Is Connectivism a Cyborg pedagogy?

In the Captain Piccard era of the Star Trek series, the Borg (cyborgs – a cybernetic organism) were portrayed as the humans’ worse enemies. A relentless swarm intelligence race invading our galaxy (and threatening to invade Earth) who’s most noteworthy message to the outer world was: “resistence is futile – you will be assimilated”! This is because the Borg don’t thrive as a mass of individuals, but as a single collective.

Connectivism is a nascent pedagogic theory and this is my first critical contribution in order to maybe improve on it. My main point here – does Connectivism negate individuality?

I have expressed before some views on how knowledge resides in an inter-subjective space. Inter-subjective here meaning across a number of individuals, i.e. in networks. However, this is the abstract notion of ‘knowledge’ and we have not identified the boundaries to the very similar concept of ‘belief’, which occupies the very same space.

Be that as it may, knowledge is also present in individual instantiations, or supra-individual instantiations in the case of organisational knowledge, and it is enhanced not only by connectivist activities, but also by own experiences and decision making processes. In a comment to George Siemens’ elaboration of Connectivism, Lanny Arvan describes large parts of learning as ‘verification’. I’d agree to that. This leads to an important perspective on knowledge and its creation, namely that “knowledge is conflict“.

As with the Borg, the unanswered question of Connectivism is where does steering of knowledge development and application come from if not from individuals? Does Connectivism support learning objectives, and where do these come from, intrinsic motivation or external drive? Are we led by individuals pulling and pushing every which way, is it the context that rules (e.g. democracy vs. dictatorship), or is there a dedicated network of experts which we may randomly call the education sector? Or all of them? Much of this would depend on whether connectivists see themselves as descriptive or prescriptive.

As far as the importance of the network over its content goes, I do see a deficiency in Stephen Downes’ “empty pipes” response to Tony Forster:

[Connectivsm] denies that there are bits of knowledge or understanding, much less that they can be created, represented or transferred

Maybe I misunderstand, but to me, this lacks purpose and does not allow intentional behaviour. Without purpose knowledge cannot grow or even exist. Intrinsic motivation or external dictation, what makes networks emerge and grow? More recently, Stephen does acknowledge the existence of content in a connectivist world. This is important, for even in a data network, the bits and bytes that flow through the channels give the network meaning and purpose.

In questioning existing learning theories, George asks:

What adjustments need to be made with learning theories when technology performs many of the cognitive operations previously performed by learners (information storage and retrieval).

and later:

How do learning theories address moments where performance is needed in the absence of complete understanding?

I sincerely hope that this does not express a ‘dumb terminal’ view of a cyborgised knowledge society where people are meant to act according to knowledge external to them. In such a connectivist world, Robinson has no ability to survive a new island situation.

Other observations:

Connectivism and tools:
In connectivist theory, technology takes a leading role, not as a mere medium or facilitator, but as part of the core without which knowledge cannot exist. At the same time, we observe that newest social networking technologies are enormously low in dialogistic nature. Twitter, FB, YouTube, blogs, etc. are information not communication technologies, and their dialogistic function (comment and sharing facility) are in fact secondary to their monologistic broadcasting design. Because responses are not a precondition, this is more favorable to cognitive and constructivist use than to Connectivism. Hence, it can be argued that we are still lacking appropriate tools that support a connectivist approach.

The supposed know-where addition that Connectivism adds, is far from being new. Any lawyer or doctor would not have learnt the legal code by rote, but would have been trained where to find the required knowledge and updates when needed. By contrast, our technology-enhanced way of life requires less of that as we continue to blindly trust in search engine algorithms or GPS navigation. A recent survey has shown that students base their study work largely on the first result returned by Google. Elsewhere, people lost the skill of finding answers in the yellow pages. Connectivism, it would seem to me, has to acknowledge that this dimension on where to find knowledge is about to disappear.

Small world networks:
One point worth noting with respect to small world networked learning is that people often don’t listen to the nodes closest to them (children – parent, wife – husband). Connectivism would have to explain this phenomenon in its own way.


3 responses to “Is Connectivism a Cyborg pedagogy?

  1. Jaap Bosman 31/01/2011 at 18:07

    A metaphor is in the way of proper understanding,
    In some way you (and most other people) seem to think learning is collecting information and somehow digest this information. Information is a collection, it is something one can store in a brain.
    But learning is not input of information. Information cannot flow. Electricity flows (experts do say it does not) water flows, but information does not flow. The use of this image of a stream of information is a metaphor and metaphors are not true.

  2. Mayra 01/02/2011 at 02:18

    We have a lot of nodes in an ecology. So we choose the information accord our interests and then we can shows how the information was important to us because we can publish, tell to other and so on…so I think that information flows..and depends on the Design of the ecology and the tools we can used.

  3. Wolfgang Greller 02/02/2011 at 14:37

    I’m with Mayra on this, and, sorry to say, I don’t get your point Jaap.

    You say learning is not input of information, so explain to us what learning is? You say information cannot flow, but don’t explain what else it does or where it resides, originates, etc. I am open to new views on this, let us hear yours.

    Needless to add that I do not believe that learning is only cramming content into the brain, but random connections without content don’t make any sense to me, neither in a learning context nor in a neurological way. I am happy to be corrected on this, though.

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