Friday, August 15, 2008

Rick’s Cafe Canadien: Siemens interview on connectivism

Rick’s Cafe Canadien: "Siemens interview on connectivism"

Just watched this interview with George Siemens on connectivism. George's ideas are of great interest to me and definitely shape what is happening in my own teaching. The idea of creating knowledge networks for students is brilliant. His book "Knowing Knowledge" should be required reading for teachers and instructional designers. I am, however, uncomfortable about people getting too attached to metaphors. The interviewer was very effusive about George's theory mirroring "the 'actual' operation of the brain." I don't think we are that close to really knowing the "actual" operation of the brain. The research does not prove that knowledge exists in networks or nodes. Knowledge and memory are non-localized phenomena in the brain. There are nodes and networks in the brain, but to then make the leap to "we know how knowledge works" is too much of a stretch. It is a logical fallacy to say that because the brain functions in a particular way physically that we therefore learn in a like manner. There are still textbooks on the shelf that show electrons orbiting a nucleus like little planets. The current metaphor says that the electrons exist in a probablity cloud. That is a lot harder to print up in a textbook. George does say that the science of cognition is a rapidly changing field. For connectivism to be a useful theory of education, it has to answer more questions; questions that are currently answered by constructivism. I am not saying it can't answer those questions, but it will have to. Collaborative learning and mind maps all have their place in constructivism. In fact, I found an interesting constructivist mind map. Connectivism runs the risk of being a return to cognitivism where we become more concerned with an information processing model of the brain that does not adequetely address the complex social and psychological relationships involved in teaching and learning.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Geoffrey,

    Thanks for your comments. You packed a lot into a short post! Lots there that could be the source of much discussion.

    First, I fully agree with what you're saying about the status of existing research around the brain (and the mind). We simply don't know many things. I've tried not to emphasize the neural component of connectivism and instead defer it to connectionism and neural science. My main point in this regard, during the interview, was that current indications from neuroscience research supports the notion of connectivism or learning as network formation at a biological level. But our understanding is far from complete.

    When dialoguing about complex ideas I often get this sense of "if I say one thing, then there's a danger that - by omission - I don't support other related concepts". To clarify: if I'm talking about the networked nature of knowledge, I'm certainly not trying to ignore the social aspect of learning. The return to cognitivism is not what I'm suggesting. But I do think we can extract certain elements of pre-existing learning theories to inform connectivism. In other forums, I have advocated greater emphasis on social dimensions of learning - often under the banner of "learning ecology" - those impacting factors that influence what/how we learn.

    I love your statement: "For connectivism to be a useful theory of education, it has to answer more questions; questions that are currently answered by constructivism. I am not saying it can't answer those questions, but it will have to."

    We do have to answer more questions. Especially practical questions that help educators design curriculum, develop courses, etc. We've been quite focused on conceptual levels to date. We need to answer a broader swath of questions.

    One final point - von Glaserfeld has suggested that radical constructivism is not able to address learning the way traditional learning theorists want it to...i.e. the epistemological orientation of other learning theories is something that is outside of the scope of constructivism. In fact, according to von Glaserfeld, it is the very thing constructivism cannot do. To ask for an epistemological orientation is to misunderstand constructivism (of the radical sort, anyway). While I find myself disagreeing with his negation of epistemology, I think his point of argument is important. Namely, when taken in a connectivist sense, we need to consider not just how does connectivism answer the questions cognitivism and constructivism answer, but what new questions does it address? What new answers does it provide to inform and guide our learning?

    Thanks again for your thoughtful reflections...