Connectivism is an emergent theory for learning that aptly came out in the relationship era.
During the information age going into the knowledge era, about a decade ago, finding the right information as well as finding the right knowledge assets was key. That's why Google came out as the primary technology that enabled the world to go about their business.
Now that information is handy, available and readily shared, the new imperative was to find the right people to share it with. Facebook came out as the winner. As we build on the relationships we are continuously developing, we now search for meaning. The early winner, not surprisingly, is FarmVille. But, going beyond virtual produce, we find that learning as a process is being revolutionized. Learning is something we need and learning is something we seem to be needing more and more of. This is just a logical step resulting from the ease of knowledge acquisition and breaking of the barriers of relationship initiation.
This is where Connectivism comes in. We need a model and not necessarily a theory to work with. The comparison with other learning theories is well and good and necessary to elaborate the details. But, as can be seen in the ongoing theoretical debates, we generally want to have a model we can use. There is a sense of impatience among the practitioners. And, this is explained by Connectivism itself.
Ends and means
In the connectivist learning model, the flow of knowledge is more important than the knowledge itself. In other words, the process is more important than the content. The main reason for this is that there is a constant need for quick adaptation. In this era, knowledge must be directed quickly to where it is needed to be applied. Once it has served its purpose, it is archived and momentarily forgotten. Notice that discarding information is now practically unheard of because once the connection has been made (i.e. something is learned), it will be stored somewhere. The additional task is mere retrieval or recollection.
Going into the connectivist layers, the initial requirement for learning is the communication of two nodes. This connection could even be one-way. Of course, it would be better if the communication cycle is completed via a feedback loop.
In the first layer, we are concerned with the type of communication channels that are being used. It can be physical, conceptual or virtual. Physical channels include electromagnetic fields like line-of-sight, infrared, microwave, radio waves, talking, other physical forces like gravity and even neuronal, endocrine processes and other biological communication. Conceptual channels include friendship, marriage, imagination, ideation, multi-level marketing, governments, social clubs and any other form of organization. The virtual channel was made to delineate connections that are mediated on the Internet. They could be argued as both physical and conceptual, but the main purpose is to be able to look into the distinct processes that can only be facilitated in the cloud. Virtual channels include mailing lists, forums, YouTube subscriptions and other lists, online courses, online games, IRC, BBC, and (I just realized now!) practically every element in the virtual universe, currently dominated by Facebook and Google.
Other concerns in the communication layer are the attributes that allow, improve or hinder the communication process. These would be the amount of traffic that flows through the channel, the quality of the transmission and noise, the integrity of the feedback, the type of feedback mechanisms, and the speed.
The 2nd layer of connectivity is determining the type of relationship of two nodes. It is postulated in Connectivity that stronger bonds produce better learning. A good currency of this bond is trust. This is defined and differentiated on both sides. Aside from the trust given by one node to the other, we also look at the level of commitment of that node to the given trust. Again, it works both ways. Trust is then supported by time and consistency. Relationships are also supported by entrainment. This is the level of similarity, compatibility and synchronicity of purpose of both nodes for maintaining the relationship.
For instance, the nodes of gaming and problem solving initially have different goals. When they are connected the resulting relationship has a high level of entrainment in that having fun facilitates finding solutions and the process creates a utilitarian dimension for having fun. Essentially, one node feeds on the outcome of the other. Another concept of relational bond is entrenchment. Nodes that are forced to remain connected each other are entrenched either by the interconnectivity of their mutual connections, or by the type of their relationship (e.g. marriage, monopolies, mafia).
1 + N = Infinity
The 3rd Connectivity layer is synergy. It describes the value of the connection. The cost of producing the connection must always be less than the benefits that pass through the connection. Other optimization factors are also included in this layer such as critical paths and efficiency. Processes described from other fields, theories and models such as Neuroscience, Connectionism, Distributed Cognition and Artificial Intelligence are included in this layer. Other activities that enhance the outcome of the relationship or learning are also part of the synergy layer. A few examples are promotion, gratitude and play.
The 4th layer posits that learning and knowledge can exist without the awareness of the actual connection of the nodes. We are looking at probability and potentiality. Consider yourself and a stranger in Facebook with 50 mutual friends. You haven't met each other in person, but every time you both login you see each other on the side bar under friend suggestions. At some point, both of you at separate times will click on each other's profiles, and find some point of connection. If one of you sends a request and the other approves, learning will have occurred. These would be like the times when you hear something that is so logical you wonder, "Now, why haven't I thought of that?" And, now you have.
Context is of extreme importance in Connectivism. The environment and circumstances surrounding connections defines the actual value of the information that is communicated through the channels. Some contextual factors are compatibility of all layers, shared resources among nodes and patterns, and productivity of the network and sub-networks.
Let's play a game
The Connectivist model basically allows us to talk under a common framework where we could understand each other more by playing the same language game. Now that we have initiated the conversation, where do we go from here? What do we do? The new generation has already started to answer it for us. The theorizing has come expectedly in the heels of the sprinting era and there is a lot of catching up to be done.
Because, this "relationship era" is no longer a child, but a very young parent. The gaming era is now being born from the connected minds of the kids who either just dropped out of the dysfunctional educational system or got their PhD's in their mid-20s. In the coming years, more and more people will be playing games not just for fun but for work.
Thank you for reading. How time flies when your having fun. Please leave a comment or a question. I'd really appreciate it. :)