Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age

I was finishing off listening to Steven Downes' recording of a presentation made at Mount Saint Vincent University - Blogging in Education on my way down the mountain to work this morning.

For the most part Steven's talk didn't really tell me anything I hadn't already considered or heard from him before, but it was interesting to listen to someone as advanced with concepts and ideas about blogging as Steven, have to give an introductory presentation about Blogging in education... every now and then he referred to sites or interest and readings I hadn't come across yet, and just listening to the way he presented the concepts gave me insights on how I might introduce blogging to educationalists better.

One of the papers he referred to at about the 1 hour mark was George Siemens' Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age which he stressed as being important reading. So I googled this Siemens fella and it didn't seem to come up... so I hopped onto Steven's site and google searched there, and found it that way. This tells me that perhaps this paper isn't as widely read as Steven hopes it to be.

Connectivism is exactly the learning theory I've been looking for. One like it, though not so much a theory, Planning for NeoMillenial Learning Styles by Chris Debe is an excellent and inspiring read but it is perhaps just a bit too imaginative, futuristic, and stand alone in its relationship to established learning theories to have had much of an effect on those I push to (other than the already converted). But George's straight shooting, brief, and pragmatically situated Connectivism will speak to those holding on to older learning theories such as behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. By referring to these canons of educational theory and practice, George in my view, plainly and successfully introduces connectivism theory.

Intoducing the theory, George quotes Karen Stephenson, author of What Knowledge Tears Apart, Networks Make Whole to encapsulate what he and others are describing:
Experience has long been considered the best teacher of knowledge. Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge. ‘I store my knowledge in my friends’ is an axiom for collecting knowledge through collecting people
George then refers to John Seley Brown, author of Growing Up Digital: How the Web Changes Work, Education, and the Ways People Learn, and his example of a classroom scenario to broaden the concept of connectivism where seniors are brought in to speak with the kids,
The children listen to these '"grandparents"” better than they do their own parents, the mentoring really helps the teachers… The small efforts of the many - the seniors -– complement the large efforts of the few -– the teachers.

The small efforts of many complement the large efforts of a few... I like that. That's what's going on around here. That's how networked learning works, that's connectivism...

I'm not steeling George's thunder by quoting part of his conclussion next, its a good read that I also recommend,
A real challenge for any learning theory is to actuate known knowledge at the point of application. When knowledge, however, is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill. As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses.
And this is how I have since seen George's paper being interpreted by other eduBloggers. Well worth a read, great for passing on to older educationalists struggling to come to terms with the social changes left to us by the Internet.

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