Complex Learning Theories

Here is my first post in 2013.  Happy New Year.

There is an interesting post followed with a conversation on the Guide to 4 complex learning theories on FB, referred by Grainne Conole.

My comments:

Interesting guide. I have difficulties in interpreting some of the content of the infographic though:

1. Is the learning theorists for George Siemens with a basis include Vygotsky, Papert Clark and Social Constructivism? I found some similarities and differences between Connectivism and Social Constructivism, as I shared in my blog posts here and here.

2. On How learning occurs -distributed within a network, social, technologically enhanced, recognizing and interpreting patterns. My interpretation is: Network formations and connections – neural, conceptual, and external (people, information sources). This actually embraces all of the behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, and social constructivism, situated learning, and COP as the levels of networks is not only socially situated and appropriated, but also conceptually (cognitively) recognised, interpreted, but also neurologically connected (formed, and reformed). I have summarised it here

3. Influencing factors – diversity of network. How about the strengths, types (openness), technological impact, and uniqueness (autonomy) of networks?

4. How transfer occurs – connecting to (adding nodes). There are many ways of connecting, and disconnecting (including filtering unwanted noise or distractions), and re-connecting, and the concept of connection could be at a micro and macro level.

5. Type of learning best explained – complex learning, rapid changing core, diverse knowledge sources. Upon closer examination, the type of learning would be based on the assumptions of learning. What is “best” explained? What sort of assumptions are made in classifying certain scenarios as complex learning? Here we might have to note whether we are referring to open or closed learning environment. Even in the case of closed learning environment, there could be complex learning when learners and agents interact and form connections in complex manners.


Hi Martyn Cooper, I think the Laurillard Conversational model is very useful in the case of “formal learning scenario”, especially under a “closed educational learning environment” where a teacher-student transactional model is defined. I have quoted that in my blog post too.


What would happen if the student becomes a teacher, and interacts with different sources (i.e. agents, information sources, and networks) and posts and shares his/her knowledge with others in the public and open space. He or she may be playing the role of both a teacher and student (a dual role), and could be internalizing the knowledge (the tacit knowledge) in particular, when reflecting on certain experiences.

So, the Conversational model could be both socially oriented (with an external agent, a teacher or peer), and also internally initiated (with oneself, or with an artifact, such as writings or pictures, etc.).

There are again certain assumptions here on learning, where I have briefly summarised under the Assumptions Theory. In summary, I am not sure if Laurillard Conversational model could be extended to include the internal conversation, as it seems to relate mainly to the social constructivist model of learning. What do you think Grainne Conole and Martyn Cooper?

Reflection on Learning under Connectivism

What is learning?  Peter Sloep posted here in response to a post by Steve Wheeler.

One of the characteristics of learning through digital media is the ability to crowd source content, ideas and artefacts, and to promote and participate in global discussions. That’s why I want to ask the questions: What is learning? Does it differ from learning prior to the advent of global communications technology? Does learning now require new explanatory frameworks?

Peter continues:

When theories get more accurate, the concepts that feature in them become defined more precisely but they also become more specific, ignoring parts of the original concept. This suggests that the term ‘learning’ has different meanings in the different learning theories we have. Indeed, this is what Knud Illeris suggests. Learning qua mental activity belongs to the realm of psychological theorising, with such theories as behaviourism, instructionism, cognitivism, constructivism. Learning qua  interaction process is much less easy to pinpoint in terms of an overarching discipline. But such fields as sociology, social psychology, game theory, network theory, artificial intelligence, computer science seem relevant.

Stephen recently wrote: Knowledge is, on this theory [of Connectivism], literally the set of connections formed by actions and experience”. This seems to touch upon learning qua mental process. Indeed, he seems to want to ignore mental processing entirely, suggesting they are not relevant, epiphenomena of networking at best.

My response:

When it comes to theorizing learning, I think there are few assumptions we have all made across all theories. 1. Learning is definable and context based – personal and or social, 2. Human learning is an action and experience, that may be conceptualized by sensing the pattern (knowledge embedded), and its associated changes (in behavior, one’s way of thinking, or minds etc.), 3. Human and machine learning could be understood based on heuristics and algorithms, which in turn could be proven on scientific grounds – with logic and reasoning as the proven forms of learning – in critical thinking, 4. Human learn best under certain conditions – in an authentic learning environment, with technology and tools as enablers, and social and teachers’ support in the case of classroom environment etc., 5. Social and emotional aspects of learning could determine how human would learn based on the interaction between the agents- human and non-human, especially in a technology-mediated environment.  These relate to the socio-technological dimensions of learning, which could only be studied at a macro-level of learning.

In summary, I think we are talking about learning at a micro level – psychological/neuronal/conceptual (i.e. behaviorist, instructivist, cognitivist, and connectionist) to a macro level (i.e. constructivist (project and problem based), social constructivist, sociological and community  basis).

Here Connectivism could consist of connectivism (as Stephen has mentioned of both knowledge as pattern, and knowing as pattern recognition, and learning as the navigation and construction of networks in our minds (the neural networks) and Connectivism- that of action and experience we gained through navigation and construction of those networks on the web or social interaction.

Here the three levels of network formation – at neural, conceptual and social level with external sources (social webs, networks, communities; artifacts, information etc.) would form the basis of all design – under Connectivism model (with a network learning – learning on networks and NETWORKED LEARNING – where learning is the network).

The metaphors of networks as the basis of learning would come into play, as fundamental assumptions of all human learning.

Refer to this post by George where he explains:

1. Connectivism is the application of network principles to define both knowledge and the process of learning. Knowledge is defined as a particular pattern of relationships and learning is defined as the creation of new connections and patterns as well as the ability to maneuver around existing networks/patterns.

2. Connectivism addresses the principles of learning at numerous levels – biological/neural, conceptual, and social/external. This is a key concept that I’ll be writing about more during the online course. What I’m saying with connectivism (and I think Stephen would share this) is that the same structure of learning that creates neural connections can be found in how we link ideas and in how we connect to people and information sources. One scepter to rule them all.

Postscript: The questions of “Does it differ from learning prior to the advent of global communications technology? Does learning now require new explanatory frameworks?” would depend on (a) assumptions one has made, (b) the lens and the corresponding metaphors that one would use to describe and explain the learning phenomena, and (c) the degree of matching of those principles of learning between what one theorizes and one observes and senses, based on a collection of views, personal perception, and reasoning, with empirical evidences.

Here I have shared my views on authentic learning.

Photo credit: Google?

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.