I previous blog posts I gave some attention to the social and technological aspects of network learning. This was in no way negating the cognitive aspects of network learning. In fact, perhaps my attention is supportive to the excessive attention given to technology and technological tools that draws attention away from the cognitive aspect learning that takes place within network learning. In the following reflection, I give some attention to distributed cognition and particularly Connectivism as ways of making sense of the cognitive aspect of network learning.

Distributed cognition is linked with the work of Salomon (1997) and others who advocates the idea of distributed resources within the environment mediating the learning process. This is a dynamic, complex process that promotes that learning takes place in a number of ways through collaborative and technological mediating means. Therefore a basic premise of distributed cognition is that learning is something that extends beyond the individual to include complex interaction with other individuals and artefacts within their environment (Hollan et al. 2000). Siemens (2005) takes this further by describing learning in the distributed online setting as something that occurs within networks of human and non-human artefacts where using various tools, individuals establish connections to personal networks and communities of practice (Siemens 2005). This appears however to imply that learning is distributed but also takes on situated characteristics for learners and therefore places the individual as a central part of this process. In Connectivism, learning is defined as:

a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing. (Siemens 2005, p.5)

As a developing framework Connectivism has provided much insight into how online environments should be designed to allow individuals to easily form connections. However, knowledge is promoted as the construction of connections to nodes of information (networks) while “learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks” (Downes 2007). Unfortunately, Connectivism is not clear on how individuals actually learn or how individuals make connections between knowledge in the networks, the individual and its application to real world contexts. This I think, remains one if the mysteries of Connectivism particularly since it adopts the radical approach in advancing that knowledge does not reside in human brains. If knowledge and information reside in the network and learning is forming connections, what then occurs in the human brain? What happens to the knowledge and information when individuals form connections? These are some important questions note addressing. Where I think Connectivism gains mileage is on the notion of learning as something that occurs through interaction (connections) with human and non-human artefacts and this seemingly draws on a Vygotskian approach. Downes (2007) however, makes a distinction between Connectivism and other theories:
Where Connectivism differs from those theories, I would argue, is that…these other theories are ‘cognitivist’, in the sense that they depict knowledge and learning as being grounded in language and logic. Connectivism is, by contrast, ‘connectionist’. Knowledge is, on this theory, literally the set of connections formed by actions and experience. It may consist in part of linguistic structures, but it is not essentially based in linguistic structures, and the properties and constraints of linguistic structures are not the properties and constraints of Connectivism.

The statement “…set of connections formed by actions and experience” above, arguably, draws some parallels to other theories and this I think is where some down play Connectivism as a learning theory that deserve to standout on its own. Kop & Hill (2008) for example, ascribes Connectivism as a framework for web-based activity and an epistemological framework for distributed knowledge, but underplays its significance as a learning theory. Kerr (2006) and Verhagen (2006) also argue against Connectivism as a new learning theory. What Kerr (2006) points to is, that the previous works of Vygotsky, Clarke and Lave & Wenger all account to some of what Connectivism alludes to. These arguments have implications for understanding how individuals make decisions on how connections are established or evaluated or, what actions or activity would constitute a connection. It seems to me that individuals must make some choice or decision with what connections they make. And this is not something that is dependent entirely to the network. Am I missing something here? Comments welcomed.

Downes, S., 2007. What Connectivism Is. Available at: http://www.downes.ca/post/38653 [Accessed November 12, 2009].

Hollan, J., Hutchins, E. & Kirsh, D., 2000. Distributed cognition: toward a new foundation for human-computer interaction research. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact., 7(2), 174-196.

Kerr, B., 2006. A challenge to connectivism. Bill Kerr: a challenge to connectivism. Available at: http://billkerr2.blogspot.com/2006/12/challenge-to-connectivism.html [Accessed November 12, 2009].

Kop, R. & Hill, A., 2008. Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past? International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 9(3). Available at: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/viewArticle/523/1103.

Salomon, G., 1997. Distributed cognitions, Cambridge University Press.

Siemens, G., 2005. Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1), 3-10.

Verhagen, P., 2006. Connectivism: A new learning theory. 2006, Available at: http://www.surfspace.nl/nl/Redactieomgeving/Publicaties/Documents/Connectivism%20a%20new%20theory.pdf [Accessed August 8, 2010].

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