Connectivism and transculturality -- notes from a talk by Stephen Downes

May 16, 2010, [MD]

Stephen Downes recently gave a talk in Argentina (at the same time as I hosted a group of wonderful Argentinians in my home). The talk is very good at outlining some basic ideas around connectivism, the difference between networks and groups, and how learning happens. Even though I have followed his writings for a while, there were several useful new ideas in this talk, and I began taking notes as I was reading along. At the end, I figured I might as well post them here. They have not been designed for publication, and are very much the things I found interesting, based on where I am in my thinking — not necessarily what is “objectively” interesting. It is what it is :)

I read the transcript, and I really appreciate the existence of a transcript, since it’s much faster for me to read through, and much easier to extract the important stuff. On the other hand, giving a good presentation forces you to organize your thoughts very clearly, which made for a very clear presentation. Much appreciated. Video and slides are also available.

Connectivism and transculturality

groups: your traditional nationalistic “we are all the same” kind of definition of community. Systems based on identity and conformity.

networks: a more appropriate, more reflective, more realistic description of culture and community.

four dimensions of networks:

emergent knowledge: the pattern that is created by a set of interconnected entities (flying an airplane)

interactivity: the knowledge in the community is created by the interaction of the members of the community rather than created in one person and then spread through the community. (picture of Nixon on TV)

traditional knowledge: static (factual), authority-based. destructive of communities, they stagnate

knowledge in network:

theory of connectivist teaching and learning

Now, the theory of connectivist teaching and learning is based on two ideas. First of all, the idea that the human brain is a network, just like the networks I’ve described. It’s a whole bunch of individual entities, neurons, connected with each other. And knowledge in the human brain emerges from these connections. And then the second idea is that our communities, our sociality, our culturality, again is created through these connections. So the way we have cultural identity, the way we have language and science and research and reasoning in our society generally is the same mechanism as the way we have knowledge individually or personally.

isomorphism brain and community. way of knowing, way of connecting.

learning is not social

(different from Siemens) — social knowledge is different from personal knowledge

Let’s think about this ‘social learning’. Think about where the models of knowledge and learning are coming from. Well, we have externally based definitions or community-based definitions. Learning objectives will be defined by the community. What counts as a body of knowledge will be defined by the community. The processes are externally-based. The processes of learning are going to be defined by the community. They’re all ‘activities’, ‘conversations’, ‘interactions’, ‘communications’. Everything’s happening external to the person. We have external systems. We define learning in terms of classes. Even in terms of networks, groups, collaborations. All kinds of things that are happening outside the individual person. And, of course, evaluation is by somebody external to you, an examiner or something like that.

It’s as though the entire process of learning happens in the society, in the community, and nothing happens in your head. And that just seems wrong to me. Because throughout this talk I’ve been careful to distinguish between the knowledge in our head, that is formed by connections of neurons, and the knowledge in society, that is formed by connections of people. And the learning that happens in our head does not consist of connections between people. The connections between people is the learning society or a community as a whole does

Personal knowledge is not social knowledge. It does not consist of social artifacts. It is not constructed the way we construct a sentence. It is not built the way we build a house. It is not organized the way we organize a society. It is grown the way we grow a muscle.

metaphore: external object, network is like bar-bell to exercise. i don’t want to become it, but use it to train muscle

testing: not by asking facts, but by seeing if they can do the task - flight simulator, medical internships. can they “fake it” successfully

Learning a discipline, like geography, or psychology, or any of these things, is a total state. It’s a transformation of the self from somebody who was not a geographer to somebody who is a geographer. It’s not a collection of individual bits of knowledge, it’s a process of becoming something. Learning to become a geographer (or a philosopher, or whatever) occurs not by presenting people with a set of facts but by immersing themselves in the discipline.

It’s expressed functionally, rather than cognitively. “Can you act as a geographer in a network of geographers?

You see how the community recognizes whether or not a person is a teacher, whether or not a person is a geographer. It’s like seeing that pattern, that complex pattern of associated behaviours, actions, reactions, inclinations and all of the rest.

Two modes of connectivist course:

collaboration vs cooperation

Cooperation is an exchange of mutual value between autonomous individuals, rather than collaboration, where the two individuals subsume themselves under a single common goal.

But collaboration, working together, does not define community. Community is based on each of us following our own way.

PLE as exercise machine

So, the way to think of a personal learning environment, in this context, is as an exercise machine, a way to immerse yourself in a community and work with the community, to get yourself into the community and practising with the community.

Teacher is not guide on the side

It’s not like constructivism where the instructor is the ‘guide by the side’. None of that. It doesn’t work unless the instructors take part too, because if you think about how community works, in a community, like a community of geographers, the alpha geographers are in there slugging it out


Stian Håklev May 16, 2010 Toronto, Canada
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