Reflection on Learning under Connectivism

What is learning?  Peter Sloep posted here in response to a post by Steve Wheeler.

One of the characteristics of learning through digital media is the ability to crowd source content, ideas and artefacts, and to promote and participate in global discussions. That’s why I want to ask the questions: What is learning? Does it differ from learning prior to the advent of global communications technology? Does learning now require new explanatory frameworks?

Peter continues:

When theories get more accurate, the concepts that feature in them become defined more precisely but they also become more specific, ignoring parts of the original concept. This suggests that the term ‘learning’ has different meanings in the different learning theories we have. Indeed, this is what Knud Illeris suggests. Learning qua mental activity belongs to the realm of psychological theorising, with such theories as behaviourism, instructionism, cognitivism, constructivism. Learning qua  interaction process is much less easy to pinpoint in terms of an overarching discipline. But such fields as sociology, social psychology, game theory, network theory, artificial intelligence, computer science seem relevant.

Stephen recently wrote: Knowledge is, on this theory [of Connectivism], literally the set of connections formed by actions and experience”. This seems to touch upon learning qua mental process. Indeed, he seems to want to ignore mental processing entirely, suggesting they are not relevant, epiphenomena of networking at best.

My response:

When it comes to theorizing learning, I think there are few assumptions we have all made across all theories. 1. Learning is definable and context based – personal and or social, 2. Human learning is an action and experience, that may be conceptualized by sensing the pattern (knowledge embedded), and its associated changes (in behavior, one’s way of thinking, or minds etc.), 3. Human and machine learning could be understood based on heuristics and algorithms, which in turn could be proven on scientific grounds – with logic and reasoning as the proven forms of learning – in critical thinking, 4. Human learn best under certain conditions – in an authentic learning environment, with technology and tools as enablers, and social and teachers’ support in the case of classroom environment etc., 5. Social and emotional aspects of learning could determine how human would learn based on the interaction between the agents- human and non-human, especially in a technology-mediated environment.  These relate to the socio-technological dimensions of learning, which could only be studied at a macro-level of learning.

In summary, I think we are talking about learning at a micro level – psychological/neuronal/conceptual (i.e. behaviorist, instructivist, cognitivist, and connectionist) to a macro level (i.e. constructivist (project and problem based), social constructivist, sociological and community  basis).

Here Connectivism could consist of connectivism (as Stephen has mentioned of both knowledge as pattern, and knowing as pattern recognition, and learning as the navigation and construction of networks in our minds (the neural networks) and Connectivism- that of action and experience we gained through navigation and construction of those networks on the web or social interaction.

Here the three levels of network formation – at neural, conceptual and social level with external sources (social webs, networks, communities; artifacts, information etc.) would form the basis of all design – under Connectivism model (with a network learning – learning on networks and NETWORKED LEARNING – where learning is the network).

The metaphors of networks as the basis of learning would come into play, as fundamental assumptions of all human learning.

Refer to this post by George where he explains:

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.

2. Connectivism addresses the principles of learning at numerous levels – biological/neural, conceptual, and social/external. This is a key concept that I’ll be writing about more during the online course. What I’m saying with connectivism (and I think Stephen would share this) is that the same structure of learning that creates neural connections can be found in how we link ideas and in how we connect to people and information sources. One scepter to rule them all.

Postscript: The questions of “Does it differ from learning prior to the advent of global communications technology? Does learning now require new explanatory frameworks?” would depend on (a) assumptions one has made, (b) the lens and the corresponding metaphors that one would use to describe and explain the learning phenomena, and (c) the degree of matching of those principles of learning between what one theorizes and one observes and senses, based on a collection of views, personal perception, and reasoning, with empirical evidences.

Here I have shared my views on authentic learning.

Photo credit: Google?

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