Tag Archives: knowledge

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.

Wikis, learning and faulty knowledge

Information and knowledge in a vocational education setting often has a significance beyond that in more academic courses: in fact, the life and well-being of the students and members of the public may depend on its accuracy. Consider the following scenario:

CC: photo Robert LawtonJan is a nursing lecturer in a department which has recently begun to incorporate a ‘community of practice’ approach, including the use of a wiki for students and staff to collaboratively build publicly-accessible knowledge resources. She logs in one Monday morning and sees that a student has added to the page on clinical practice, including information which is contrary to accepted practice and could put patients’ health at risk.

Jan is appalled: What if another student read that information over the weekend and put it into practice? What if a practising nurse has read it and is about to complain to Jan’s head of department? Jan immediately deletes the incorrect information, then wonders whether she has done the right thing.

How should Jan have reacted? In fact, if Jan’s department had been through a thorough planning process, the risk of faulty information being contributed as well strategies for dealing with it would have been identified prior to implementing the collaborative activity. So Jan would have known exactly how to react.

Some e-learning specialists feel that Web 2.0 tools like wikis have no place at all in vocational education because the risks of ‘faulty knowledge’ are potentially so great. I don’t happen to believe that, but I do believe we need to identify the risks when we are planning, along with what we will do when ‘faulty knowledge’ is contributed. And we need to share this with students beforehand, so that they too understand the risks and how these will be handled.

If we do identify that there is a risk of ‘faulty knowledge’ being contributed, we need to also identify how we will:

  • Monitor the wiki (ie how will we know incorrect information exists?)
  • Deal with the published incorrect information (eg is it deleted, corrected or annotated?)
  • Correct the students’ faulty knowledge (ie that underlies the incorrect information)
  • Maintain a democratic and motivating collaborative environment while retaining the right to intervene
  • Communicate the risks and how we’ll deal with them to students

I believe the potential benefits of exposing ‘faulty knowledge’ outweigh the risks – but we do need a well thought-out plan for dealing with incorrect and potentially dangerous information.

Photo by Robert Lawton