In 2008, when discussing the critical role of technology in the existence of a Connectivist learning environment, Stephen commented:
Take the steam engine, for example. It works through a process of burning coal to heat water, which turns to steam, which it then fed through a turbine or engine in order to produce power.
You need quite a but of technological infrastructure to build the engines, and you need coal to burn. Without the technology and the coal, you don’t get the benefits of the steam engine.
Does this mean that the principles behind the steam engine are not generalizable? Of course not. The *principles* apply to everybody, whether or not they have a steam engine.
It’s the same thing with connectivism. The principles apply, even to people who do not have the technology to easily observe them in action.
Again, at EDGEX in 2012 (at about 28 minutes into the discussion), George Siemens asserted that without technology, a lot of the abundance of knowledge, which is one of the fundamental reasons for Connectivism (and that itself requires more technology to interpret and access), would not be exposed to a large number of people. Stephen Downes made the point that networks (that have existed even without technology) are the underpinnings of a Connectivist environment and that technology facilitates the making of connections (for example, the Six Degrees experiment).
This is important for India, and for others at our level of development. The technology required to make globally diverse connections simply does not exist for a large number of people. A large number of people simply are not overloaded by the abundance of information, most do not even know that there is more to knowledge than the community or place they live in.
At low levels of development, perhaps the small local network is all that exists, constrained by things such as customs/traditions, economic & social power and access to educational opportunities. This is also where the bulk of the population is in countries such as India and large parts of Africa. The conditions for access to technology (computing, internet) are yet to be established in these areas and where they are available, reliability and sufficiency is often a constraint (what do you do if the school does not even have power).
What then, are the ways in which Connectivist learning environments could be designed for this audience without an initial reliance on computing and Internet technology (perhaps including even power)? The most pronounced impact would be speed and immediacy.
Let us look at the factors influencing network formation.
Local Infrastructure & Economic Development levels: Safe assumptions about available local infrastructure could be that there is a way to communicate through telephone (more or less) and postal networks, that power is unreliable and that the Internet availability is meagre. This is especially important for remote areas. East and North-east have the lowest tele-density and just 1% of rural households have a computer with an Internet connection (8% of urban households) [Census 2011 report here]. The report also states that “(o)ne-sixth of the country, or 200 million Indians, don’t possess any of the most basic assets like a transistor or TV, phone, vehicle of any kind or a computer.”
Society, Religion & Culture: Networks are influenced by culture. Somewhere there must be an understanding of local culture and its influence on learning networks. Traditions apply barriers to networks (social constraints) that impacts the ability of the network to grow and diversify. Community bonding, existence of sub-communities and influence centers (including religious) are all important factors.
Language: Language homogenizes and localizes. This has a direct influence (especially in India which is a single country with many languages) on how networks are able to grow.
Population Density: This is an important one. Census Data shows a remarkable skew across states (an average of 382 people per square kilometre, half of Indian states below that with Arunachal Pradesh at as low as 17 and Delhi/NCR as high as 11,297!). This is critical because high density areas throw up many more opportunities (sparks) for networks (fire) creation and growth.
Interlinkages with other communities: For ideas to spread outside the local community, we must look at the transaction points of this community with the external communities. This could be commercial trade, medical & other services or unifying through administrative departments.
Out of these (and many possible others that influence network formation and growth), Connectivist learning environments would focus on ones that they can influence in some way. For example, in an offline scenario, can postcards carrying a question to an expert outside local boundaries be an admissible innovation? We also need to look at mechanisms underlying complex systems to see which interventionist approaches will work better. More on this in subsequent posts.