Connectivism: Learning Theory or Past Time for the Self-Amused?

George Siemens, elearnspace, Nov 15, 2006
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Asked to review George Siemens's paper on Conectivism, Bijdrage van Plon Verhagen from the University of Twente treats readers to a detailed criticism of the paper. The review prompted Siemens to write a (self-admitted) meandering reply. As Siemens (accurately) summarizes, "Verhagen's criticisms are broadly centered on three areas: 1. Is connectivism a learning theory or a pedagogy? 2. The principles advocated by connectivism are present in other learning theories as well. 3. Can learning reside in non-human appliances?"

Taking as his cue the third criticism, Siemens launches on a long discourse on epistemology. I wish he had taken more time and written a shorter paper (yeah - like I'm one to complain about this!) to more sharply identify just how it's a new theory about learning and not merely a new pedagogy. Still, it's a fun, if somewhat loosely organized, romp through the theory of knowledge. And I will reiterate what I think is Siemens most effective and pointed criticism of the response:

"I am curious as to the approach Verhagen (2006) utilized in reviewing the article. I sense it primarily consisted of reading the article and providing a reaction based on his experience in the learning technology space. Did he search online? Did he view or listen to presentations posted on elearnspace? Did he encounter Stephen Downes' (2005) article on Connective Knowledge? ... The error made in the review is precisely the reason why we need to explore connectivism as a learning theory: static, context-less, content-centric approaches to knowing and understanding are fraught with likelihood of misunderstanding. To write a review of the American political system of 2004, and treat it as if it were today's reality, fails to acknowledge the process to which all content is subject. This is the danger of product iconization as offered, or explored by prominent theories of learning, thus failing to acknowledge - explicitly - that ongoing changes obsolesce current knowledge."
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