An ill-informed observation on connectivism and other learning theories

A friend and colleague is engaged in some thinking about connectivism and its relationship with other learning theories. Thinking that is informed, sparked and perhaps somewhat unanswered by a post from George Siemens.

Damien and I talked briefly about this today and I let fly with an ill-informed opinion. I thought I’d share it here and hope that someone will point out the errors in my assumptions. I’ve been aware of the connectivism stuff for a while but have not taken the time to fully understand it. One of my tasks post the PhD thesis. I am, however, a potential fan of the approach as the following may indicate.

Disclaimer: This is a complex question and this little post will not cover everything (not the least because I’m somewhat clueless in the topic). In fact, I’m focusing on just one point. This post is perhaps the best example in my blog of me sharing a half-baked idea.

Fire away!

What’s a difference with connectivism?

I suggest that a major difference between connectivism and the other learning theories (broadly behaviourism, cognitivsm and constructivism) is that connectivism is based on assumptions that actually match what happens in the human brain. i.e. the functioning of the brain matches the assumptions within connectivism. As learning must, I think, involve the brain somewhat a theory of learning that connects with how the brain operates is important.

Behaviorism assumes that learning is a black box. It doesn’t even attempt to understand it. It focuses on what we can see.

Cognitivism assumes the brain/rationality works a bit like a computer. The brain is a symbol processor.

I’m not aware of constructivism making any specific claims connecting learning with how the brain works. It just assumes we learn by constructing meaning, but doesn’t mention how the brain does this.

See what I mean about me being clueless in this area yet?

Where as my understanding of connectivism is that it is closely related to modern ideas about how the brain works.

Gotta go


4 thoughts on “An ill-informed observation on connectivism and other learning theories

  1. beerc

    My 2 cents worth.

    I think that connectivism is more aligned with the current world than are other theories. It centres around knowledge where knowledge is the application of information. No single person has the capacity to know everything about any particular thing especially given the pace of change in the modern workplace and the fact that most employees will be required to multiskill more so than ever before. So I’d argue that knowing where to find the knowledge you need, when you need it is more important then actually knowing it in the first place which seems to me, to be where other theories sit.

    That said I think that the comparison isn’t really valid in that theories such as bahviorism and cognitivism are low level theories while connectivism is at a higher level of abstraction. I not sure a theory that describes the internalization of information exists due to the complexity of people and contexts. An interesting project would be to amalgamate connectivism with Snowdens work as there are some parallels I’d like to investigate.

    Hope this makes sense, it would be unusual for me if it did :)


    1. G’day Col,

      Like I said above – my point is only part of it. Based on my ill-informed understanding much of what you said covers some of the other features of connectivism that I haven’t covered in the above.

      Much of what you talk about is covered by Point #2 in the Siemen’s post Damo was talking about. In Siemen’s words

      Connectivism addresses the principles of learning at numerous levels – biological/neural, conceptual, and social/external.

      The point I make above fits, at least for me, with the biological/neural.

      The point you make fits more in the social/external.

      These aren’t separate points they build on each other and work in similar ways.

      In terms of Snowden, one thrust of his work is based on complex adaptive systems which are mentioned in at least one of the comments on the Siemen’s post.

      But Snowden also draws on a lot of other streams of work. A common underlying theme in his work, however, is the “naturalising” aspect. By which, I believe, he means that the knowledge he draws on is based on what science is telling us about how things work – including complex adaptive systems.

      He’s big on using findings from science to inform his work and is critical of theories without the basis.

      Which is some of where I’m coming from with the above.


      PS. Remember, all of the above is what I’m currently thinking on the basis of skimming over this stuff.

  2. The “What is connectivism” link that WordPress have automatically added in the “Possibly related posts” seems to repeat some of what I said, but somewhat better.

  3. Pingback: Another ill-informed point about connectivism versus behaviourism and cognitivism « The Weblog of (a) David Jones

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s