Is Connectivism a New Learning Theory?

Here is my response to Connectivism: Theory or Phenomenon.

Interesting points and observation.  There are lots of empirical evidence in support of Connectivism, only that I still haven’t got the time to consolidate all of the research findings.

My involvement of number of researches did reveal certain areas where the previous learning theories fell short in its explanation, especially in the areas where emergent, self-oganised and self-determined learning (Heutagogy) did occur.  It could be argued that many (or majority) of the participants of MOOCs (in some cMOOCs, and most xMOOCs) are learning based on an instructivist approaches (behaviorism and cognitivism), and not on social constructivism and connectivism.  Why?  There are good reasons that I would be able to cover in this short response.

In summary:

1. People have been educated under instructivism and would more likely feel accustomed to the lecture method.

2. Transmission and consumption of information (treated as knowledge) is considered a simpler and easier way.

3. Learning is still confined in the Simple to Complicated learning scenarios under most institution education environment (in xMOOCs), where systems, procedures, policies and best practice is based upon.  The known prescriptive knowledge in most xMOOCs could be “trained” and assessed mainly because there are still known and correct answers related to prescriptive outcomes and performance criteria. It seldom addresses the complex and chaos learning scenarios under an informal or non-formal learning environment (i.e. both appearing in most c and x MOOCs where learners are outside the institutional learning framework, and learning occurs in various networks, including social networks, communities and individually).  This is where xMOOCs find it hard to break through, and one or a few professors are expected to “teach” tens of thousands of learners, but that there are simply no way to knowing what sort of learning has taken place, except responses from the tests, clicking of start, stop, pause of the videos or accessing the resources or tests (which is again based on behaviors of learners).

4. Most of the rhetoric (on both for and against Connectivism) are based on certain frame of reference (an educator, an administrator, a professor, an expert or consultant, a course organiser or designer, a student), and that most people are still relating such learning under a confined institutional education environment especially in xMOOCs, which is limiting the type of discourse on how learning has actually taken place in their real life, and how emergent learning has occurred with tacit and explicit knowledge yet to be “defined”.

5.  There are lots of challenges if the students are critiquing under such an education system, as the researches are limited to past findings with closed education system (the typical class settings) and learning theories which relate to social learning theory, but not an integration of the various learning theories under a digital age.

6. Trying to critique on a “New Learning Theory” such as Connectivism requires more evidences for both proving and dis-proving the theory, and if the disprove is based on another theory, then likely you would end up with “self-fulfilling” prophecy as surely there are gaps in between what you are looking for, and what the theory of Connectivism proposes.  This is why a shift of frame of reference (perspective, and basic principles of learning) be used to explore about the theory.  This should be grounded on evidences and practical applications and not rhetoric.

7. The various reports from xMOOCs – from professors, participants, and experts all indicated certain patterns of self-organised groupings, emergent learning and social networking, together with the properties of networks – openness, connectivity, diversity and autonomy (to some extent) are realized, but then seldom promoted, as they are not enlisted under Mastery Learning (the main pedagogy).  However, if you review what Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig have shared in their presentation, they did highlight some of the existing pitfalls with the video lectures only, and the lack of interaction with the professors and peers with the xMOOCs approach, except those in the LMS.

8. I am afraid that most students are writing papers grounded on a traditional linear definitive approach, in order to satisfy their education institution requirements, and that most, if not all would need to satisfy the well established framework of education as deemed certified as “canonical knowledge” and known system.  Connectivism goes far beyond such approach, and thus a student who would argue based on Connectivism may not easily be able to demonstrate competency that easily.

Finally, as I have argued throughout, there aren’t many people deemed as experts in Connectivism, except the pioneers – George Siemens and Stephen Downes, and so how could other professors and students be able to accept Connectivism if they haven’t been “educated” or haven’t learnt about the theory?  Besides, there are some principles under Connectivism which are mooted and debatable, and it is time to review them based on more evidences and applications.  Unfortunately, we are unlikely able to access the data and learning analytics of xMOOCs as they are owned by the xMOOC providers.


Cultural Awareness and Differences in MOOCs

This may be of interest for reference to the discourse on cultural awareness and differences in MOOCs
1. Cooperman said the latest round of MOOC enthusiasm has prompted concern because of the top-down nature of the material being offered on MOOCs by professors from elite Western universities.

2. But, in China, Gunawardena found students don’t necessarily openly argue with each other based on points of view. They build knowledge based on collaboration. What effect will this have on the uptake of Western-made courseware?

There are political and cultural reasons behind the use or non-use of MOOCs in developing countries – such as those in China and Africa. Students coming from another cultural background such as China would have different needs, and there could be significant language barriers since their mother tongue is Chinese (Mandarin). Besides, the pedagogy adopted in mainstream China tends to follow the Confucius system – with a strong didactic teaching approach.

Here is a video that shows some differences in views between American and Chinese students (reflective of the western and eastern cultures to some extent).

Relating to cultural awareness, there has been some research studies done, and even a cultural intelligence has been identified. I have attended a cultural awareness training course but found that most of the researches done might have been over-generalized and “stereo-typed”. As Debbie said the learning outcome may be about cultural awareness rather than learning of the subject matter, and some people coming from another culture may easily be misunderstood, misinterpreted or incorrectly judged due to the differences in their gestures, way of connection and communication, and their customs or cultures. Similarly, MOOCs coming from a western culture may have a strong “flavor” of western style of living and cultural values, especially in areas like literature, politics, arts and dancing, and this could be significantly different from those of the eastern cultures. Conflicts in values or cultures may not be obvious, but could hinder the education and learning process. The shadows of neo-liberalism, imposed or biased values of certain beliefs, imperialism and the associated dominance with powers and authority, might be perceived by participants coming from a different culture to the west.
Here is a paper on cultural intelligence (CI).
Some more research papers herehere and here.

It may be interesting for us to have a Multicultural Awareness and Intelligence MOOCs.

How about the design and development of a MOOC on Multicultural Awareness and Intelligence?  Who are the experts in this area?

Who would be interested in such a MOOC?

Thanks for visit too.


Mastery Learning in MOOCs

This post relates to my reflection of Mastery Learning in MOOCs

I enjoyed the presentation here by Daphne Koller where she elaborated the use of Mastery Learning as a pedagogy in MOOCs.

It’s interesting to see if Mastery Learning is a perfect model/pedagogy in MOOCs.

Mastery Learning:

Bloom believed that nearly all students, when provided with the more favorable learning conditions of mastery learning, could truly master academic content (Bloom, 1976; Guskey, 1997a). A large body of research has borne him out: When compared with students in traditionally taught classes, students in well-implemented mastery learning classes consistently reach higher levels of achievement and develop greater confidence in their ability to learn and in themselves as learners (Anderson, 1994; Guskey & Pigott, 1988; Kulik, Kulik, & Bangert-Drowns, 1990).

Sustaining and Extending Success

Researchers today generally recognize the value of the core elements of mastery learning. As a result, fewer studies are being conducted on the mastery learning process itself. Instead, researchers are looking for ways to attain even more impressive gains by improving students’ learning processes, curriculum and instructional materials, and the home learning environment and support and providing a focus on higher level thinking skills. Work on integrating mastery learning with other innovative strategies appears especially promising (Guskey, 1997b).

As we strive to improve achievement even further, we can continue to learn from the core elements of mastery learning. Attention to these elements will enable educators to make great strides in their efforts to close achievement gaps and help all students achieve excellence.

I was first introduced to Mastery Learning in 1985, and studied about Benjamin Bloom’s hypothesis and the related theories. After years of teaching, I could comment about its application based on my experience and observation. There are certain assumptions made in Mastery Learning (again, I have proposed Assumptions Theory as a basis upon which all Theories could be challenged, validated or tested, and that could be a critical lens for any one to view, from different perspectives, with different angles). I understand that there are always parameters which could not be easily controlled in even the most extensive studies in education, though I would suggest to be cautious in interpreting the studies.

Refer to this paper on 2 sigma problem:

First, Mastery Learning works, based principally on a behavioral model, whereas pre-requisite knowledge and skills are tested before the learning, and that mastery of skills could be achieved through a self-learning mode with continuous feedback in the learning process.

Second, Mastery Learning works best when the learners are learning skills which have definite learning and performance outcomes (skills, knowledge), and that these outcomes are measurable using the tools used.

Third, Mastery Learning relates to individual’s performance and so it is a good measure of individual’s performance based on an apprenticeship or traineeship model. Even under the Bloom’s Taxonomy, the emphasis is still on individual’s performance. That also explains why most of our students are assessed individually, without much consideration of assessing individuals under a group or network situation.

The one-on-one tutoring sounds like a perfect system, though there is also an implicit assumption that the trainer and trainee (or mentor and mentee) would help and support the trainees or mentees at their best. I don’t think that is that simple, as I have worked on a number of mentoring project (as well as traineeship model – with one-on-one) where a number of factors are critical for such learning to work. This includes assumptions such as: a good match of mentor and mentee, a healthy and trustful relationship is established and sustained in the mentoring or training process, and that there is a supportive learning environment for the trainer and trainee etc. There are also other critical factors which need to be considered: trust, power, learning context or situation, incentives and motivation of mentors and mentees or trainer and trainee etc. Are these possible in MOOCs? I wonder!

I think mastery learning is useful as it is a structured approach towards learning of the content. I have reservations in its use for advanced or deep learning, as some aspects of learning – such as creative thinking, critical thinking, complex analysis and emergent learning cannot be measured using those conventional tools (i.e. Multiple Choice, True or False, or objective testing). The mastery of those skills cannot be relied solely on testing, and so I would question the validity of these research findings when applying in the checking of learning of participants’ of MOOCs in a linear fashion. I doubt if anyone could repeat such studies nowadays with those experiments, as people are learning beyond the institutional framework, and that 2 or 3 sigma is not “good enough”.

 Here is my previous post on Bloom’s Taxonomy and Mastery Learning

The Future of Education

There are some interesting concepts discussed in the video “The Future of Education”:

Here are some notes:

1. Quality online education is identified with:

  • Interaction
  • Community
  • Customization (whereas another way would be Personalization)

2. Online Education is not just about MOOCs.

3. What is the value added in classes and in universities?

Consider 1. One on one or one on five tutoring, 2. Engaged tutorials in internship, 3. Connecting students with global opportunities

What is special about lectures?

Lectures involve dialogues between professor and students, with professor challenging their students’ assumptions, and teaching of critical thinking skills.

4. How much time has been spent in providing background information in a lecture?  If half of the time is spent in providing information in a lecture, would it be better if the students are asked to spend their time in watching online video lectures before coming to lecture?  This would allow more time in discussion, interaction, and assessment activities during the lesson or tutorial with the professors and Teaching Assistants.

You will find some interesting ideas discussed in the presentation.

There are points that I do agree, though also some other points that I still have my doubts on.  This relates on the Future of MOOCs.

I would leave it to you to make your judgment for the rest of the video presentation.

Cooperation and collaboration in MOOCs

As the MOOCs move on, I would like to reflect on this cooperation and collaboration in MOOCs based on

1. Stephen’s posts on collaboration and cooperation here.

2. My previous post here.

3. Benjamin’s referred article here.

I have been thinking about learning based on a network versus group approach and here is my summary:

1. Cooperation is best achieved in a network learning environment where each learner shares ideas and learning.  Here each individual’s learning would be more important than the performance.

2. Collaboration is best achieved in a group learning environment where each learner is agreeing to achieve goals together.  Here group performance would be more important than individual learning or performance.

Here in an example on the production of a video using a group’s efforts. Collaboration leads to better outcomes at work.

3. Where individuals don’t find cooperation or collaboration to be useful, they could still work and learn by themselves, though such learning and performance would be based on individual’s efforts.  This could still be achieved in both x and c MOOCs, I reckon.

In  summary, each of the three approaches outlined here – connectivist, facilitative and instructivist approach would impact on how cooperation, collaboration and competition is achieved.  The learner centered approaches would likely lead to more cooperation and collaboration, whilst the teacher centered approaches would likely lead to collaboration and competition among the learners and the educators.

What would be the next big theory of learning and education?

Aren’t we all going back to basic – with the xMOOCs based on the instructivism as a basic learning pedagogy?

I suppose lots of educators and researchers are still interested in the behavioral and objectivism approaches to education, through the xMOOCs.

On one hand, we seem to be celebrating the huge success of xMOOCs as millions of students are registered with the courses, on the other hand we still have not fully resolved the Higher Education crisis, as it unfolded.  One of the critical elements in education is pedagogy, which needs to be addressed when technology is used in education and learning.

Having browsed through this learning theory, I won’t be surprised by the missing out of some of the latest learning theories – Connectivism, or even the Learning as a Network Theory (LaaN).


Here are the assumptions and myths:

1. A lack of understanding and recognition of Connectivism as a new emergent learning theory.

Knowledge is co-constructed by humans under constructivism, and this theory suggests that humans construct knowledge and meaning from their experiences.

I quite enjoyed this interview recordings with George Siemens, where George shared his experience with MOOC and the application of Connectivism.

George mentioned about differences between Connectivism and Constructivism (and the various versions of Constructivism – Social Constructivism, and Connectionism) in the interview.

Relating to the difference between Constructivism and Connectivism, George states in his paper on Connectivism:

Chaos is the breakdown of predictability, evidenced in complicated arrangements the initially defy order.  Unlike constructivism, which states that learners attempt to foster understanding by meaning making tasks, chaos states that the meaning exists – the learner’s challenge is to recognize the patterns which appear to be hidden.  Meaning-making and forming connections between specialized communities are important activities.

I see the differences between Constuctivism and Connectivism as shared here, here and here.

Constructivism has been well promoted and educated in various education courses, especially in Higher Education Institutions.  There are significantly less discourse and education on Connectivism, likely because most academics, educators and scholars have been educated in the pre-digital era.  Even then, there has been some dissenting voices and strong critiques of Connectivism as a New Learning Theory as cited here and here.

There seems to be a lack of awareness of Connectivism as Jenny says here:

For me an omission from Liz’s slide and therefore from the interviewees’ thinking and experience of technology enhanced learning in Higher Ed is ‘Connectivism’ or anything to do with networked learning – although communities of practice can be thought of in terms of networked learning.

I could understand that Connectivism sounds too foreign for Higher Education educators, leading to its omission in the minds of educators.  Would this relate to the notion that Connectivism is seldom promoted in Higher Education due to some complex reasons?  These could include EDUPUNK and the Do it yourself (DIY) which are still viewed as too challenging or disruptive to the formal education system.

I have responded to some of the issues and challenges here, and here.

2. A lack of application of the theory of Connectivism in various contexts.

This is especially the case as illustrated in the Learning as a Network Learning (LaaN) Theory where PLE and Connectivism are applied in informal or non-formal learning scenarios outside the formal institutional environment, but not easily assimilated into the formal courses, due to the lack of support or direct encouragement to leverage fully on PLE.

I have shared some of the reasons behind such lack of application here.

It seems that there are still fundamental conflicts in applying some of the principles of Connectivism within an institutional environment, in particular when the technology and curriculum are still based on (a) a learning management system (LMS) and (b) a fixed curriculum with prescriptive learning outcomes, objectives and performance criteria.

This also presents challenges for educators and learners to apply Connectivism in learning, when in theory such constraints as determined by LMS could be overcome by being active learners, creating Personal Learning Networks and Personal Learning Environment for their “collective learning“.

In practice, both educators and learners are expected to comply with the controls often determined within institutional vision and mission, that is governed by quality assurance, in order for the courses and curriculum to be accredited, and the learning to be validated and recognized through qualification awards.

Wouldn’t it become a paradox when education and learning under Connectivism is claimed to be feeding to organization?  What would actually trigger the learning?  Organisation? The Individual?

It should be the individual setting off the learning, under Connectivism, then. Right?  But who sets the learning agenda?  Organization?  Educators?

Peter in this paper highlights that getting to know what makes our students tick will ultimately help education to work towards a Network Society focusing not on bits and bytes but on interpersonal information and communication, with the potential of further development of all young adults in society.

This fits perfectly well when it comes to changes necessary in education.  Tony Bates highlights in this coming week’s topic: Managing Technology to Transform Teaching:

New technologies will transform and are transforming post-secondary education in many different ways. Some argue that they will lead to the dismantling of universities and colleges as we know them.

However, it is my view that universities and colleges will be with us for some time into the future. There is always likely to be a need for guidance, structure and assessment of learning, and many learners will look to established institutions for such support, and for ways to validate what they have learned.

At the same time, it is also my view that universities and colleges need to change dramatically if they are to meet the future needs of learners, and in particular if they are to fully reap the benefits of technology for teaching and learning.

The issue

The issue then becomes: what changes are needed and why? And how best can these changes be facilitated and by whom? This is the topic I wish to facilitate in this MOOC.”

Many university and college leaders recognize the growing importance of learning technologies, yet institutions are still extremely conservative in their actual use.

So, when I re-visit the learning which feeds organization, under Connectivism, this sounds like a bottom-up feeding mechanism, where the “grass-roots” level educators and learners would create and share the learning with those in the organization, in order to initiate changes in teaching and learning practice.

However, as Tony mentioned in his post, it is more likely that changes are needed from the top for systemic changes, rather than the bottom, in order to be sustainable, and economically viable.

Such changes in learning must also come from leadership, from the institutions, instead of merely from the educators and learners, in order to embrace a fully Network Society spirit shared in  Peter’ paper and be sustainable.

3. Most students prefer to learn in a more simpler ways, even in a complex learning environment.

As shared in my previous post:

What the learners are normally expected to do would be to consume the knowledge transmitted or broadcasted to them, and to confirm their understanding of the concepts through repeated quizzes or assignments.  This requires certain perseverance from the learners, though it is possible to achieve a high or perfect score in test, assignments and examinations through drills, repeated practice, as is common in a rote learning scenario.   The use of standard answers in the case of multiple choices, true/false, or short case scenarios, could all be checked with automated grading or assessment software.  For peer assessment, these are done in a closed manner, with the merits of “protecting” the learners from being “criticised” in public, but the demerits of being critiqued by only a few participants (5 other peers) in the whole evaluation.  Nevertheless, this seems to be well accepted as a way to assessment in the xMOOCs, as that might be the only feasible and reliable way to assess students in an institutional environment, without overly involving the professors in the assessment.

What would be the next big theory of learning and education?  I think we would likely end up with a Theory of Learning based on a combination of Learning Theories, like a hybrid form of Social Constructivism and Connectivism together with LaaN in a few years time, though it is unlikely that educators would agree on a common education and learning theory which addresses all learning scenarios or situations.