Here’s a cool idea: the web enables a connectivist learning style based on network navigation, where “learning is the process of creating connections and developing a network.” Seems to me before you can learn connectedly, though, you need to first learn in more socially and contextually constrained ways.
Background: Three generations of distance education pedagogies
In this week’s Learning Analytics 2012 (LAK12) web session, Dragan Gasevic pointed us at an interesting paper describing three generations of distance education: cognitive-behaviorist, social constructivist, and connectivist. From Anderson and Dron (2011):
Anderson and Dron did not claim that the connectivist model would replace the cognitive-behaviorist or social-constructivist models but said that “all three current and future generations of [distance education] pedagogy have an important place in a well-rounded educational experience.”
These three models co-exist online today
LAK12 is itself an example of a course built in the connectivist paradigm, but just because a course is massive, open, and online doesn’t mean that it’s connectivist. For example, the Stanford machine learning class offered last fall was a (very effective) example of a cognitive-behaviorist approach. Students watched videos on their own schedule. Regular quizzes and homework assignments checked understanding. Andrew Ng was content creator and sage on the stage. While there was a Q&A forum available, the course design did not rely on them. A student could use them or not.
Typical online college courses today are often built in the social-constructivist mode, with instructors seeking to design and run courses that encourage many-to-many engagement through discussion threads and group projects. Does the addition of social features drive learning? It seems to be an article of faith among instructional designers today that it does. I’m not up on the research so I can’t say — but I can say that in online courses I’ve reviewed and taken, I don’t see evidence that social features have been designed in such a way that they make a difference in learning.
When are the different approaches useful?
I am thinking that whether a cognitive-behaviorist or constructivist or connectivist approach is best depends upon the preparation and goals of the learner. Maybe something like this:
I suspect that a student needs to gain basic grounding and fluency in a subject before constructivist approaches will be useful. An elementary schooler needs to learn to read and write and do arithmetic before you can do a group science project, for example. And it seems like a connectivist approach will be most effective once you already have some intermediate and contextual knowledge of a subject before trying to navigate out from it.
What do you think? When are cognitive-behaviorist vs. social constructivist vs. connectivist approaches to learning most useful? Do you think you need to have achieved a certain level of contextual and subject knowledge before connected learning is effective?