Learning Theories

. . . are something about which I have no expertise – but that’s never stopped me from sounding off about anything else, so here goes:

One of the topics of discussion in today’s #PLENK2010 Elluminate session was the distinction between Constructivist and Connectivist theories of learning. At first Stephen and George almost had me convinced, but in the end I find this to be another false dichotomy.

My weak understanding of Constructivism is that it treats learning or knowledge as something constructed in the mind of the student as a result of (possibly directed) experience. As such it seems eminently compatible with “Personal Learning”. It is also compatible with many different models of how the construction takes place so there may indeed be many different versions of Constructivism and I do not see that as something to complain about.

Connectivism (on the other hand?) seems to emphasize the structure and growth of networks in several (not obviously connected) ways:
– neural networks in the brain provide a theoretical model for what is actually constructed when something is learned
– connections between different contexts facilitate the extraction of general principles from specific examples and help the learner to achieve the all important capability of transference into a new context where the principle applies
– connections between people in a social network provide the means for receiving, passing on, and validating new insights and information

To me, these are not opposites but independent (and maybe even “orthogonal”) variables whose opposites might be called respectively Impositionism (or if that sounds too pejorative, perhaps Transmissionism would be better) and Chunkism.

In the spirit of visualization I offer the following picture

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6 Responses to Learning Theories

  1. Heli Nurmi says:

    Hi again, Alan!
    It was this post I wanted to comment especially, because yours description about last Friday Ellumination session touched me. I had same feelings. I tried to get some insights but no, it is another false dichotomy as you said.
    The comparison was so simple and, yes, false that I stopped waiting anything from our facilitators in theoretical issues 🙂 So it was a revealing experience.

    There is something in your picture: Constructivism versus Manipulating (easier to me, is it near?) . Connectivism vs chunks and structures. I remember a post of yours in which u said that tags cannot be the only way to knowledge. I needed it, thanks (last summer, CritLit).

    Notice: Tarmo Toikkanen answered to u in my blog.

  2. alan says:

    I think I will in future use “Transmissionism” for the opposite pole to “Constructivism” because the contrast I am making is between the idea of knowledge construction in the mind of the learner and the more traditional picture in which facts and information are transmitted from teacher to learner. Calling it “Impositionism” was probably unfair because the transmission process can be voluntary on the part of the learner (though in schools it often is not) and the voluntary vs compulsory aspect is really again a different issue.

    One thought I just had when writing the above reply was that it may be harder to transmit knowledge and information in the form relationships than in the form of simple facts or chunks, and that this may be why our facilitators seem to identify the two axes. But even if they may be less independent than I thought, I do still think they are different.

  3. Howard says:

    That’s a good analysis!
    I sometimes use a garden metaphor as a synonym for constructionism in contrast to the transmission metaphor. To propagate and cultivate or otherwise to grow.

  4. Hi Alan,
    I read your post with interest. I would like to learn more about George and Stephen’s views and the reasons behind why one must die for another to survive.

    I would like to see more evidences and discussions, but I am not sure what it would be like in the forum, as these had been discussed quite extensively in the past CCK08, 09 and even in CritLit2010 in related topics.

    Here is my metaphor of learning theories http://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com/2009/03/19/learning-metaphor-understanding-of-an-elephant-based-on-instructivism-constructivism-and-connectivism/
    I am still searching for a model or theory that could be “accepted” by HE, but it seems that all the ism has its own fate.
    Like to hear and learn about what you and others think, in blogs.

  5. Heli Nurmi says:

    Thanks Alan,
    I know Transmission (instructional theory) but had forgotten the concept.
    So our facilitators transmitted their thoughts to us, participants of plenk, how they define differences between connectivism and constructivism. They have constructed their view and friendly transmit it to us.

    We cannot build up a (one) theory that explains or understands human learning but we can describe concrete situations with suitable concepts.
    Must be humble…

  6. jordi guim says:

    The distinction reminds me of the philosopher Spinoza:
    Difference between mental object (internal) object of knowledge
    The discussion is extensive and fruitful in the field of philosophy
    as well as psychology

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