Friday, February 25, 2011

Connectivism is Making Us Smarter

Today, I stumbled up a a study called Your Brain on Google where the brain activity in two groups were studied in an MRI while performing a traditional text reading task and then an internet search task. The "net naive" group (those who were relatively new to internet searches) and the "net savvy" group (those with more extensive experience with internet searches) performed at the same level in the traditional reading task; however, in the internet search task, the net savvy group showed more than twice as much brain activity during their Google search. In addition to the activation of brain centres that control language, reading, memory and vision, their neurons were firing with much greater intensity in regions where we make decisions and reason in complex ways.

So, essentially, technology is rewiring our brains, as George Siemens stated as a learning trend back in 2004 in Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. In our attempt to replace what he calls the "know-how and know-what", we are learning the "know-where", and it is in this search to find knowledge that our cognitive functions are being impacted (ie, as Small's study suggests, there is an impact on our physical brains in terms of decision-making and complex reasoning).

In the meantime, technology is also allowing us a break from having to store knowledge because it is now being stored in the network. At least this is what I am learning in CCK11 so far.

The neural circuits in our brain strengthen through repeated tasks. They weaken when they aren't used, much like our muscles when we stop our workout routine. The parallel I can draw to connectivism is this: just as our neural circuits strengthen with use (ie, searching for knowledge), so our knowledge strengthens as we develop more and more connections, and of course prune those that aren't being put to use.

So, in summary, technology is impacting our brains. For those engaged in connectivist activities, our search for information (as we develop our understanding of where to find what we need) seems to be causing our neurons to fire more than others as we make decisions about what is helpful to us and what is not. On the other hand, our neurons are firing less in areas of information retrieval since technology is taking over that job - a job that was formerly a cognitive function. I am seeing a bit of give and take on the part of the brain and the technology we embrace connectivism.

You too?

If the mere act of searching on the internet means my brain's neural circuits trigger it to make better decisions and reason in complex ways, bring it on! Why aren't we able to sell this to traditional educational institutions?

Well, off I go....but not to read a book. No, I will very wisely be spending my time in a serious brain workout. Google - here I come!

Check out this article for more on the impact of technology on our brains and the springboard for many of the thoughts I've recorded here, and view Small's explanation of his study below.


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