Tuesday, December 26, 2006

a challenge to connectivism

George Siemens has invited me to present to the Connectivism Online Conference that he is organising in February 2-9, 2007. Thanks George, for being prepared to listen to a critical voice.

I'm collecting my thoughts at the learning theory evolves wiki so go there for more detail. Find links to George's original paper and other resources here

Here is a summary of my current position on connectivism (subject to change as I learn more). I'd rather see the discussion start now than wait until February so please post your comments and criticisms here or on the wiki (after joining)

A challenge to connectivism
Networks are important but haven't changed learning so much that we need to throw away all of the established learning theories and replace them with a brand new one. How do we test whether a new idea is an interesting speculation or something more substantial? A good learning theory should:
  1. contribute to a theory/practice spiral of curriculum / learning reform,
  2. provide a significant new perspective about how we see learning happening
  3. represent historical alternatives accurately.
Connectivism fails on the first count by using language and slogans that are sometimes “correct” but are too generalised to guide new practice at the level of how learning actually happens.

Connectivisim does contribute to a general world outlook but we already have theories and manifestos for that view (systems theory, chaos theory, network theory, cluetrain manifesto), so we don't need a new -ism in this respect.

Finally, connectivism misrepresents the current state of established alternative learning theories such as constructivism, behaviourism and cognitivism, so this basis for a new theory is also dubious.

9 comments:

sylvia martinez said...

Hi Bill,
I think your summary is right on target. Putting a viewpoint into academic format doesn't make it a contribution to knowledge.

Most likely this has gotten notice because it does reflect the feeling that the world is changing rapidly and schools aren't.

The logic goes: schools teach students based on learning theories, schools aren't working, therefore we need a new learning theory.

It's not at all clear that schools actually use much in the way of learning theory or research -- it's much more apparent that school practices are a legacy of social, political and historical movements.

I'm also highly skeptical of the solicitation on the website, "If you are considering implementing connectivism as a learning model to improve corporate effectiveness, or revising the delivery of learning for your school system, I am available for speaking and consulting engagements."

Improve corporate effectiveness? Delivery of learning?

I'm not against the guy making a living, but c'mon, is this about learning theory or making a name for yourself by announcing you've discovered the new, new thing?

Bill Kerr said...

hi sylvia,

I hadn't noticed that "corporate effectiveness" comment on George's site (here), thanks for pointing it out, I don't like it either.

I'm interested in the new school that has been built by the catholic system in sydney, which might qualify under the banner of connectivism or "web2.0-ism" (another slogan I don't like much). What I notice about that school is that has incredible innovation in terms of technology, built environment etc. but is still tied to the existing NSW Board of Studies curriculum. I don't know the full detail but one interpretation is that everything is being changed except the most important thing.

There was another Greg Whitby video and more discussion about this new school on the TALO list, here .

From both of Greg's talks I get the feeling that curriculum reform - and getting that to work in a more or less traditional curriculum framework - hasn't been addressed as deeply as the other aspects of the project (space, time, built environment, "web2.0") - you can't change everything else and keep an old curriculum - i guess it will be up to the teachers to figure that one out, I get the feeling that admin (Greg) will be supportive

"School is like being invited to the worlds greatest banquet and then being fed the menu" (Murray Gell-Mann)

sylvia said...

So here's a Roger Shank piece talking about a new kind of curriculum as the first step in school design, not the last.

This is what you are talking about?

Bill Kerr said...

hi Sylvia,

Thanks for reminding me about Roger Schank. I found this satire about a curriculum in dragon slaying (very funny) which goes onto outline a real curriculum change in a computer science course using the principles of learning by doing, goal based scenarios, and a story-centered curriculum. I'm also having a look at his Engines for Education site . He outlines his principles for quality software here , might be of interest to you

I'd see Roger Schank as a modern day cognitivist (schema theory) contributing positively to the school, curriculum and learning reform movement. Similarly, it also seems to me that theories in constructionism and behaviourism have continued to evolve and have something positive to offer in both theory and practice. Connectivism rejects all of these theories as out of date, so that's one of my critical points of departure.

I'm starting a Roger Schank page on the learning evolves wiki.

sylvia martinez said...

I read Schank a couple of years ago when I was getting my masters – I think it was Engines for Education... But I remember the dragon slaying curriculum piece! I'd forgotten how funny and biting that was. The ossification and canonization of curriculum is a good topic. I also recall an allegory I heard Tom Snyder (of Tom Snyder Productions) tell about a fabulous teacher who loved hot air ballooning, and all his students got swept up in a year long exploration with him, where he folded math, science, literature, writing, etc into this passion. The school district saw the success and mandated that all teachers teach about hot air ballooning — with predictably horrible results. Just like you can't script curriculum, you can't manufacture passion.

But back to Roger, If I recall correctly, my main objection to him was that the computer simulations only work if you completely understand the world that is being simulated. Airplane simulators would be a good example of that. It's hardly a one-size fits all solution. But he would probably agree.

He's also a cranky guy with a mean streak and if you ever have the chance to hear him live, it's totally worth it. I heard him give the keynote at NECC a few years ago and it was a true highlight. I think half the audience walked out, and the rest of us were on the edge of our seats. It was like watching a spectacular train wreck. I wish I could hear it again.

He talked about the "6 P"s that were ruining education - and most of them were sitting in the audience. Parents, publishers, press, politicians, and Princeton (twice, once as a college archetype and once as the test prep company). He recently wrote a column in the Pulse about discovering the 7th P - professors, for dictating high school curriculum that is worthless for most students.

Fearless.

Bill Kerr said...

thanks Sylvia,

I love the hot air balloon story, your description of the Roger Schank keynote and his article in Pulse.

This line is great, we have met the enemy and it is us

and this:
The reason school is so bad is that everyone is learning stuff they hate just so some small percentage of students will be ready to take a university course of some sort. Everyone is bored to death so this guy’s life will be easier and he won’t have to teach the basics

SUSAN BURG said...

Bill, it is interesting to read your criticism ....especially because I am presenting the topic of connectivism to a group of Italian students in a Masters program at the University of Florence.

I am debating on how I want to gear them. My feeling is that old theories don't get tossed, we are just looking at learning from a new perspective. Right?

so what is your suggestion for me?
tips?
thanks, Susan

Bill Kerr said...

hi susan,

thnx for the comment

The main question that emerged for me was "What is knowing?" along with the realisation that the simplest sounding questions can be difficult and fascinating

I've been recording my notes on this at http://learningevolves.wikispaces.com/

Glen Sensei said...

Hi Bill, Your thoughts on this issue are interesting. I wonder what you think of this: http://apointofcontact.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/why-connectivism-is-not-a-learning-theory/

Is it in line with your thinking?