Simon Fowler's Blog

rLiving Day 7: Connectivism & Education (the Relational Imperative)

Posted by Simon on May 7, 2010

In a world of rapid change, astounding technological advancement and exponential information growth, how do we educate our children to be better citizens, better members of society?

This is a question that drives George Siemens, with whom I spoke today in the context of Forum Corp’s Principles of Workplace Learning (which I’ll likely blog about some time). With Stephen Downes, Siemens has spent several years exploring the context and characteristics of knowledge and learning. That exploration has resulted in a learning theory they call connectivism.

The premise of Relational Proximity: The foundation of human flourishing is relationship. Ultimately, the foundation is love, but love is predicated on relationship. We flourish to the degree we are connected or rather, proximate.

Essentially – as well as I can articulate a fairly sophisticated and still developing theory – connectivism moves the focus of learning from a linear, structured, controlled method rooted in an industrial age, to a distributed mode of learning rooted in networks; more specifically, rooted in the connections between the nodes in a network. That’s how the brain works, and it’s now how, thanks to technology, the world’s body of knowledge is stored, built and accessed. But it’s not just about knowledge. And it’s not just about a post-modern fragmentation of knowledge without a coherent narrative or framework. In his book, Knowing Knowledge (2006, also available on pdf), Siemens says:

We exist in dimensions beyond pure cognition. We are shaped by social interactions. We are influenced by our emotions, our motivations. We require transformative (spiritual) knowledge for novel recombinations (to rethink and recast information).
We want to belong. We want to be a part of the many, but only if we are ourselves. We do not want to fade and cease to exist as we meld with the crowd. Our tools are about individualization and personalization, but we individualize so we are a (unique) part of the crowd.

He recognizes that the new media revolution is causing fragmentation, but believes that it is possible to “create a centralized outcome from a de-centralized process”. In the video below, Siemens explains (at around 10 mins) that whether it’s dealing with H1N1, or pulling together information that will identify terror suspects before they maim and murder, “we need to distribute our cognition and connect it in such a manner that allows us to address and meet the needs of the individual problems or challenges that we face.” And with respect to education in general he says that with technology, “we can understand how my interaction with you [can result] in conceptual advances on my part”. His talk is about changing education with a view not just to produce people ready for corporations (that are still highly structured and largely ill-equipped to respond to the rapid changes taking place) but to produce “better citizens, better members of society”.

Connectivism has its critics, and I have many questions of my own. It’s not a comprehensive theory – “Better citizens, better members of society” require much more than better ways of finding knowledge – but as change in the way we educate children, it holds a lot of relational promise!


2 Responses to “rLiving Day 7: Connectivism & Education (the Relational Imperative)”

  1. Kate said

    Have you seen this one?

    I do love me some teachers…

    • Simon said

      No, I hadn’t seen that. Love it!! I’m so weary of talk that supposes that teachers and teaching are all about power & control as though those are a) synonymous, and b) inherently bad. That said, all power should be ‘given up’ in order to empower. What he also says illustrates how the teacher is in a position to make sure kids know they’re loved and that they matter:

      “When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.” — Randy Pausch

      Here’s a challening video I came across, “Dear Education: I’m your child”:

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