Reading about connectivity — trying to connect…

I’ve been poking around and finding resources for the course and decided to start by reading George Siemens’ article Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Since this is my first foray into the idea and I have not immersed myself in all of what has been shared, I can’t promise to agree with what I am thinking right now and reserve the right to change my mind.

I am struggling with a some elements in the article and wonder if this is truly a learning theory, but rather an analysis of the current landscape, and the pedagogies and literacies needed to support learning.  The article describes the new context for learning, the challenges presented by complexity and chaos, and the implications for learning within that context along with some approaches.  His final line “Connectivism provides insight into learning skills and tasks needed for learners to flourish in a digital era.” is a more accurate description of what is included in the idea of connectivism. I find the idea that connections are necessary and inherent in learning a useful concept.  While I struggle with some of the elements, I’m not condemning the whole idea, far from it.

Another area where I struggled with Siemens’ presentation is more a fundamental difference how I understand the locus of knowledge and thus, where learning occurs. In discussing behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism Siemens states: “These theories do not address learning that occurs outside of people (i.e. learning that is stored and manipulated by technology). They also fail to describe how learning happens within organizations.” Siemens also asserts “Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.” I do not see how the article makes the case for “learning” as a process outside of a living being(s), or the case that knowledge or learning exists outside a living being(s). It also does not sort out the human collective from the organization and pairs “organization” with “database,” which is a bit of a stretch for me.

I would argue that the external symbolic representation, whether it be linguistic, mathematical or artistic, of what a person or a collective knows is really no more than information for the next recipients. It may be sophisticated and highly nuanced, and may have been manipulated with software to reshape it, but it is just data that the recipient(s), in order to claim knowledge, must comprehend and/or use. I get “connect with” as a way to know something and as a necessary component of comprehension and use. The communication may be networked and even from multiple sources, but until a person (or a group of people) grapple with it, it is only information.  I guess this puts me more in a constructivist seat, although I am comfortable with Downes notion that learning is “grown anew by each learner” which connotes to me that learning is some sort of internal process.

I agree with Siemens in the the need for new approaches and skills and the implications for the environment in which we now work, communicate and learn, but I struggled with was the idea that the need for new skills was a new theory of learning. Siemens states: “Learning theories are concerned with the actual process of learning, not with the value of what is being learned. In a networked world, the very manner of information that we acquire is worth exploring. The need to evaluate the worthiness of learning something is a meta-skill that is applied before learning itself begins.” This could well be defined as information literacy and in this complex web 2.O world, metaliteracy as defined by Mackey and Jacobson in “Reframing Information Literacy as a Metaliteracy” may be a more apt term, especially since we are really considering not just acquisition, but active participation in the vast networked environment.

I am fully onboard with the need for skills to engage among the ever-expanding complexities and to deal with the rapid decay in the usefulness of what one knows and the unpredictability of the knowledge that will be needed. One of his conclusions wraps this up well: “Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.” The implications of connectivism for how learning is facilitated and who has access are where I see the real potential of connectivism.

So is my newbie understanding and I would appreciate others sharing ideas and reactions. 



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