Connectivism: Is It All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to comment on the principle of connectivism as it applies to modern day knowledge and learning. For the uninitiated, connectivism can be seen as the idea that knowledge need no longer be internal. Instead, it is distributed over a network, and learning involves not the acquisition of knowledge itself, but being able to access that knowledge when it is needed given access to the resource.

I argue that there is a place for connectivism in medicine (and life in general), but that connectivism itself leaves a lot on the table – a lot that can be crucial to life and death.

I’ve seen connectivism in all its glory and shame in my students and trainees, and in my own practice as well. There’s too much in medicine now for that body of knowledge to exist inside one person’s head. The way students think through problems now is so tied to technology and distribution of knowledge. The challenge, though, is to take the knowledge obtained that way and to put it in a framework to get to the “correct” answer. Just because they find one potential answer to their question doesn’t mean that that answer applies to that specific patient in the context of everything else that is going on.

Sometimes, it plays into one of my colleagues’ reference to the  “if it’s on the internet, it must be true” framework. I see some of the same processes in patients who consult “Dr. Google.” Though I’m not sure that anyone is arguing that connectivism is the best way to think about learning, I would argue that it is only useful within the context of other learning theories (objectivism, pragmatism, interpretivism). Without a framework, a little (access to) knowledge can be dangerous. Throw in the old adage about there being no teacher like experience here. It does fit, at least to some extent. There is more to learning than knowing where to go for the knowledge.

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Posted in Academic Medicine, Clinical Medicine, Medical Education

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