Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge

Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge

Stephen Downes (National Research Council, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-729-4.ch001
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The purpose of this chapter is to outline some of the thinking behind new e-learning technology, including e-portfolios and personal learning environments. Part of this thinking is centered around the theory of connectivism, which asserts that knowledge - and therefore the learning of knowledge - is distributive, that is, not located in any given place (and therefore not ‘transferred’ or ‘transacted’ per se) but rather consists of the network of connections formed from experience and interactions with a knowing community. And another part of this thinking is centered around the new, and the newly empowered, learner, the member of the net generation, who is thinking and interacting in new ways. These trends combine to form what is sometimes called ‘e-learning 2.0’ - an approach to learning that is based on conversation and interaction, on sharing, creation and participation, on learning not as a separate activity, but rather, as embedded in meaningful activities such as games or workflows.
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The Traditional Theory: Cognitivism

The dominant theory of online and distance learning may be characterized as conforming to a ‘cognitivist’ theory of knowledge and learning. Cognitivism is probably best thought of as a response to behaviourism. It provides an explicit description of the ‘inner workings’ of the mind that behaviourism ignores. It is founded on the view that the behaviourist assertion that there are no mental events is in a certain sense implausible, if only by introspection. There is something that it is 'like' to have a belief, and this something seems clearly to be distinct from the mere assemblage of physical constituents. Searle in Minds, Brains, and Programs (1980) and Nagel in What is it Like to Be a Bat (1974) offer the most compelling versions of this argument.

In other words, cognitivists defend an approach that may be called ‘folk psychology’ (Ravenscroft, 2004). “In our everyday social interactions we both predict and explain behavior, and our explanations are couched in a mentalistic vocabulary which includes terms like ‘belief’ and ‘desire’.” The argument, in a nutshell, is that the claims of folk psychology are literally true, that there is, for example, an entity in the mind corresponding to the belief that 'Paris is the capital of France', and that this belief is, in fact, what might loosely be called 'brain writing' - or, more precisely, there is a one-to-one correspondence between a person's brain states and the sentence itself.

One branch of folk psychology, the language of thought theory, holds that things like beliefs are literally sentences in the brain, and that the materials for such sentences are innate. This is not as absurd as it sounds, and writers like Fodor offer a long and well-argued defense in works such as The Language of Thought (2005), RePresentations (1983) and Psychosemantics (1989). Intuitively, though, you can think of it this way: sculptors sometimes say 'the sculpture was already in the rock; I just found it'. And, quite literally, it makes no sense to say that the sculpture was not in the rock - where else would it be? The idea of 'shaping the mind' is the same sort of thing; it is a revealing of the potential that is latent in the mind, the pre-existing capacity to learn not only language but even sets of concepts and universal truths.

Where the Fodor approach intersects with learning theory is via communication theory, the idea that communication consists of information that flows through a channel (Griffin, 2002). When we join folk psychology with communications theory, we get the idea that there is something like mental content that is in some way transmitted from a sender to a receiver. That we send ideas or beliefs or desires thought his channel. Or at the very least, that we send linguistic or non-linguistic (audio music and video images, for example) representations of these mental entities.

In learning theory, the concept of transactional distance is based on this sort of analysis of communication (Moore, 1973). What that means is that there is exists a space (construed either physically or metaphorically) between two entities between which there exists a channel of communication. In one entity there exists a state, a mental state, which corresponds to a semantic state (in other words, a sentence), and in the process of communication, (aspects of) that state are transmitted from the first entity to the second. This transmission is known as a signal, and as writers like Schramm (1964, 1997) observe, the state transfer is made possible because it constitutes an experience (a mental state) shared between sender and receiver.

Complete Chapter List

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Table of Contents
George Siemens
Harrison Hao Yang, Steve Chi-Yin Yuen
Chapter 1
Stephen Downes
The purpose of this chapter is to outline some of the thinking behind new e-learning technology, including e-portfolios and personal learning... Sample PDF
Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge
Chapter 2
Ann Dutton Ewbank, Adam G. Kay, Teresa S. Foulger, Heather L. Carter
This chapter reviews the capabilities of social networking tools and links those capabilities to recent legal and ethical controversies involving... Sample PDF
Conceptualizing Codes of Conduct in Social Networking Communities
Chapter 3
Judi Repman, Cordelia Zinskie, Elizabeth Downs
As online learning continues to expand and evolve, new challenges emerge regarding the implementation of Web 2.0 tools and technologies in online... Sample PDF
Fulfilling the Promise: Addressing Institutional Factors that Impede the Implementation of E-Learning 2.0
Chapter 4
Robert Z. Zheng
The growth of online resources and the advancement of Web 2.0 technology are changing the instructional landscape and have significantly impacted... Sample PDF
Designing Dynamic Learning Environment for Web 2.0 Application
Chapter 5
Marshall G. Jones, Stephen W. Harmon
This chapter deals centrally with one emerging aspect of Web 2.0 for education, that of the increasing demand for real time and near real-time... Sample PDF
Instructional Strategies for Teaching in Synchronous Online Learning Environments (SOLE)
Chapter 6
Daniel W. Surry, David C. Ensminger
Higher education is changing in important and profound ways. New technologies are enabling universities to reach new students and create innovative... Sample PDF
University 2.0: Human, Social, and Societal Issues
Chapter 7
Jay Alden
The emergence of Web 2.0 technologies with its emphasis on social networking has presented an opportunity for academic institutions to take... Sample PDF
Use of Wikis to Support Collaboration among Online Students
Chapter 8
Curtis J. Bonk, Mimi Miyoung Lee, Nari Kim, Meng-Fen Grace Lin
A Wikibook is a transformative and disruptive technology that is finding increasing use in schools and higher education institutions. This new form... Sample PDF
Wikibook Transformations and Disruptions: Looking Back Twenty Years to Today
Chapter 9
Chareen Snelson
The recent explosive growth of Web-based video has expanded the repository of free content that can be tapped into for e-learning. Millions of video... Sample PDF
Web-Based Video for e-Learning: Tapping into the YouTubeTM Phenomenon
Chapter 10
Deborah Everhart, Kaye Shelton
Collaborative research teaches students critical knowledge management skills, whether they are undergraduates learning the basics of Web research or... Sample PDF
From Information Literacy to Scholarly Identity: Effective Pedagogical Strategies for Social Bookmarking
Chapter 11
Morris S.Y. Jong, Junjie Shang, Fong-Lok Lee, Jimmy H.M. Lee
VISOLE (Virtual Interactive Student-Oriented Learning Environment) is a constructivist pedagogical approach to empower computer game-based learning.... Sample PDF
VISOLE: A Constructivist Pedagogical Approach to Game-Based Learning
Chapter 12
Patricia Edwards, Mercedes Rico, Eva Dominguez, J. Enrique Agudo
Web 2.0 technologies are described as new and emerging for all fields of knowledge, including academia. Innovative e-learning formats like on-demand... Sample PDF
Second Language E-Learning and Professional Training with Second Life®
Chapter 13
Hyung Sung Park, Young Kyun Baek
The purpose of this chapter is to offer practical ideas and cases for educational use of the Second Life® virtual world with Web 2.0 based... Sample PDF
Empirical Evidence and Practical Cases for Using Virtual Worlds in Educational Contexts
Chapter 14
Sharon Stoerger
Schools based in the United States are trapped in a Henry Ford factory model of education that is focused on high-stakes testing. This model was... Sample PDF
A Pedagogical Odyssey in Three-Dimensional Virtual Worlds: The SECOND LIFE® Model
Chapter 15
Youmei Liu, Shawn McCombs
E-Learning has undergone an amazing metamorphosis: it has changed from the delivery of individualized, static curricular information to the... Sample PDF
Podcasting: A Flexible E-Learning Tool
Chapter 16
Steve Chi-Yin Yuen, Harrison Hao Yang
This chapter provides an overview and development of sense of community and social networking; discusses the potential uses of social networking in... Sample PDF
Using Social Networking to Enhance Sense of Community in E-Learning Courses
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