The first week’s topic in the Connectivism course was “What is connectivism?”. To help us answer this question, George Siemens and Stephen Downes provided us with some readings and asked us to record our reflections on our blog. If you are curious, these were the readings:
So now that I’ve read all of that, I can tell you exactly what connectivism is . . . or maybe not. Still, I can tell you that connectivism seems to have developed to explain learning in a world of “networked individualism”. Connectivism applies network principles to learning on multiple levels: biological/neural, conceptual, and societal/external. It also attempts to describe the role of technology in learning and considers the context of learning important. Connectivism differs from other learning theories because it views knowledge as non-propositional and holds that knowledge and learning can be separated from language and logic. That’s what I’ve got so far. Please correct me if I’m wrong.
The most common criticisms of connectivism is that connectivism simply isn’t a theory or that there is no need for a new theory because everything is already covered by existing theories. Whether or not something is a theory is going to depend on your definition of what a theory is. Siemens and Downes have attempted to articulate the ways in which connectivism satisfies various definitions of a theory. To me, the idea of connectivism seems like a theory in embryonic form. It is growing towards the (arbitrary) specifications of a “theory”, but some parts of the idea need to be more clearly articulated. I find the dismissal of connectivism because of the sufficiency of existing learning theories to be ridiculuous. I don’t think we have a “universal theory of learning” that explains all learning in all situations. I would welcome a “universal theory of learning.”
I am not sure that connectivism is a universal theory of learning and I am also not sure whether or not its authors intend it to be. In my opinion, for connectivism to be a valid learning theory it has to explain the process by which people learn, all people, everywhere, whether living in a society exhibiting “networked individualism” or not.
To me, the greatest strength of connectivism is that it provides for a biological basis of learning. The lectures that I’ve heard on how the brain works would indicate that learning is based on forming connections within the brain. I appreciate that connectivism attempts to apply network principles at additional levels of complexity. Personally, I know that I trace my thoughts back through conceptual connections–“What was I thinking? Oh yes of that, which reminds me of that . . . ” It rings true.
However, I’m not convinced that learning can be externalized in the ways described by Siemens and Downes. I am still trying to sort out the connectivist definitions for “learning”, “knowledge”, and “technology”. These all seem very fuzzy to me and they are central to understanding the arguments being made. On the course discussion forum in Moodle, a classmate of mine named Bill Harshbarger pointed out that connectivism seems to deal solely with learning knowledge and ignores skills and attitudes. I see this as a weakness in connectivism and I want to see this weakness addressed. I guess that gives Siemens and Downes eleven more weeks to address it.