Which Learning Theory would be most appropriate for our Education System? Instructivism, Constructivism, or Connectivism

I know this would set out another fire, though you would surely like to know why this flame of debates about Learning Theory goes out.

First, let’s see the differences between Constructivism and Instructivism.

Second, the differences between Constructivism and Connectivism.

(a)    What is the difference between social interactions and networked interactions?  Social interactions certainly happen across multiple networks, through the use of many different tools.  What differentiates these? ; and

(b)   Do social engagement and participation correspond with diversifying a network?  If so, how is Constructivism different than Connectivism, and if not, how are these practically different?

Verhagen’s second argument against Connectivism regarded the potential for knowledge to be stored in appliances.  In my initial readings of Siemens’ discussion of Connectivism led me to this conclusion as well.  Further readings, however, led me to understand that “Learning may reside in non-human appliances” (2005, Connectivism section, ¶ 3) referred to the learning process and not knowledge itself.  Siemens (2008) seemed to have confirmed my understanding in a recent discussion on the IT Forum listserv, “In essence, information is a node, knowledge is a connection, and understanding is an emergent property of the network itself.”

Is Connectivism a re-wording of Constructivism?  In this wiki: The authors argue that
“No, we believe Connectivism is not a learning theory. It is the Constructivism theory reworked to fit the digital age.”

That’s the authors belief.  I see these differently, and that I don’t agree that Connectivism is the Constructivism theory reworked to fit the digital age.  It seems to be a matter of interpretation.  However, I reckon the authors have made a number of assumptions that were based on “weak grounds”.

Though there are overlapping areas in between Connectivism and Constructivism, they are essentially different.

My response here and here as shared below:

Part 1

Relating to Connectivism versus Constructivism, I could see the following similarities in principles:
(a) buffer between learner & potentially damaging effects of instructional practices, dialogue rather than a pure didactic approach
(b) provide a context – where Connectivism emphasizes the use of PLE and aggregate-remix-repurpose-feed forward in MOOC (networked learning with navigation and construction of networks), and Constructivism emphasizes on situated learning and COPs.
(c) Learning that supports autonomy and relatedness.
(d) embed reasons for learning – Under Connectivism-learning as personal growth and knowledge as pattern recognition (Downes) to achieve personal goals and create value networks, and under Constructivism- knowledge and truth are constructed by people and do not exist outside the human mind (Duffy and Jonassen, 1991). Learning as a change in meaning constructed from experience (Newby et al. 1996)
(e) Both support self-regulated learning – Connectivism stresses on autonomy, diversity, openness and interactivity and connectivity as property of networks. Constructivism stresses on social learning, and must be viewed as an active process where students actively construct their knowledge, and that learner is central to the learning process.
(f) Both strengthen learner’s tendency to engage in intentional learning process – Connectivism – the capacity to form connections between sources of information, and therefore create useful information pattern, is required to learn in our knowledge economy (Siemens, 2004). Constructivism – the design task, is one of providing a rich context within which meaning can be negotiated and ways of understanding can emerge and evolve (Hannafin et al., 1997)

– The design process is recursive, non-linear, and sometime chaotic
– Planning is organic, developmental, reflective, and collaborative
– Objectives emerge from design and development work
– General Instructional Design experts do not exist
– Instruction emphasizes learning in meaningful contexts
– Formative evaluation is critical
– Subjective data may be the most valuable

– The design process is based on chaos and complexity theory, theory of emergence and self-organisation. Chaos recognizes the connection of everything to everything (Siemens, 2004). Self organization and emergence in learning explains why the process is often “chaotic” and emergent in nature, when interaction among agents leads to connective and emergent learning.
– There are multiple objectives – all defined by individual pursuit of personal objectives, but all inter-related through complex emergent self-organised networks and communities
– Learning is situated at personal (neuro, conceptual) and social level (outside information sources and agents) and thus is distributed across networks.
– Instruction is based on demonstration and modelling, where learning contexts are likely based on PLE and conversation and cooperation (sharing of information). Here cooperation within networks and collaboration within groups, though small group collaboration and personal learning based on lurking emerge as self-organizing phenomena rather than imposition by outside bodies
– Formative evaluation is secondary to learning under Connectivism. Peer evaluation of PLE and artifacts emerged from interaction, conversation and negotiation.
– Critical thinking, curation, digital literacies and “aggregate-remix-repurpose-feed forward” is central to Sensemaking and Wayfinding

What are the common issues for Connectivism and Constructivism?

– Assessment based on “pre-determined learning objectives” may be a problem in a constructivist or connectivist learning environment.
– Connectivism – which is based on the integration principles explored by chaos, network, complexity and self-organization theory needs further elaboration on how those principles are integrated in practice. It seems a paradox when networked learning is heavily promoted within institutional and corporate education and learning environment, but then the challenges remained un-resolved – on openness – OER, open design, open research, open teaching etc., digital literacy development using social media and mobile technology, pedagogy etc. Currently, there are still too many “wicked problems” – where the problems are not clearly defined, and where risk management and innovation and creativity are at “odds” in a complex adaptive system.
– Constructivism – which is based on a social learning approach, encourages active, rather than passive learning and the use of group-based cooperative learning activities, which can be best mediated through telecommunication technologies. “A central strategy for building constructivist learning environment such as situated learning, multiple perspectives and flexible learning is to create a collaborative learning environment”. The reality is that such learning environment often requires students to question each other’s understanding and explain their own perspectives. This is easier said than done. Engagement and participation normally falls into the 1-9-90 or the 10-20-70 pattern, with the majority staying at the edge of Community. This may be due to the different backgrounds and skill levels of learners (i.e. digital literacy capacity), and the often perceived “power” and “group think” issues associated with group learning, with compliance and conformance that could silence the “critical thinkers” and “solo or solitary learners”, or the “dis-allowing” of lurkers or legitimate peripheral learners who often are situated in the networks and COPs.

So, in summary, the absence of specific learning objectives and outcomes has earned the “criticism” for constructivism as “inefficient and ineffective”. This may equally be a challenge for Connectivism to be adopted as a mainstream pedagogy. Unless the specific learning objectives and outcomes (based on competency-based learning) are adequately addressed and resolved, it seems both Constructivism and Connectivism would still be operating in a hand-in-hand “networked” informal learning “paradigm” waiting to be absorbed as new and emergent pedagogy.

May be the assumptions behind Constructivism and Connectivism need to be viewed under a new light, when those similarities and differences are leveraged, leading to a new form of emergent learning theory that meets the societal, institutional and personal goals. The paradoxes may be the catalyst of a transformation in education and learning. Who has got the crystal ball? You :)

Postscript: This blog provides useful information about Learning Theories – Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism and Networked Learning.  However, there wasn’t any mention about Connectivism.  Quite a surprise.

Part 2:

I found Jenny’s post thought provoking, and so this is a follow up post on my previous one relating to Connectivism & Constructivism – What’s similar and different.

Referring again to the diagram here.

How learning occurs:

What may happen is that social, meaning created by each learner (personal) could actually happen in a distributed network.  However, social doesn’t necessarily mean it would be within a virtual or digital space, or network, as it could happen in a space that once conceived to be navigation across networks.

I have reflected in my Intelligent and Dark side of Blogging, that:

Also, in networked learning, “it is not just what we learn, but how we feel about what we learn, which counts in the long term.” So is dancing as a metaphor. It’s the feeling of learning which makes a difference from the traditional education and learning, where group learning is believed to be based on a scientific approach, and individual feelings need to be constrained to avoid intervening the group’s performance.

So, it is important to encourage a dynamic between thinking and feeling in order to promote learning more effectively, rather than focusing on critical thinking alone, especially in networked learning.

“Learning is an interactive experience best achieved in a climate of relatedness, care and mutual respect. Such care is offered, not imposed, and respects humans’ need for autonomy, self-determination, and challenge as well as security” Rosyln Arnold (2005) (pg 28). This could be crucial to networked learning, especially where humans are interacting with each others in communities of practice. However, there are still paradoxes in between autonomy, diversity, openness and interactivity when educators and learners are immersed in a complex, emergent learning environment (MOOC).

It would be important to reflect on assumptions behind connectivist learning. Some questions include:
1. How could learning be best achieved under a connectivist environment?
2. What are the pre-requisite literacies and skills for educators and learners to consider in networked learning?

I suppose meaning created by each learner (under Constructivism or Social Constructivism) does assume the recognition and interpretation of networks.

I suppose there are overlaps in the Constructivism and Connectivism approaches

In this Beyond constructivism: navigationism in the knowledge era:

Teachers and educators should become the source of how to navigate in the ocean of available information and knowledge. We should become coaches and mentors within the knowledge era. Instructional designers should start to design coaching and navigating activitiesinstead of designing learning facilitation and learning activities; to configure navigation tools instead of the re-configuration of content.

Here is a video on Youtube:

I think this shows that a shift in the frame of reference would change the way we perceive an object’s appearance.  Similarly, the recognition and interpretation of the patterns as shown in this simple experiment well illustrates how a shift from Social to Network frame of reference (with neuro, conceptual and social) could make a difference.

Relating to Jenny’ example:

A constructivist approach involved challenging this deeply set misconception through physically demonstrating that heavy objects do not reach the ground before light objects. I believed that the physical demonstration had the effect of deconstructing the student’s existing thinking and reconstructing it or replacing it with the correct thinking.

How would a connectivist approach work? Yes, you still require the deconstruction of the student’s existing thinking, but not just based on the teacher’s input.  Rather, you would suggest the students to be immersed in networks, based on navigating activities and the using of appropriate tools or media (i.e. media and technology affordance), in exploring about the “right” and “wrong” concepts, and discerning those right from wrong through navigation tools and reflective thinking.  This is similar to what I have suggested here:

The concepts that are crystallised through such networked learning may be based on the ability of the learner to recognise and interpret the pattern (i.e. principally on the navigation and exploration, with or without the teachers), rather than the demonstration of the teacher and explanation of the concepts via “Constructivism or Social Constructivism”.  This means that the concept development under Connectivism is far more reaching than the typical “classroom” or social networks environment, but would also include technological and media enhancement for its nourishment.

This approach may take the form of Create, Interact and Track as discussed in CCK11.

Picture credit: CCK11

Picture: Garrison, Anderson, & Archer (2001)  Elements of an educational experience.

How would Connectivism and Constructivism differ in terms of the elements of educational experience?

Below is my Part 3 newly introduced in this post.

Part 3:

I am trying to shift my frame of reference and propose a different sense of looking into Connectivism:

As a transformative learning theory based on affordance and networks.

Why affordance?

Why networks?

Here I have reflected on how networks and connections are formed socially, most likely as a result of emotions and feelings attuned to the nodes or artifacts.

I have argued here on how technology would impact on our networking “affordance”:

It seems that we need both soft technology and hard technology to allow for the emergence of transformational learning.

The cMOOCs seem to be based on soft technology, with Connectivism as the principal model of education and learning.

The xMOOCs seem to be based on hard technology, with Instructivism and Mastery Learning as the principal model of education and learning.

For the current students, educators (including professors) and participants of xMOOCs, Instructivism and Mastery Learning may still be their favorite way of learning, whereas professors would likely prefer to adopt as a pedagogy.

For students and educators (including professors) and participants of cMOOCs, Constructivism and Connectivism would be their favorite way of learning, whereas all involved in the cMOOCs would like to experiment beyond the box, the four walls of institutions, and “test” the limits in terms of constraints imposed by the formal curriculum with stipulated timelines, set course structure with definitive and prescriptive learning outcomes, and routine video lectures of a didactic nature of teaching.

My verdict is: Behaviorism and Cognitivism would still ring supreme in xMOOCs, and it is not likely that these “massive” cohort of xMOOC students, professors would prefer the Connectivist or Constructivist approaches towards learning.  These may change upon time, as more and more learners and educators realize the need of adaptation and enormous changes that are required in order to survive and thrive in a highly complex education ecology.


What are missing in MOOC research?

MOOC is here to stay!

Reference to Peter Sloep’s comments on this post on Google Plus and Scoop.it

Good reflection on MOOCs.  How about research into MOOCs?

There are missing elements – learners’ needs (and motivation), pedagogy (from both teachers and learners’ perspectives) and openness which seems fundamental and universal in most Higher Education system, but not thoroughly addressed, as most posts published in those newspapers have been written from the perspectives of news reporters, senior executives or CEO, professors, administrators and researchers, but not much by teachers and learners.

As I shared in my posts, the learners’ needs may be segmented in accordance to a few categories – (a) those who are in high school, but would like to advance their knowledge or have some remedial knowledge through KA or preliminary courses in university, (b) those who are looking for university or degree education, (c) those who are graduates, and would like to use MOOC to further their professional development, and (d) those who are interested in life-long and continuing education, and (e) those who are retired or just have an interest in the course (MOOC).  Such diverse needs would also require different pedagogies – instructivist approach for those novice of (a), (b), a mix of social constructivist and or connectivist approaches for (c), (d) and (e).  Openness could be difficult to define, though would likely be based on individual’s preference.

Unfortunately, there aren’t much research findings (from xMOOCs) published on these areas, leading to lots of posts basing only on expert’s knowledge and experience, but not much on empirical and statistical findings as evidences to support those assertions and assumptions.

I did researches on cMOOCs and published findings based on empirical data, rather than the mere use of blog posts or basic statistics as reported in blogs.  It seems that without those empirical data, we are just best speculating on the trend, but that these are not yet fully reflective of the “reality”.  Besides, if we are to ask people what serves them best, they would likely tell you what is available now for free (like instructivist approach) where the instructors might have curated all information, taught what is required for the quizzes, assignments, and examination, leaving the learners to consume what is presented.  This would surely satisfy the requirements for the course, from an institutional perspective, and all auditors’ requirements.  However, that would only cover the procedural knowledge and at best declarative knowledge which is known and could be tested and assessed by automated system.

There is not much emphasis on generative and creative knowledge, as they are not tested or assessed (or cannot be assessed), and there aren’t much progress in this area, simply because social constructivism and connectivism may only be given a light touch in those MOOCs, where the professors have no time to interact or connect with each of the participants (i.e. it is impossible with tens of thousands of students).  This is again based on the assumptions that learners would learn better using different pedagogies which may only be valid with empirical findings and validation.

Photo: Google image

research implications images


What do you think?

Social Learning Theories

A well presented video on Social Learning Theories – Constructivism and Connectivism.

I have compared the similarities and differences of Constructivism and Connectivism here.

Here George discusses his views on Rhizomes and Networks, where he writes:

While rhizomes are diverse in shape and structure – growing, adapting, sprouting, replicating – they are not diverse in substance – i.e. rhizomes do not morph into new organic entities.

In his edtechweekly podcast, Cormier criticizes networks as being “duplicatable”. If someone has a successful network, she is tempted to say “this is how you create your own network”. Suddenly, the network becomes mechanistic. Cormier doesn’t like that. Neither do I. However, networks need not be designed in order to duplicate structure. Networks are organic – consider food webs, ecosystems, and the architecture of the brain. I don’t accept the argument that rhizomes are organic and that networks are not.

The central arguments about rhizomes and networks would be essential, as they could lead us to better understanding on how networks are situated.

I found networks could both be mechanically or artificially constructed and organically grown.

Ecosystems are often complex networks. “Ecosystems are made up of abiotic (non-living, environmental) and biotic components, and these basic components are important to nearly all types of ecosystems.”

The network structure of neurons connections in our brain is organic.

Image: Google.

Networks could be artificially constructed, like the networks and communities that are “built” and constructed, by each of the human agents, together with non-human agents which include the media, tools etc.  Networks could also be internally grown and developed, such as those in our human brain, or those inside our body, with blood streams, artery and veins, though these are likely under the control of the individuals.  The influence or changes due to the external networks on our brain network would account for the emotional responses, a change in the memory (of remembering facts, events and experience), or a change in the cognitive abilities in recognition of pattern, connections of concepts, thus re-wiring the connections and circuits.

What are the educational implications of social learning theories?

That will take another post for the exploration and reflection.