Wednesday, March 09, 2005

learning theory

I've reread Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age by George Siemens and some notes about it sent to me by Keith Richardson. I've also discovered that George Siemens has a blog.

I'd prefer to take some time to evaluate George Siemen's claim that we need a new learning theory - and that connectivism is it - due to rapid advances in communications technology, networks, chaos theory, complexity and self organising systems.

My first goal would be to revisit the established theories of behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism and freshen up there, because I am rusty.

I feel I have a working knowledge of behaviourism and constructivism and I think all educators and parents use both. We give rewards such as praise for responses we like to see. We provide enriched learning environments that allow for exploration when we can. I think it's absurd to suggest there isn't a need for both but as far as I know no one is actually seriously suggesting that.

However, I feel unclear about cognitivism - what is it exactly and how to educators use it? That's one of the things I'm looking into at the moment.

Another question that arose for me in reading Siemen's paper was how do we define learning. There are a few different definitions of learning in that paper, such as:

"learning must be a way of being - an ongoing set of attitudes and actions by individuals and groups that they employ to try to keep abreast of the surprising, novel, messy, obtrusive, recurring events ..." (quoting Vaill, p. 1)

"a persisting change in human performance or performance potential ... [which] must come about as a result of the learner's experience and interaction with the world" (quoting Driscoll, p.2)

"Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organisation or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing" (p. 5)
I'm not sure that looking for a definition is the way to go because learning is one of those words that Marvin Minsky refers to as suitcase words, words that have lots of different meanings when you look at them closely. Or as Minsky says in Society of Mind:

Learning. An omnibus word for all the processes that lead to long term changes in our minds (p. 329)
Anyway, the Siemen's phrase that "learning can reside outside of ourselves" is part of what is radical about his theory - the idea that in our new networked environment learning can reside outside of the individual. That idea has practical implications for educators.

It also reminds me of the final scene in Terminator where the super computer launched a nuclear strike against the human race.


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