Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On Brain Rewiring and Speed of Access

Report from the Lurker field :-)
The other day I was reading a blog post, part of #change11, on connectivism from someone newly introduced to the theory. Now, I've said before, and I will say it again that connectivism doesn't fully do it for me. I think it has some valid points but I dispute the claim that learning happens faster/better due to our technologically connected world.  A learning theory, in my mind anyway, needs to explain human learning at the most basic levels, not with specific factors in mind (think of Chomsky's Universal Grammar for example, it doesn't just try to explain English, but rather all human languages -same with learning theories, not just learning in a technology rich environment, but all learning).

In any case, this particular blog post mentions brain rewiring (specifically referring to Prensky†) and how this is a technological sensory input is so new that we have yet to comprehend how it can affect teaching, learning, instructional design and a few other things.  To this I say bollocks.  Listen, technology is a tool, similar to hammers, axes and books. You can do a lot of things with computers and computing devices, just like you can do with other tools. Not all tools have the same sensory input, this is true, but to claim that brain rewiring is due to access to technology and ubiquitous information is just plain wrong.  Our brains have been rewiring themselves for millennia, it is not a new phenomenon, and it's not due to computing technology or access to information.  We've had access to information, freely, in the form of public libraries for at least several hundred years.

Some other things that need a thorough examination (and some of which really warrant a facepalm):

This ability to find information from new and diverse sources and incorporate it into previous knowledge or patterns is the truly new and innovative aspect of Connectivism that has the greatest potential for impacting education and learning. The ability to incorporate new information into existing knowledge or to synthesize new knowledge from multiple new sources of information is not a skill that really existed prior to the Information Age.

Oh please! If this were really the case we wouldn't have had scholarship up to now that pushed our boundaries of what we know, and we wouldn't have had the great inventions that we have now as compared to event 100 years ago!  We have always (in recorded history anyway) had the ability to get information from diverse sources and incorporate it into previous knowledge to have new ideas emerge.  This is not a new skill!

Previously, most knowledge was gained through a hands-on, face-to-face interaction within the context in question. Virtual reality and the incredible connectivity of the digital world now allow access to data, simulation, and collaboration without physical proximity or a need to actually handle materials or interact in person. We live in a physical world and our senses are geared to process data from the physical world we are in contact with. Processing virtual information and data is a new skill that instructional designers and educators need to consider very carefully when thinking about how to best facilitate learning in the Digital Age.

Again, this is false, and perhaps an allusion to Behaviorism.  While certain knowledge was gained through hands on interaction (i.e. trying to touch fire and getting burned), we have moved way beyond that.  Our young still have to learn some of those lessons "the hard way", but we have had knowledge in books, newspapers and magazines for a very long time.  We've been thinking abstractly and virtually way before the internet came along.  We didn't need physical proximity or the need to handle materials in person to learn that E=mc2.  Modality does matter in some sense, but collaboration is collaboration regardless of modality. It's just means that the lag between send and receive is less, which means that you have to wait less than you did before.  Just because you wait less, doesn't mean that you are actually learning faster (or better).  As my tae kwon do teacher told me once: a form isn't about speed, but accuracy - take your time!

Anyway, those were my thoughts on that blog post - as far as brain rewiring and speed of access go...no more rants...for now ;-)

† by the way, if you want to be taken seriously, never refer to Prensky's work.
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