Tag Archives: connectivism

Connectivism: why I’m a skeptic

Is connectivism a theory? I guess. But when considering its usefulness to my own teaching and learning, I have reservations.

Here are 3 reasons I still have doubts about the value of connectivism as a theoretical construct:

  1. Yes, at a micro level the neurological processes of thinking and learning involve connections within networks. And yes, at a macro level as individuals we are connected to a variety of networks for sharing information. These are useful and informative parallels but there is no evidence that one is more than an analogy for the other. Because network connections are required at the micro level does not mean that they are necessarily a pre-requisite of learning at the macro level. There is a temptation to use one as an analogy of the other, but this seems likely to be an over-simplification.
  2. Connectivism is overly focused on learning as managing information: ‘… connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.’ (‘Connectivism’ and Connective Knowledge) If we visualise this at the macro level, the successful learner would appear to be little more than an effective navigator of information networks. For learning in a purely theoretical context, that might be fine. But as a professional developer, I’m more concerned with developing capability than knowledge.
  3. Connectivism does not adequately build on the theoretical constructs I have found useful in my own teaching and learning. It’s not that every theory has to explain every event, but connectivism seems to have inadequate room for concepts such as reflective practice or higher levels of thinking inherent in models such as Bloom’s taxonomy.

Image: Tyramide filled neurons from the cingulate cortex of mouse brain by Neurollero

The limitations of connectivism

The Connectivism & Connective Knowledge online course (CCK08) is now underway with close to 2,000 participants. I’ve wondered for some time about the usefulness and applicability of connectivism as a theory of learning, and enrolling in CCK08 seemed like a good opportunity to explore this issue in depth.

My first post is a response to one of the initial readings on connectivism, which states:

1. Connectivism is the application of network principles to define both knowledge and the process of learning. Knowledge is defined as a particular pattern of relationships and learning is defined as the creation of new connections and patterns as well as the ability to maneuver around existing networks/patterns.

This appears to suggest that learning involves ‘creating new patterns of knowledge’ and ‘developing skills in navigating knowledge’. This seems to me to be a very knowledge-focused model of learning, and the skills it does incorporate are self-referential – they are skills only in navigating the network which ‘defines knowledge’. If we imagine that the network is broken, then the only real skills developed are in navigating a faulty network.

For someone involved in professional development in education, concepts such as capability, self-efficacy and reflective practice don’t seem well-served by the connectivist definition of learning. This is not to say that ‘the network’ doesn’t have a role to play in supporting processes such as reflective practice (in fact, I think it has an important role) but it does seem limited in its ability to define learning in other than purely knowledge terms. I’m also not suggesting that ‘navigating patterns of knowledge’ is not an important part of learning, but it is just a part.