Comment on Downes’s ‘Knowledge, Learning and Community’

Stephen Downes, in “Knowledge, Learning and Community” (change.mooc.ca, 2.27.12), defines individual knowledge as a product of interaction “with the world,” and the world includes the natural and artificial, concrete and abstract, as well as the organic and inorganic, and he describes it as “the state of organization … in our brains and bodies.” To acquire knowledge via interaction, or to learn, “is to emulate an entire organizational state and not merely to possess a simple set of facts.” Community is the embodiment of the space (both physical and virtual) where learning occurs and the shared knowledge that results, i.e., it “is at one moment the place where we communicate,[sic] and[sic] at another moment, an expression of what we have communicated.”

In this context, language is “the content of any communicative act from one entity to another,” i.e., language is both the message in and the medium of interactions, and an extension of this McLuhanism is that the content of whatever technology you’re using is ultimately the technology itself.

Downes’s perspective seems to be an amalgam of constructivist, connectivist, and constructionist thought. On the one hand, knowledge is constructionist and connectivist, “an entire organizational state” that exists independent of or external to the individual as an artifact, network (connected nodes), or paradigm. On the other, it becomes a social constructivist “state of organization” when it’s learned, internalized, or reconstructed by the individual.

This apparent synthesis attempts, at once, to settle the differences between the various schools of thought with a single unifying theory. The question is, does it succeed?

In my mind, it does. Social constructivist views, such as Piaget’s, that the self and the world are constructed internally via social interactions must also account for the notion of paradigms (knowledge) in the community, which exist independent of the learner, that must be absorbed and adopted by the learner if s/he is ever to become an integral part of the community.

In terms of technology for learning, the message seems to be that the paradigm for knowledge, learning, and community as well as communication in general has changed with the advent of Web 2.0, and the individual must understand and synthesize these changes to participate in this new community.

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