Lisa’s CCK08 Wordpress Blog

September 10, 2008

Summary and Response: What Connectivism Is

Filed under: Responses,Summaries — Lisa M Lane @ 9:43 pm

This was a collection Downes’ answers, in fisking format, at the Connectivism Conference forum, where he replied to a number of people questioning connectivist theory. Despite the title, this was more about what connectivism is NOT, which was actually more useful.

Downes defined connectivism as the theory that “knowledge is distributed across a network of connections” and that learning is “the ability to construct and transverse those networks”. Thus the process of learning is the creation of connections, and “knowledge” is “the set of connections formed by actions and experience”.

The role of the instructor is to model and demonstrate; the role of the learner to practice and reflect. I’ve read that in Downes’ work before, and it is to me the most profound thing I’ve heard about pedagogy. It is already changing the way I do things.

Where I run into trouble is where he says that “an understanding” is distributed across a network of connections. To “know” something seems unique and personal. I’m seeing conflict here between the collective and the networked individual noted by Wellman. Could they be the same thing?

Downes also says that whatever mental models there are are not built, but grown “like a plant”. I assume there’s a connection there to neural network growth in the brain, except that in the brain neurological connections seem to become stronger with repeated use, although I suppose an initial pathway could be seen as being “grown”.

The fact that Downes notes that understanding previous theories won’t translate well into connectivism may make it the strongest argument for its being a new theory I’ve heard so far.

Bill Kerr had written that there seem to be two different versions of this theory (he doesn’t like considering it a theory), George’s version and Stephen’s version. Downes answers this by saying that theories postulate “the existence of some entities and the non-existence of others”. Using Newtonian gravitation as the example (apparently Newton rejected “impetus” in favor of “mass”), he says that he is using the language of mass (the new model), while George makes his work more accessible by using “impetus”. Presumably, then, this would mean that Siemen’s focuses on what is no longer the case, moving away from earlier models. But from what I have seen so far, Seimen’s perception of the past is somewhat tenuous, while Downes (using the “new” view) seems more concretely to understand connectivism in a continuum of thought about knowledge.

Always the philosopher (for which I am profoundly grateful), Downes makes me more aware that knowledge is a matter of seeing the whole enchilada (in his example, a holistic view of a chessboard rather than remembering series of moves). I think that the recognition he is discussing may be deductive, and the inference that detractors think is necessary to knowledge is inductive. I have to put at least some of this into my current theoretical models, or I’ll lose it entirely!).

Some of the things here that might be useful for my short paper include:

  • previous theories won’t translate well into connectivism, supporting the idea of its being a new theory
  • still keeps knowledge as individual — I am not seeing anything here supporting collective or networks “knowing” anything
  • there may be a contradiction here with Wellman, which is fine with me!
  • knowledge is something you can’t not know, and it’s holistic, more based in recognition than in reasoning, perhaps more like intuition

* I’d like to know what Stephen would make of the word “content” in regard to knowledge?


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