Tuesday, October 07, 2008

CCK08 short paper, connectivism, what is it, where is it and can i get some?

This short paper is used to clarify my position on connectivism. In doing this, I choose to ‘connect’ my current threads of learning. I approach connectivism through actor-network theory. The paper then explores whether connectivism provides a new theory of learning and how it connects with prior knowledge in terms of my own learning experiences. This leads to consideration of what further questions, for me, need to be addressed.

I come to this course already connected; to people, my work, my family, and my doctoral undertakings. Such social orientations provide me with relationships that influence my beliefs and my thinking. In relating I am introduced to ideas, as well as challenges to the current ideas I might hold. I am also connected to my laptop, without her, I could not be networked. She extends my reach in terms of hearing and ‘speaking’ with others. In this sense, a network for learning is established. This is congruent with the core premise espoused by George Siemens(2006); learning is a network phenomenon, influenced (aided) by socialization and technology. The social and technological as part of the network is also central to actor-network theory (Latour,1999). Playfully, I name myself cyborg as a learner in the 21st century and embark on telling a sociotechnical story.

Sociotechnical stories allow for an understanding of events that weave together the social and the technical or material aspects. The connective learning approach, situated as it is, within a world more connected than ever before through the Internet, lends itself to such an analysis. This also provides me with an opportunity for weaving together two fields that seem to readily sit by each other, connectivism as a theory of learning emerging in a networked world, and actor-network theory being a means of informing discussion of what occurs within networks and how such networks are configured.

Such stories are not innocent; they provide scope for seeing not only how things are, but also how things might be otherwise.

Our stories are not simple innocent descriptions. They can make a difference, introduce changes, or alternatively bring aid and comfort to the existing performances of technological reality while it could have been otherwise. Technologies could have been enacted in other ways – imagined and enacted. (Law & Singleton, 2000, p.769.)

The story too could be otherwise. It will be otherwise when told by others or at different times, even by the same author. This is also a part of connectivism, knowledge is not located as an isolated event, its created in connections, culturally and temporally bound. In undertaking this networked course, I am situated within a connected learning opportunity. The size of my course is the world, spread across this world are something like 2000 people interested in exploring the topic of connectivism, and connective knowledge, as an emergent learning theory. They could not do this without some material means through which to connect. The material semiotics therefore includes the laptops to connect to the connectivism wiki and moodle and emails and elluminate discussions. Some have also chosen to extend this through use of their own blogs, and wiki, some also move into 2nd life. Others choose to connect through mobile phones utilising twitter, as well as the access afforded to wiki, blogs, moodle etc. The technologies and means of access form part of the structure of the network.
“Semiotics of materiality suggests that objects, materials, information, people and (one might add) the divisions between big and small or global and local, are all relational effects” (Law, 1999).

I could not be part of the course without the technology affording me access. In connecting with others the means is part of the message; social networking media extends the reach of others as well as my own, providing the means of connecting. However, the material semiotics of the network, are not the network. While they provide means, what is connected, matters. So people are connected. But it is how they connect that becomes a crucial component to connectivism as a theory of learning. For what then might be the necessary and sufficient conditions for connectivism to be considered a theory of learning?

First, I have to connect. This may or may not be through the media afforded by emergent technologies. These are not sufficient or necessary. What is essential is the connecting for learning. In doing this, I bring myself, my thoughts my abilities and I ‘meet’ with others who similarly bring themselves for the purpose of exchanging thoughts, beliefs, and ideas, even feelings. In this exchange, there needs to be movement for learning to have occurred. I need to be able to let go of ideas, or to reconsider ideas in terms of what they may be connected, how prior thinking may then be altered, accommodated or rejected. During this course, I am reminded that such ‘others’ need not be present; their ideas are what I connect with. Provocatively, Lisa Lane raises the spectre of a network of dead people (Lane, 2008) into my lived experience on connectivism and learning. I am also provoked to consider if the theory of learning is new in the blog post ‘Is connectivism shiny’ (tschofen, 2008) and while I had not been exposed to this authors previous readings, I am aware that I don’t think it is new. My own experience of learning can be traced through who I have listened to; dead and alive. My connections are not all new, some are to people I know such as Stanley Freilick who I meet with on a terrestrial weekly, if not daily basis. However, enrollment in a connectivist learning course creates opportunity for new discussions to occur, and these are not restricted to an Internet forum, but occur in front of colleagues generating further discussions. Such an approach might be considered viral, and this has been explored in the CCK08moodle threads. The approach also has similarities with neuronal physiology; with firing of nodes and catalytic sequalae evolve. Such thinking is not new, the interconnections are identified and applied to learning in Dave Cormier's article titled Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum. The bringing together, and naming, and exploring the application, particularly with consideration for technologies now available within education, is.

Expanding on the usefulness of a theory of learning called connectivism, it is worth considering how the quality of such learning may be measured. As already outlined, new thinking is provoked. New means to shared ways of communicating are deliberately practiced and overtly explored as I bend my blog amusingspace.blogspot.com to new purpose. Minutes of fame quickly dissipate within a fast paced connected learning environment, but evidenced by clustermaps and delicious, my being connecting by others increased. My stated intent on the introduction thread was to apply my knowledge of actor-network theory within this course, this is both extending my thinking and knowledge of the theory as well as expanding my connections with other educators who have knowledge of the approach. In addition, there are new skills acquired. I discovered wordle, eluminate, and hyperlinking within prose. Nonetheless not all the learning is positive, some is challenging. Some students I connect with seem more intent on self if not group distraction and destruction. And not all the learning is straight forward; in moodle threads differentiation between concepts of computation, collectivism and connectivism created a chasm of ‘isms’ to fall into, and required Stephen Downes’ Professorial assistance to get back out. The role of teacher as facilitator, and role model, is sustained.

My current understanding of connectivism is that it’s not new. What is new is its naming and its affordance as a learning theory. I believe it provides a demonstrable and accurate portrayal of how learning occurs, as such it is an effective theory for it illuminates aspects of what is important and from this, deliberate consideration can be given to how learning might be extended. My question remains; what are the necessary and sufficient conditions and how does this extend my own thinking, my own connections, and my connections with others.

Lane, L. (2008). Networks of dead people. Retrieved 25 September, 2008, from http://lisahistory.edublogs.org/2008/09/25/networks-of-dead-people/
Latour, B. (1999). On recalling ANT. In J. Law & J. Hassard (Eds.), Actor network theory and after (pp. 15-25). Oxford: Blackwell.
Law, J. (1999). Materialities, spatialities, globalities [Electronic Version] from http://www.comp.lancs.ac.uk/sociology/papers/Law-Hetherington-Materialities-
Law, J., & Singleton, V. (2000). Performing technology's stories. On social constructivism, performance, and performativity. Technology and Culture, 41, 765-775.
Siemens, G. (2006). Connectivism: Learning Theory or Pastime of the Self-Amused?
tschofen. (2008). Is connectivism shiny? Retrieved 27 September, 2008, from http://tschofen.wordpress.com/2008/09/27/cck08-is-connectivism-shiny/

Note to self;
hyperlinks lost on moving word doc to blog (aargh)
However; its not for credit, I dont need to dot the i's cross the t's or get a 'grade'

And next q is how to sustain the links...and or put a word doc into the bog
But for now I have a life to get back to...


  1. Hi ailsa,

    I'm still wrestling with shininess and whether the quantitative and possibly qualitative effects of technology make connectivism something new, or whether it's more like the extension of a continuum or that third or alternate dimension. In any case, I liked your summary: "What is new is [connectivism's] naming and its affordance as a learning theory. I believe it provides a demonstrable and accurate portrayal of how learning occurs..." And I agree-- the question really is "now what?" in terms of what we can do and experience with this understanding. Should get interesting:-)

  2. Glad to see you keeping the flag flying for Actor-Network theory Ailsa. I can't understand why connectivism hasn't mined that rich seam.

  3. Hi Ailsa,
    I read your article with great interest.
    I agree with your views in that most of the concepts involved in connectivism is not entirely new. I would consider some of those were addressed via different theories such as Complexity Theory and Complex Theory. And so they were just an extension or integration of the latest scientific and learning theories, with the affordance of technologies "accelerating" and "enhancing" learning of at neural, conceptual and network level.
    Have you considered some other aspects of this "learning theory"? These include: emergence of knowledge and learning process, a focus on process - authentic networked learning (via technology affordance and networking) rather than product (traditional institutional based teaching, lesson plans, assessment outcome, curriculum) and a nearly complete learner centred approach to learning? I have elaborated these 3 main points in my blog: http://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com on "What's new with connectivism?"
    I reckoned that most previous learning theories did address some the above points, but have not been able to explain why learning is exhibiting the chaotic and complex nature of learning - but that connectivism which could attempt to explain the three main points shown. The assertions by George and Stephen provide further claims on connectivism as a learning theory.
    Also, I would even say that there is a "NEW LEARNING THEORY" which could be in par with Connectivism called "Situational Learning" if learning is defined in an umbrella term.
    Again, your insights stimulated me to think again about the underlying concept on connectivism.
    Do you think human element need to be considered more highly in connectivism? Again you are invited to my blog to comment on the human elements...

  4. thanks EQ, i do believe that the human element is critically important. Being an advocate for actor network theory i concede that non human actors also have influence. My devoutly humanistic/client centred/student centred orientation leads to believe that it is a part of the human condition to strive to do better; to consider how education might be done...better...
    Personally i hate the distraction into physiology; similarly discussion of a reductionist behaviourist orientation. To be a thinking feeling choosing being is incredibly important to me and to deny this importance leads me to reject out of hand any approach that does not acknowledge that there is importance in being human.