George Siemens challenges the learning theories of the past with his modern take on learning incorporating the connections available through new technologies and the ability to easily connect using many digital platforms. He highlights the trends in learning, more specifically the impact of technology and ones ability to find knowledge, process information through the use of technology, technology connections in communities, personal life and work, and the impact of technology on our thinking (Siemans, 2005). Siemans does not discount learning theories of cognitivism, constructivism and behaviorism, but he points out their limitations in a digital age. He points out that that learning happens through the interactions of people. In addition the value of what is being learned and its value to us is an important understanding that learners make before they engage in learning (Siemans, 2005). According to Siemans (2005), connectivism attempts to explain this shift in learning theory from being an internal process to a more external process. This is what we understand distributed cognition to be, the linking together of culture, context and history with cognition. “It does not seem possible to account for the cognitive accomplishments of our species by reference to what is inside our heads alone. One must also consider the cognitive roles of the social and material world (Hutchins, 200o, pg. 9).” Connectivism embraces diversity of opinions, connecting to sources including: various technologies, others, current knowledge, fields, ideas and concepts, the need to know more, and decision-making (Siemans, 2005). The flow of information and how we keep that flow continuous despite the content is at the heart of connectivism.
Is it strong enough?
The great thing about connectivism is that it opens up a theory that incorporates the way the world is shifting. It incorporates what we know that shift to be at this moment. Currently we have vast quantities of information at our fingertips and we need to start piecing together the who, what, where, when and how of information. We have this continuous flow of information at home, at work and in our jobs, so we must be learning outside of ourselves which is contrary to what other learning theories of the past have implied. “The attractiveness and accessibility of the theory of connectivism makes it a good candidate for structuring innovation by educators in their practice (Bell, 2009, pg. 10).” Connectivism gives us a rationale for stepping outside of our 1950’s classroom, and embracing the ways of the 21st century. It helps explain how we share, connect and improve our abilities to be an informed society, impacting our future democracy. “When knowledge is abundant, the rapid evaluation of knowledge is important…the ability to synthesize and recognize connections and patterns is a valuable skill (Siemens, 2005, pg. 2).”
Where does it need to grow?
While connectivism is an interesting and productive theory on learning, it is important to embrace it with what we have learned and studied for decades and decades. Throughout human history it is important to note the observations and theories that have come before us and how they mesh, add or have shifted today. Connectivism should be considered with caution. We look to this theory as participants in it’s making, but there is a deeper level of knowing our students that we need to see. “Greater risk comes from the fact that connectivism tends to overrate learning conditions and cultural stances that in reality are peculiar to specific fields: virtuous dynamics of acquisitive self-generation in the net are occasional emergences, that occur more frequently with categories of adult people, endowed with good technological and meta-cognitive abilities and with good knowledge in the domain, while they occur much less with all other categories, and anyhow facing a myriad of futile and disorientating interactions which in any case come into play (Calvani, 2009, pg. 251).” It is not so simple as to say, “if you show them they will learn.” There is more depth to learning than just connecting on and through these various technological platforms. We need to look at the roles of the students, the learners, the environment, the classroom/materials, and how we are to shift a historically static institution (Darrow, 2009).
The bottom line for me …
Connectivism is in it’s early adolescents and needs more refinement. There is a strong need to understand how we are incorporating technologies and our ability to interact and connect with information at a constant clip. The maturation of this theory is one that I hope blossoms into a more practical and accepted learning theory. There is a place at the learning theory table for connectivism, and with time we will learn and observe how this theory can accompany our learners in the 21st century.
Bell, F. (2009). Connectivism: a network theory for teaching and learning in a connected world. Educational Developments, The Magazine of the Staff and Educational Development Association, 10(3).
Calvani, A. (2009). Connectivism: new paradigm or fascinating pot-pourri?.Journal of E-learning and Knowledge Society, 4(1).
Darrow, S. (2009). Connectivism learning theory: Instructional tools for college courses (Doctoral dissertation, Western Connecticut State University).
Hutchins, E. (2000). Distributed cognition. Internacional Enciclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences.
Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1), 3-10.