Lisa’s CCK08 Wordpress Blog

October 3, 2008

Paper #1: My Position on [C]onnectivism

Filed under: papers,Week 4 — Lisa M Lane @ 4:00 pm

Connectivism Paper #1
Lisa M. Lane
October 2008

Connectivism is a learning theory based on the premise of knowledge distributed across networks of connections. During the first several weeks of this class, I have dealt intensively with the issues of connectivism in numerous blog posts, but for this short paper I will delineate connectivism with a little “c” (the practice of learning through connections) and Connectivism with a big “C” (the theory). My position on connectivism is that such a mode of learning has been popular for centuries, among people living together and those communicating at a distance. The sources of knowledge for this kind of connectivism can be people, letters, or books, artifacts of lives past or present. My position on Connectivism is that it is a contemporary learning theory that seems dependent on particular conceptions of knowledge and a perspective focused on contemporary computer-based internet technology. I have no problem with seeing it as a theory. The whole field of studying learning is so new that I find the argument over whether it is or is not a “real theory” not only distracting but somewhat absurd. If behaviorism and constructivism are learning theories, so is Connectivism.

I have many areas of agreement with connectivism (the practice). It is an excellent explanation of a way that people can learn. Its pedagogical approach can be pragmatic and useful, particularly in Downes’ Educational Theory of the student’s job being to practice and reflect, and the teacher’s job being to model and demonstrate. In one extension of connectivism, Cormier’s rhizomatic model, I see great usefulness for understanding the connections among educational technologists, if not other disciplines. I also appreciate the cognitive acknowledgement that informal learning (a la Jay Cross) is important, as are contacts we may have with others who are experts in their fields, or who are learning similar things as ourselves. I agree strongly with the contention that pre-literate, story-telling cultures are just as connectivist, if not more so, than ours (Om Design notes the Maori in his Moodle forum comment of October 1). Connections to ideas and people are everywhere, and are infinitely useful to us.

I have three main areas of disagreement or concern with the concepts inherent in Connectivism (the theory). The first concerns the definition and validity of knowledge. I appreciate Downes’ idea that true knowledge means you can’t not know something (2005); it is engrained. I see knowledge and wisdom as higher forms of cognition, and thus I have concerns about the idea that “knowledge” achieved through weak connections is automatically as “valid” as more traditionally developed knowledge. It is a small step toward disregarding the quality of information (whoever may determine that); I agree with Mike Bogle that it may be necessary to modify open learning with something that ensures some “well-informed ‘nodes'”. For this reason, I am thus far unable to go along with the idea of the “pipe” being “more important than the content” (Siemens 2004). My second area of criticism concerns presentism, the tendency to disregard the past or apply contemporary standards to people living in the past. Regardless of the bizarre, sometime séance-like reaction induced by my Networks of Dead People post, the elements of Connectivism that disregard the past I see as faulty, despite the assurances that “our focus needs to be on the big changes of history, not the current instantiation of those trends” (Siemens’ Moodle post Sept 28, 2008).

While attempting to explain the diversity of learning, Connectivism nevertheless establishes its applicable base in contemporary technology and today’s sense of being overwhelmed by information. To say that the “half-life of knowledge is declining” (or, as Viplav Baxi put it, “terribly fluid”), is to see knowledge as transient, to view the past dismissively, and to put far too much worth on the present and its glittery toys. Thus my last objection to Connectivism is the moral implication, which I’ve written about particularly in response to Barry Wellman’s articles (Little Boxes and response, Networks for Newbies and response). What I am seeing is a tacit belief that the move toward an intenet-connected world, a world of “networked individualism”, is a good thing. There is an implication throughout the course that not only do people learn this way, they should learn this way. The social disconnection and selfish individualism exemplified by voluntary, self-formed learning networks is not necessarily a good thing. It may be a reflection of the very worst in human nature: greed, self-centeredness, presentism, knee-jerk cynicism, cocksuredness.

There are a number of areas which I need to explore further. I would like to see modern networks compared more directly to those of the past, to place today’s networks in a historical tradition, a major determinant of validity for me. I cannot accept a novelty as being very significant. Paradoxically, I also have trouble accepting as an innovation something that may just be a scaled-up version of the historic networks I understand, as when Kerr notes that simply more people and more connections does not make for a new theory. I also need to examine the problem of assessment, brought out in Jason Green’s questions about “copious assessment” with learners who are not like those of use taking the class. My own definition of knowledge means that not all learners will attain it, so how does one assess “learnedness”? Cognitive networks, although being sidelined in this class, are of great interest to me because I suspect (like Ken Anderson) that it is there, more than in the social pipe, where the learning occurs. Cognitive connectivism would resonate much more with my own learning style. Additionally, I need to read a lot more about the idea of knowledge being “distributed”, a concept I am having difficulty grasping intuitively. Last, I need to better understand why the internet seems to be so central to Connectivism. According to founder George Siemens “[c]onnectivism focuses on the inclusion of technology as part of our distribution of cognition and knowledge” (2008). What is meant here is web technology, not printwork. Perhaps, as I suggested on a concept map, that is the main difference between Connectivism and connectivism.

Selected Resources

Cormier, Dave. (2008) “Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum.” Innovate 4 (5).. Retrieved on October 1, 2008, from

Downes, Stephen (2005). “An Introduction to Connective Knowledge”. Retrieved on October 1, 2008, from

Downes, Stephen (2006). “Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge”. Retrieved on October 1, 2008, from

Kerr, Bill. “A Challenge to Connectivism”. Connectivism Conference Presentation notes at learningEvolves wiki. Retrieved on October 1, 2008, from

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. Retrieved on October 1, 2008, from

George Siemens (2008). “What is the unique idea of connectivism?” Connectivism Blog . Retrieved on October 1, 2008, from

Wellman, Barry. Little Boxes, Glocalization, and Networked Individualism. 2002. Retrieved on October 1, 2008, from .


The Paradox of Active Participation

Filed under: Musings,Week 4 — Lisa M Lane @ 6:21 am

Taking off from Carlos González Casares’ reply in the Moodle forum on “The Importance of context”, I am thinking about my own participation in this class. Keep in mind that I consider myself not just a “for-credit learner” but also an “actively engaged” participant according to George Siemen’s list.

Carlos wrote:

Use the social media of the web to learning is easier by a more active way of participation because of the continuous overload of information. But in a contradictory sense a more “active” participation increase the overload of information and reduce the time to interpretation.

In this format, when I participate actively (by posting in the Moodle forum, or blogging, or commenting on another’s blog) I increase my workload immediately. This is ironic, because in participating I am attempting to understand. To understand complex ideas, I need to simplify them and organize them. Yet each post or reply creates a vested interest in that particular discussion, and I then feel obligated to follow it and see if anyone has replied to me.

Is this ego or just fear of missing something? I’m not sure. Is my reductionism necessary for me to understand? You bet. But if my participation causes an ever-increasing need to participate, then efforts to cull out my readings and just follow a few people are undermined. I’ll respond less to others in an effort, not to reduce cognitive dissonance or pause to interpret, but in an effort the sleep and eat.

It is indicative of the problem that I read someone’s blog post yesterday on how important it is that we all go outside and enjoy the pleasures of the season changing to autumn, and now I cannot find the post to link to it here. The overload builds on itself, and the desire to participate decreases.

If this is true of me now in this course, perhaps it is also true of students we might have use the methods of connectivism in their own work. As we head toward the weeks where we’ll discuss instructional design and the role of educators, I wonder whether my own “do I really want to participate here? won’t that increase the work I have to do?” response wouldn’t also be an issue for students.

October 1, 2008

Individualism and the Loss of Moorings

Filed under: Week 4 — Lisa M Lane @ 10:30 am

Given my reaction to the other Barry Wellman article we were assigned for Week 3, I confess I groaned when I saw that the Networks for Newbies PowerPoint was his.

There were useful things here. The idea that nodes in a network can be organizations, groups or nations as well as people, works for me. But then we got into the ideas that society is moving from Little Boxes to Individualized Networking and slide 18, where I realized Little Boxes are highly idealized. The world he describes never existed, and thus should not be used as a historical foundation unless the conclusion is a similarly idealized networked world. As with several things we’ve been reading, I’m never sure whether the author is saying that this is how things are or how they should be. The implication in Wellman is that there was once a locally connected world, and then it passed through a transitional period of “glocalized” connections (when? Levittown in the 1950s?), and now we are in the Brave New World requiring/demonstrating/promoting Networked Individualism.

Since Wellman’s “Networked Life before the Internet” (slide 41) comprises 99.99% of all human history, it might be a good idea to look a this historically, not just in terms of Little Boxes, but more broadly.

There have been several times in Western Civilization (and we should all be clear that most of this is confined to Western cultures) that perceptual shifts took place which undermined local connections. Let me present two.

During the Hellenistic Empire (following the death of Alexander in 323 BC), the Greek ideal of the polis was battered by a larger cosmopolitanism. Because of the networks created by Alexander’s conquests, and the manner in which he solidified them, the world got much bigger not only for Greeks but for Persians, Jews, and many others.

c. Holowlegs at Flickr

Alexander, traveling with a group of scientists and scholars, had his generals intermarry with royal women along the way (yes, often by force). His generals thus established dynasties (such as the Ptolemaic dynasty that produced the Hellenistic queen Cleopatra) and a system whereby anyone who wanted a role in the new trade networks had to speak and write Greek. Common currency and open trade routes helped assure prosperity if you chose to buy into the system.

For many, the new cosmopolitanism caused an identity crisis. Instead of seeing yourself as a member of a kinship clan or a polis, you began to see yourself as an individual and a citizen (cities, more than a few of them named Alexandria, were the hubs or nodes of this network). The Hellenistic philosophies of Cynicism, Stoicism and Epicureanism provide examples of the variety of responses to this (all emphasize the life of the individual). The art of the period, full of emotion and individuality, also express it. There was a sense of alienation in the cities and a need to find connections, as classical Greek ideas were seen increasingly as obsolete “knowledge”. The founding of Christianity is related to the feeling of alienation in a large world. (If you’re really into this, I lectured on it recently in class and my slides are here.) Ultimately the Eastern and Western Roman empires would divide, with the eastern individualism falling to the spread of Islam, and the western succumbing to the rise of the Roman Church.

The second example, and perhaps more of a lesson to us now, would be the Italian Renaissance of the 15th century. Again, trade networks were at the heart of the shift, because with trade goods travel ideas, in this case from the Arab world, which had preserved and enriched the works of classical Greece, the Hellenistic emprie, and Rome. Some of the ideas threatened the Roman Church’s hold on what constituted proper knowledge, but all of them enabled ideas of individualism to take hold after centuries of medieval communitarianism. Community had been terribly important to people in medieval times; their networks were local and even spiritual goals were subsumed to the needs of the community. Only the scholars, writing in the universal Latin language, had possessed a broader network.

Man put in the position of pitying
God, in Michaelangelo’s Pieta.

But the “new” ideas threatened the old holistic view. Classicism (think Petrarch) led to humanism (think Pico della Mirandola), and people (at least middle class people and scholars) began to promote the ideas of humanity as individualistic.

With that idea came a loss of moorings, a sense of sadness as the security of medieval Christiandom, with its sense of community responsibility and its promise of individual salvation, was shaken. As pointed out in a wonderful documentary on Renaissance Florence, you can see the sadness and loss in the art and hear it in the music. Morality now had to be determined by individual human beings rather than the Church, the mouthpiece of God. The result was Machiavelli’s The Prince (power for the sake of power), war for political instead of religious reasons, and with the Reformation the possibility to kill each other for both political and religious reasons.

When a culture perceives a shift from localism to cosmopolitanism, there is thus a tendency to glorify the individual, to see him/her as the heart of the system. In that tendency there is a loss of community values and goals. There is an argument about what constitutes knowledge, and who controls it. There is also a moral void, which gets filled by something, often a centralized power. In our description/promotion of a world shifting from local to “glocal” to individualized networks, it would be foolish to ignore both the historical similarities and the possibility of moral crisis.

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