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.


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