The dark side of connectivism, when you can’t ge online

Earlier in today great session in Elluminate for week 2 of PLENK2010 came this topic on the chat room:

Moderator (Stephen Downes) : Learning = Research

flsantos: Sometimes Stephen, sometimes…

Bruce Neubauer: research usually seeks knowledge that does not yet exist while learning is knowledge that a particular person does not yet known

Agreeing with the words of Stephen Downes happened to me what I feared – when I was called to the discussion there was a failure to connect to the internet and could not continue the matter. When I got online again the topic had passed, I watched because of the recording and I was disappointed because it is a subject that is dear to me.

Unfortunately, this equality – Learning = Research (which should be the rule) does not apply to all schools – and here I make a distinction between teaching and learning – because often teaching  does not provide learning but a repetition of content, usually based on old and outdated research.

Being involved in teacher training, and having the same basic training, meet daily dichotomies among my colleagues who have not studied for teachers and have some distorted ideas about pedagogy and didactics, because to them it makes no sense.

Recently, I was involved in some training on university teaching and I felt quite moved, because what were being passed to me was so obvious and yet many of my colleagues seemed to be “reinventing the wheel” , and investigations that are transmitted in pedagogy and didactics in early years of general education as the ideas of Piaget, Bloom, Wygotsky, Freire and others, problem based learning (PBL), active learning, etc. were be transmitted as if it were the last of the news.

At the same time reminded me a simple text which I wrote to a while ago, called “The dark side of connectivism, when you can’t get online”, briefly say that I agree with the ideas of Siemens and Downes and share many of their considerations mainly framed in an ecology of learning shared by de Waard, but being involved in a project of online education at an institution of higher education in Portugal some considerations must be done, even to enhance their own theories.

These notes are more a collection of reflections and doubts than a structured view on the subject, it can be assumed as a vision is not linear and that led me to this point.

To de Waard, Connectivism is a concept that fits perfectly in contemporary learning, learning that advancing at great speed as a major ecosystem, is thus an organic learning.

The base that Siemens used to support connectivism is based on the need to adapt/rearrange the theories commonly used in the creation of learning environments – behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism – taking into account the impacts of the use of technology in learning, as a support of the work of Pappert and others who advocate since the ’60s changes in education through technology, especially computers and the actual changes in our society that increasingly requires rapid adaptation to various environments and livelihoods, making thus the learning based on more traditional methods obsolete because it can not or will not encourage those digital skills.


Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and Complexity and serf-organization theories

(Siemens, 2004)

supported by eight fundamental principles and believes that the ability to separate and distinguish between information that is or not important to learn (but that learning) because in certain contexts a set of information may not be important, but in another context is essential. To be better understand what is said, Siemens organized a table where connectivism differs from other theories in several respects:

1. Learning occurs based on the recognition and interpretation of various patterns in distributed networks enhanced by technology;
2. Factors that influence learning are the diversity of networks, the strength of the nodes and context;
3. The role of memory based on adaptive pattern that is representative of a particular state;
4. The transfer of learning is generated by the addition of nodes and network expansion;
5. Learning becomes complex with a quick change at its core, based on various sources of knowledge.

The most common criticism about Connectivism are set out by Kerr where in a brief summary on his blog points to the importance of networking, but questions the need for a new theory. Stating three principles which should have a good theory and argue that Connectivism does not have:

1. Contributions to a curriculum reform, using a widespread of general slogans, despite contributing to an overall vision, that vision already supported by other theories and manifestos.
2. Provide a significant new perspective on how we see learning happening, and
3. Represent a historical alternative to other theories.

Another critic, Verhagen argues that Siemens brings up issues not on the level of learning, but the level of the curriculum as Connectivism being geared more towards a pedagogical approach rather than a learning theory emphasizing that the definitions set out by Siemens argues that this learning is defined as a result and not as a process.

In response to these criticisms, Siemens contends that

Connectivism is strongly focused on the linking to knowledge sources… not simply trying to explain how knowledge is formed in our heads.

(Siemens, 2006)

and concludes indicating it is irrelevant whether Connectivism assume a predominant role in school change, the most important are:

…that educators are reflecting on how learning has changed and the accompanying implications to how we design the spaces and structures of learning today

(Siemens, 2006)

One topic that has been pointed out by critics is an argument that Downes uses to indicate what is not Connectivism:

And we expect students to be able to manage complex and rapidly changing environment – in other words, to be able to manage thought just the sort of chaos we are creating.

Downes (2008)

And goes further to state

There is nothing in traditional institucions – except, perhaps, policy – that prevents this model from working.

Downes (2008)

Learning occurs when an individual is challenged beyond their capabilities and knowledge as a form of motivation, but can not be an impossible challenge to be achieved which leads to frustration.

Anyway Connectivism is a good metaphor for our times, because with the ability to establish connections, gain knowledge (sources vary), interact with others (people, cultures, ideas, etc …) that technology and the Internet brought us makes sense there is something that defines these capabilities, if nothing else for us to discuss these ideas and implement significant changes that we know are lacking in education today and more than that to their own learning for themselves without the direct involvement of the school in the process.

Another barrier that must be taken into account is the educational policy, teachers are not blocking the process of technology implementation (well, not all of them), but the policy option for its use. Even if this option politics enters a new field that is a misuse of these technological tools.

The problem of implementation of such methodologies using the technology, beyond the lack of preparation for filtering the vast amount of information necessary and critical spirit is the lack of connection.

One of the slogans of  Web 2.0 point to the Internet is like oxygen: ubiquitous, free and always available and it is exactly this point that the application of Connectivism as a learning theory fails – not for himself but for lack of pipes, using the metaphor of Siemens

The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe

Siemens (2004)

Of course Connectivism is more than internet and technology, our ancestors also ran knowledge networks around a campfire, and also gathered in shared networks in order to build and distribute knowledge. We as teachers is that we must manage the time of use and/or lack of connectivity.

That is the problem for Connectivism is when the pipes are blocked, or when someone doesn’t know how to use the tap.

Some questions arise when we address these issues, those issues which still have no answer:

• How to overcome the existing barriers to …
… Teachers?
… Students?
… Policy-makers?

• How to promote open learning within a specific context?
• How to boost the use of communication tools?
• How to organize classes?
• How to optimize existing resources?
• How to assess the learning taking into account new paradigms?

Thus I can conclude that:

Connectivism brings together concepts from different domains in a novel way. It is rare to have a singularly unique idea. Even existing theories – behaviourism, constructivism, and cognitivism, do not stand as fully complete and original ideas. What makes each of these theories unique is the manner in which they bring together research and concepts prominent during their particular age. Constructivism is an aggregation of thoughts that span from Dewey to von Glaserfeld to Papert. In a similar sense, connectivism is unique in bringing together ideas of neuroscience, cognitive science, network theory, complex systems, and related disciplines. While it is still a somewhat uneasy mix (we can’t simply throw buzzwords into a pot and call it a theory), as much (perhaps more) evidence exists for the key assertions in connectivism as does in any other theory of learning. The very intent of this course is to expand the base of connectivism and explore which principles are involved in the theory.

(Siemens, 2004)

Experience with training, either from teachers or students in online sessions indicates to me that people need a mentor to guide them, and that the factor of need, there’s motive, are critically important to adopt models of Connectivism free experience, especially when we have students who went through a school education where, for various reasons, have always been geared towards learning and when faced with these or similar situations, they feel almost as if they took away the carpet feet, completely lost.

What seems to be a good state of mind … or as Siemens refers:

I’ve concluded that class time is not wisely used. It’s expensive to get educators and students together in a physical space. Perhaps classrooms are not the place to emphasize computer use. Perhaps face-to-face time should take on a different model than we currently utilize. We should do what we can with technology outside of classrooms. Then we wouldn’t need to meet in classrooms as often.

Siemens (2010)


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