One of the issues surrounding connectivism as a theory of learning is whether or not it is a new theory of learning. One could argue that connectivism is merely learning from those who you have networked with, which has been done since the early days of the human race. The difficult concept that the learning resides in the network (Siemens, 2008) not necessarily in the interaction between the two parties (although that can occur in a connectivist manner as well). This networked approach to learning is what I believe to be a new development and advancement from constructivism and a constructivist approach to learning.
Weaknesses of connectivism
While Siemens does debunk some initial criticisms of Connectivism in a 2007 response, he states “[a]s knowledge complexifies, patterns—not individual elements—become of greatest importance in gaining understanding.” (Siemens, 2007) One worrying aspect of the phenomenon of knowledge complexification is that there is a possibility that as knowledge becomes more complex that the patterns sought to understand knowledge will also be so complex that it renders both the pattern and knowledge unknowable. As we have seen in the case of the irrational number pi, there is no discernable pattern in the remainder. Does this mean that at some point we will reach such a similarly complex pattern of connections that we will be unable to comprehend the meaning of such a web? Certainly, this may not be concern in the near future, but as information grows at what seems an exponential rate, this may be an issue In the future.
Strengths of connectivism
One of the great strengths of connectivism is that it recognizes and highly values the context of information and that it is flexible enough to adapt or add new information as it becomes available. Downes (2006) uses the analogy of a red apple looking different under different conditions to illustrate interpretation. Downes then goes on to say “emergence is interpretation applied to connections.” So our contextual understanding of something is inherently connected to something else. Under previous learning theories context may have played a role (certainly in constructivism, much less so in a behaviourist model) but never has there been such an emphasis on context. As individuals begin to publish information on the web, I believe that understanding the context of the information being published is of utmost importance to the learner.
An important point to note is I have witnessed the way many people (not just younger generations who have grown up with internet access and the web) interact with information today rather than a decade ago. The immediacy and convenience of information has forced many people to rethink how they deal with information. In this process many find using the internet for information frustrating and confusing. This frustration and confusion is a sure sign that there is a shift underway. I believe that connectivism does address many of the problems in this paradigm shift.
Downes, S. (2005, December 12). An introduction to connective knowledge. Retrieved on October 3, 2008, from http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=33034
Siemens, G. (2007, November 12). Connectivism: learning theory or pastime of the self-amused?. Retrieved on October 4, 2008, from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/Connectivism_response.doc
Siemens, G. (2008, September 8). What is connectivism? Retrieve on October 5, 2008, from http://docs.google.com/View?docid=anw8wkk6fjc_14gpbqc2dt