand him, Siemens is not claiming that “first-hand knowledge is not important and can be replaced with knowledge we gain through networking with others who do indeed have the firsthand experience.” I believe that Siemens would insist that first-hand knowledge is necessary, but that it is no longer sufficient. Issues today tend to be too complex for anyone’s first-hand experience to be sufficient to clarify and resolve the issue; however, first-hand experience is always necessary. Siemens does not make an either/or statement; rather, he says it is now both.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>