I thought I’d write a brief post about George Siemens’ book, ‘Knowing Knowledge’ for a few reasons:

  1. I think – bizarrely – that the concept of ‘knowledge’ is overlooked in a lot of discourse around education.  There’s a reasonable amount about learning and quite a lot about the normative aspect of what we want to teach (useful knowledge, powerful knowledge, etc.). but less on what we mean by claims such as “Simon knows x”.
  2. It’s something I’ve written about before (and would like to write more about if I can ever get funding to do so…)
  3. My current work is on epistemic beliefs (beliefs about what knowledge is like – its source, structure, justification and stability) in information seekers…but an interesting aspect of that context is the ways in which we might explore those beliefs, and the epistemological assumptions these explorations might invoke – that is fundamentally bound up in notions of knowledge, particularly in relation to Learning Analytics (which is of course, George’s area)

George suggests that, “Knowing and learning are today defined by connections.  Connectivism is the assertion that learning is primarily a network forming process” (p.15).


“The Achilles heel of existing theories rests in the pace of knowledge growth. All existing theories place processing (or interpretation) of knowledge on the individual doing the learning.  This model works well if the knowledge flow is moderate.  A constructivist view of learning, for example, suggests that we process, interpret and derive personal meaning from different information forms.  What happens, however, when knowledge is more of a deluge than a trickle?” (p.33)

George’s suggestion is that in the case of the connectivist knower “The act of knowing is offloaded onto the network itself” (p.33).

I want to explore this a bit further, but I think that this is a) in accord with my prior work on extended mind; i.e. other views of knowledge can account for this (virtue epistemology, for example?) and b) in accord with (I believe) a pragmatist stance.

I’m cautious about claims such as “the nature of knowledge is changing” and shudder  a bit when I read “in our new knowledge society”, etc.  This is because I’m not convinced that knowledge itself is changing, per se.  If anything, the way it is instantiated might be changing – but that is a different claim.  That is, there are conceptualisations of ‘what knowledge is’ which fit our current and historic landscapes perfectly well, but quite patently technology has had an impact on how that knowledge is brought to our attention and the ways we interact with it.  This is important because I don’t think it’s terribly helpful to claim that ‘knowledge’ as a concept is different now.  But what we ought to be able to do is have a conversation about what we take knowledge to be – as an enduring concept – and how that relates to what our assessment and teaching regimes should look like, and indeed the relationship between those and new representational tools which change appear to be changing the nature of access to knowledge (from pens, to calculators, to Wikipedia).

I think it’s a very pragmatic approach in a number of senses:

  1.         It’s very practical – it provides a good measure of how to think about knowledge claims, knowledge structures, knowledge ‘quantification’ and exploring knowledge networks via the use of its ‘connectionist’ architecture
  2.         This is fundamentally pragmatist in nature – the claim that groups and individuals may be ‘trusted’ sources of knowledge (p.22) is in agreement with claims of pragmatism
  3.         Emphasis on linguistic nature of knowing and the importance of language as related to our capacity to ‘know’
  4.         Emphasis on representation and use of representations as key for understanding the appropriate knowledge-level claims that can be made

This is a pretty brief sketch, and as I say I’m hoping to have time to work on this further – but I think it’s an interesting issue, and one which is somewhat bypassed in a lot of debates around education (although I’m open to being corrected on any of these claims!)

UPDATE:  11:26 12/10/12 I meant to link to this article, which critically discusses the idea of connectivist learning http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/902/1664