Connectivisim - Block 1 Activity 11

I started the article written by George Siemens outlining a ’new’ theory supposedly relevant to a digital age called ‘Connectivism" which has the grand preface that "This is a milestone article that deserves careful study.” 

I think it’s a useful article but a ‘milestone’?

Broadly speaking ‘Connectivism’ is supposed to take account of the modern learning paradigms where the half life of learned material is becoming shorter and shorter to the extent that today’s learners can have to expect to re-learn material perhaps more than a few times in the course of their working lives. Not only that but the type of information that needs to be learned is rapidly changing as technology makes many of the things that we need to learn, irrelevant. For instance, now that information is on tap and more or less freely available, one does not have to spend attentional resources memorising facts and figures.

Siemens points out that a skill previously not required until recently was having a educational filter of what is worthy of learning, rather than ‘learning’ per se. This is because the amount of information out there has taken on astronomical proportions that modern students simply cannot hope to access even small fractions of. 

Learned information doesn’t also necessarily come in a linear format, but maybe accrued incrementally from many different sources (I think it took me about 5 years and at least three different sources to understand TCP/IP protocols).

A follow on from this then is that a newer skill set is the ability to synthesise information from different sources and then find a new meaningful schema that can help to explain this synthesis better. This reminds me a lot of what Howard Gardner has called ‘Naturalistic Intelligence’.

Connectivism appears to rest on a few axioms which are:

  • chaos (theory)
  • networks
  • complexity
  • self organising theories/constructs

With respect to these axioms Siemens writes about learning:

… occurs within nebulousenvironments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), …

Learning under connectivism suggests that learning is happening constantly because information on which the learning is based is changing so rapidly such that :

The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital. The ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday is also critical.

So far so good.

Overall analysis

What I am not so keen on is the idea that organisations need to be considered as being the same as an ‘organism’. It is possible to speak of an organisational mindset but to anthropomorphise the organisation forgets that this ‘entity’ does not reside anywhere outside of the individuals that make up the organisation. In truth Siemens does acknowledge that the 'starting point of connectivism is the individual.’, however, it’s the rest of the passage that seems to imply that the organisation can take on a life of it’s own. I guess my concern is that it’s useful to study how aggregate effects of individuals can create an organisational identity, but I think the focus has to remain with the individual and the access to resources that those individuals has (or has not).

Siemens concludes that ‘the pipe is more important than the content within the pipe [of knowledge and/or learning], butI have a problem with that. Siemens is right to say that the mode and delivery of information takes on far more importance than it did before (mainly because there are many more ways of getting that information than before) but it does not change the fact ‘the information’ at any particular point in time is actually ‘the’ critical thing of importance (at that particular time). 

I feel like ‘connectivism’ is a start on something much more fundamental and will become ’the milestone’, but we are not there yet. 

Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.  -Will Durant