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