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Deciphering Connectivism

After reading through the material yesterday on Connectivism for the CCK09 course, I’ve come up with the following visual representation of what I think it’s all about.



Legos by WoodleyWonderWorks on Flickr

Legos by WoodleyWonderWorks on Flickr

Magnetx by StevenKing on sxc.hu

Magnetx by StevenKing on sxc.hu



I’m of two minds about my attempt to decipher what connectivism is. On one hand, the above attempt could be considered constructivist since I did, after all, “construct” meaning through logic and language (image and text). On the other hand, I could argue that my attempt was also connectivist since, according to Downes, it was an attempt to create a “set of connections formed by actions and experience.”

Do you agree with my statements? Am I even on the right track to comprehending this slippery thing called connectivism?


14 Responses

  1. Stephen would probably argue that you didn’t actually build meaning, but that you connected what you already knew to what you’re trying to learn. But then again, I don’t think he ever sees understanding as “constructing” anything, just connecting.

    One issue I have with the picture of the magnetix is that that shape is too regular; I don’t think a regular polyhedron is the right shape for a network. Learning is messy, and networks have clumps and clusters rather than perfectly evenly spaced nodes. But the analogy is an interesting one.

    • Thanks, Christy! I tried to find a picture of Magnetix that was similar to the Lego one but didn’t have any luck. I do agree that learning is messy and some of the connections will be long, clumped, short or shoot off into weird angles.

      I have to thank my kids for the analogy. Legos dominate my life at the moment.

  2. Hi April,
    I also feel like I am missing something. I keep trying to explain how connectivism and constructivism are different but I can’t. Is it maybe something to do with the fact that we are trying to verbalize it. Maybe it is just a concept that you can’t define with words?

    • Hi Gillian- Thanks for commenting!

      I think it’s more of the act of the connection rather than the end result. Therefore, like the Magnetix in the picture, it’s the traveling from point A to point B (or, in this case, connecting rods by round magnets) that’s important. The cool thing about the idea of using Magnetix as a visual is that the magnets on the end are not only interchangeable but they attract other pieces too. So if you had an infinity of pieces, you could potentially never stop building with the Magnetix. Maybe the same is true with connectivism.

      *whew* Now my brain is hurting a bit. Did that help at all? Christy, do you want to chime in here?

      • I think the table comparing learning theories to connectivism is a good way to start. I admit though that even having gone through CCK08 and having done all this reading that I struggle to summarize connectivism in a sentence or two the way I could crystallize the point of constructivism.

        If the idea of the difference between building knowledge with pieces and connecting ideas isn’t significant enough to really help you visualize it, think instead about how you would deal with a really, really complex overabundance of information. In the constructivist view, you would take little pieces out of that overabundance and build them into something new. If you’re thinking more social constructivist, you probably socially negotiate what’s important out of the river of information. But does either of those methods of learning really give you an overall picture of the trends or substance of something really big?

        From a connectivist standpoint, the response to a huge amount of information isn’t to look at the individual pieces, but to look at the patterns. The human brain is designed to look for patterns, and that’s a big part of connectivist theory. If you analyze a large text sentence by sentence, deconstructing it and reconstructing a new analysis, that’s a constructivist response. If you analyze a large text with a word cloud to look for trends, that’s a connectivist approach.

        Does that help at all? This isn’t all the aspects of the theory (which is part of why it’s hard to summarize in a sentence or two), but you might find it easier to think just about one part of it at a time. (And yes, that is sort of a constructivist approach to understanding connectivism.)

        If you’re having trouble verbalizing it, then go with some other medium makes sense. If wrestling with these ideas inspires you to paint or draw or make a mind map or play with Play-Doh, then do that. Connectivism is a complex theory because it’s designed to work best for complex, rapidly changing knowledge. There isn’t a single best way to approach understanding it.

      • There isn’t a single best way to approach understanding it.

        And thus the point of the course, I think. Thank you for the break down and explanation. This was much easier to understand and has actually helped me understand it.

  3. Hey–nice mention and great compliment in the Daily. Kudos to you!

  4. […] was written as a comment on April Hayman’s post comparing Legos and Magnetix as metaphors for constructivism and connectivism. One of her readers, Plain_Gillian, said she was struggling to verbalize the difference between the […]

  5. Thanks April and Christy,
    That does help.
    Christy your paragraph describing the connectivist stand point was really helpful. I think I am trying to break it down instead of looking for the overall patterns.
    April, I really enjoyed your description of the magnets attracting each other. That is a fantastic visual.
    I will start trying to work through this visually now 🙂

  6. Seems to me that constructivism requires logic and language in order to construct meaning. Connectivism does not talk about either. So what if one makes meaning without the use of linguistics? That would be musical thinking or thinking in dance movements, wouldn’t it? Why are linguistics required in learning?

    • Why are linguistics required in learning?

      Linguistics is the scientific study of language. Learning, at its very basic level, uses language to define (label) experiences (concepts). Studying language, according to Christy’s previous anaylisis, would be a constructivist idea whereas deciphering the patterns of language would be connectivist (I think).

      While logic and language are not the focus of connectivism, these two concepts are, at their core, how we figure things out and communicate our findings. If we cannot find a place for them within connectivism, how can we communicate with each other? Arguably, dance or music are not languages like the spoken word but they do have patterns (moves, notes) that to any other dancer or musician would make sense. So for connectivism it seems to me that we have to find that specialist language within the patterns and connections that are so complex within connectivism.


    • Actually, connectivism does talk about linguistics (or at least Stephen does).

      For example, in What Connectivism Is:

      “That is to say, these other theories are ‘cognitivist’, in the sense that they depict knowledge and learning as being grounded in language and logic. Connectivism is, by contrast, ‘connectionist’. Knowledge is, on this theory, literally the set of connections formed by actions and experience. It may consist in part of linguistic structures, but it is not essentially based in linguistic structures, and the properties and constraints of linguistic structures are not the properties and constraints of connectivism.”

      Non-linguistic meaning wouldn’t necessarily be musical or kinetic; visual meaning (i.e., images) would also be non-linguistic.

      This gets into the parts of the theory where the philosophical underpinnings are too much for me and my eyes glaze over. I periodically do try to understand these debates on the nature of knowledge, but overall it’s just too esoteric for me.

  7. Hi April, I love your explanation too about the magnets being interchangeable and attracting other pieces – from what I can understand so far, there is definitely a lot of uncertainty and with magnets, you don’t know what is going to be attracted to it. Its a great visual that I want to go and think about.

    Thanks Christy too for the pointer to the table, I had missed that somewhere along the way this week,


    • Thanks, Nicola, for stopping by! I’m glad it could help since this particular subject is pretty intense.

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