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Connectivism as a Learning Theory that drives good teaching and learning in a rapidly changing world.

Educational reform and school improvement are two topics we hear constantly. How does our educational system adapt to a rapidly changing world? Can this necessary reform be adequately addressed addressed by current learning theories? In order to understand the significance of connectivism as a learning theory, it is important to understand both terms "connectivism" and "learning theory". On this wiki, we will explore how we both of those concepts, show what it looks like in practical terms for improving teaching and learning and why we believe that Connectivism makes an important contribution to education.

What is Connectivism?

Connectivism was put forth as a learning theory in 2005 by George Siemens and written about extensively by Stephen Downes. In the 2005 article, "Connectivism: Learning as Network-Creation", Siemens outlines what he sees as the key principles of connectivism:
  1. Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  2. Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  3. Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  4. Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
  5. Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  6. Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
  7. Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  8. 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.
Italicized information is what I found to be most interesting.
http://www.profweb.qc.ca/fileadmin/user_upload/Chronique_animaweb/9_mars_La_VTE/connectivism_creating_network.png  Source:  George Siemens, www.constructivism.ca
http://www.profweb.qc.ca/fileadmin/user_upload/Chronique_animaweb/9_mars_La_VTE/connectivism_creating_network.png Source: George Siemens, www.constructivism.ca

Additional resources to help explain what connectivism is:

What is Connectivismis a powerpoint put together by George Siemens to explain the theory of connectivism.
Another powerpoint that explains the role of connectivism in education. Downes gives an overview of connectivism in his Ustream video, "What is Connectivism?" A podcast interview with George Siemens can be accessed at Quebec College's ProfWeb.

What is a learning theory?

A theory is "an orderly, integrated set of statements that describes and predicts behavior." (p 1-2, Kevin Costley, "Why Do We Have Theories?") Costley further states that there is no completely right theory, that they help us gain meaning to what we see and do and are founded in the cultural values and belief systems of the times in which they were developed. Often, theories may take an extreme stance which helps to differentiate them from other theories. That helps to open discussion and drive research on important issues. Outside of research, very few practitioners of any type use any single theory exclusively, but build a system of theories that helps them understand and perform the various parts of their jobs effectively. Theories occur at the intersection of ideas and evidence. New theories are important, either because evidence disproves an existing theory and a new one is necessary to explain the evidence or because they provide ideas on how to grow and adapt an existing theory in ways that make it more robust and accurate.

Is Connectivism a Learning Theory?

George Simens believes that the traditional theories of learning are out dated because they do not account for technology. Behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism are the traditional learning theories prior to the digital age. Siemens argues that knowledge exists not in the individual but in the world. His theory of Connectivism is an attempt to account for the influence that new technologies have on the process of learning. Siemens believes that there have been many changes in education that justify why a new learning theory is needed. He lists some of those changes on his website,elearnspace
  • Many learners will move into a variety of different, possibly unrelated fields over the course of their lifetime.
  • Informal learning is a significant aspect of our learning experience. Formal education no longer comprises the majority of our learning. Learning now occurs in a variety of ways – through communities of practice, personal networks, and through completion of work-related tasks.
  • Learning is a continual process, lasting for a lifetime. Learning and work related activities are no longer separate. In many situations, they are the same.
  • Technology is altering (rewiring) our brains. The tools we use define and shape our thinking.
  • The organization and the individual are both learning organisms. Increased attention to knowledge management highlights the need for a theory that attempts to explain the link between individual and organizational learning.
  • Many of the processes previously handled by learning theories (especially in cognitive information processing) can now be off-loaded to, or supported by, technology.
  • Know-how and know-what is being supplemented with know-where (the understanding of where to find knowledge needed).

In order to see how the Connectivism addresses some of those changes not accommodated by other learning theories, it is useful to compare them.

A comparison of the different learning theories and how connectivism is different from the other learning theories:

external image Connectivism_chart.gif
Source:Connectivism section on "Emerging Perspectives on Learning, Teaching and Technology" wiki by Clarissa Davis, Earl Edmunds, Vivian Kelly-Bateman and their students at the University of Georgia
Some view Connectivism as a form of Constructivism. In his blog post from September 28, 2009 in Brainstorming in Progress, Geoff Cain explains his view of Connectivist Instructional Design. He explains that he sees a distinction because "even more power is put into the hands of the learner, not by the teacher, but by the networks themselves. Students who are connected in the right way will often solve problems for teachers such as, learning how to broadcast a workshop into Second Life and pull in more people, or those moments when a student is able to introduce a source or expert in the field that the instructor has not met before. Connectivism takes the faith in the students' ability to learn to a whole new level and moves it to the networks' ability to teach as well."

What does Connectivism look like in terms of teaching and learning?

Sometimes it takes a story to help better understand a complicated situation. Here is a real life example of Connectivism in the classroom.
The Networked Student was inspired by CCK08, a Connectivism course offered by George Siemens and Stephen Downes during fall 2008. It depicts an actual project completed by Wendy Drexler's high school students. The Networked Student concept map was inspired by Alec Couros' Networked Teacher. Anyone is free to use this video for educational purposes. You may download, translate, or use as part of another presentation.

In an online conference on Connectivism, one of the Moodle forums focused on practical ways to facilitate connectivism in a school classroom.

Why is Connectivism important?
Siemen's Connectivism fits well with the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition's philosophy. Robert J. Marzano calls this approach "the most comprehensive and well-articulated approach to standards-based reform in the country." Here is a comparison of how their ideas compare to a more traditional approach:
20th Century Classroom
RISC 21st Century Classroom
Movement based on time
Movement based on performance
Students sitting in rows
Controlled chaos
Driven by textbooks
Driven by a shared vision
Commercial bulletin boards
Student boards
Teacher-controlled class
Students are navigators
10% student engagement
100% student engagement
Global curriculum
Teacher is the judge
Self, peers, business leaders, and teachers judge students’ work
Source: Re-Inventing Schools Coalition Website

Accessed July 27, 2012

A key concept in many school improvement/education reform efforts is the idea that we need to switch from viewing the concept of time as the constant and learning as the variable to a system where learning is the constant and time is the variable. One could argue that such a view sees standards-based learning not in the industrial model where anyone not meeting the standard is sorted out or must go through the system again, but in a more individualized system that requires a unique combination of experiences, teachers, learning situations, resources - whatever it takes to help a student achieve the standard. The learning theory that best supports this system is Connectivism.

Bottom line question - How does Connectivism help us be better teachers?

  • It expands the concept of learning well beyond the classroom walls byrecognizing the importance of a wide variety of nodes in a student's learning network.
  • It meets students where they are, typically part of several networks that can be utilized for learning.
  • It incorporates evaluation of sources of information to determine their credibility and accuracy.
  • It focuses on the process of making new meaning, not just the content of information. That allows for continued expansion in a rapidly changing world.
  • It makes the students responsible for their authentic learning rather than simply finishing an assignment by following directions set forth by a teacher.
  • It allows students to capitalize on their learning style by not limiting learning to a traditional classroom.
  • It accommodates changing technology and new sources of information.
  • It allows for easily connecting multiple disciplines

While any given person may not agree with every concept outlined in Connectivism, it provides a very useful model to adapt teaching to incorporate new tools and new methods of learning in order to better prepare our students to lead a world none of us have ever known. .

Cain, Geoff. "Brainstorm in Progress." Brainstorm in Progress. N.p., 22 July 2012. Web. 29 July 2012. <http://cain.blogspot.com/>.

Cantin, Raymond, "What is Connectivism" Interview with George Siemens, posted 9 March 2009, ProfWeb, http://www.profweb.qc.ca/en/news/columns/connectivism-a-learning-theory-for-the-digital-age/index.html , podcast at . Accessed 27 July 2012.

Costley, Kevin C. "Why Do We Have Theories." N.p., n.d. Web. 27 July 2012. <http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED491769.pdf>.

Davis, Clarissa; Edmunds, Earl; Kelly-Bateman, Vivian and students at the University of Georgia, Connectivism Wiki, http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Connectivism . Accessed 27, July 2012.

Downes, Stephen "What is Connectivism" video posted 5 September, 2008 on Ustream http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/688902 . Accessed 27 July 2012.

Educause: Connectivism Powerpoint, http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI063002.pdf . Accessed 26 July 2012.

Hando, Jason. "Online Connectivism Conference." OCC2007: Practical Ways to Facilitate Connectivism in a School Classroom? Moodle, 2 Feb. 2007. Web. 29 July 2012. <http://ltc.umanitoba.ca/moodle/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=40>.

Online Connectivism Conference, hosted by the Learning Technology Center, Manitoba, Canada 2 February 2007.
http://ltc.umanitoba.ca/moodle/course/view.php?id=9 . Accessed 27 July 2012.

"RISC Approach to Schooling | Re-Inventing Schools Coalition - RISC." RISC Approach to Schooling | Re-Inventing Schools Coalition - RISC. Reinventing Schools Coalition, n.d. Web. 27 July 2012. <http://www.reinventingschools.org/resources/the-risc-approach-to-schooling/>.

Siemens, George. "Connectivism: Learning as Network-Creation." ELearnspace. N.p., 10 Aug. 2005. Web. 27 July 2012.

Siemens, George. "Learning Ecology" diagram from www.constructivism.ca. Actual link: http://www.profweb.qc.ca/fileadmin/user_upload/Chronique_animaweb/9_mars_La_VTE/connectivism_creating_network.png , accessed 27 July 2012.

Siemens, George. "What is Connectivism" powerpoint from http://elearnspace.org/media/WhatIsConnectivism/player.html . Accessed 26 July 2012.

wdrexler, "The Networked Student" on Youtube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XwM4ieFOotA , Accessed 27 July, 2012.