Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Semantics, Epistemology and Learning

Another interesting post by Jaap in this week's (final week) of CCK11 made me think.

Jaap writes:

As a connectivist (CCK11) I do not like the words “acquisition of knowledge”, I like to that to be “connecting to information”.

This made me think of the philosophy behind knowledge, how one sees knowledge and information (and ultimately wisdom?), and the semantics behind the words we use. Take for instance this phrase:

Acquisition of Knowledge

What does Acquisition of Knowledge imply? Well, we acquire something that in concrete, something already pre-made, ready for us to pick up and consume, use, or put it on a mantle. This view of knowledge is very behaviorist in its connotation. I don't necessarily subscribe to this idea. I think information can be given (example: don't touch the stove, it's hot) but there is no necessary knowledge of what happens if you touch a hot stove. As a kid I was told this time and time again, and I never touched a hot stove. A few months ago, by accident, I did touch a hot stove and boy did it hurt! I guess though pain I gained the knowledge of WHY I shouldn't touch a hot stove. Which leads me to the next phrase. Consider this one:

Construction of Knowledge

This phrase is implies that we, as learners, do something to the information we take in. We take in information through all of our senses, then some sort of mental process happens where we work through the information we get to make sense of it, and create that knowledge (understanding) for ourselves - a constructivist (Piagetian) notion. Vygotsky took this a step further with social-constructivism where it's not just what happens in your head, but also the interaction between people that help you process the information you are getting and hopefully turn that into knowledge (know-how). I like this theory, Vygotsky's, a little better than Piaget's and Skinner's (behaviorism) because there is, conceivably, someone more knowledgeable than you helping you increase your understanding. The only problem here is when you have a bunch of individuals who are somewhat at the same level of knowledge trying to help each other out with their learning. Learning can potentially be really slow as they reinvent the wheel.

Finally, let's consider:

Connecting to Information

This comes to the heart of CCK11, and connectivism in general. Now this phrase is connectivist in ideology and does address the concern I have about social-constructivism; that is if you don't have someone at a much higher level of knowledge and information learning slows to a crawl. At the same time this phrase has a major flaw - you're connecting to information, but it doesn't really say anything about what you do with it. Of course you can connect to information (thank you internet! :-) ) but you ought to do something with it to make it worth your while. Also, if you don't understand the information, what then?

As others have pointed out, no one theory completely covers how humans learn. I think that my views of knowledge and learning lie somewhere between connectivism, constructionism and social-interactionism. Connectivism on it's own doesn't work for me. Social-interactionism is good, but without a network to connect to, when you have reached a ceiling, it sort of limits your growth as a learner.

Thoughts?
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