Connectivism, “a learning theory for the digital age,” has been developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes based on their analysis of the limitations of behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism to explain the effect technology has had on how we live, how we communicate, and how we learn. Donald G. Perrin, Executive 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
One aspect of connectivism is the use of a network with nodes and connections as a central metaphor for learning. In this metaphor, a node is anything that can be connected to another node: information, data, feelings, images. Learning is the process of creating connections and developing a network. Not all connections are of equal strength in this metaphor; in fact, many connections may be quite weak.
The following is an excerpt from Siemens’ seminal 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.
In other words, “know-how” and “know-what” are being supplemented with “know-where” (the understanding of where to find the knowledge when it is needed), and meta-learning is becoming just as important as the learning itself.
Principles of connectivism
- Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
- Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
- Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
- Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
- Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
- Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
- Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
- Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.
Connectivism in online learning
Dr. Mohamed Ally at Athabasca University supports connectivism as a more appropriate learning theory for online learning than older theories such as behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. This position rests on the idea that the world has changed and become more networked, so learning theories developed prior to these global changes are less relevant. However, Ally argues that, “What is needed is not a new stand-alone theory for the digital age, but a model that integrates the different theories to guide the design of online learning materials.”