Saturday, February 01, 2014

Theories Related to Connectivism

I was asked:

But i have some questions about my research. First i need ten-year findings of connectionim learning theory, second i got confused with telling the difference between connectionism, connectivist because some Chinese translators/scholars have had their own versions.The version raises argumentation. I also wonder if there are any differences between connection theory in other field such as grammar, linguistics, and even in computer science. Third i should be informed of the trends of connectionism in the world and even the application of the theory in Computer Assisted language learning or online learning.

The number of theories with similar names is confusing. Here is my own take on it. I have no doubt there are other theories outside the scope of this short discussion.


This is the name coined by George Siemens and given to a theory of learning and pedagogy. In his formulation it is mostly about social learning in a network, and was probably derived from Constructivism. I considered this theory to be essentially the same as what I had been calling Learning Networks, but with the addition of the idea that the mind - and not just society - is a network.


This is the theory that knowledge is in some way 'constructed' by learners (and by people in general). This is a theory of knowledge creation, based in the work of John Dewey. This theory has its roots in American pragmatism, and has the idea that knowledge is something you make, rather than something you find or discover. There's a branch, called Social Constructivism, based on the work of Lev Vytgotsky, which suggests that knowledge construction is a social phenomenon, not an individual phenomenon (it reminds me of the theory of language proposed by Ludwig Wittgenstein).


This is a theory developed by Seymour Papert. It holds essentially that learning is an outcome or consequence of creating or making things. For example, a person could learn mathematics and logic for themselves by making their own computer programs.


This is a their of knowledge that has its roots in computer science. Essentially, it is based on the idea that knowledge is created by neural networks (as opposed by sets of rules or axioms defined abstractly that govern operations in symbol systems). It traces its roots to the early work of people like Donald O. Hebb, who described simple associationistr (or connectionist) processes. See also 'Parallel Distributed Processing', by Rumelhart and MacClelland, and the work of Seymour Papert and Marvin Minsky. This work was very influential on me in the 1990s and led directly to the theory of Learning Networks as a pedagogical theory.

Some other theories and schools of thought are relevant to this discussion.


One of the foundational copncepts of British Empiricism is that knowledge is based on the association of ideas. See, for example, David Hume, a Treatise of Human Nature. The idea that, instead of being based on logical construction (as in mathematics, for example), knowledge is based on the association of ideas through 'custom or habit'. Associationism forms the basis of John Stuart Mill's philosophy and system of logic, but was largely abandoned by the Logical Positivists, who asserted that knowledge was based on logical constructions from sense experience. My own theories of knowledge are based in associationism.

Graph Theory

This is a branck of mathematics that is based on the study of relations between entities. It originates in Leonhard Euler's study of the possible ways to cross the seven bridges of Konigsburg (the same city in which we find Immanual Kant, the godfather of Logical Positivism and noted critic of Hume). Graph Theory is where we get the terminology of 'nodes' and 'edges'. It is also the foundation for work in the modern study of social networks. The idea of 'six degrees of deparation' comes from Graph Theory, and we see this reflected in the work of Duncan J. Watts and Alfred Laszlo Barabasi. This is also the root of the idea of 'self-organizing networks' which we see in James Surowicki's 'The Wisdom of Crowds'.


I don't know about connection theory in linguistics, but work in neurolinguistics has been influential in my own work. In particular, language according to Noam Chomsky is based on a generative structure based on an innate knowledge of fundamental syntactic structures. This is the origin of the physical symbol system hypothesis, advanced by theorists such as Jerry Fodor, which suggests that human though actually is the manipulation pf physical symbols. People like Zenonm Pylyshyn and Steven Pinker also argue along these lines. I disagree with this theory, and refer to work from people such as Paul and Patricia Churchland, and David Marr (who writes on vision). Language (and logic and mathematics), I believe, is an emergent property of neural networks, and not a system of rules that governs them.

I hope this helps.