Theories, Theories, Everywhere!

This week’s readings could not have been more timely. Last year our school signed a partnership with Harvard through Research Schools International, and this past weekend we had someone from Harvard visit to present the research taking place, and spend a day planning with teachers for next steps.  We had a great turnout of teachers who will be undertaking action research in their classrooms. Below is a picture of the work being done by our staff on February 23, 2019. Enough about ISC for now, onto the reading from the week.

I wanted to briefly touch on Connectivism and Constructivism.  Let me start by quoting Siemen’s work: Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age;

“Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing”.

This definition, while wordy, very accurately describes learning in a digital, connected, and constantly changing context. It truly is not always under the control of the individual, these days while being connected, we often can have deep learning experiences without even intending to. I like that the word ‘chaotic’ is used here; it truly represents what learning in a digital age can look like, coming from a variety of places at any given time. I think this word chaos also represents the fact that we must have the skill of determining useful from not useful knowledge. We can’t possibly take everything in, so we must be able to quickly discern what is necessary, and what is not. The other challenge is that knowledge is being learned, researched, developed, and made available at such a pace that we must learn the skill to use new knowledge before it is obsolete.

Kipras Štreimikis

A nice representation of this connectedness and receiving new knowledge is found in the Bell article: Connectivism: Its Place in Theory-Informed Research and Innovation in Technology-Enabled Learning. In this article, there is a link to a Blog, entitled Teach Web Blog, which contains a great video by Wendy Drexler entitled: Connectivism: Networked Student…The Movie. This video accurately depicts the organized chaos that is digital learning, it is definitely worth a watch. She does a good job of visually representing digital learning in a connected world, and the pace of learning that occurs.

Here is another great summary video on Connectivism that I found, by Brandy Dudas:

Moving onto Constructivism. The Bodner article: Constructivism: A Theory of Knowledge. Bodner states: “Piaget believed that knowledge is acquired as the result of a life-long constructive process in which we try to organize, structure, and restructure our experiences in light of existing schemes of thought, and thereby gradually modifying and expanding theses schemes”. What constructs this knowledge can vary widely. Especially, if we take into account what learning looks like in a digital age. Dewey, like Piaget, was also a constructivist, and wrote about constructivism before Piaget did. He purported that children learn best when they interact with their environments and are actively involved with the school curriculum.  He argued that rather than the child being a passive recipient of knowledge, children are better served if they take an active part in the process of their own learning (teachthought). It is quite amazing the Dewey wrote this almost 100 years ago, and these are still ideas that we are pushing for today, personalization of learning, student voice and choice, experiential education, authentic learning, etc. Dewey further argued that for education to be at its most effective, children should be given learning opportunities that enabled them to link present content to previous experiences and knowledge. Again, this, we know, is good teaching practice, connecting one learning experience to the next, in order to reinforce the learning.

Nicole Adams

I definitely think that both of these theories can co-exist with another. Constructivism gives us the idea that knowledge is built upon prior knowledge, and that students must be actively engaged in their learning. Connectivism gives us the idea that learning takes place within a connected network, one that is always changing and developing. I see these fitting together like this: Students must be actively engaged in their learning through their connections that exist beyond the walls of the classroom, in an authentic manner. I am interested to hear what others think about Connectivism and Constructivism, and how these theories manifest themselves in schools and classrooms.