Simon Fowler's Blog

Imperatives of Connectivism: Connected Specialization & ‘Bridging’ Social Capital

Posted by Simon on January 24, 2011

Connectivism is a new learning theory that supersedes – doesn’t completely replace – traditional theories of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. The claim is that it is more suited to the increasingly fast, complex, informationally explosive and digitally wired world we live in. Seems a good enough reason for a new learning theory!

Keith Hamon, in the second live session of CCK11 last Friday wrote in the chat: “I think the growth of specialized expertise has increased the need for a theory of connectivism if society is to avoid devolving into discrete silos of “blind knowledge,” disconnected from the environment that needs and uses that knowledge.”

I completely agree with him and think it’s an important aspect of Connectivism to keep probing. I sense that Connectivism proposes an imperative that people and groups stay connected with different people and groups. It’s an imperative, not an inevitability. I hear a lot of idealists say that if we’re connected, if physical or technological barriers are broken down, then this wonderful global community will appear. Well of course that ain’t gonna happen while actual human beings are involved. Silos of “blind knowledge”, or groupthink ironically have more potential to arise as access to networks enables people choose their one source of news and information and are fed and led via engines to their own preferences.

So there’s an imperative for deep specialization – that comes tight focus in one field – to apply itself to the wider context of the world in which it exists.

Since we’re still dealing with human beings here (I hope!), it may be instructive to look at the research into social capital, and the distinctives of ‘bonding’ and ‘bridging’ social capital. Those concepts may help us assess the health of those ‘siloed’ groups of connected individuals, and also the health of the wider network of groups. “Health” will have to be defined in some ways, of course, and that may already be a departure from Connectivism which seems happy just with the mere existence of connectedness and says nothing about the quality of that connectedness.


6 Responses to “Imperatives of Connectivism: Connected Specialization & ‘Bridging’ Social Capital”

  1. Aaron said

    this is a fascinating idea – the relationship between expertise and the health, in terms of social capitol, of those producing the knowledge… thanks. i’ve also been fascinated by the relational element of the idea of connectivism but hadn’t made this connection. thanks!

    • Simon said

      Thanks your comment and tweet, Aaron! My overriding interest is in relationships and relational thinking (see the 30-Day Index for my foray into that) so I’m very curious about the quality of relationships within Connectivism.
      Let me know what discoveries you make in this regard over the coming weeks.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Simon Fowler, Ian Chia. Ian Chia said: @ImaginationSoup FYI RT @sifowler Imperatives of Connectivism: Connected Specialization & 'Bridging' Social Capital: […]

  3. Simon, thanks for the post. I too am keenly interested in the quality of the connections in connectivism. Siemens and Downes both talk about strong ties and weak ties, but while those concepts might correlate with quality, I think quality is something more. I will say here, however, that the valuation of a connection’s quality has shifted from external to internal: to the individual. Millions of individuals once valued their connection to Yahoo for net searches, and then overnight, they valued a connection to Google more. This ability to manage our own connections is a significant shift in culture and is inconsistent with some traditional connections we’ve inherited. For instance, when I vote in elections, I am forced by the government to vote based on my declared geographical connections (Macon, GA, USA). Geography is increasingly irrelevant in the Web 2.0 world, so why force connections based on geography? I’m not arguing that geography is an inferior way to form connections, just that it isn’t the only way, and governments and citizens have not yet awakened to that fact. When they do, how will I form and connect to a political community? Could be interesting.

    • Simon said

      Thanks Keith. Yes, very interesting. Your comment prompts a couple of thoughts … First is that the quality of a connection is defined by its function or purpose. What is the connection for? If local civic engagement is the purpose then geography-based voting may make sense. I suspect Downes would say that ‘purpose’ is an emergent quality of networks rather than something that can be imposed. But the fact that we get up in the morning and make decisions about connections based on conscious (work) or unconscious (hunger) purposes means that our purposes affect/create the network.
      My second thought is that we don’t ‘own’ a connection do we? Don’t we just own our end of it? I’m a little late on reading all the “network” literature (e.g. looking more at Actor-Network theory), but I guess the big question is on the nature and agency of the nodes. Is a passive, open, node that allows me, as another node, to connect to it, thus forming a ‘connection’? Maybe, but not all nodes, especially human ones, are passive and open; they normally require some kind of reciprocity and agreement on the nature and purpose (quality) of the connection. I’m talking in circles now I think!
      Man, fascinating stuff!

  4. […] More active participants would enhance the variety of the content and the quality of the content. (Because content is seen by a lot of critical readers quality would grow) “…So there’s an imperative for deep specialization – that comes tight focus in one field – to apply itself to the wider context of the world in which it exists….” writes  Simon Fowler […]

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