Ravenscroft on Dialogue & Connectivism

I hadn’t read much on connectivism, but Terry Anderson’s email to the ITForum caught my eye.  Anderson mentioned that the most recent issue of IRRODL focused on Connectivism.  I looked at the issue’s contents, and found an article by Ravenscroft entitled “Dialogue amd Connectivism: New Approach to Understanding Networked Learning.”  This opened up a whole new layer of thinking on conversation (or dialogue, the term they use).   I will attempt to define connectivism and then show how Ravenscroft connects it to dialogue. But first, a few side comments:

  • What is the difference between conversation and dialogue? BEATS ME!  I sure wish I could find someone who has clearly defined and compared the two terms. I do think of dialogue as happening more between pairs, but that’s simply because of the di- in the word.
  • Interesting etymology to the word “conversation”: the Latin conversor means to “abide or keep company with,” which broken even further refers to a furrow, or, literally, a turning of the plough, from vertere to turn. In conversation, our conceptions and thinking are “turned about” by those we keep company with.
  • I really liked Ravenscroft’s article, but I did notice that about half of his cited references are to his own works. Tsk tsk! I guess that’s one way to increase your Publish or Perish rating! 🙂

First let me define connectivism.  A good definition is given by Downes (2006), one of the sources from which Ravenscroft defines the theory.  Downes writes:

connectivism…asserts that knowledge – and therefore the learning of knowledge – is distributive, that is, not located in any given place (and therefore not ‘transferred’ or ‘transacted’ per se) but rather consists of the network of connections formed from experience and interactions with a knowing community.

In addition, Downes states: “These trends combine to form what is sometimes called ‘e- learning 2.0’ – an approach to learning that is based on conversation and interaction, on sharing, creation and participation, on learning not as a separate activity, but rather, as embedded in meaningful activity such as games and workflows” (quoted in Ravenscroft, 2011, p. 141).   Thus Ravenscroft will show that conversation or dialogue processes are compatible with the theory of connectivism.

Before getting to that, however, I’m going to quote the eight principles of connectivism that Ravenscroft lists (based on the writings of Siemens, which I have yet to read firsthand), because this is something new to me and I want to record the ideas fully:

  1. Learning and knowledge rest in diversity of opinions.
  2. Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources.
  3. Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  4. Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.
  5. Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  6. Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
  7. Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  8. Decision making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.

This list did make me think again about my three essentials (agency, purposefulness/intent, and shared energy).  I’ve already been feeling like purposefulness is just a subcategory of agency.  (Holler if you disagree.)  So I’ve been thinking to perhaps replace it with something more unique.  “Decision making” (principle 8 above) is something that comes up in Gibbons’ definition, so it caught my eye here.  Moreover, as Ravenscroft repeatedly refers to the “dialogue processes” of reflection, clarification, and negotiation.  According to Ravenscroft, “ongoing evaluative processes…such as critical inquiry, reflection, and negotiation are considered more important than informing about or acquiring static knowledge” (141). Is a necessary essential of instructional conversation that it include some kind of reflective, critical, evaluative negotiation of meaning?  Pask would definitely agree to an extent, and Harri-Augstein & Thomas certainly liked to concept of reflection (especially self-reflection) in their theory of conversation.  Somehow Ravenscroft’s use of the term “reflection” is more meaningful in terms of conversation than Pask and Harri-Augstein/Thomas.  Pask seemed focused on a back-and-forth till the learner got the right answer. (I know this is putting it far too simply.)  Harri-Augstein & Thomas seemed so internally focused.  But here, reflection, clarification, and negotiation are part of the conversation.  These processes are part of critical thinking.

Here are a few other statements Ravenscroft makes to connect dialogue to critical thinking:

  • Thinking in networks will usually mean thinking through collaborative dialogue. (142)
  • …use dialogue, as our most intuiticve semiotic system, to articulate & express what we think, share our thoughts & ideas with others, and collaboratively create meaning and understanding to make joint inquiries or to solve common problems. (142)
  • …the primacy of dialogue in learning. (142)

Ravenscroft also discusses the difference between dialectic and dialogic exchanges.  Dialectic exchanges are intent upon reaching a synthesis, and strive to reach it through argument and dialectic.  Dialogic exchanges, on the other hand, are more focused on the emotional and interpersonal dimensions of the dialogue. Ravenscroft thinks that both types have room underneath the umbrella of connectivism. I found it interesting to have these two types of dialogue/conversation clarified and given terminology.


Downes, S. (2006). “Learning networks and connective.” http://it.coe.uga.edu/itforum/paper92/paper92.html

Ravenscroft, Andrew. (2011). “Dialogue amd Connectivism: New Approach to Understanding Networked Learning.” International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 12, no. 3 (2011): 139-160.


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