The basic premise of connectivism—”knowledge is distributed across a network of connections [and] learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks” (Downes 2007)—makes perfect sense to me, especially in the world of the Internet and smartphones and all those other gadgets within the “nebulous enivronments of shifting core elements” (Siemens 2005) that mean the opportunity to learn never ends. It’s a shape-shifting environment, more chaotic than the traditional institutions of learning codification can handle.
What doesn’t make sense to me, and perhaps I am misreading or reading too literally, are phrases used that imply that the connections are always there, waiting for “discovery.” In George Siemens’ helpful learning theories table, “recognizing and interpreting patterns” is how learning occurs, according to connectivism. Stephen Downes (2007) says that the “non-cognitivist thinks deeply by ‘seeing’ more intricate and more subtle patterns. It is a matter of recognition rather than inference.”
Are patterns already there? I think perhaps I’m a dreadful constructivist, in that I don’t really believe knowledge is set up for my discovery when I’m smart enough to see it. Rather, I think that I do intentionally create links that make sense for my own learning and life. And I unintentionally create links and make patterns, too. I also travel those links created by other people, like MOOC facilitators who “model and demonstrate” so that I can “practice and reflect,” and I love that! Learning doesn’t always mean wholesale agreement, of course, and I almost physically feel a sense of excitement and urgency overtaking me because there’s just so much to process. (I can’t tell you how many dozens of software services I’ve signed up for to play around with after reading Free Technology for Teachers, just because I enjoyed the process of figuring out what they could do.)
I keep coming back to my (simplistic) understanding of quantum mechanics, especially its implication the researcher/learner actually affects the given state of the object/knowledge of interest (e.g., one way, you can measure its particle-ness; another way, its wave-ness). My experience of “discovering” a pattern could in fact make that pattern—and as a corollary make other patterns less likely? The authors of connectivism invoke chaos a lot to help describe what happens in a facilitated course set up with connectivism as its theoretical base, and I keep wondering whether taking that one step further is enlightening. (My simplistic view of) chaos theory postulates that any change in initial conditions can have a ripple effect whose outcomes cannot be predicted ahead of time, so I get really curious about what I don’t know because I’m not looking for (and therefore creating) it. That curiosity drives me to purposefully seek out sources, and lucky for me I live in a time period of instant access to everyone else’s learning and sharing.
Connectivism makes perfect sense to me when coupled with nonessentialism, but the language used in some of the Connectivism and Connected Knowledge course readings interferes a bit with my ability to use the theory in an explanatory way, especially when I think about my own lifelong quest for knowledge and learning. By looking for knowledge, I “see” it and I also see a lot of other stuff that others have seen before me. The knowledge isn’t really there, locatable, only the act of connection that leaves some sort of material trail behind like breadcrumbs or bytes.