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Archive for October, 2009

Connectivism has been described as a situation where people, places and knowledge are connected in a dynamic, networked learning environment where the “connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing” (Siemens 2004, cited in Wikipedia 2010).

As I understand it then, connectivism describes the process by which the learning is done. From George Siemens’ summary of the differences between connectivism and other learning theories (Siemens 2009), connectivism has two properties that make it unique:

  1. the process i.e. in a network, rather than in a single space with a group of students and a teacher
  2. the creation of new learning.

Focussing on this last point, if connectivism involves the creation of new learning, where does knowledge come from? Can we really create our own knowledge from scratch?

In these early stages of the course I’m exploring the connectedness of the CCK09 network and starting to  find my way around (creating my own ‘map’ or schema’). My learning process consists of reading and trying to understand what other people have said and then presenting my understanding of this information in the form of a blog. i.e. I seem to be just rehashing the knowledge that already exists in the network rather than creating new knowledge. Yes, I’ve made the network larger (I am a new node), but is this learning process really connectivism if I haven’t created any new knowledge?

Also, if ten people rehash the same piece of information and present this information in ten new places, does this just make it more confusing for other learners?

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What is Connectivism?

I’ve been hovering around the edges of the CCK09 course for several weeks now and have finally decided to delve into ‘practical experience of theoretical constructs’. So, here is my first ever blog and my first attempt at consolidating some of the thinking I have been doing on connectivism while dabbling in the course material.

Before attempting to unravel connectivism, I’ll first explore some related pedagogies that resonate with me. The following three paragraphs are some thoughts that I shared recently with a group of educators who I work with, who regularly get together to discuss teaching and learning.

Experiential Constructivism – learning through doing

Under the premise of Constructivism, students learn through constructing their own knowledge and building on what they already know. They take new information and add it to their already existing mental map of ‘the way things are’ or ‘the way things work’. They may need to “re-draw” this map if necessary, if they are exposed to a new piece of information doesn’t fit with what they already know. In order to “re-draw”, students (and teachers) need to be comfortable with the possibility of changing their mind, being wrong and not knowing the answer.

Constructivism can be further understood by looking at the role of Experiential Learning in constructivist teaching. Students need time and space to explore ideas/thought/things without necessarily formally ‘learning’, as such. These experiences, or ‘teachable moments’, assist the transition between knowing and not knowing. Without the real, concrete experiences, often the link between new information and the current map is lost. These teachable moments provide a link between the student’s existing map, new learning and the student’s reality.

Experiential Constructivism therefore, suggests that students’ knowledge and understanding is enhanced through concrete experience. For example, throwing tennis balls to a range of stimuli deepens understanding of dimension of attention in Sports Science, or pouring standard drinks in Health enhances students’ understand of risk-taking behaviour. Furthermore, when teachers take advantage of the ‘teachable moments’  that occur outside of the planned experiences for the lesson, this capitalises upon real, tangible experience and assists students to construct relevant knowledge that not only connects their current learning with what they already know, but aids them to make meaning of a real experience.

Communities of Enquiry, Connectivism and Digital Technology

So what, then, is Connectivism? As I understand it so far, connectivism is the concept of learning within the framework of a community, connected via digital technology. Connectivism can possibly therefore be thought of as a digital Community of Enquiry. In a traditional Community of Enquiry, the teacher structures the learning in the classroom so that deep thinking is developed and facilitated among students. Questioning techniques are modelled by the teacher and students are encouraged to think deeply, question their own understanding and challenge that of their peers.

Could Connectivism then simply be shared experiential learning, in a global community of inquiry? One where, with the aid of digital technology, student experiences can be shared despite spatial and temporal distances? Is Connectivism then a pedagogy, or way of teaching rather than a learning theory in its own right?

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