Information Literacy and Connectivism

I’ve been reading about both deschooling (Illich) and connectivism this week, and I’m fascinated by the ways in which these ideas address the need for information literacy as an essential component of learning in ways that other theories (behaviorism, constructivism) do not.

Let me start with a brief explanation of connectivism: according to Stephen Downes, one of its preeminent proponents, connectivism is “at its heart . . . the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and that therefore learning consists of the ability to construct and transverse those networks” (Downes, 2011). In other words, connectivism is about acknowledging the ways in which information is everywhere, and how it is intertwined with other information. For connectivists, then, learning is about navigating and participating in the systems in which knowledge exists, like a spider working to reinforce and build out its web (except a little less solitary).

So connectivism is definitely about navigating networks, for which information literacy seems like it would be a useful skill, but how, exactly, would it be used?

George Siemens, in explaining connectivism, stresses the fact that information and knowledge are constantly changing, not only in terms of content, but in terms of where they are located and how they are distributed (stored). As knowledge evolves and grows, it is important that learners have “know-how and know-where” to access it, as well as the ability to evaluate the importance of that information and to direct it to the right places to be most effective (information flow). Ultimately, the goal of connectivism is currency – the construction and use of accurate, up-to-date knowledge, in networks, so as to “[amplify] . . . learning, knowledge, and understanding” (Siemens, 2004).

This is information literacy both at its most basic level- locating, evaluating, and effectively using information – as well as in a greater context: the sharing of accurate, relevant information among people and technology so as to promote learning and utility. I think Siemens might go a step further with regards to information flow and to whom the information goes (getting it to the “right” people who need it) but I’m not sure that this is necessarily the purpose of information literacy – I think perhaps the greatest value is for the self, and the satisfaction of knowing one’s information is “good” and rooted. It adds to the foundation of learning by building the confidence of knowing – and knowing how to learn.

Illich, in taking what may be seen as a more radical approach to learning, argues that the best educational systems should do three things: make information and resources more readily accessible to learners, encourage individuals to share information with peers, and allow them to do so broadly. If this sounds like an advertisement for a MOOC, that’s because it kind of is. Illich argues the importance of networks in learning – networks of resources, networks of peers, and networks of “masters” from whom to learn skills. (If you’re interested in learning more about how this might look, check out his work here.) Although Illich doesn’t say so explicitly, embedded in his vision is the necessity that individuals know how to know – that is, if they are going to pave their own path of learning, they need to be able to independently discern what it is they want to learn, locate the correct resources (things, peers, or masters) to learn it, and then be able to evaluate the quality of what it is they have accomplished. once again, a need for information literacy.

While more current educational models (behaviorism, constructivism, cognitive theory) in place in schools today might necessitate the use of information literacy skills in tangential ways (looking up information for a report, etc), they do not acknowledge them as an integral part of the active process of making meaning, like connectivism and a deschooled society do. Information literacy is so relevant today, and I think it’s worth considering in the context of these two ideas – they really highlight why it is so important.

What do you think?


5 thoughts on “Information Literacy and Connectivism

  1. Also, because I’m feeling proud: I spent two and a half hours on this, and it wasn’t required for class – I just wanted to do it to clarify my thinking and share it with others. Hooray for learning for learning’s sake! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lindsey, this was such a through and well-thought out post. It really helps make sense of the readings. Maybe a link to your blog should be a required reading in the course for next year’s class!


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