Tuesday 9 September 2008

CCK08 - will connectivism without guidance result in unuseful knowledge mutations?

The CCK08 course is running for three days now and discussions are beginning to emerge. Some useful links: What is Connectivism a short presentation by George Siemens (made in adobe presenter, so you will need the latest flash plugin and quite a strong computer processor - might be difficult for low resource areas).

very short summary of the presentation:

the human mind builds on:
  • our need to externalize to make sense;
  • our need for frameworks/structures for sensemaking;
  • our need to socialize and negotiate around knowledge;
  • our patterning mind;
  • our desire to exceed our humanity through technology;

Connectivism =
  • knowledge is networked and distributed;
  • the experience of learning is one of forming new neural, conceptual and external networks;
  • occurs in complex, chaotic, shifting spaces;
  • increasingly aided by technology;
In order to better learning, we need to understand how and why connections form.
Connections create meaning.

Determining understanding
  • depth and diversity of connections, determines understanding
  • frequency of exposure;
  • integration with existing ideas/concepts;
  • strong and weak ties.
My reflections, and because a lot of people are discussing on a theoretical level, I will focus on the 'common sense' part as knowledge is equal in connectivism.

Let's create wild savages
I agree that learning is inevitable as humans have patterning minds, but what if learning is opened up completely, without basic foundations? I agree with the deductions of what learning is, but if learning is solely left to the learner, chances are you will learn only what is of interest to you and... it is my experience that the most difficult things to learn are peace, social equality and other such very human though not natural characteristics.

So how will connectivism lead to an increase in self-centered, only interested in their own world individuals because moral knowledge can be skipped?

organizing content is for sissies

If there is anything well structured and not ad random, it is libraries. If you think about the history of libraries, you cannot escape the fact that every library needs to be well organized. The organization of libraries has become a specialist profession. And I am glad because I can find my way in it. The fact is - as George Siemens says in his presentation on what connectivism is, that humans have a patterning mind - so we are glad if we know there is a pattern, but if there is not any we will make one up as we go along.

At home I also tend to organize, though much less than in most other homes (oh and this is no euphemism). The only thing is I do not find things as quickly as I could and because I keep buying things, the amount of things to sift through keeps growing. So every once and a while I tell myself I should put in some structure in order to find things more efficiently. I do not.

But now, with all the new content related technologies, the opening up of the new world (global, everyone joins) and my knowledge hunger... I am beginning to be at a loss for knowledge. For even if I use my personal organizing technologies (previous posts on this), they - in themselves - are beginning to get soo chaotic I do no longer find what I am looking for within a reasonable amount of time.

Adding new technologies was fine, until lately, because it seems they cloud my brain and it starts to become too much for me to organise. In a different world this would not matter, or in a different profession this would not matter neither, but as it is I am depending on my knowledge, on strong arguments why I suggest things that come out of my knowledge and on quickly retrieving things that I know I have somewhere (where?).

Technology pushes content to superficial levels
No matter how you twist and turn it: everything takes time, so reflection is the only thing that keeps our mind focused and connected. But reflection demands time. If time is becoming ever more important (Moore's law that humans want to mimic), how can we assure that our content products will have any quality in them?

do we increasingly build on other one's knowledge because of time restraints?
It would be interesting to see if the amount of content questions put out via new technologies (twitter, blogs, forums...) are beginning to increase... I think so. As everyone's time to find answers diminishes, we hope to find answers outside of our own brain and I think we increasingly depend on outside (=not our own personal) networks to find answers. But that is okay, we did do this in the past (International researchers, well traveled artists...). The only thing is what happens if nobody has the time to truly grasp certain knowledge? We believe certain 'experts' or 'gurus', but who is to tell they will not fall into the hands of non-argumented theories or solutions, just because they know they NEED to look as though they know?

read/write web results in no readers
Let's say we will still have time to reflect, so we will still write down our thoughts and ideas. As long as you read a book, you are not writing it and even if you write your own book, why would anyone else be interested. Even if your book was build on knowledge, it will be redundant as soon as you have written it (not even bothering with the distinction between paper or digital).

But copyright can eventually be dismissed
If more people (global) write down their ideas, more similar texts will be formed. So who is to tell who will be the 'author' of those ideas? I think that we can state that one thing is for sure, the copyright will be out on basis of too much. Who wants to read references that mention 20 different authors?

So for me connectivism is a nice idea, it will lead to some kind of revolution, just because everything is changing thanks to technology. But opening up all learning, will not necessarily result in a more humane society. In fact, giving the learning power to all humans from an early age, without guidance could result in a new savage era. Or will it?

On the other hand, opening up learning will give developing countries the tools to get cracking with their own theories and ideas... that is a BIG bonus!

‘Cartoon by Nick D Kim, nearingzero.net. Used by permission.’


  1. Hey, congrats for being mentioned in OLDaily!

  2. You're the first writer I've found in the CaCCK08phany that is concerned about the moral implications of Connectivism -- and rightly so. I applaud you for reporting honestly about how all these new tools cloud your mind and in fact make it more difficult to think or even retrieve -- so few are willing to admit that, and but waiting some sort of ecstatic transformation.

    Just because the mind sees patterns doesn't mean that a few people should make some very strong patterns and meme them around.

    I do believe that in fact this system is destructive and will make savages, or else, take a neutral and even encouraging attitude toward "emergent behaviour" out of connectivist systems just because in the system, no connection is "bad". George Siemens does talk about weaker or stronger connections and always seems to imply the user of networks should be discriminating, but how he now slips in institutional values and standards through the back door of his system which was busy destroying them, I can't tell.

    I imagine not unlike Wikipedia or Second Life or any big online mob, Connectivism will develop theories of certain people who need to be privileged or given special mod perms above others "for the good of the system" assuring us all the while that we must heed them to prevent the system from producing those savages about which you speak.

    Prokofy/Catherine Fitzpatrick

  3. hi Catherine
    Thank you for your remarks and thoughts.

  4. I am also very concerned with both the practical and moral implications of the self-organization and superficiality that could occur with networks. I also want to thank you for your clean, outline presentation of ideas -- I intend to mimic it!

  5. hi Lisa,
    Thanks for your kind words.
    It is indeed complex material, especially if one works with young/beginning students and you can see the strange dynamics that can occur (or that has been my (limited) experience), but on the other hand some of the learners are really amazing and can manage to learn at an amazing pace thanks to the open approach... as you can see I am also still in limbo :-)

  6. Thanks again for an incisive article.

    I do believe (or hope!) that the democratisation that collaboratisation brings, does decrease competitiveness which is the basis for capitalism (wasn't it?).

    As people realise they can 'have their say' in an effective way the world will become a more peaceable place.

    Or is this wishful thinking?