Saturday, September 13, 2008

What the hell is "Connectivism"?

It's a "new" buzz-word creeping into the conversation that is The Internet.

So far as I can ascertain from a very non-intensive reading of the blog, it's about how learning is "changing" and the process of creating a method of education that is more unilateral and egalitarian than traditional forms of learning.

The fundamental questions of how people learn, why people learn and where, when and who with will they learn are being discussed and critiqued in a kind of giant open-learning experiment currently happening in a small corner of the www.

There are apparently about 2000 people "doing the course", which involves lots of discussion time (conversations) in various locations using the remote communications of the internet itself.

At present, it seems that much of the "learning" is a collective debate on the subject itself.

What IS Connectivism and is it "useful" for the future of education?

I guess it is inevitable really. The whole analogy of the Internet being a "web" has virtually (sic), generated this concept into an actual Thing we can conceive of and utilise for other purposes including the way we learn stuff.

My interpretation, which by no means, have I shared in the discussions with course participants (I'm an outsider looking in at the moment), is that Learning - which is the information one is expected to or naturally acquires, culturally, socially or individually, in order to effectively produce a value-added purpose for existing in the world and bettering it (or not) - has for the past few hundred years or so been a very hierarchical thing. Pump the stuff in and expect the same stuff to be pumped out for future generations and so on.

Connectivism suggests (from my personal observations so far), that learning is now beginning to take on a kind of networked, peer-to-peer quality through discussion, conversation and reciprocated experiential transactions.

It's kind of Socratic actually, although not strictly so. Socratic learning asks questions that lead to other questions that lead to thinking about the subject and further discussions that springboard off from there to more questions and new subjects that circle around back to the original idea. Except, that in this instance there is no actual Socrates himself presiding over the course of discussion and steering it according to his own deliberate and cunning modus operandi.

Whereas Socratic method is reducing things down from a hypothesis to a universal Truth, Connectivism seems to want to deliberately explode the hypothesis into yet a thousand more. Connectivism appears to want to force - naturally that is - learning, to conduit expansively rather than reduce a learning process down a defined pathway to fundamental empirical evidence.

What will this achieve?

Not sure really. It could prove rather confusing in the end. If everyone is everyone else's teacher, who then has the Actual Thing that can be defined? And is that Actual Thing necessary anyway? The debate could be infinite on that last point btw!

When everyone is an expert on everything, nothing can be quantified or qualified. Or so it seems to me. It will be interesting to see if Connectivism as a learning tool does achieve a kind of collective hive-mind consensus on a topic or issue of discussion. It will be interesting indeedy, if ego's can be kept outside of the discussions and those participating can refrain from needing to have their personal opinions exemplified.

The cynic side of me has already assumed that collective learning with no defined structure or hierarchy will be just one big bun-fight with way too many obsessive self interests to be viable over the long term. If anyone does learn something from this, it will be the instigators of the course itself! What they'll learn is probably how to be good bouncers at a rage party!

I am intrigued by this experiment currently being conducted even so. The use of the net as a device for learning is obviously going to become increasingly more valued by our culture, if it isn't already! I myself, am currently doing a tertiary unit of study at an Aussie university via the Internet, so doubting the process is rather silly when I know its already possible and am doing it myself.

The two styles of learning are quite different though. My uni studies are still very much based in traditional concepts of reductionist thinking. Connectivism seems to be somewhat opposed to this process. I could be wrong though on that.

Still, right now, I kind of visualise the whole concept of learning through networking a bit of a confusing jumble of too many ideas with not enough meat on any of them. Like sprinkling salt on the sea.

I also think there might be too many "chiefs" and that the "indians" are all far too interested in making sure THEIR ideas are the best ones (and ergo... are THE 'Chief').

Live and learn though no matter what :)

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