A learner theory or a theory of learning?

CCK08 is underway now and already some good discussion on the Moodle forums. I can see how difficult it’s going to be to keep pace with everything, and also keep all my own contributions in one place. For example, had a discussion with George Siemens sparked off by my introduction on the Moodle space – so I’m going to copy it here as a reference point for more detailed reflection and exploration later:

Stanley:
I don’t believe that ‘connectivism’ or ‘connected knowledge’ is some kind of ‘paradigm shift’ in education – but I’m not sceptical, rather more dubious that there is actually a theory of learning there. So I’m interested to see if there is anything really substantial in the concept that can contribute to the nitty-gritty challenges of teaching and learning – for example, I’m currently designing some new courses for our first-year students where there will be upwards of 1200 students in a course…

George:
First, I’m not a fan of paradigm shifts as expressed in popular literature. Kuhn detailed a paradigm shift as a once in a lifetime event (or, for that matter, several times in the history of a discipline). Now, it’s suggested these shifts happen several times a day smile.

You make two distinct points in your post:
1. You’re not convinced a learner theory exists in connectivism
2. You want something that can contribute to nitty-gritty challenges of teaching.

Obviously, the two are somewhat related. A theory is useful if it leads to and informs practice. I’ve taken a fair bit of negative feedback for asserting that connectivism is a learning theory. As others have suggested, stating it’s a theory of learning ends up being a distraction and people become fixated on that aspect of it, rather than exploring it’s alignment with the reality of teaching and learning in a networked/technologically-mediated world. I recognize that the emphasis on theory is distracting, but we need a theoretical base – replete with philosophizing, experimentation, and leading to application – to guide the conversation. I’m suggesting that connections are vital and sufficiently valuable (and complex) to warrant broad study and analysis. Understanding connection forming and how connections and networks relate to learning, is vital for education.

in terms of nitty-gritty, the tools that fall under the banner of participatory technologies (or web2.0) are very practical in nature. Blogs, wikis, SecondLife, and other tools can be adopted with far less resistence than how I recall moving courses online in an LMS. In fact, I think we have an entire basis of practical applications (tools and approaches) in need of a theory. And to this end, i advance connectivism as a theory.

Stanley:
I do think that some of the claims made about connectivism and connective knowledge (eg. going ‘beyond behaviourism and constructivism’ ) are suggestive of a paradigm shift (not the daily kind mixed ) – and I guess the numbers of participants on the course also suggest that there is something going on … ?

I think there’s a difference between a ‘learner theory’ and a ‘theory of learning’ – I’m more interested in the latter. I agree that all the cool new tools can connect learners in amazing ways that were not even on the radar when I started teaching (or learning for that matter) – but for me, a theory of learning needs to explain a lot more than how code, electricity and screens can link learners together. But connectivism does seem to be pointing towards that something more – as you suggest in the comparison of learning theories - and I’m looking forward to exploring this over the duration.

So I’m going to listen to your post on‘what is connectivism’ now and continue reflecting and questioning on my blog

Off to a great start I reckon and looking forward to developing this in a bit more detail!

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One Response to A learner theory or a theory of learning?

  1. Hi,

    “a theory of learning needs to explain a lot more than how code, electricity and screens can link learners together.”

    Absolutely! One of the points I tried to make in my short presentation was the frustration I have with educational notions of networks. Educators have largely imported network theory. We have not yet researched learning networks or come to understand how networks and related principles influence learning. Or how a certain type of network (at any of the three levels I mentioned) translates into learning…the list goes on.

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