Learning Theories and the Assumptions behind them

Thanks Peter for a thorough review of General System’s theory.  Here is my post relating to a critique on whether Connectivism is a new learning theory or not http://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/my-reflection-on-connectivism-as-a-new-learning-theory-to-date/ I have been participating in the discourse about Connectivism since 2008, and since then I “believe” that it is a new learning theory.  However, I have raised many critical questions since then, in particular the notion of learning, as you have also mentioned in your comments – the social learning, at the level of learner behavior, and psychological ideas about motivation, rational choice behavior etc.

What I think is important is that connections in network is necessary but not sufficient in learning, and the principles that are postulated under Connectivism could also be emerging and are not prescriptive in nature.

Indeed, even the theory of emergence and the principles of Complexity Theory are very difficult to be applied in education.  We might however, be best to have some principles and a theory that approximates what actually happened, based on empirical research findings, rather than waiting for a complete learning theory that would soon prove to show that whole is greater than the sums of their parts, and that reductionism doesn’t reflect the reality of the truth.

I suppose that there are so many variables and strange attractors in an open system that any significant changes in parts of the system could create a totally different pathway (of learning) that may hardly be explained with conventional learning theories.  Even with the tens of thousands of research papers proving certain points of learning, we could challenge the assumptions behind each of the theory by critically examining the evidences presented, and the conclusions are: it is only valid if the assumed conditions are satisfied, based on certain context, certain people with certain behaviors (rational behaviors in general, and certain motivation patterns etc.) and certain professors and students etc.  That might be some light based on the arguments and evidences presented, using the scientific and empirical approaches towards research into those learning theories.

Nevertheless, I reckon there are still differences in perceptions and interpretations of any theory of learning presented, due to our differences in each of our learning experiences.

Research, Wave Theory and Curiosity

I would explore and reflect on Research, Wave Theory and Curiosity in this post.


I have changed my way of doing research through my blog posts: quite a bit.  I trust that we could experiment with blog-post followed by peer & community review approach in doing research.  I have been thinking about narrative and case study researches instead of mere surveys.  This would ensure the theory model building is based on mixed research methods, and grounded on application-theory combination – grounded theory.

Wave Theory

I have been thinking knowledge and learning along the lines of wave theory – i.e. learning as waves – resulting from the neuron-connection, that waveform as shown on the fMRI scan denotes the knowledge pattern and wave propagation as a learning both at a micro and macro -level.  Here, the concept of fractals could be useful to denote the propagation of knowledge growth.  Complexity Theory and Chaos Theory – where emergent learning arises could be explained when different waveform meet, causing interference patterns (either constructive or destructive interference – similar to the amplification and dampening action as in self-organizing networks), and different types of waves would be formed upon interaction.

I haven’t shared any of the above ideas to any one yet, as I started to think right now except the one here.  It didn’t resonate with anybody else.  Has anyone explored about these?

Wonders of Nature

Video that may be of interest

My curiosity

My wild questions on assumptions pop up about nature of everything, relating to the interconnected nature of science, where one wave sets up the changes (a ripple stirs up another set of waves, like the butterfly effect).  We speak and hear – through sound waves, we see through light (light waves), we sense through touches – sensory “waves” – muscles contract and extend, we breathe and smell through air (air in the form of wave), we think with brain wave, we send signals through electromagnetic waves.  Even earthquake, air turbulence, typhoon, hurricane, tsunami and black holes are the results of huge waves, some visible, some invisible!

Photos: Wikipedia Butterfly Effect

Would wave be a way of connection?

I wrote these before realizing the video on Curiosity, wonderfully crafted below, with narratives of Feynman.

Postscript: I just found this video about Waves, narrated by Feynman.  What a coincidence of the concepts behind!

I found this video useful in explaining about Waves in Brain

#CCK11 On PLE and Complexity Theory

Lindsay Jordan comments here that the most productive state to be in is at the edge of chaos – where variety and creativity rub shoulders with competition and co-operation.  I have been on this state of the edge of chaos since CCK08, and so that is why I keep on with my inquiries.  What does it mean to be at the edge of chaos?  Information abundance? Filter failure?  No, that is only part of the equation in living with chaos!  It is about searching for traces of “emergent” learning in a sea of webs, networks, personal identity within the community and networks, and igniting our creativity based on a search of ideas amongst a host of memes, PLE, and people.

I would like to respond to Keith’s post here.  We learn both personally and socially, through various learning platforms and media, and follow such trajectories within and around the boundary of networks from time to time, so as you said it is and, and, and, and not about learning just in solitude.  There are moments of learning when I found each mode of learning would have its place (i.e. PLE and LMS), depending on the sort of learning environment one is more comfortable to learn with.  I could see Dave’s concern about the lack of presence of the educators or even the college setting in the PLE formula. However, I would argue that PLE is an augmentation and extension of the formal HE education, especially in the case of University students, as it is an environment to support learning, and could not fulfil the accreditation role normally granted by the institutions. Relating to the COP as a bridge between personal learner and his/her lived in world, I reckon learners are now leveraging COPs with a combination of PLE/COPs/MOOC to form NOP (Networks of Practice), which may be part of their CAS (Complex Adaptive Systems) and co-evolutionary Learning System within the learning ecology.

I think complexity theory would provide lots of food for thoughts for our education and learning.  We are now in the cross-road in education and learning, at a challenging time, when PLE, institutional education, personal learning and social media are all entering into our equation of life-long learning.  We have to make wise decision to find our way in personal development, and also re-think about how we could contribute to our community, society and global community at large.

#CritLit2010 Learning in a Complex World

I am deeply interested in this Safe and Caring Schools in a Complex World – A Guide for Teachers

Here are some relevant points summarised:

Prompting Complexity

- Internal Diversity

Problems with disciplines and disrespect for others – which are often attributed to diversity was embraced

- Internal Redundancy

The complement of diversity is similarity or redundancy – the quality that enables a collective to be interactive and to work together productively

- Decentralized Control

This sort of activity can enable the teacher to shift away from the role of the “teacher as an expert” and toward “teacher as participant” in the learning collective

Decentralized control enables the teacher to participate in the evolution of the collective personality of the classroom.

The focus here is more on being prepared than having plans

- Enabling Constraints

The instructions served as enabling constraints

Complexity research does not advocate that structures be abandoned, merely that they be organized in ways that allow for unpredictable and oftentimes imaginative outcomes.

- Neighboring Interactions

Here knowledge is explained:

- Knowledge Now – knowing is doing

Complexity research recasts knowledge in relational terms.

A system’s knowledge is its range of possible action – that repertoire of doing that enables it to hold together, to adapt, to thrive.

- Engaging Interest – knowing is being

- Experiential Learning/Skill Practice – knowing is becoming

- New Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes – knowing is belonging

Practical ApplicationKnowing is doing, being, becoming, belonging

The question, is not of the presence of complexity, but rather harnessing it for learning experiences.

My reflection:

Although the above guidelines are recommended mainly for designing and delivering lessons in the classroom environment, I found many common themes with the design and delivering of online courses.  This is especially so when I participated in CCK08 and CCK09 MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) where most of the points discussed above were incorporated into the course structure and delivery.  Currently, I am participating in this Critical Literacies Course, and so the notion of Knowing is doing, being, becoming and belonging do make sense.  I would however like to learn the perspectives of the instructors and peers on the use of Personal Learning Environment (PLE), and how they would view knowing when learning with a diverse media and spaces.

I would need to take more time to reflect on the significance of Web 2.0 and PLE and how it has harnessed my learning experiences.  This would be shared in the coming posts.


#CritLit2010 Complexity Theory and education

I found this Complicity, Simplicity, and Epidemiology easy to comprehend.  It provides a succinct explanation on Complexity Theory and how it is applied in Epidemiology.

How would we be able to apply the concepts of Complexity Theory in education?

Here is Complexity Theory and Education by Morrison, Keith.  This paper is an interesting, though controversial on complexity theory and education, IMHO.

Keith raised 8 points:

1. How novel a theory complexity theory actually is?

2. Is complexity theory simply a statement of the obvious?

3. How useful complexity theory actually is? “It is essentially a descriptive or reflective theory”  Is self-organization such a good thing, or whether it will lead to diversity, inefficiency, time-wasting, mob rule, and a risk of people going off in so many different directions that the necessary connectivity between parts of an organization, its values and direction will be lost or suffocated.  How desirable are highly complicated systems of inter-relationships?

4. Complexity theory is a theory of unpredictable, non-linear change, why it is important and how it can be promoted?

5. Complexity theory has the putative disadvantages (Kelly 1994:23-4) of being (a) non-optimal; (b) non-controllable; (c) non-understandable; (non-immediate).  Indeed, if the future is uncertain and outcomes are non-linear, then where or why should money and effort be spent on education, if they are not guaranteed to improve outcomes?

6. Complexity theory embraces a deep-seated pragmatism, justified only be (perhaps selfish) survival and suggests that what is right at any moment is that which works at the time, to ensure survival.  Is this satisfactory or sufficient as a theory of education?

7. There are, perhaps, questions to be asked against the coherence of the “theory” in complexity theory.

8. What actual added value does complexity theory bring such that it moves to becoming a sine qua non of understanding the situations described in the papers?  What is the real and practical, rather than perhaps self-indulgent, added value that complexity theory brings?  Is complexity theory important for education?

Keith concluded that

This paper has deliberately endeavoured to introduce some of the central tenets of complexity theory, to lead into the accompanying papers that illustrate some elements of complexity theory at work. ……
Here the intention has been to illuminate some key elements of the theory, to introduce the accompanying papers that have deliberately cast the net of complexity widely into several very different fields of education, and, taking the role of a sympathetic skeptic, to throw down a small gauntlet to ‘complexologists’ in education in respect of adopting a cautious approach in considering the value, or applicability, of the theory to educational discourse. It is a fascinating and alluring theory, but is it a siren song?
I would like to respond with the following brief question and comments:
How would Complexity theory help us in better understanding education and learning?
From the above paper, the author has raised questions on whether complexity theory is important to education.  I would suggest that it is.  It would take another post for me to respond to this important question.
I would however, open these questions to your discussion.
Postscript: A valuable resource in Complexity Theory here – decomplexity

How I see the world of learning based on connectivism – Personal Reflection

This is my reflection on learning based on connectivism – learning through networked learning.  I have written this post a week ago, but would like to reflect more before my posting here.

If we are to base upon each of our current “rational and logical” and “patterning of knowledge” thinking pattern in the initial discussion (the left brain critical thinking, metacognitive skills, and right brain sensemaking of pattern recognition and way finding), then you (as a reader) and I are likely basing on the cognitive processes of learning. Our behavior and how we learn is not only a function of the environment, but also involves mental events, mental representations (mind maps), our beliefs, expectations, emotions and intentions.

So are we employing a mixture of behaviour, cognitions?  This would be starting from me or from you, responding by you or me, then bounce back to you..and so on etc., construction and co-construction (under constructivism in this conversation), exchange of ideas or interaction with you, resulting in the co-construction of “knowledge patterns” or ontological sensemaking (critical thinking and pattern recognition together) all summed up with the connectivist synergy – wayfinding, sensemaking and patterning with Complexity and Chaos Theoretical principles all embedded. You could call such “process” of pattern recognition and sensemaking the basis of emergence theory.

I think the adoption of a connectivist approach could exhibit some of those behaviours of “I think this is right, and you think this is right, or no this is not, let me share with you what’s right, and then let’s be connected and let’s interact, discuss and explore” under behaviorism – cognitivism – constructivism and connectivism. I think most of connectivism (so far) carries a lot of educational philosophical concepts in its package, and a heavy overtones of what we call philosophy in general (no one single answer, it depends on interpretation, and perceptions) – a complete opposite to behaviorist learning models which focused on associative (or classical) and instrumental learning (or operant) learning (or the traditional teaching on a didactic /uni-directional/expert teaching approach). 

Effective communication and strong relationships are keys to a healthy learning ecology: 

Communication transforms a collection of individuals into a strong, mutually supportive team.  Communication builds the important ties that bind people together-inside the organisation as well as outside (Webber 1993, p7)

A key process to facilitate communication and to build relationships is the art of conversation.  Conversations involve the exchange of ideas, view and information between two or more people in a way that is non-confronting, egalitarian and open (Stewart,2001).  They are a vehicle for generating, sharing and processing knowledge.  Conversation is therefore a core business activity for knowledge work:

Through conversation, knowledge workers create the relationships that define the organisation.  Conversations – not rank, title, or trappings of power – determine who is literally and figuratively ‘in the loop’ and who is not (Webber 1993, p7).

Conversations are integral to daily organisational activity and a source of rich learning.

In some respects, these align well with the right brain ” thinking and learning”, the emotional and social intelligence that are encouraged in the global networks of communication, cooperation and collaboration.  These are critical intelligence required for development amongst people, and especially the leaders,  through networking, community of practice and team working over the net and organisation.  Tacit knowledge and emergent learning may be the emergent outcome of the conversation and interaction. In other respects, these align well with the left brain “thinking and learning” where scientific analysis and logical thinking is the basis of explicit knowledge construction and cognitions.  This is also the basis of verification of knowledge using scientific and empirical methods throughout  formal education and research (within the University courses in higher education in particular).

I think an empirical approach to connectivism will also be examined under such a microscope, since the experimental or survey approach is really testing the hypotheses set up, then collect data from a cohort of people, analyse them and generalise them as possible. We may still have to go through the interactive discussion and cognition processes with further participants (based on individual reflections and group sensemaking and patterning – like what we are doing in small group), then in larger groups…. then all these in continuous cycles in order to forsee the patterns. Again, this is only seeing the patterns of the patterns of the patterns, as I have explained in other areas – where learning is just one pattern of the whole education, and education a pattern in the whole development of people, society and civilisation. Is this a meta-theory of every learning?

Relating to the  induction and deduction methods mentioned by Daniel in his post on computer science researchers, since I have written this post last week, I would like to post my views here.

So, is this also a cycle of induction and deduction followed by induction and deduction etc.? See my other posts on the cycle on Complexity and Chaos Theory. This start off with the I statements followed by the induction (a method of logical reasoning that obtains or discovers general laws from particular facts or examples)- the survey, and deduction (the process of reasoning from general principles to a particular case)-the literature review and action research, that it’s what I or we (or each of us in this group) think the world thinks, then the world (samples of the population) reflecting back what I or we think (through our survey research here) and this is then followed by induction plus deduction with a larger cohort or others – bloggers, academics, researchers etc, and continue on and on….Is this the Folksonomy approach combined with the Taxonomy of knowledge and learning under the adaptive digital learning ecology?

Are we also exhibiting those butterfly effect and behaviour in our blog postings?  We are now all flapping our wings, and who knows when, where and how the tsunami or hurricanes will happen? Do you feel the turbulence? Will this take us to another virtual flight to meta-connectivism?