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Connectivism Learning Theory Running head: CONNECTIVISM


Connectivism Learning Theory and its influence on Educational Technology Teresa Froehlke Boise State University

ED-TECH 504 Dr. Dazhi Yang July 29, 2011

Connectivism Learning Theory Abstract Connectivism is described as an emergent learning theory. Emergent learning arises out of the interaction between a number of people and resources, the learners organize and determine the


process as well as the unpredictable learning destinations. Learning theories such as behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism are accepted learning principles and have application in instructional design. However, technological advancements have spurred the evolution of new learning theories such as connectivism. This paper examines how connectivism contributes to the new skills necessary for learning environments in the 21st century. This paper introduces the principles of connectivism, compares the relation of connectivism to other learning theories, and includes instructional models based on connectivism.

Connectivism Learning Theory Connectivism Learning Theory and its influence on Educational Technology Introduction The use of technologies for interaction and communication is showing rapid growth in the developed world. The integration of technology into learning activities has increased the need to instruct in less traditional methods. Students are taking control of their learning and are deciding how, where, and by whom, they want to be educated. Connectivism is an emergent learning theory that has evolved through the interaction of a number of people and resources. The interaction is self-organized, but with constraints and structure with virtual or physical networks (Williams, Karousou, & Mackness, 2011). It is a learning theory which has supporters and non-supporters. The concept of connectivism, as a learning theory, is important to instructional design and educational technology because the four principles of the theory are imbedded in technology. Definition of Connectivism Connectivism has evolved out of the use of technology in our society, and with new technology, it has become increasingly important to learn how to learn with technology (Davis, Edmunds, & Kelly-Bateman, 2008). Siemens (2005) defined connectivism as an incorporation of four fundamental theories: Chaos, network, complexity and self-organization. Chaos Chaos is the interruption of predictability. The learner’s goal is to recognize the patterns that are difficult to distinguish. The learner forms meaning and connections between identified communities and activities. Chaos realizes the connection of one thing to another. The student must recognize the change in the pattern when learning a task. Chaos in a learning environment


Connectivism Learning Theory is demonstrated in decision making. When the conditions to make a decision change; the initial


decision is not as correct when it was first made. The ability to determine and adjust to a shift in the conditions is a key component to learning the task. Chaos, as a science, recognizes the connection of everything to everything. The importance of these connections leads the theory into the network component (Siemens, 2005).

Importance of Network A network is defined as a connection between entities. The entities are comprised of people, technology, social structures and systems. Each entity is a learning community which can communicate their ideas with other communities (Siemens, 2005). A central idea in connectivism is that learners connect to a learning community with both groups giving and receiving information. The learning community is defined as a group of people with similar interests learning together through continuous interaction. Each community is a node which is part of a wider network of nodes. The networks are diverse, but connected. They support autonomous, diverse, and creative knowledge development. This knowledge is distributed across an information network and is comprised of a diversity of opinions. The information is changing at a continuous rate and evaluated for validity and accuracy . There is also an interdisciplinary connection in the creation of knowledge, largely due to the Internet environment with its constant dispersal of instant information. This interaction is complex and migrates towards self-organization (Davis, Edmunds, & Kelly-Bateman, 2008). Complexity and Self-Organization A complex system is characteristically modeled, as a collection of interacting elements, as diverse as people, cells or molecules. Because of the non-linearity of the interactions, the overall system development is unpredictable and uncontrollable. The system, however, migrates

Connectivism Learning Theory


towards self-organization and synergy. The resulting system can be modeled as a network, with stabilized interactions functioning as links connecting the elements (Siemens, 2005). Due to the influence of the internet and the rate of change in the information, the connectivsm theory, defines the half-life of knowledge. Half-Life of Knowledge Today’s learner is processing and applying information at a faster pace and in different ways than any others in history. This has resulted in a “half-life” of knowledge which is the time frame of learning something new and applying it and then finding that it is outdated (Siemens, 2005). Improvements in technology have caused the half-life of knowledge to decrease considerably. The four theories of connectives and the half-life of knowledge have resulted in the basic principles of the connectivism:        Learning and knowledge originate in a diversity of opinions. Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources. Learning may occur in a machine. 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. Current and accurate knowledge is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.

Based on the definition and the principles of connectivism, decision-making is its own learning process. The right answer now, may be wrong tomorrow because of new information and a shifting reality (Siemens, 2005). One of the main differences between behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism is these

Connectivism Learning Theory


theories are based on the assumption that the learning occurs inside a person. Another criticism, that Siemens notes in his research is these theories do not address learning that occurs outside of people, such as with technology. Learning theories are concerned with the actual process of learning, not with the value of what is being learned. Comparison of Learning Theories (Davis, Edmunds, & Kelly-Bateman, 2008) defined the differences in learning theories by answering the following questions: Table 1 Table of Comparison of Learning Theories on Main Questions Guiding Theories
Questions Behaviorism Cognitivism Constructivism Connectivism

How does learning occur?

Black box, observable behavior, main focus

Structured, computational

Social meaning created by each learner

What factors influence learning? What is the role of memory?

How does transfer occur?

Nature of reward, punishment, stimuli Memory is hard wiring of repeated experiences where reward and punishment are most influential Stimulus, response

Existing schema, previous experience Encoding, storage, retrieval,

Engagement, Participation, social, cultural Prior knowledge remixed to current context

Distributed within a network, social, technologically enhanced, recognizing and interpreting patterns Diversity of network Adaptive patterns, representative of current state, existing in networks Connecting to nodes

What types of Task based learning are best learning explained by this theory? (Davis, Edmunds, & Kelly-Bateman, 2008).

Duplicating knowledge constructs of the “knower” Reasoning, clear objectives, problem solving


Social, vague

Complex learning, rapid changing core, diverse knowledge sources

According to the behaviorists, learning is not an active, but a passive process of

Connectivism Learning Theory


memorizing information that requires a reward external to the learner. Understanding is merely seeing relationships and the application is a transfer of training. The cognitist view learning as structured, the learning is based on reasoning and problem solving. The Constructivist identify that the meaning of learning is created by the learner, the engagement is social and the transfer of knowledge occurs through socialization (Davis, Edmunds, & Kelly-Bateman, 2008). Connectivists believe that learning is a way of being. It is an ongoing pattern of attitudes and actions by individuals and groups, which they employ to deal with new and unexpected events and situations. Learning occurs differently in the practicing communities, personal networks, and through completion of work-related tasks. It is a continuous process for a lifetime without separation from work related activities (Behold & Dad, 2010). Educational Technology Applications The theory of connectivism is applicable to the field of educational technology. The nature of connectivism lends itself to using the networking capabilities of information and communication technologies. As a result, of these networking capabilities connectivism is easily manifested into an online community of practice. An online community of practice is characterized by each member participating in defining the community. Each community shares expertise and determines the meaning which then defines the learning. The communities share a collection of resources such as tools, words, and symbols. These characteristics of an online community follow the theoretical concept of connectivism. Also, visible in an online community of practice are the social constructivist, situated cognition and distributed cognition theories. One of the main proposals of connectivens is that knowledge is spread among a community of people and devices (Ravenscroft, 2011). Web 2.0 technology has been incorporated into online communities of learning. It is

Connectivism Learning Theory well-suited for interaction and communication in emergent learning. Information and communication technologies, provide global open access at an extremely low cost, and are well suited for the tenets of connectivism such as producing, distributing texts and artifacts while learners interact, communicate and network (Williams, Karousou, & Mackness, 2011).


The use of Web 2.0 technology and connectivism requires new institutional and social structures. Some frameworks which provide protocols and resources for collaboration and sharing are: Open Source licenses for collaborative software and Creative Commons licenses for collaborative and shared content. Other platforms are also available, such as Google and a range of social software and cloud-based downloadable applications (Williams, Karousou, & Mackness, 2011). When connectivism is implemented in a classroom , the shift in the learning environment should shift from a monolithic learning environment, in which everything is controlled and predictable. In a connective learning environment, the learning ecology is a more pluralistic learning ecology. In this environment, both prescriptive and emergent application domains and modes of learning are employed with unpredictable learning outcomes (Williams, Karsouou, & Mackness, 2011). Also, for connectivism to be fully represented, it should be based on self-motivation and self-organization. The success of self-organization depends on the quality of the facilitator, the open interaction with other learners and the balance of openness and the constraints. Emergent learning is not intended to displace prescriptive learning or teachers, but it should be recognized as a vital learning experience and not as an add-on to a learning ecology. Web 2.0 platforms should be given a place in a learning environment and recognized for its contribution for

Connectivism Learning Theory


information, interaction, networking, collaboration, and unique challenges (Williams, Karsouou, & Mackens, 2011). Pettenati and Cigonini (2006) in their article identified stages of the connective learning experience in which the lesson utilized the theories of chaos, network, complexity and self-organization. The stages of connective learning experiences During the first step awareness and receptivity should be established. The individuals are introduced with the resources and tools of the new learning environment. It is important at this stage to maintain motivation, as well as, the acquisition of basic skills. If this phase is frustrating to the learner, it may cause the learner to drop out from the learning environment (Pettenati & Cigonini, 2006). In the second stage connection and selections are filtered. The learners start to be active in the learning space and begin to acquire new resources and tools. The factors of fun, pleasure and positive interaction increases the meaning and builds the roots of an effective personal learning environment. During the third stage, the learner begins to actively contribute to the learning network. The learner becomes a visible node. The other nodes on the network acknowledge his contributions and ideas. A reciprocal relationship of shared understanding is created. It is in the fourth step, that the learners are actively involved in modifying and rebuilding their own learning network. The learner has been both a provider and helped other networked learners. This model can be used to design learning activities and environments in different educational settings (Pettenati & Cigonini, 2006). The use of connective learning environment The model and stages of the connective learning experience can be noted in the following example of an university course offered at the University of Regina.

Connectivism Learning Theory The educational technology faculty at this university facilitated a course with the intent to


develop and facilitate an “open, connected, social,” graduate course in educational technology. The online course, facilitated primarily through Web 2.0 and open source software, was designed to foster an immersive experience where participants engaged in and critically interpreted digital content, tools and emerging pedagogies (Couros, 2006).

The principles of connectivsim that were used in the open, connected and social course included the following:       Learning and knowledge rests in diversity. Dynamic learning is a process of connecting “specialized nodes”, or ideas. Information and digital interfaces. “Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known” . Fostering and maintaining connections is critical to knowledge generation. A multidisciplinary, multi-literacy approach to knowledge generation is a core tenet of connectivism.  Decision making is both action and learning (Couros, 2006). The course was designed with the complexities of knowledge management and learning in the digital age. In accordance to the response to this theoretical view of connectives, the course consisted of personal learning networks (PLNs) by students and facilitators to assist knowledge/network formation by learners. The tools of each PLN varied but each group could use a personal blog, wiki, delicious account (social bookmarking), twitter account (micro blogging), or other social media sharing services. An interesting aspect of this course was each

Connectivism Learning Theory


learner developed a different PLN, consisting of different members within and outside the course community. These networks were developed through a student-centered approach with the unique needs of each student addressed. The intent of the PLN was to create an environment for individual and group learning that would extend and persist outside of the course. The course included “open, connected, social” thinking. Open thinking is defined as: a group, institution, or individual that uses open technologies or formats in regards to software, publishing, content and practice (Couros, 2006). The course also promoted open teaching. Open teaching is the facilitation and promotion of learning experiences that are open, transparent, collaborative, and social. To achieve open teaching, the teachers often use free and open source software, they promote open content, open access and open publication. The most important feature this teaching method is the shared development of student-centered learning networks. The course was influenced with the Social cognitive theory; connectivism and open thinking were the three major philosophies. From these theories, guiding principles for the course were synthesized and established. They included the following:  The instructor and assistants assumed roles as facilitators and social connectors, rather than deliverers of knowledge.  Course content was offered through conversations with invited guests, and in student participation in the greater educational network.  Students immersed themselves in social knowledge creation and collaborative skill-building activities.  Student learning was aligned with personal and professional learning goals.

Connectivism Learning Theory  Students were engaged in the use of emerging technological tools (e.g. Web 2.0) for the critical consumption and production of content.  Students also participated in distributed conversations, and were immersed in relevant topics, and reflected on personal learning experiences.  Students engaged in the development of student-centered, PLNs with the hope that these networks outlive the course itself (Couros, 2006).


The course facilitation tools and processes used of free and open source software (FOSS), free services, open access tools, open formats, and transparent course mechanisms. Three major student assessments guided student activities for the course experience: the development of a personal blog/electronic portfolio, the collaborative development of a wiki resource, and a major digital project (Couros, 2006). The course designed by the faculty demonstrates the use of the connective theory in practice and its integration with other learning theories. The students immersed themselves in the new forms of pedagogy and connected and conversed with experts and other students from around the globe. The authors felt the course was a success in part because one of the students wrote that “ the best part of this course is that it’s not ending, with the connections we’ve built, it never has to end” (blog post). This demonstrates the impact of the connective theory and its implications for educational technology (Couros, 2006). Validation of Learning Theory The impact of the connective learning theory and its use in educational technology is just at the introduction stage. Since connectivism is a newly defined learning theory, not all researchers define connectivism as a legitimate learning theory. Kop and Hill (2008) contend that a new epistemology may be developing, but the new model does not justify it being treated

Connectivism Learning Theory as a separate learning theory. They agree with Foster, in which he maintains that for connectivism to be a learning theory, the theory’s limitations and the full range of contexts in


which learning can take place must be accounted for. The authors in their research contend that connectivism does not fulfill the tasks of describing changes of behavior, and the relationships among types of behavior to warrant being considered a theory. They do agree that connectivism does play an important role in the development of new pedagogies, most importantly, the shift of control from a tutor to an autonomous learner. Kerr (2007) describes connectivism as an extension of previous learning theories. He states that the relationship between internal and external knowledge environments were accounted for in Vygotsky's formulation of social constructivism, long before any explanation was provided by connectivism. Also, Papert’s constructivism and Clark’s embodied active cognition, further provided learning paradigms prior to connectivism. Boitshwarelo (2011) is not concerned in his article as to whether learning is a theory or not, but acknowledged that it is a compelling way of perceiving learning in the digital age. In his article, he recommended that research on connectivism’s applicability and effectiveness in a variety of educational contexts is necessary. It will be through the developmental research that models can be developed to assist in understanding the pedagogical implications of connectivism. He recommends using a design based research (DBR) method, a methodological pattern of research. The importance of this research and the recommended methodology is that it will assist educators in using connectivism in a manner that will enhance learning. The paper integrates the theories of online communities of practice, design-based research, and activity theory to construct a research framework that is characterized by a synergistic relationship between each of these methodologies.

Connectivism Learning Theory Conclusion The use of technology in learning environments has enabled new learning theories to evolve. The connectivist learning theory incorporates the theory of chaos, the importance of networks and complexity and self-organization. This theory integrates into the use of open community of practice and web 2.0 practices. There are instructional models that have been designed to implement connective learning to use the basis of connectivism. This learning


model will receive more attention and perhaps become a standard theory as education shifts from the traditional classroom to more of a learning environment that uses educational technology.

Connectivism Learning Theory References .


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Connectivism Learning Theory Ravenscroft, A. (2011). Dialogue and connectivism: A new dialogue and connectivism: A new


approach to understanding and promoting dialogue-Rich networked learning approach to understanding and promoting dialogue-Rich networked learning. The International Review in Open and Distance Learning, 12(3), 139-160. Rita, K., & Adrian, H. (2008). Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past? The International Review in Open and Distance Learning, 9(3), 1-12. Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. doi= Strong, K., & Hutchins, H. M. (2009). Connectivism: A theory for learning in a world of growing complexity. Impact: Journal of Applied Research in Workplace e-Learning, 1(1), 53-67. Williams, R., Karousou, R., & Mackness, J. (2011). Emergent learning ecologies in web 2.0. International Journal of Open Research in Distance Learning, 12(3), 39-59.