Thinking of learning theory # cck11 Einstein or Toolkit.


Jenny Mackness writes a little masterpiece about the  discussion on connectivism being a learning theory.

Education and learning and teaching is a very complex subject of study. Mostly because humans and their children are part of the subject. Sociology of education is studying this complexity.

  1. One view of a learning theory is: A learning theory is a kind of overview, a theory of everything. This is an impossibility, taking into account the variety and complexity of the subject. I like to call this one the Einstein View, because Einstein dedicated so many years in a search of a theory of everything.
  2. Another view of learning theory is: A learning theory is a collection of knowledge to solve problems in education.  I like to think of this view as The Toolkit.

In view (1) (The Einstein View)  the status of the learning theory is important. In this Einstein View discussion on theories is important.  In view (2) The Toolkit,  the status of the learning theory is not discussed in earnest. In The Toolkit view research is directed to problems in education.

Toolkit researchers are not that much interested in the question which learning theory explains the results of a teaching practice like Peer Assisted Learning is it social constructivist or is it connectivist learning? Or do we need another theory? Toolkit research would like to know what makes PAL work.

In the Einstein View of social sciences there is always much discussion about the scientific status of theories. In some studies this discussion gets a hilarious form. (Rigid constructivists ignore objective truth. So their theory cannot be tested, because they lack a ground for testing: objective truth)

Ideology is a system of values and knowledge based on faith. A theory is a system based on evidence. Theory in my view is primarily a way to solve problems.The best way to distinguish between theories (If you insist this being a problem of some importance)  is to use them in solving problems.

One possible explanation of the violent discussions around learning theories could be the ideological background of the adaption of a theory. (Laszlo Garai & Margit Kocski)
Another explanation is the incommensurability of the Einstein View and the Toolkit View.  The Einsteinians see with horror the uncritical use of the word ‘theory’ by Toolkit people. And both do not see the wide gap between the meaning of the word “theory” in both Views. An example of a Toolkit theory:  Collaborative Problem Solving

In my opinion Connectivism does not try to explain all teaching and all learning, it is not an Einsteinian theory of everything in education. Connectivism is a Toolkit and it explains learning in a network.

4 thoughts on “Thinking of learning theory # cck11 Einstein or Toolkit.

  1. Ken, Today in Science daily technology headlines: ” … MIT engineers design new nanoparticle that could lead to vaccines for HIV, malaria, other diseases (February 23, 2011) — Engineers have designed a new type of nanoparticle that could safely and effectively deliver vaccines for diseases such as HIV and malaria. …” The scientists do not argument about their theories, they try to find a solution to a problem. Of course they read papers of other scientists, but in those papers theory is not a main subject either. I would like scientists on learning and teaching do the same. Offer tested solutions to all practical problems of education.
    I don’t know what Downes thinks or Siemens.

  2. I think your division makes good sense and that a significant part of the problem is that the meaning of words like ‘theory’ vary considerably according to context. My own view is that I’m dubious about connectivism as a learning theory but I’m enough of an academic to realize that a considerable background in educational theory is necessary before attempting the ‘Einstein View’. Not wishing to spend weeks reading the literature I’m content to leave the matter to those that do – though I don’t see them coming up with a TOE very soon! There’s a very big difference in testability potential between the theories of established physics and those of learning – it’s often difficult to see how any learning theory can be properly tested – perhaps we have to wait for advances in neurology.

    In the meantime – YES – let’s go with the toolkit approach! Educators can make a real contribution by carefully applying various ideas suggested by learning theories and reporting their experiences to their peers and others. There are so many different circumstances where one or other learning approach might succceed or fail and in the absence of the TOE, experience from the field and its dissemination becomes extremely important.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s