Connectivism says that learners construct knowledge and understandings by “connecting” into a network of other learners, information sources and experts and then constructing an understanding from that network.  The key element of connectivism is that the learners want to learn about a particular topic.  Bricolage is a similar explanation of learning in that a learner constructs a just-in-time focused learning process, from potentially multiple sources, so that they may be able to perform a particular task.

It might be that the difference between connectivism and bricolage is that bricolage has its objective as the performance of a particular task and connectivism has an objective of building deep conceptual understandings without necessarily being used in the immediate performance of a task.   I will carefully state that connectivism does not preclude learning to perform a task, even though the examples produced by the MOOC instantiation of connectivism have not focused on task performance but on knowledge that may be useful to the learner in a future application or to construct an understanding that allows the learner to build a deeper conceptual understanding of a particular topic that may be applied some day.

Ignoring the often pejorative explanations and associations of bricolage, it might be what differentiates bricolage from connectivism is the desire for learning to apply knowledge in a practical sense (bricolage) to gaining knowledge that may or may not be applicable in the near future.  Both approaches have their merits and usefulness.

There is nothing wrong with trying to learn about concepts and understand them deeply.  That, at least to me, is what a lot of learning is about.   Trying to learn something so that I may solve an immediate problem is but another type of learning but it is useful for only that one problem.  I’ll ignore the debates of transfer, etc., for another day.

What I am trying to say is that connectivism in its manifestation as a MOOC is but one of the many ways of facilitating learning based upon the objectives of the learner.  We must look at all learning as a microcosm that results from a set of objectives or goals and the student needs to be able to activate the particular mechanisms of learning that are applicable to the (what I will refer to as) the “learning space”.   Historically, we have relied on the experts to prescribe what is to be learned and how it is to be learned.  Connectivism and bricolage both leave those decisions to the learner based upon their personal learning objectives.  In other words, they are examples of self-directed learning.  I will return to this topic in a later posting.

I chose bricolage and connectivism as both representing self-directed learning but characterized them as polar opposites in the sense of gaining a deep conceptual understanding, as in the case of connectivism or as a focused practical focus on solving a discrete problem, as in the case of bricolage.  We might look at this as the common differentiation between training and education.  A learner may want to understand why, an advantage of connectivist learning, or merely how, an advantage of bricolage.

My opinion is that a true learner wants to know both how and why and that is why I say that connectivism although a powerful new view of learning is but one of the many ways we can learn and we need to figure out when it is useful and when it is not.

We obviously know that the scripted, pre-ordained learning process employed in most schools is not the right approach, or at least it is not the right approach for all learners and all topics.  Our job is to figure out when a particular pedagogical technique is useful or is not useful and try to understand how to create an environment where they all can exist with the intention of supporting the learning by all students.

Rich DeMillo’s new book on higher education, “Abelard to Apple”, makes this clear.  Figure out what it takes to support learning for the population of students you are serving, do it in the best possible way and it is likely one size will never fit all.  Your job is to be the best at what you are good at, not the imitator of others.