This is Paper 1 for CCK08. I must confess that I did feel that this was a topic best left until the very end of the course J. I am going to treat it as a place to pose the questions that I have so far, perhaps expose the gaps in my reasoning and hope that the ensuing discussion and feedback will help me understand the concepts better.
We communicate differently than we did even ten years ago. We use different tools for learning; we experience knowledge in different formats and at a different pace. We are exposed to an overwhelming amount of information—requiring continually greater levels of specialization in our organizations. It is here—where knowledge growth exceeds our ability to cope—that new theories of knowledge and learning are needed. And it is in this space that a whole development model of learning must be created (i.e. learning beyond vocational skills, leading to the development of persons as active contributors to quality of life in society).
[Connectivism: Learning Theory or Pastime of the Self-Amused? George Siemens, 2006]
It is here that I have some questions and concerns to start with. To me this represents a generalization at many levels –
- what is apparent to a privileged few that have access to technology cannot necessitate new theories of learning and be generalized to everyone who do not – the very concept is inherently hegemonic and ignores the vast majority who are expected to catch up when they can negotiate the great divide
- the very concept of information overload and knowledge growth exceeding our ability to cope is made prophetically self fulfilling by the very technology that enables it
- the presumption that these principles hold for everyone and all learning, like the principles behind a steam engine
- do we have any historic precedent (massive technical/social change) that by itself necessitated a new way of looking at knowledge and learning? Has ever been knowledge growth been that small so as not to exceed our ability to cope?
- what knowledge is growing obsolete so fast that it is necessitating a new way of thinking about knowledge and learning? What knowledge is doubling every 18 months? Is it at the K12 level? Under-graduate? Organizations only? Specific domains?
Further, I think it is important to acknowledge that:
a) it is not necessary that the information explosion equates to an explosion in knowledge that results in actionable learning i.e vast amounts of information is irrelevant to the context of an individual’s learning needs or redundant/duplicated and/or useless in a given context or subject area,
b) it is not feasible to assume that this apparent information overload that has resulted from the access to new tools to collaborate and publish did not exist before it was digitized in blog posts and YouTube videos (that would be to say that there was no conversation, and worse, no experience and no evolution of thought);
c) conversations have a multiplicative quantitative effect where people are concerned (take gossip) thereby exponentially increasing any quantum of information
Secondly, I feel Connectivism does not provide me with any insights yet of how I would build a working model for a new educational milieu. Of how to directly address some of the crucial logistics challenges facing nations, societies and corporations alike – how to equip or enable to self-equip millions of people, given time delimited goals, in a fairly reliable manner, with the skills to ensure a livelihood or perform a set of tasks or build competency in an area of strategic national/institutional vision; or how to identify and reward the best performers in an organization; or how to ensure that learners reflect and engage with diversity etc. Is there a formal methodology that can be derived from the theory that provides these results?
The third problem is around externalization vs internalization in the comparison with other theories of learning. How can I write this blog post without internalizing a series of articles that I have read and podcasts I have heard and conversations I have had, without performing several dialectical cartwheels and then presenting my thoughts? Externalization is a means of expression, an output of things we have already made sense of before we put pen to paper, brush to canvas, finger to keyboard….that intelligence that we CAN express or demonstrate in some form. That externalization can be part of a process of several exercises in sense making, often through collaboration. The internalization that must precede it could and perhaps should leverage my network of resources to be maximally effective or productive for me.
The fourth problem that I face in comprehending Connectivism or rather what really disturbs me, is the adaptation of the concept of a network from network technology as it exists today. So also the attempt to bring AI generation/approach 2 as a potential approach for modelling the learning process and knowledge itself.
Actually it is not the analogous use of the concept as much as the direct derivation from and the dependence on technology that shapes the discourse itself (e.g. star and mesh topologies, balanced load, density, single point of failure, recommender systems, content syndication, disaggregation of content & service, disintegration of content and presentation, content as open code, network as infrastructure…) intermixed with discussions of the democratic, open, diverse, autonomous, unlimited by the capacity of the leader and interactive nature of networks (vs groups) intermixed again with neuroscientific linkages.
Why this makes me uncomfortable is that (amongst other things):
a) it feels very futuristic (almost as if I can feel a device connected to the network of knowledge coupled with my brain) and therefore not tangible, not for today;
b) the attempt to measure and manipulate learning effectiveness by measuring the parameters of networks using social network analysis (and thereby perhaps the urge to tweak parameter or two to achieve higher effectiveness) sounds extremely deterministic;
c) who is responsible for creating the technology, distributing it, maintaining it and advancing it;
d) who lays down and enforces the rules necessary to make sure cascades don’t happen, for example
Where I think the strengths of Connectivism lie are in the ambition to change the status quo, leverage the power of technology and harness the important developments in diverse but related disciplines such as chaos theory, complexity, self organization and neurosciences.
The issues of overwhelming information, the haves and have not’s, and historical context in which to place this can be easily seen in the creation of the book. Before this the methodical and time consuming scroll was the answer to many academics dream of recording information. Then came that darn book, easy to store, easy to locate answers, easy to share to the masses, the information is going to be too much… (sounding a lot like the problems we are having)
Let’s face it, we are at a turning point in knowledge acquisition. If Connectivism is not the answer then something else will be. Darwin’s theory of natural selection even applies to learning theories. We must also admit that knowledge creation and dissemination will also continually increase, but we forget that humans are very adaptable, but yet at the same time set in our ways.
A change will happen, nothing stays the same, but should we accept without thought, without carefully considering the options, and discussing before jumping head first into it… Well if we did that, it would be the first time a long while…
When the book came about (or the scroll), did it necessitate a change in the way we defined knowledge or did it bring about a new theory of learning? I am not saying it if something does not have a historical precedent then it has no right of occurring now obviously. But I am just curious.
I believe that we are fast approaching a turning point. Not just for knowledge acquisition, but also of technology, markets, individual agency with respect to the digital world and of the inherent tensions that our educational system is undergoing. The change is welcome and we must embrace it if it makes sense to us. What I really like about this MOOC is that it does just that – provoke us to think and change.