“Uncle!” I’m done.

Yesterday I (very briefly) argued for a networked view of both knowledge and learning that Stephen characterized as logical positivism. It was interesting to say the least.

He quotes a portion of my writing, “The entire edifice of ‘complex learning’ is built on the foundation of ‘simple learning,'” and then makes what seems to me an incredible leap:

This is logical positivism. To put the history of 20th century philosophy in a nutshell: it doesn’t work… an educational theory based on the theory of knowledge you espouse will not produce the sort of complex knowledge we know is required as an adult.

How is it possible to engage in fluent conversation (complex) without first mastering vocabulary (simple) (this is the example I used in the post)? And how is it possible to claim that an “educational theory” that recognizes prerequisite relationships in knowledge, where the complex is built upon the simple, “will not produce the sort of complex knowledge we know is required as an adult?”

And more importantly, how can either (1) a claim about the prerequisite structure of knowledge, or (2) a self-evident statement like “If there are no nodes in the network there can never be connections in the network” lead to an accusation of logical positivism?

All I wanted to say back when this whole thing started was:

(1) MOOCs are just like a hammer, screwdriver, or any other tool. There are cases when they’re exactly the tool you want, and other cases where you probably shouldn’t try to use one. Understanding those boundary conditions is important if you want to practice responsibly.

(2) Academics seem to glory in problematizing and complicating things, often making them harder to understand than is strictly necessary. Personally, I think we should value making things clearer and easier to understand.

I won’t be responding to any more blogs, tweets, or comments in this thread. It outlived its useful life before I hit publish on the first post.

2 thoughts on ““Uncle!” I’m done.”

  1. And, on the other hand, how is it possible to have an enlightening conversation about this without referencing Noam Chomsky’s psycholinguistics and metalanguage?

  2. David, I’m sorry this conversation caused you anguish. I, for one, enjoyed it and appreciated the opportunity to clarify my own thinking about education, MOOCs, and epistemology.

    Frankly, these exchanges in the blogosphere strike me as rich an educational environment as the MOOCs I’ve enjoyed and much better than the traditional classes I’ve taken. I work with university professors across the curriculum to help them integrate computers and writing into their classrooms, and we are exploring how to introduce college students to an online community of practice where those students can, at first, observe the interactions within a given discourse community and then join that community as they become more familiar with the language. To my mind, this conversation has been a fine example of how a discussion among well-intentioned, knowledgeable people can work.

    Of course, we had conflicts. Thank God for them. I learn so little when everyone agrees with me.

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