Connectivism: Teaching and Learning

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This page originally authored by Natalie Giesbrecht (2007)

Edited by Erik Van Dusen (Jan. 19th, 2008)

Revised by Patrick Pichette (June 2011)


Examples of learner-centered online learning environments (Wenmoth, 2006)


Introduction

Connectivism is an alternative theory of learning developed by George Siemens that addresses inadequacies of current theoretical models such as behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism(Alger, 2005). This theory of learning recognizes that technology has impacted society and that thoughts on teaching and learning are shifting. It acknowledges that learning is no longer individualistic but relies on the informal learning that occurs through participation in communities of practices, personal networks and work-related tasks. Simply put, connectivism is about forming connections between people and with technology. To cope with information overload and complexity, teaching and learning in a connectivist learning environment occurs within learning ecologies, communitiesand networks. These facilitate connections and information sharing while encouraging life-long learning in the individual as well as the group (Siemens, 2003).


Principles of Connectivism

Siemens (2004) identifies eight core 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 as a Learning Theory

Using Ertmer and Newby's (1993) 5 question framework for elaborating a learning theory, connectivism is described as follows:


How does learning occur? Learning is distributed within a social and technologically enhanced network. Learning takes place through the recognition and interpretation of patterns.

What are the influencing factors? The diversity of the network and strength of the ties within the network are among the most influential factors.

What is the role of memory? Memory is used in identifying adaptive patterns. It is representative of the current state that exists in networks.

How does transfer occur? Transfer occurs by connecting to or adding nodes

What types of learning are best explained by this theory? This theory can best explain complex learning, a rapid changing core, and the ability to incorporate diverse knowledge sources.


Pedagogical approach

Connectivism presents itself as a pedagogical approach that affords learners the ability to connect to each other via social networking or collaboration tools. Many theories assume that learning happens inside the head of an individual. Siemens believes that learning today is too complex to be processed in this way and that “we need to rely on a network of people (and, increasingly technology) to store, access, and retrieve knowledge and motivate its use” (Siemens, 2006). As information continues to evolve, its validity and accuracy changes over time through new contributions and discoveries. As such, a learner's ability to understand and build knowledge on a subject will also vary over time. Learning is viewed as multi-faceted and particular tasks define which approach to learning is most appropriate to the learner (Siemens, 2003). Thus a variety of methodologies are needed to accommodate different aspects of the learning process. The Internet affords learner's access to large amounts of information; therefore, the ability to determine which information is most important becomes vital. Two of the most important skills in this approach are the ability to find relevant information and filter out secondary or extraneous information. To facilitate further learning opportunities, the role of the educator then becomes to “create learning ecologies, shape communities, and release learners into the environment” (Siemens, 2003).

Role of the educator

In a connectivist environment, a teacher blends his educator expertise with learner construction. Here, we take a glimpse at four types of educator roles:


  • Educator as a Master Artist (Seely Brown, 2006):
    • Students create work which is in full view of peers.
    • Educator can observe activities of all students and draw attention to specific approaches.
    • Students learn from each other and from suggestions offered by Master Artist.
  • Educator as a Network Administrator (Fisher, n.d.):
    • Task of educator is to assist learners in forming connections and creating learning networks
    • Learning networks should assist learners in developing competence to meet the objectives or outcomes of a particular course
    • Educator encourages students to critically evaluate each source's suitability
    • Gaps in learning network are addressed by learner through self-directed active participation in network building and by educator's evaluation of the nature and quality of learning network selected
  • Educator as a Concierge (Bonk, 2007):
    • Educator directs learners to resources and learning opportunities
    • Educators have quick access to resources that can be shared with learners
    • Employs a learner designed program of study
    • Encourages students to explore while teacher acts as a tour guide
  • Educator as a Curator (Siemens, 2007):
    • Dual role as an expert with advanced knowledge of a domain and guide who fosters and encourages learner exploration
    • Educator creates learning resources that expose learners to critical ideas, concepts, and papers within a field
    • Acknowledges autonomy of learners yet understands frustration of exploring unknown territories without a map
    • Curator is an expert learner and instead of dispensing knowledge, he creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and connected
    • Educator carefully balances learner's freedom with occasional injection of content interpretation

Role of the learner

  • Learner is at the centre of the learning experience rather than the educator and institution
  • Learner determines the content of the learning, decides the nature and levels of communication, and who participates
  • Develops ability to find relevant information and filter out secondary and extraneous information
  • Learner's capacity to know is more critical than what is actually known (Siemens, 2008)
  • Learner's ability to make decisions from acquired information is integral to the learning process
  • Knowledge is a creation process and not only a knowledge consumption process
  • Learner's ability to see or form connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill
  • Learning is a cyclical process
    • Connects to a network to share and find new information
    • Modifies beliefs on the basis of new learning
    • Connects to a network to share these realizations and find new information once more


Limitations of course environments

Siemens suggests that education has taken the wrong approach. “[Education] is trying to achieve a task (learning) with a tool (teaching) in an artificial knowledge construct (course) (Siemens, 2005). This perspective on teaching and learning then becomes about the institution, not the learner. Many courses are presented as one-sided views of a subject and traditionally presented in isolation (Siemens, 2003). Learning therefore is not dynamic, ongoing, social, complex or diverse. Without these elements, courses cannot keep up with the pace of learner’s needs. They also do not afford the learner the ability to interact in the learning environment after the course is complete. The rich experience of the learning space is largely faded (Siemens, 2003). Courses then assume that learning only happens within a set amount of time – learning starts and stops.

Connectivist learning environments

Connectivism’s focus on connections requires that learners be exposed to elements that extend beyond the classroom and allow for real-life experience (Siemens, 2003). This does not suggest that all curriculum be abandoned but that design of a connectivist learning environment should “balance the needs and intent of the designer with the end user” (Siemens, 2007). Siemens believes that the design of learning spaces “should allow learners to . . . form connections and explore areas of personal interest [and] be balanced with curricular need” (Siemens, 2007). “Education is holistic” and thus balance between learner exploration and needs of the institution is essential for the whole to work together (Siemens, 2007).


Derek Wenmoth (2006) illustrates the scope of online learning environments (OLE) and the continuum from established to emergent OLE’s. This continuum shows the way knowledge is regarded and how the effects of appropriation or knowledge transfer occurs. Here connectivism is shown as emergent, learner-centered and reliant on collaborative tools.


Scope of Online Learning Environments (Wenmoth, 2006)


Scope of Online Learning Environments (OLE) (Wenmoth, 2006)



Learning ecologies

Connectivism suggests that designing ecologies should replace designing instruction (Siemens, 2005). Siemens defines an ecology as a dynamic, rich, and continually evolving system (Siemens, 2005). In an ecology the learner searches for knowledge, information and derives meaning. This system gives the learner control to explore self-selected objectives within organized domains of knowledge fields. This not only benefits the learners’ development but allows for the ecology to grow as well. Learning objectives may still be present in this environment but are implicit rather than explicit (Siemens, 2005).


To facilitate interactions or connections within ecologies, tools are essential.Synchronous and asynchronous tools can be used as extensions of the online classroom environment:

(Siemens, 2005)

Communities

“A community is the clustering of similar areas of interest that allows for interaction, sharing, dialoguing, and thinking together" (Siemens, 2003). Communities foster learning through informal means and regards peer-to-peer learning as valuable as teacher instruction. Connections to continued learning are valued much more than existing learning. Small communities are seen as the future of effective life-long learning.


Networks

  • A network consists of two or more nodes linked in order to share resources.
  • A node is a connection point to a larger network.
  • Learning communities are nodes.
  • Courses need to be redesigned to reflect networked economy.
  • A network, in the context of an ecology and communities, is how we organize our learning communities...resulting in a personal learning network. (Siemens, 2003)



Critiques of Connectivism

Connectivism as a learning theory is not free of criticism. Challenges in regard to whether or not connectivism should be considered a new learning theory have been raised by Bill Kerr. Kerr(2006) states that connectivism is an erroneously proposed learning theory which has been formed whilst failing to properly consider and interpret existing learning theories. The importance of networks is not dismissed by Kerr; however, he asserts, networks "haven't changed learning so much that we need to throw away all of the established learning theories and replace them with a brand new one" (2006). As Kerr contends, connectivism as a theory is unnecessary since existing theories already address the needs of learning in a connected world.

Plon Verhagen, professor of Educational Design at the University of Twente also contends that connectivism is not a learning theory. Verhagen (2006) believes Siemens' notion of connectivism is a pedagogical view rather than a learning theory. Siemens'(2004) contention that "learning may reside in non-human appliances" is of particular interest to Verhagen who takes issue with this principle as being the basis for the shortcomings of existing learning theories.


Also see: Tony Forster

See also

Connectivism
Digital Divide
Edutainment
E-learning
Networked learning
Online learning
Personal learning environments (PLE)
Situating Connectivism

References

Alger, B. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for today’s learner. Retrieved February 28, 2007, from http://www.experiencedesignernetwork.com/archives/000645.html

Bonk, C. (2007). USA today leads to tomorrow: Teachers as online concierges and can Facebook pioneer save face? Retrieved on January 10, 2008, from http://travelinedman.blogspot.com/2007/10/usa‐today‐leads‐to‐tomorrow‐teachers‐as.html

Fisher, C. (n.d.). Teacher as network administrator. Retrieved January 10, 2008, from http://remoteaccess.typepad.com/remote_access/files/teacher_as_network_admin.pdf

Kerr, B. (2006). A Challenge to Connectivism. Message posted to http://billkerr2.blogspot.com/2006/12/challenge-to-connectivism.html

Seely Brown, J. (2006). Learning in the digital age (21st century). Paper [keynote] presented at the Ohio Digital Commons for Education (ODCE) 2006 Conference. Retrieved January 10, 2008, from http://www.oln.org/conferences/ODCE2006/papers/jsb‐2006ODCE.pdf

Siemens, G. (2011). Special Issue -- Connectivism: Design and Delivery of Social Networked Learning. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(3), 1-5.

Siemens, G. (2008b). Learning and knowing in networks: Changing roles for educators and designers. Paper 105: University of Georgia IT Forum. Retrieved July 1, 2001, from http://it.coe.uga.edu/itforum/Paper105/Siemens.pdf

Siemens, G. (2007, January 12). Design and choice [Msg 73]. Message posted to http://www.connectivism.ca/blog/2007/01/design_and_choice.html

Siemens, G. (2006, June 21) Constructivism vs. Connectivism [Msg 61]. Message posted to http://www.connectivism.ca/blog/2006/06/constructivism_vs_connectivism.html

Siemens, G. (2005, September 2). Designing ecosystems versus designing learning [Msg 28]. Message posted to http://connectivism.ca/blog/ecosystem

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved February 6, 2007, from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

Siemens, G. (2003). Learning ecology, communities, and networks: Extending the classroom. Retrieved February 28, 2007, from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/learning_communities.htm

Verhagen, P. (2006) Connectivism: a new learning theory? Message posted to http://elearning.surf.nl/e-learning/english/3793

Wenmoth, D. (2006). Online learning environments. Retrieved March 2, 2007, from http://blog.core-ed.net/derek/archives/OLE%20Scope.pdf

External links

Connectivism: Learning theory or pasttime of the self-amused?, scholarly article by George Siemens (November 2006).
Foundations of Educational Theory for Online learning, In Theory of Practice of Online Learning (chap. 1).
Learning Theories Tutorial, interactive game, Univerity of Manitoba.
Online Connectivism Conference (February 2007), presentations and forum links.
Situating Connectivism: Relation of existing theories of learning and knowing, 40 minute presentation by George Siemens.
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