Connectivism: Learning as Network-Creation

George Siemens, Learning Circuits, Nov 19, 2005
Commentary by Stephen Downes

This is a first-rate paper by George Siemens that seems to me to offer a subtle revision to connectivism, one that brings it much closer into alignment with my own views (Siemens's characterization may differ). In particular, Siemens takes pains to define 'network learning' and to contrast it with contemporary theories of learning, such as behaviourism and constructivism. In particular, he characterizes learning as the formation of nodes and connections in a network, and recasts (controversially, though accurately, in my view) concepts as motivation, patterning, logic and experience in the light of network formation. So far, nothing out of the ordinary. His discussion of latent semantic amanysis, however, takes this a step further through a discussion of how meaning is created through a 'dance' of feedback and reaction, involving not only cognition but also the emotions. And as such, learning involves 'rogue nodes' and other apparently inconsistent phenomena - the sorts of things that produce Gestalt phenomena, or as I would say, constitute 'interpretations' or 'perspectives' of the more complex network. "Two learners may experience the same information, yet code the new node into their network in different ways. What is conclusive to one learner may be absurd in the network of another." Finally, Seimens contrasts the theory of learning networks with connectivism itself, arguing that while networks per se are structured processes, learning itself takes place inside an ecology (cf my Buntine Oration). I think this is a good move to make, a clarification that casts much light on the formal versus the ecological properties of learning, and one that makes this paper a must-read.
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