Technology has changed everything. It’s only right that it should impact our learning theories too. This brings us neatly to connectivism learning theory (or connectivist learning theory).
It’s also one of the few theories that takes our digital age into account. It’s all about how we use different ‘connected’ networks to learn and expand our knowledge.
In this article, we’ll walk through the theory’s history, principles and how it links to online learning. Let’s get connected!
What is Connectivism Learning Theory?
January 1st 1983 is considered the birthday of the internet. Since then we’ve seen mind-blowing growth in the way we interact with technology and the information we have access to.
Who would have thought that your car would be able to have a search engine in it? Or that you would be able to get speedy answers to questions on a tiny slab of metal called a smartphone?
We’ve come a long way and we’re still going. In fact, the information technology industry is forecasted to be worth $13,092.49 billion by 2026 at a CAGR of 8.8%.
This grand interconnected tapestry of information has helped to fuel connectivism learning theory. The theory was first introduced in 2005 by psychologists, George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Stephen Downes describes connectivism as:
‘The thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.’
In other words, learners absorb new knowledge through the connections that they make. With the tools that learners have access to now, it’s easier than ever to build your network and share knowledge.
Similar to theories such as constructivism, connectivism learning theory puts the learner at the centre. Each learner acts as a separate ‘node’ within a learning community. And each community contributes to a larger network of knowledge.
Connectivism also has links to social learning theory as developed by Albert Bandura. Social learning theory suggests that we build our knowledge through ‘the active process of learning from our observations and interactions with others.’
In other words, we learn from those around us. This is true whether it happens in person or through a social platform. As a result, the better connected we are, the easier it is for us to build our knowledge.
Connectivism learning theory is based on eight core principles. Let’s run through them!
The Eight Principles of Connectivism Learning Theory
George Siemens himself posits that there are eight key principles of connectivism learning theory.
- Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions. It’s vital that you consider more than just your perspective when learning. Other people will have fresh insights, alternative methods and extra information to share.
- Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources. You need to draw from other sources in a continuous process. Whether it’s Google, TikTok or your colleagues. You’re also a node that other people will learn from!
- Learning may reside in non-human appliances. As humans, we’re lucky enough to have billions of people around us to learn from. However, due to technological advancements, we can also store learning in a variety of devices. This highlights the importance of eLearning experiences.
- Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known. In other words, wanting to keep learning is more important than the knowledge we already possess. As Siemens puts it: “the pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.”
- Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning. You need to encourage learning for it to be effective. Especially when learning in a digital age, where it can be harder to keep those connections alive.
- Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill. Naturally, being able to connect different pieces of information is a key component of connectivism learning theory. This allows you to weave a tapestry of knowledge!
- Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities. The knowledge that employees possess makes up a company’s intellectual capital. This is then a part of the world’s knowledge economy. When using a connectivism approach, updating your current knowledge (‘currency’) should always be the end goal.
- 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. Since up-to-date information is always our aim, accepting that knowledge isn’t fixed is important. Knowledge will continue to evolve and it’s crucial that you familiarise yourself with updated information.
This raises a question. How do these principles and connectivism learning theory as a whole help with your online learning initiatives?
Online Learning and Connectivism Learning Theory
A Place to Connect Knowledge
The third principle of connectivism learning theory relates very closely to online learning. In fact, it’s these digital learning experiences that gave rise to the theory in the first place.
One of the appliances that learning can reside in is a learning management system (LMS). On Growth Engineering LMS, you have the ability to create your own ecosystem of learning. Key features for this include:
Learners have access to a huge library filled with a variety of resources. As an admin, you can upload and share content whenever you want. This is even easier with Growth Engineering Authoring Tool. You can create courses, quizzes and learning games in no time!
Subject matter experts (SMEs) convene here to act as your very own keepers of knowledge. Learners can head here to ask questions or find answers.
All questions and answers will always be viewable! And that’s a great thing — did you know sharing knowledge collectively saves Fortune 500 companies $31.5 billion each year?
An LMS allows you to make use of options like Live Chat and social feeds which means you can provide feedback in real time to your learners. Feedback can also come in the form of gamified features such as praise Badges!
Companies that regularly implement employee feedback experience 14.9% lower turnover rates.
Increased Connectivity (duh!) and Collaboration
Thanks to technology, we’re able to learn and connect in real time with people all around the world.
If we wanted to learn before, we’d go to the library, take out a book and handwrite notes. While writing notes is still a perfectly viable way to retain knowledge, the other factors have generally shifted to a digital format.
Ultimately, what we learn with, how we learn and where we learn has drastically changed. This is a great thing when it comes to a connectivism approach.
As the basis of connectivism learning theory is all about drawing from different information sources, online learning is a perfect way to do so.
The modern learner can learn from anywhere, anytime. This is made even easier by mobile solutions like Growth Engineering Learning App. By transforming a learning system into an app, it allows you to carry the power of learning in your pocket at all times.
Did you know that mobile learning can cause an increase in productivity and lead to 45% faster course completion rates than on a desktop?
Since it’s a native mobile app, you can even make use of push notifications. These will notify learners of new content, new messages, new discussions and more. This relates back to the fifth principle of connectivism and the importance of nurturing connections for continuous learning!
Online learning also helps to facilitate collaboration between your learners. Collaborative learning tools can improve workplace productivity by a whopping 30%! This is due to the magic powers of social learning.
For example, all activity on the platform is visible in social feeds. Learners can see discussions happening and jump in to add value at any stage. This correlates neatly with the first principle about learning resulting from a variety of opinions!
We’ll dive into this a bit more in the next section.
Better Connections with Others
37% of employees think that formal training is essential. Meanwhile, 90% think that sharing knowledge socially is crucial for a workplace environment.
Clearly the importance of social learning and learning in an environment with others cannot be overlooked.
Luckily, that’s a big part of connectivism learning theory. As Downes put it, ‘knowledge is distributed across a network of connections.’ Those connections include your fellow learners!
Looking at it from a scientific perspective, the brain is a social organ. A review of 148 studies with over 300,000 participants revealed that those with better social relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of survival.
Additionally, when learning with others, we get to hear different viewpoints (first principle) and connect with other nodes/information sources (second principle). Consequently, a social learning approach is really effective.
Key social learning features to incorporate in your online learning approach include:
This can be used as a tool to relay new information and improve communication between colleagues. It’s also a great way for knowledge sharing to take place and strengthen connections.
A study of over 4,000 knowledge workers revealed that companies with a connected culture report better productivity and well-being.
This relates back to the seventh principle of connectivism learning theory and helps learners keep updated and continuously learning.
A social feed or timeline acts as a hub for learner activity and interaction. Learners can post achievements they’ve earned, upload useful resources, ask questions and more. Other learners can then reply or ‘like’ these updates.
Learning digitally also widens the net of ‘nodes’ you’d be able to connect with in-person. Due to easy social post translation, language barriers are removed and communication increases.
This makes a big difference. After all, effective communication can increase employee retention by up to 4.5 times!
Clubs are a dedicated social environment where people can come together over a shared interest. This can range from workplace topics, such as compliance training to extracurricular activities like jogging.
Having a designated space for each topic affords learners the opportunity to choose how they dedicate their time.
This relates to the fourth principle about wanting to learn more and the eighth principle about updating your knowledge. After all, this is a constantly updating stream of information.
It’s also easier to make connections between different ideas and concepts when all knowledge is in one place like a Club.
Clubs even have their own designated social feeds where learners can make connections together. This correlates with the sixth principle on connecting various sources of information together.
Clubs also help to build trust and improve communication, which a staggering 89% of employees deem as crucial.
Although connectivism learning theory is great for online learning, there are a few critiques to consider. Let’s take a look!
Critiques of Connectivism Learning Theory
Some believe that connectivism learning theory isn’t a complete learning theory in itself.
For example, Plon Verhagen proposes that the eight principles of connectivism are already an element of accepted learning theories. He also believes that it’s not a learning theory but in fact a ‘pedagogical view on education.’
This viewpoint is accepted by others, who state that the theory lacks the capacity to explain what constitutes learning by itself.
Finally, Rita Kop and Adrian Hill posit that Siemen’s stance on connectivism focuses on cognitive development rather than effective learning. As a result, they question whether it has anything to offer as a 21st century teaching approach.
This kind of critique is inevitable. After all, connectivism learning theory is still fairly new and all the kinks haven’t been ironed out yet!
The principles that make up connectivism learning theory are intuitive. Furthermore, we shouldn’t turn our noses up at a theory that takes into account and incorporates our digital age. There’s certainly enough substance here to help inform your learning strategy.
As we said, connectivism learning theory is still fairly new. However, it can already provide you with a firm foundation to build from.
It helps to highlight the importance of social learning and building your network. And in an age where disinformation is rife, it can only be a good thing to seek out multiple sources of information.
So there you have it. Go tell all your connections about how wonderful connectivism learning theory is!
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