Wednesday, 7 June 2006

Connectivism and the nature of learning

Stephen Downes OLDaily points to Connectivism: Danger or Opportunity which points to George Siemens - Connectivism White Paper. Back in Feb 2005, I commented in my post Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age that (based on one of George's early paper):

These theories [Behaviourism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism] do not address learning that occurs outside of people (i.e. learning that is stored and manipulated by technology). They also fail to describe how learning happens within organizations.

Then I failed to see how organisation has emotional, mental or physiological states. Any decision made by an organisation is a consequence of decision(s) made by people and these people's previous experience. While I acknowledge that these decisions may be stored external to the people making it (e.g. as rules in the organisation's processes or policy), this is NOT the same as the organisation learning.

My problem with connectivism is still related to the basic notion of "what is learning" and can "learning" be the same as knowing/understand/whatever-you-want-to-call without the ability of taking some actions based on the result of the learning process. I am holding a book on Physics. This does not make me a physicists. Librarians moving volumes of books in Physics daily. This does not make them physicists too. The jump from "owning, linking to information nodes (connections) and creating more such connections" to claim that this is "learning" is too big a jump for me.

George's viewpoint opens up a number of new ways or thinking to design and facilitate learning. Know-what, know-how are not sufficient in this fast changing world. Know-where and know-who are no doubt very important today.

In Learning Design - 1, I tried to understand how we developed our understanding of the world around us - the internal world view we have developed since birth. We, being a social animal as well as for the sake of survival, need to participate in community. As a member of a community, we develop language to communicate within the community. We externalised our understanding via language, initially transmitted between generations through oral stories and later by print. These externalised information, collectively, form the base of the combined intelligence of the community. Unless someone is able to make use of the combined intelligence and EXECUTE the information, these information remains as they are, information.

With the advent of communication and digital technology, we interact with more people beyond the immediate physical reach. We simultaneously participate in many communities. We cross-pollinate and build much more complex internal representation of the external world. If human is a node, information is a node, database is a node, we are building more and more links (connections) between all these nodes. Does this make us any wiser? When a decision needs to be made, we still depend on the information/understanding/knowledge/wisdom that we have access at the moment of making the decision. Yes, we may be able to access more information, ask more people for help. However, the decision is still made based on the amount of "thing" encoded inside the organ between our ears. Nothing more, nothing less. All the external connections help us to build a better internal view of the external world and consequently help us to make better decision or perform better. The connections themselves ARE not learning.


Lee Emerson said...

You said,"The connections themselves ARE not learning."

Doesn't this depend on the nature of the connections. By connecting with others mightn't we be listening to their ideas and views and therefore updating or modifying our internal dialogue?

Holding a book about Physics doesn't make us physicists agreed but knowing which physics book to pick up implies a tacit understanding of our expectations of how that book might help us.

Albert Ip said...

Thank you Lee for the comments.

I was trying to say that "connection", without any qualification, is just a connection and does not imply any learning. I was also trying to understand the differences between know-how, know-what from know-who and know-where. Know-how enables the knower to execute a sequence of steps to accomplish a task. Know-what implies "knowing which physics book to pick up". This tacit understanding itself is not a connection. This tacit understanding enables the selection of a connection. So are the know-who and know-where. Know-who and who-where are a "higher" level knowledge which enables the learner to seek the knowledge to solve a problem.

I also see the problems similar to the complexity of an organisation. In many cases, managers "manage" the resources, know who can do a certain task and know where to find resources to enable a task to be completed. However, strangely enough, when asked to actually solve the problem, or complete the task, some managers are unable to do so. Software project management and software development is a typical example in mind. Not all project managers are skilled in the finer limitations and details of the programming language the developers use. The project manager has the connection, but the developer has the know-how.