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The Nature vs Nurture debate

Commentary by Downes (Stephen Downes) on link by Graeme Ferris, The Nature vs Nurture debate, Feb 10, 2011.

I think that the way the 'nature versus nurture' debate is expanded sheds some light on the distinction between connectivism and other theories.

First of all, though, I want to reshape this distinction. The phrase 'nature' versus 'nurture' suggests two possibilities: you either know it innately, genertically; or, you're taught.

Really, I think, the difference is between things you 'know' innately and things you learn by experiences. What skills do we know instinctively, and what skills do we need to practice?

Viewed this way, I think that a great deal of connectivism falls into the 'nurture' or 'experience' camp. That is to say, connectivism suggests that we start with a generally unshaped network of connections, and experience shapes that network.

Where I think it differs with more recent theories is in *how* this reshaping through experience occurs.

The basic learning mechanisms - the formation of or breaking of connections - are innate. They are physical processes. They are most affected by nutrition and drugs, and other physical factors, such as stress.

This means that learning itself is a much less intentional process than most people suggest. There is the widespread perspective that people decide what to learn, when to learn, how to learn. But such decisions (for there is no doubt that people make them) have only a limited impact on learning.

That's why I prefer to say that we 'grow' new knowledge rather than 'construct' new knowledge. The word 'construct' implies an agency that I think is not there. True, we can 'plant' a garden, and 'tend' a garden, and do a bunch of things that ill influence how the garden grows. But the actual growing is up to the garden itself. (Hits Today: 20486 Total: 20486)

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