Function over form

Complete knowledge cannot exist in the mind of one person.

This was the quote that stuck in my head. As I mentioned in previous posts, Connectivisim is a distributed model where learning occurs across communities. As such, it is no longer considered an ‘internal, individualistic activity.’ Back in the dim recesses of my mind this triggered a memory. It reminded me of another theory that emphasises collective endeavour over individual revelation: Functionalism.

In Sociology, Functionalism is a theory that analyses social phenomena according to their contribution to social harmony. So, for example, the purpose of government sponsored education could be interpreted both as a desire to make children smarter and to inculcate them in societal norms and values. More controversially, even things that could reasonably be considered dysfunctional can have ancillary benefits to society. It is argued for example that unemployment – while potentially ruinous to an individual – is useful inasmuch as it provides a reserve labour force that can be quickly called upon when new demands emerge.

Funcationalism and Connectivism are both macroscopic approaches (I’ve looked it up since last week). It sees the wood but not the trees. Constructivism could be seen as  the opposite. It can see a lot of trees of different varieties but has little sense of how they fit together. So, which is right?

I suspect that they might not be quite as contradictory as I’ve presented. After all, they share one key characteristic: they both eschew knowledge for its own sake. In Connectivism knowledge has a very limited shelf-life because a connected world is so dynamic. In Constructivism, knowledge that is disconnected to application is dismissed as trivia. In both cases, there is a sense that learning is a process rather than a destination.

The key question for me is whether you can design a learning environment that does not rely on individual revelation. Put simply, can the system be clever when the individuals aren’t?




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