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Size Matters

(reproduced from 503-2007)

Connecting to the Flow through the Pipe 


Semens (2004) says:  “The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.”


Downes (2007) says:  “…the idea is that learning is like a utility – like water or electricity – that flows in a network or a grip, that we tap into when we want” 


Both these fellows seem to be in agreement that the pipe is the most important thing, not the content in the pipeline. If they are accurate in this assessment, then clearly the teaching focus should be on the pipe, and not the content. As a preliminary step in that regard, I recommend that the following considerations be given: 


  1. Right-pricing the Pipe
  2. Right-sizing the Pipe
  3. Care and maintenance of the Pipe
  4. Mechanics, access and handling instructions
  5. Flow dynamics  

The first three items I would classify as being mostly in the technical and financial realms, and maybe best left to the government and corporate sectors to determine pricing, size needs, maintenance issues.  The 4th item is one in which teaching institutions could have major impact.  Learners need to know the capabilities of the pipe, what content is available, how to direct and utilize the flow etc.  The big question then, to return to the beginning of this piece, seems to be whether or not it is important to teach about content anymore.  Perhaps the teaching institutions of the future should focus more on showing what content is available through the pipe, and less on an interpretation of said content or even what content is important, and leave that up to the learner. Put another way, if flow is defined as content in motion, then the same thinking applies:  institutions should stay away from the flow (and teach mechanics only). 


Any thoughts on any of this?    




Downes, S. (2007) (Speaker). Trends and impacts of e-learning 2.0. (slide 22). Retrieved Oct 23/07 from

Siemens, G. (2004).  Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved October 23/07 from


  1. William Eaton permalink

    Hello my long, lost friend,

    Content or process? Content or process? Content or . . .

    Personally, I believe it’s not an either/or, but rather a both and all proposition. Declaring my bias, for I am an elementary teacher, I agree with Downes and Siemens: if learners can master the processes of learning, content will follow. However, I don’t feel we should allow this thinking to negate content. As a teacher, I teach both; as a learner, I study both. One without the other is incomplete. (Even once I feel I have learned a process, I need to review the process and adapt it as things and myself change.)

    During residence–I missed you by the way–I reached a similar conclusion. I believe it’s all about the pipe! However, being exposed to Jurgen Habermas (2004), the pipe I see may be a bit different from Downes’ and Siemens’. It’s communicative rationality, our capacity as humans to reach understanding, truth, and consensus with others over time–time being the key idea that changes the concrete metaphor of “pipe” and extends it. The pipe is our quest for truth as is accumulated through the Grand Dialogue (the research and literature) as much as it is me reconnecting with my wife after a long and discouraging day. It’s how we connect and that we connect, not so much as what we exchange, and how our actions, our discourse, electronic or otherwise, spread to affect others. Literally or figuratively, I’d be uncomfortable with corporations or governments having the power to determine or control what you offer as considerations 1-3. I’ll think more on 4 and 5.

    If you’ve not read any Habermas, you must.

    Good luck with your thesis. Keep me posted, and let me know if you need any help,


    Habermas, J. (2004). Public space and political public sphere: the biographical roots of two motifs in my thought. Commemorative Lecture, Kyoto, Nov. 11. 10 pp.

  2. deadvocate permalink

    hmmm. Habermas must be an INTP. I note that while he suggests that we become aware of ourselves under the gaze of another the argument could equally be made that our self-awareness is responsible for the individuating function after one’s self gazes upon the other. i.e. “from the subjectifying gaze of myself there springs an individuating force”.

    Maybe it’s just that I don’t understand him very well, and I do find him a little annoying…..haha I might agree with his views on the purpose of language as more communicative than cognitive. But is there that large a difference? In either meaning of these terms or usage? Do they start to merge? Are pipe and content really just one and the same? Is it necessary to differentiate them so starkly?

    Chicken-egg-chicken-egg, content-process-content-process…

    My paradigm attempts to eliminate the cause-effect duality by suggesting a unity based on the indeterminacy of origin. Or something like that. A coin with two sides is still a coin. Why is our thinking so two-dimensional?

    Maybe Pipe = content. Certainly the pipe is filled with content. Or content fills the pipe. Without one, do you have the other? And the bigger the pipe, the more content.

    Anyway, good to hear from you William, and thanks for the comments and Habernas link. Maybe they will stir my thinking again.

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