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Posts tagged ‘Connectivism’


I’m Confused! Thought I was a Social Constructionist!

Learning has many faces. Many models. Our educational models can serve us – but we need to keep our minds open.  The science of learning, in fact any science, is not ‘truth’.  It is about models – models that are tested over time and circumstance – each approximating the truth.

I was asked recently by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach in one of the Powerful Learning Practice’s eLearning courses – How do you define learning?

Well, I spend a lot of time thinking about how people learn. Good thing –  considering I’m a teacher! 😉

(I am sure you do too!)

I would have easily answered that at different times in my career. In recent times, I could have quickly answered from a social constructionist perspective.

It’s not so clear to me these days – as I read more and as I think more.


How do you define learning’ is a question that reminds me of Seymour Sarason’s book “And What do You Mean by Learning”.  It took a whole book!  🙂

Sometimes for this kind of question, I really fall back to Piaget’s description of assimilation and accommodation.

I fall less to Skinner’s operant conditioning theories — although, I must admit, as I read more through a certain lens these days, I am intrigued by the impact such a perspective may have for us. Some of these readings are listed here:

Why We Make Mistakes by Joseph T. Hallinan

You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney

Who’s in Charge? Free Will & the Science of the Brain by Michael S. Gazzaniga

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemann

Throughout these 40 or so years, I have traveled the path of behaviorism, constructivism, cognitivism, social constructivism, contructionism, social constructionism, intentional learning theory, connectivism — now I am a ‘pot pourri of ponderings’. 😉

Models and theories, to me, are not the truth – as I have indicated in Limited, and Fooled by, Our Senses and in The Trickery of Temporary Truths.  However, they serve us well in helping us think about possibilities.

Intentional Learning theory, proposed by Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter, has resonated with me for a long time. It, for me, accommodates this pot pourri. Carl, you may not know, was a leading behaviorist back in the day. He, along with Engelmann, developed Distar in the sixties. He followed this with SRA and, more recently, Open Court. Marlene and he then developed CSILE (Computer Supported Intentional Learning Environments) which is now Knowledge Forum. They are premier pioneers and prophets in ‘knowledge building’. See their Institute for Knowledge Innovation and Technology.

What I am appreciating is the rich, textured fabric of ‘what learning is’ – that it is illuminated by many of these theories – and more.

It seems to me that Judith V. Boettcher’s 10 Core Learning Principles speak to my ‘pot pourri’ in saying, “Research findings into how our brains work* are stimulating a re-examination of traditional principles of designing teaching and learning experiences. Insights from this research are not only helping to deepen our understanding of traditional core learning principles, but they are also providing practical guidance on how to design learning experiences for our new high technology environments.”

(Bolding is mine.)

I am constantly redefining learning and all the practices related to it.

How do you define learning?

* Bransford, Brown, and Cocking 2000; Damasio 1999; Pinker 1997


Intentional Serendipity


For some ten to fifteen years, I have called my computer ‘Intentional Serendipity’. I did this somewhat flippantly at the time because I had recognized how many wonderful events seemed to serendipitously occur in my professional and personal life. (In fact, my spouse has suggested that I have a well-placed horseshoe that brings me good luck!)

Whether it was in my teaching, or researching, writing, holidays, or adventures- I always seemed to have ‘good luck’ with the ways things unfolded and turned out. Of course, I knew it wasn’t really luck.


It appeared to be related to my willingness to be open and flexible to opportunities as they arose. Although I might have made plans to pursue things in a certain way, those plans were rarely etched in stone. I was on the lookout for chance events, signals, ideas that might lead us in a better direction. I believe we should maintain an opportunistic vigilance.

…maintain an opportunistic vigilance.

So often, if our plans are made in a top-down fashion, we are bound and determined to follow them. Not me. For most things. I see planning as important – but, I view the ability to change those plans rapidly as circumstances dictate, to be even more important.

The Power of “Why?”

The trick, I think, is to know ‘why’ you are making the plans. Understand the ‘why’ deeply to your core. The plans are actually the ‘how’ and ‘what’. The ‘why’ becomes your ‘intention’. The ‘how’ and ‘what’ are the ways in which your intentions are achieved. These can be flexible…and you should always keep your eyes open to changing them to better achieve your intentions.

We, leaders at the YMCA of Greater Toronto, have been asked by our CEO, Medhat Mahdy, to always start with “Why” when we are developing a new project or initiative. It is a request I honour and respect.

The Power of Pull

So after all of this time believing in the intentionality of serendipitous occurrences, whose book do I pick up but John Seely Brown‘s “The Power of Pull”1.

John Seely Brown

Image via Wikipedia

Interestingly, I have been reading J.S. Brown’s work since the eighties because he is a cognitive scientist who worked at Xerox PARC. In fact, JSB was the “Chief Scientist of Xerox Corporation and the director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)—a position he held for nearly two decades. While head of PARC, Brown expanded the role of corporate research to include such topics as organizational learning, knowledge management, complex adaptive systems, and nano/mems technologies. He was a cofounder of the Institute for Research on Learning (IRL). His personal research interests include the management of radical innovation, digital youth culture, digital media, and new forms of communication and learning.2” So as a teacher and student of ‘learning’, I worked with his extended family of colleagues at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (now OISE/UT) – including Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter.

The Power of Pull is worth the read. One of the points the authors emphasize is the role of serendipity in moving organizations to capitalize on the connections across the organization. They speak of how we can ‘shape’ serendipitous encounters; how we can organize environments so that beneficial communications and connections are more likely to occur; how we can ‘pull’ information, resources and ideas from the ‘edge’ to the ‘core’.

…we must accommodate the rapidity of ‘knowledge flows’ that stream over us.

So I believe in ‘intentional serendipity’. It is not luck. It is a way of being in the world that suggests we must accommodate the rapidity of

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

‘knowledge flows’ that stream over us.

After all, it was rather serendipitous that I discovered The Power of Pull. I had shaped the possibility that it would be discovered by me – through Twitter, blogs, conversation, and, yes, Amazon bots!

1Actually, the Power of Pull is authored by John Seely Brown, Lang Davidson and John Hagel III


Why Should Students Collaborate?

Hey all, I am cross posting this here. It is currently posted at the Cooperative Catalyst site where I occasionally write. I felt I needed to post it here as well because the Connectivism course has the rss feed to this site.


So I just started taking the Connectivism and Connected Learning course – and I shall struggle to see how it differentiates itself as a ‘learning theory’.  George Siemens is developing this theory along with Stephen Downes. George outlines it here in Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age.

The first analysis I wish to make is how it speaks to the construct of ‘collaboration’ – one of the essential elements of ‘social constructivism’ – and George and Stephen, in no uncertain terms, distinguish connectivism from constructivism. In fact, they, like others, suggest that constructivism is not a learning theory but is rather a philosophy. Two of the principles of ‘connectivism’ are:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.

…constructivism is not a learning theory…

Although these are explicitly stated, on quick glance through the course materials, the references I see to collaboration are more ‘quantitative’ in nature – such things as ‘social network analysis‘ and so on.  The nature and quality of the collaboration doesn’t jump out at me at first blush. I may be wrong and will be interested in reading the rest of the articles, videos and presentations.

Let me take us on a somewhat retro look at some of the literature on collaboration in education.

Read the rest here…


Overwhelmed – A Maze of Cognitive Turbulence

Poster Designed for Logo Conference in Toronto 1986

I love learning. And I expect confusion. I thrive on dissonance. But, this morning, as I write this, I am curiously unsettled.

It has been the first week of the Connectivism course and I have not been able to attend to the readings and the webinars as deeply as I had hoped. One of those weeks, I guess.

I have generally described myself as a constructivist, indeed constructionist, over the years. However, I have always had a distinct distaste for packaged descriptions and formulae and indeed theories propagated and, often marketed by gurus as if there it is a ‘truth’ delivered from the heavens.

George Siemens at TEDxNYED.

Image via Wikipedia

I have always found myself in discord with any proponent of any theory because there is often a rigidity in their thinking or a flippant dismissal of other aspects of self or other domains that may bring the chosen theory into question.

Now I see George Siemens and Stephen Downes differently because of the value systems I see inherent in their behaviours and actions. The openness and richness of diverse voice is welcomed, and indeed encouraged.

Now I don’t intend to get into hero worship here either. Also, not my style.

However, I am continuing my struggle to gain deeper understandings.

Canadian sociologist Derrick de Kerckhove

Canadian sociologist Derrick de Kerckhove - Image via Wikipedia

Right now, my brain is turbulent. This week’s readings and webinars have unleashed noises and visions that won’t settle – everything from my discussions with Derrick de Kerckhove and his work on connected intelligence in the 1990’s to the newer research into neuroplasticity to the nightmarish classifications of our western medical models which define, and advise on, ADHD and learning disabilities.

Ok, no really intelligent thoughts today.

I just need to become one with the messiness of my mind.