Defending Connectivism

Chris Swimmer, a fellow student in Massive: The Future of Learning at Scale, recently wrote a great piece on some of the pitfalls of connectivism, as we experience it in this course.  If you’re reading this and aren’t part of the course, our class follows a connectivist model, in which students contribute different things and take away different things, depending on their skill sets and interests.  In theory, the differentiation strips away much of the “busy work” that people often experience in formal education, and what’s left is a community of students whose collaboration mirrors that of “real-world” workplaces.  (You can read more in-depth about culture and connectivism here.)

I wanted to respond to Chris’s comments not because I disagree, but because I think they highlight an important element of many HGSE courses that focus on new (or unfamiliar) pedagogies, and I’m trying to make sense of the purpose behind it as well.

Chris refers to “meta-learning,” which I take to mean that Massive, among other classes, focuses on an alternative method for learning (and teaching), and does so by implementing that same method.  In Massive, that method is connectivism.  In Karen Brennan’s class, Designing for Learning by Creating, it’s constructionism.  In Tina Grotzer’s Applying Cognitive Science to Learning and Teaching, it’s Deeper Learning/Teaching for Understanding framework.  All of these HGSE courses teach deep, powerful concepts that build upon how I–and I’d imagine, most people–envision education, and they “walk the walk.”  So yes, definitely meta-learning.

Chris also admits that connectivism, because of its loose structure, doesn’t hold him accountable.  He potentially does less work than he might in a normal class with stricter standards.  I, too, have worried about this–and I’ve talked to a fair number of students in Justin’s class, Karen Brennan’s class and other classes who feel the same way about constructivist-heavy classes.  Chris mentions the importance of learning within a familiar framework; these methods of learning are unfamiliar, so using them right away is risky.

But when I think about learning environments that have worked best for me, they are the ones that nicely balance theory and practice.  I don’t truly subscribe to any specific way of learning something, but after I hear about a new idea, I generally like to see it in action, and interact with it.  My guess is that most of us do.

And that’s why I like Massive as a model of a connectivist course, although I also feel less pushed to produce than I might in a traditional setting.  I am interacting with connectivism as I write this post, and I’m constantly challenged to question my assumptions about what makes “good education.”  The jury is still out, but I’m glad to have the space to reflect as a sceptic of new methods.  (Paradoxically, if I decided that a didactic, lecture-based class was better than a connectivist class, and I found that out through taking a connectivist class… wouldn’t that realization mean that it was deeply important to take the connectivist class?)

So Chris, I agree entirely with you, but I’d also imagine that neither of us would be writing these posts if we weren’t feeling pushed to engage critically.  Deciding that you don’t thrive in a connectivist class by taking a connectivist class is, I guess, meta-learning!