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George Siemens sums up his Dec. 12, 2004 paper, “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age,” with the following:

The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today. A real challenge for any learning theory is to actuate known knowledge at the point of application. When knowledge, however, is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill. As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses.

Connectivism presents a model of learning that acknowledges the tectonic shifts in society where learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity. How people work and function is altered when new tools are utilized. The field of education has been slow to recognize both the impact of new learning tools and the environmental changes in what it means to learn. Connectivism provides insight into learning skills and tasks needed for learners to flourish in a digital era.

Siemens puts a practical spin on the premise from the New London Group’s treatise on multiliteracy and one that bridges the technology divide that’s shrunk in the 15 years since the English-speaking scholars’ landmark work.

I find it fascinating that the New London Group foresaw the need for teachers and learners to see themselves as “active designers – makers – of social futures.” Yet, my bet is that they in no way were prepared for the technological advancements and the world-wide acceptance of a lack of standardization that is endemic in things such as open source software.

New London Group was seeking to extend the reach of traditional education to account for cultural context and to account for the variety of multimedia tools available. How could they have anticipated in 1996 the uber-fast and broad reach of the world wide web, the allure of YouTube, the international reach of Twitter. (Within a weekend, a developer created a tool for turning voice mail messages into tweets when Egypt’s internet was switched off). Tools for social change are virtually exploding. Opportunities for carving out pedagogy that is rich, multi-platform and transcendent abound.I wonder what New London Group did with their groundwork? Did their lofty ideals ever materialize? I found evidence of practical application of their “International Multiliteracies” project in Canada and in South Africa. I didn’t find evidence of a “metalanguage” initiative sponsored by the group and any other of their theories “put to the test.”

Is it possible that New London Group’s theories were eclipsed by the very multi-media modalities they expounded upon? Is it probable that as Siemens says, “The field of education has been slow to recognize both the impact of new learning tools and the environmental changes in what it means to learn?” Perhaps, the pipe is more important than the content. We’ve got to wrestle this creature to the ground.

As media enriches our lives, it also threatens to engulf us and our students. Let’s hope it’ll all be “for good.”

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