I don’t remember how to tie a tie. I don’t particularly want to remember how to tie a tie. I don’t particularly like wearing a tie. In the past ten years I have had to wear a tie perhaps fifteen times. Now this should have been enough of an opportunity to internalize the process of tying a tie but in the end it didn’t happen. Probably because the opportunity to learn was distributed across so many years [frequency] that it did not get internalized and probably because I did not pay attention to the process when I was actually doing it. Notice the important point here. I did get the tie tied when I needed to. What I did do when I needed to tie the tie was to hop on the Internet, find a site that described how to tie a tie and then I used that information to actually tie the tie. It ended up being a half windsor knot which some would argue is not really tying a tie but I will leave that for others to debate. Once tied I promptly went about the business of wearing the tie. In the end I did not pay any attention to the process used to tie a tie because I knew I could retrieve the information at any time from the distributed knowledge network we call the Internet and, because I knew I possessed the skill and tools to repeat the process, I paid little attention to where I found the information. In the end, despite the fact that I don’t remember how to tie a tie, I still believe I “know” how to tie a tie.
This very simple example of “knowing” illustrates very clearly for me some of the basic tenets of connectivism. Specifically that learning exists in the connections that I am able to create, that knowledge is distributed across connections, and that both knowledge and learning can be external to me [Downes, 2008].
I am not particularly interested in placing connectivism firmly in the camp of learning theory or debating its merits in that regard. Both Kerr  and Verhagen  do a good job of raising questions. What interests me as a whole is whether or not connectivism as an idea addresses any contextualized learning need. Siemens  believes that a need to improve upon existing learning theory exists because of the profound impact that technology is having on society. In particular he talks about the abundance of information and our increased ability to create information, the increased ability to dialogue and the complexity that this creates, and the vastly increased ability to simulate experience (Siemens, 2008). Siemens  believes that the primacy of the network is raised because of the impact of technology and that networks have become more important because they give us the means to sort out this complex environment [Siemens, 2008]. Even though the idea of learning in networks is not new the context is new.
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 [Siemens, 2008].
This to me is the contextualized learning need. People are expected to navigate in and manage an increasingly complex information ecosystem. To do this we need to more clearly understand the nature of the connections required to do this and to use that understanding to better design classrooms and learning situations, create curriculum and to better deliver that curriculum [Siemens, 2008].
From a K-12 educational perspective I am therefore concerned with what this might mean. What skills, attitudes, knowledge and understandings will students have to have to prepare them for a networked economy and what will schools, teachers, administrators and policy makers have to do to support the changes required?
Siemens (2004) identifies eight core principles of connectivism:
- Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
- Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
- Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
- Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.
- Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
- Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
- Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
- Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.
I believe that connectivism has something to say about the issues facing education generally and that the core principles of connectivism can inform the process of change. This is true whether connectivism is seen as a theory or not.
Downes, S. (2008) What is connectivism?
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/688902 [viewed 18/02/2011]
Kerr, B. (2007). LearningEvolves. http://learningevolves.wikispaces.com/connectivism
Siemens, G. (2008) Connectivism: Networked and Social Learning. http://www.connectivism.ca/?p=71 [viewed 18/02/2011]
Verhagen, P. . Connectivism: a new learning theory? retrieved February 18, 2011 from http://www.scribd.com/doc/88324962/Connectivism-a-New-Learning-Theory
Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age.
http://www.itdl.org/journal/jan_05/article01.htm [viewed 01-20-2011]