Connectivism vs. constructivism

Yesterday, during the SURF conference in Utrecht, Netherlands, I presented on Connectivism. Toward the end of the session, a gentleman inquired how connectivism differed from other theories of learning. His statement, in essence, was that other individuals have posited notions of knowledge residing outside of people…and in networks (I believe he referenced Bereiter and Wenger). What, he asked is different about connectivism than exists in these other models?…and Why don’t you mention the competition?.
While I don’t recall the exact words I used (it was recorded, so I’ll follow the video once it’s online). I think I gave a bit of a misleading (or for myself, unsatisfactory) answer in stating that connectivism is not really new (the parts of it aren’t new, the particular formation of components is – but I think everything in life fits into that model). First, I have not thought in antogonistic lines as competition in terms of learning theory. I’ve thought more along the lines of relevance. I did state, however, that “there’s nothing new under the sun”. People have been learning in social, networked ways since recorded history. Not much new here. What is new, however, is that more and more of our knowledge is of the nature that it is required to be held in distributed manner.
For me – call it whatever you want – connectivism, social constructivism, navigationism (pick your own)…learning today must be seen as social, knowledge distributed across a network, capacity enhanced by enlarging the network, learning/knowledge as multi-faceted and complex, incorporating technology, etc. I’m generally not in a mood to argue against other learning theories (though, at times, it’s required simply to achieve a frame of reference). I’m much more interested in arguing for effective learning representative of what learners require in order to stay current today. Evangelizing connectivism is a secondary concern as compared with discussing effective, relevant, “sustainable” learning.
The challenge involves creating models in order to cope with information overload and complexity. For example, ineffective models of learning function are not noticed for their weakness when they are not under pressure. When, as we are seeing today, the climate of knowledge and information changes, then the weaknesses of those structures are more pronounced. Connectivism is simply about forming connections – between people and with technolgy. Constructivism, for example, relies on social dimensions of learning as a means of internalizing knowledge – i.e. in the end, constructivist knowledge ends up largely situated in a persons mind, while using the social space as a means to mediate and define the knowledge.
Perhaps the real challenge I have with constructivism – and I’ve mentioned this before – is that it has so many flavors. It’s very challenging to discuss what we cannot at least partially define. Setting up the context for discussion relating to constructivism is key – I’ve answered too many questions on constructivism only to find it morphing as we become more involved in the discussion. Henceforth, first give me your definition of constructivism…and then perhaps we can talk about areas of similarity or areas of conflict :) .

One Response to “Connectivism vs. constructivism”

  1. Charles says:

    Comparing constructivism with connectivism can be profitable in some ways but not in others. Constructivism takes the unit of analysis as the individual while connectivism takes the unit of analysis as the network. However, both systems interact as part of a two-tiered system: the individual at a faster moving tier and the network at a slower moving tier. Both networks and individuals adapt and learn, but we shouldn’t conflate the two nor the learning models we posit for the two systems. Basically, the system you wish to analyze and understand can change (individual or network) change according to the questions you want to ask.