Connectivism has been proposed as an alternative learning theory particularly in the age of modern digital technology. As discussed by Robertson in a video lecture (2007), it is true that most of the prior learning theories such as constructivism and cognitism were proposed before our major leaps into the internet revolution happened, and therefore, the possibility of needing a new theory to explain how we learn may be timely. But is CONNECTIVISM, as described by its two main proponents, Siemens and Downes, it?
Siemens, in his 2005 paper “Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age,” claims that learning occurs in “nebulous environments, and that it can “occur outside of individuals.” He is also of the opinion that learning can occur outside of human appliance.
Learning, on the other hand, is defined in many ways, but the one I am inclined to use is the one by Cobb (2009), “Learning is the lifelong process of transforming information and experience into knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes.”
My paradigm for learning is that its evidence occur in many levels, from unicellular organisms (as evidenced by intercellular bacterial communications through quorum sensing), to specialized cellular communication of a complex organism, such as the neurons of the brain. Beyond the individual, there is some evidence of social learning, like how a group such as a flock of birds learn how to avoid buildings in its path, or as political animals, many human societies have learned to fight repression. In essence, there is individual learning; there is organizational learning, and social learning as well.
Using this paradigm of the levels of structures, it seems that Downes and Siemens are pushing for a view that is even wider than the social learning paradigm, a sort of extra-societal interactions that go way beyond individuals and maybe societies. CONNECTIVISM is in a way, paradigm shifting (as a skill necessary for learning, rather than a theory of learning), because it allows for conscious formation of network of learners, which allows each learner to sort into addresses and locations various bits of knowledge that they will need to access to process learning themselves. The main strength of this conscious network formation is that there is high degree of resolution and critical evaluation of the formed networks. A good learner can discern a valuable connection to less valuable ones. On the other hand, the main illusion that is brought about by connectivism is that we are always in a group, and that the group, including the connections between the members, are learning. In the end I believe that we are all in this together, alone.
In the positions of Siemens (2005) and particularly of Downes (2006) where he claims that “learning may reside in non-human appliance” (or by extension, non biological), it seems that they are claiming that the connections themselves are capable of learning. This is where my opinion diverges. I believe that learning, at least in the current level of technology, is still very much within the province of biology, and in our case, of the human brain. Even in organizational learning, it is the individual that captures that learning and encapsulates it into norms and traditions for the organization or society. Knowledge residing in processors, in the cloud, in the memory chips and in the connections between the biologics, is merely a collection of fact, no different to all the knowledge stored in Alexandria’s libraries. Despite automated processing that may happen to facts, these automated processing still means very little to where it resides. The resulting product of knowledge processing may move robotic arms and adjust machines, but in reality, these processors do not understand what is happening. It is the seat of consciousness that programmed the machines on how to transmit and process information – this is the location of learning. I agree with Kop and Hill (2008), when they concluded that: “Connectivism ...continues to play an important role in the development and emergence of new pedagogies, where control is shifting from the tutor to an increasingly more autonomous learner” and that “it does not seem that connectivism’s contributions to the new paradigm warrant it being treated as a separate learning theory in and of its own right.”
Although I concur with Siemens (2005) when he said that “Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.” I do not entirely agree with the concept that forming connections is learning by itself, rather it is a necessary skill in this day and level of technology. Learning to form connections allows for better access of knowledge, and wider dispersion of sources. But I posit strongly, that the critical thinking, forming opinions and creating new knowledge is a province of the living cell.
Siemens G. Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age. 2005 as viewed from: http://www.itdl.org/journal/jan_05/article01.htm on 15 February 2012.
Cobb J. A definition of learning. 2009 as viewed from: http://www.missiontolearn.com/2009/05/definition-of-learning/ on 17 February 2012.
Robertson I. Introduction to learning theories. 2007 as viewed on:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsX5Tq3WTBw on 21 February 2012.
Kop R and Hill A. Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past? International Review of Research and Distance Learning Learning. 2008 as viewed on:
http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/523/1103 on 20 February 2012.
Downes S. Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge. 2006 as viewed from:
http://it.coe.uga.edu/itforum/paper92/paper92.html on 17 February 2012.