Although it has only just started, I already have doubts about whether I’ll be able to keep involved with this over the semester – I’ve had to take on a new course (that I’m teaching) at very short notice, I have some work travel, and a bunch of extra deadlines already looming.
My position going into the course is that I have some issues with Connectivism – though I doubt I’ll make it through all this week’s reading list. I did review Stephen Downes description of Connectivism, where he also responds to some comments and critique from Tony Forster and Bill Kerr.
My initial thoughts below…
My feeling is that Connectivism is a somewhat forced attempt to combine two very different and distinct things – the neural processes involved in individual learning, and community processes involved in learning within groups/communities.
At one level we have a highly reductionist view – its all about the neural connections, how brains work at this low level. At the other level its about how people interact and make connections with other people. And entirely removed from this is any acceptance of higher level models or theories of how individuals may learn. Because brains have neurons, not models, explanations of learning that invoke mental models are rejected:
And ‘meaning’ is a property of language and logic, connoting referential and representational properties of physical symbol systems. Such systems are epiphenomena of (some) networks, and not descriptive of or essential to these networks.
Well, individual people can learn without networks of other people (though trial and error, dogged persistence, observation, etc.) – so perhaps networks of people can be considered an epiphenomena of individual learning – it does not appear to be descriptive (and is clearly not essential) to how an individual learns.
Meanwhile, I don’t quite understand why we need to reject the emergent ephiphenomena around individual learning – theories derived from thinking about how mental models (for example) are formed are not just useful for thinking about how learning occurs, they can lead to ways to improve teaching and learning facilitation. If we restrict our thinking to be just about how networks of neurons learn then we seem to lose an awful lot.
Meanwhile, if we consider emergent phenomena more generally we can argue out that medicine is a form of applied biology, biological systems are emergent, and dependent on, underlying chemistry. Behaviour of molecules and atoms themselves may be more accurately described through physics. Layer upon layer of emergence and epiphenomena are at work here. Doctors do learn about biology and chemistry, to a degree, but their expertise is focussed at the level of phenomena with which they are primarily concerned: the health of the individual.
If we accept the strong claims of Connectivism do we not also make the case for denying Psychology as a field of study? Stop studying human behaviour at the individual level, because it’s all epiphenomena and get with Congitive Neuroscience and focus our study exclusively on the neurons, because that is where it’s really happening?
I accept that this may be a gross misreading, but hey, as I said at the beginning I haven’t finished the recommended reading yet