Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What connectivism and ANT may have in common (CCK08)

OK some rudiments of understanding first, and these are based on a limited reading of what George Siemens and Stephen Downes have put out there.
Connectivism is a theory of learning.
One that values highly the means of the learning.
Seems that knowledge is created and constructed in connection with others.
(Constuctivism methinks, so what makes connectivism different???)

"learning is a network phenomenon, influenced (aided) by socialization and technology"
“To 'know' something is to be organized in a certain way, to exhibit patterns of connectivity. To 'learn' is to acquire certain patterns” (Downes, 2005, Section O, ¶ 2).

Still not clearer.
So I am going to guess: Knowledge and learning are not static, there is continual learning/unlearning/reshaping at play. This occurs in connection with others and through channels that are deeply important. Here's where I think this is ANT. The others are not only human, the nonhuman others include technologies such as computers, IPS servers...the Internet. The local situated context of learning of the past has moved on.

To return to George, where learning is about making meaning, then this needs to take into account the means used and the context, because the context is now global.

This seems less a theory for understanding causality, but one for illuminating process. That connectivity via Internet has profound impact, yet to be recognised.

Knowledge not individually located but distributed; ok, still resides in indivisduals or in books, artefacts...but is not produced 'locally' the context is radically expanded, but is still produced in connection. Ok
But like communications what's written or saved as audio or blogged, wiki'd etc etc is not anything until it is shared in connection.

Still seems to be learning using a constructivist understanding that acknowledges an ANT mode in the practice.

If so whats important?
That non human actors have influence. That this influence is important, and not necessarily neutral. That inscribed in non human actors are ways of working that make certain things more and less likely. That in the making of new ways of working, we tend to surf on what has gone before and maybe this needs to be altered. That the grooves that form now or in the near past tend to make it harder to shift out of whats always been and maybe we need to.

Is it a theory?
Could actor-network theory have explored this as a means to understanding new changes in education? I think so, but it doesn't sound quite so sexy as connectivism.

Tools change people. We adapt based on new affordances.
I agree, but this still would encompass a constructivist theory made relevant when informed by an ANT analysis.
Whats new; an emphasis on how knowledge, in practice, changes.
To this end, I would encourage further exploration in understanding change differently. I'd encourage looking at Bruno Latour and John Law as the work of actors(human and otherwise) create performances. Or Annmarie Mol as she describes ontologies of practice.


  1. I found a reference I had -- sorry I have not tracxed it further:
    Arnold, Michael (2006). The concept of community and the character of networks, Draft submitted for publication in the Journal of Community Informatics 2006.

    He says:
    "A Community Network is not just a means of meeting desires, it also
    changes the cultural, social, economic and emotional frames that give rise to desire, and
    situate desire. A Community Network is thus metaphysical, and not simply instrumental, or technical, or social, or hierarchical, or heterarchical."

    This is how I am am seeing CCK08.

    I was interested in ANT for a while but I found it postmodern in flavour and therefore incoherent (I think that was my problem -- it's been a while since I looked at it). But I do remember a quote from Latour. The great man himself said something like "the only things wrong with Actor-Network Theory are Actor, Network, Theory, and the Hyphen."

    I think connectivism has an emphasis on the *connectedness* whereas, if I recall, ANT is less human and very keen on interstices. But that might be unfair. Still, I'm happy to keep exploring forward rather than feeling a need to go back and look again at what someone else thought about something similar. (In other words, I am not as keen on the differences as on the possibilities on connections generating new things).

  2. Further to my previous comment, re postmodernism and constructivism. I have been reading Gavin Kitching's (2008 Penn State U Press) "The Trouble With Theory: The Educational Cost of Postmodernism" in which he explores the confusion created by constructivism (p 68): "in the perspective of social constructivism, humans only relate to the world by 'knowing' it.... Third-person linguistic perspectives [the ones students then adopt] run together epistemology and ontology in ways that tend to leave the latter being absorbed by the former."

    He gives salutory examples of confused work from bright honours students who write things like this (of an earthquake!) "what gives an object reality is our thought, our 'knowing' of it. We endow 'reality' through 'naming' and we cannot name or know in this sense, outside of a discursive structure..."

    It's been a very good book for me to read right now (like you I'm doing a PhD in education -- and education seems to have been going through a bad time for the last 20 years, with too much stuff that sounds exactly the same, and is totally incomprehensible once you start interrogating it). I have put that down to postmodernism (but, as they say, your mileage may vary).

    So I think connectivism might perhaps take us away from all that. (I hope, anyway.) It is much friendlier to read, anway.

  3. Just me back again (get a life! (grin)). Found another reference that might interest you:
    Gomez, Louis M., Miriam Gemoran Sherin et al. (2008). 'Creating Social Relationships: The Role of Technology in Preservice Teacher Preparation', Journal of Teacher Education 59: 117+.

  4. Thanks Trish, i am honored that you have gone to so much trouble with expanding my thinking here. Loved your example of the writing regarding earthquakes as an expression of constructed reality. Bit like a tree falling in a forest and there's no-one to hear it...
    Currently i am happy to explore approaches incorporating the less than human. I am finding Latour's approach oddly humanistic in that it doesn't impose knowing on others. And am really enjoying Susan Leigh Star's uncovering of what is oftentimes invisible work. And the politics, and the ethics, that this entails.

    Do you have a blog i can visit you on?

  5. Nah, thank you for offering to visit, but I keep setting up blogs all over the place and then forget where they are. Hopeless! I admire you for keeping it going with all your other things to do. I keep a website for business purposes but that's different. Time's the problem.

    Am also interested in experimental philosophy (see Experimental philosophy blog at

    I have just finished the Kitching book - I wish I'd had it a couple of years ago. And I think it should be compulsory reading for grad students -- in fact if I were a university (now there's a thought!) I'd hand out a copy with each enrolment. That's how clear, important and unusual I think it is.

    I agree with you about value and place of artefacts but others apart from ANT recognise that. For example, the distributed/situated cognition people happily see a computer as an extension of a person, and say it is hard to tel where the 'cognition' starts and ends in that case. Or where the transition between "I" and "it" lies. (now there's a pun!)

    Back to work!
    trish in Oz

  6. Revisiting this years later, i cringe. is in our interactions not in any precondition.