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.

John