Sunday, November 19, 2006

Do we need new theories of knowledge and learning?

Over the ages numorous theories of knowledge and learning have been developed, including behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism. The use of technologies in adult education has made that people think more about why they teach in a certain way, as the technologies used should be determined by what we try to achieve and why. If we want to facilitate extensive communication between learners in the learning environment, we will for instance use very different tools from when the tutor has the knowledge and she passes this on to the learners.

Of course this is not part of what happens in the visible class room, but it will influence the way we teach.

This week George Siemens published his book 'knowing knowledge' on his website elearnspace in which he introduces a new theory : connectivism. He argues that the new dimensions that online networks and extensive online connectedness will bring into the learning environment warrant a new theory of learning. A debate has started with Professor Plon Verhagen who argues that we should forget about connectivism as it does not really add anything new to earlier theories.

I would like to add that Siemens very easily disregards an area of expertise that has developed over centuries because some new tools have emerged. I agree that the Web2.0 tools add a new dimension to communication, particularly as the networks that can be reached are much larger than you would in a face to face class room and also that the use of RSS feeds helps to organise these globally positioned contacts, which gives you the potential to develop wider and a different type of knowledge. The control moves away from the institution and towards the learner. Anecdotal avidence by enthusiasts would suggests that this enriches the learning experience. Research into the effect of these new technologies is required though before it would be wise to build new theories.

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