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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 9 July 2017


See also Constructivism | Massive open online courses (MOOCs) | George Siemens | Social media landscape | Teaching library users

Connectivism is "a learning theory for the digital age" developed by Canadians George Siemens and Stephen Downes in 2005 that seeks to explain complex learning in a rapidly changing social digital world. Connectivism is based on their analysis of the limitations of three major learning theories: behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism. However, the theory has developed because of educational technologies and their impact on how we communicate and learn in the digital age. Donald G. Perrin, Editor of the International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning says the theory "combines relevant elements of many learning theories, social structures, and technology to create a powerful theoretical construct for learning in the digital age."

Some principles of connectivist learning are: 1) the process of connecting specialized nodes and information sources; 2) the ability to learn by tapping into existing networks and 3) the ability to nevigate digital environments and online communities. Further, knowing how to obtain information is more important than actually knowing the information itself. Since connectivism as a pedagogical theory is typically thought of in terms of networks, and making and traversing connections, it is seen as a theory for the digital age. But the major practical implication of connectivism is connecting learning resources, events and people. Unlike traditional educational approaches where learners work collaboratively, connectivist models see people work cooperatively.

Siemens' 2005 paper on connectivism

The following is an excerpt from Siemens' 2005 paper on connectivism: ...connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing. Connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired. The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital. The ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday is also critical.

Pløn Verhagen from the University of Twente says that connectivism is not a learning theory but a "pedagogical view". He adds that learning theories deal with issues at the instructional level (how people learn) but connectivism deals with issues at the curriculum level (what is learned and why it is learned). Blogger Bill Kerr says that, while technology affects learning environments, our existing learning theories are sufficient; connectivism is seen by some as a kind of constructivism called social constructivism.

In 2013, California's Digital Media and Learning Research Hub published Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design which discusses many of the major concepts associated with connectivism.

What is connectivism?

Rhizomatic learning

Connectivism is a kind of rhizomatic learning (see digital rhizomes). Unlike the root system of a tree, which is fixed and has a definite pattern of growth, a rhizome grows by making connections from any point to any other point. Unlike traditional systems where the connections are sought only locally, rhizomatic learning expands its connections through various media to include individual, organizational, and mechanic components of the knowledge economy. The ‘rhizomatic model of learning’ lends itself to a curriculum that is no longer predefined by experts. (See Cormier, 2008)

A key element in rhizomatic learning is the establishment of an expanding network of connections to facilitate knowledge flow. This model of learning is sensitive to the flux of knowledge domains and learners are trained to deal with this constantly changing scenario of knowledge production and consumption. Social media become vital in this process since they are instruments which enable the learner to form these connections. For instance, a blog is rhizomatic because it facilitates open, outward connections. Blogs are public, they can be accessed and commented on by anyone, they can be integrated into other blogs or websites, and they themselves offer links to other websites or databanks, thus establishing multiple connections.


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