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Connectivism is a theory of learning which emphasizes the role of social and cultural context. Connectivism is often associated with, and proposes a perspective similar to Vygotsky's 'zone of proximal development' (ZPD), an idea later transposed into Engeström's (2001) Activity theory. The relationship between work experience, learning and knowledge, as expressed in the concept of ‘connectivity, is central to connectivism, motivating the theory's name. It is somewhat similar to Bandura's Social Learning Theory that proposes that people learn through contact.
The phrase "a learning theory for the digital age" indicates the emphasis that connectivism gives to technology's effect on how people live, communicate and learn.
The central aspect of connectivism is the metaphor of a network with nodes and connections. In this metaphor, a node is anything that can be connected to another node such as an organization, information, data, feelings and images. Connectivism sees learning as the process of creating connections and expanding or increasing network complexity. Not all connections are of equal strength.
The idea of organisations as cognitive systems where knowledge is distributed across nodes originated from the Perceptron, and is directly borrowed from Connectionism, "a paradigm in cognitive sciences that sees mental or behavioral phenomena as the emergent processes of interconnected networks of simple units".
The network metaphor allows a notion of "know-where" (the understanding of where to find the knowledge when it is needed) to supplement to the ones of "know-how" and "know-what" that make the cornerstones of many theories of learning.
As Downes states: 'at its heart, connectivism is 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'.
- 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.
- Learning is more critical than knowing.
- Maintaining and nurturing connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
- Perceiving connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill.
- Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of 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.
Summarizing connectivist teaching and learning, Downes states: "to teach is to model and demonstrate, to learn is to practice and reflect."
In 2008, Siemens and Downes delivered an online course called "Connectivism and Connective Knowledge". It covered connectivism as content while attempting to implement some of their ideas. The course was free to anyone who wished to participate, and over 2000 people worldwide enrolled. The phrase "Massive Open Online Course" (MOOC) describes this model. All course content was available through RSS feeds, and learners could participate with their choice of tools: threaded discussions in Moodle, blog posts, Second Life and synchronous online meetings. The course was repeated in 2009 and in 2011.
At its core, connectivism is a form of experiential learning which prioritizes the set of connections formed by actions and experience over the idea that knowledge is propositional.
Connectivism was introduced in 2005 by two publications, Siemens’ Connectivism: Learning as Network Creation and Downes’ An Introduction to Connective Knowledge. Both works received significant attention in the blogosphere and an extended discourse has followed on the appropriateness of connectivism as a learning theory for the digital age. In 2007 Kerr entered into the debate with a series of lectures and talks on the matter, as did Forster, both at the Online Connectivism Conference at the University of Manitoba. In 2008, in the context of digital and e-learning, connectivism was reconsidered and its technological implications were discussed by Siemens' and Ally.
The idea that connectivism is a new theory of learning is not widely accepted. Verhagen argued that connectivism is rather a "pedagogical view."
The lack of comparative literature reviews in Connectivism papers complicate evaluating how Connectivism relates to prior theories, such as Socially Distributed Cognition (Hutchins, 1995), which explored how connectionist ideas could be applied to social systems. Classical theories of cognition such as Activity theory (Vygotsky, Leont’ev, Luria, and others starting in the 1920s) proposed that people are embedded actors, with learning considered via three features – a subject (the learner), an object (the task or activity) and tool or mediating artifacts. Social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1962) claimed that people learn by watching others. Social learning theory (Miller and Dollard) elaborated this notion. Situated cognition (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Greeno & Moore, 1993) alleged that knowledge is situated in activity bound to social, cultural and physical contexts; knowledge and learning that requires thinking on the fly rather than the storage and retrieval of conceptual knowledge. Community of practice (Lave & Wenger 1991) asserted that the process of sharing information and experiences with the group enables members to learn from each other. Collective intelligence (Lévy, 1994) described a shared or group intelligence that emerges from collaboration and competition.
Kerr claims that although technology affects learning environments, existing learning theories are sufficient. Kop and Hill conclude that while it does not seem that connectivism is a separate learning theory, it "continues to play an important role in the development and emergence of new pedagogies, where control is shifting from the tutor to an increasingly more autonomous learner."
Ally recognizes that the world has changed and become more networked, so learning theories developed prior to these global changes are less relevant. However, he argues that, "What is needed is not a new stand-alone theory for the digital age, but a model that integrates the different theories to guide the design of online learning materials.".
- Constructivism (learning theory)
- Enactivism (psychology)
- Massive open online course
- Socially Distributed Cognition (Hutchins, 1995)
- Social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1962) and the derived Social learning theory (Miller and Dollard)
- Activity theory (Vygotsky, Leont’ev, Luria, and others starting in the 1920's)
- Situated cognition (Greeno & Moore, 1993)
- Community of practice (Lave & Wenger 1991)
- George Siemens
- Stephen Downes
- Fry, Heather; Steve Kerridge; Stephanie Marshall (2003). Understanding Student Learning. Routledge Falmer. p. 21. ISBN 9780415434645.
- Griffiths, Tony; David Guile (2003). "A Connective Model of Learning: the implications for work process knowledge". European Educational Research Journal 2 (1): 56–73.
- Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, Vol. 2 No. 1, Jan 2005
- Connectivism: Learning as Network-Creation, Learning Circuits, November 2005
- Downes, Stephen. "What Connectivism Is". Retrieved 05/03/2013.
- Siemens, George; Stephen Downes. "Connectivism and Connective Knowledge". Retrieved 2009-01-28.
- Siemens, George. "MOOC or Mega-Connectivism Course". Retrieved 2009-01-28.
- "Online Connectivism Conference". Retrieved 05/03/2013.
- Connectivism: a new learning theory?, Pløn Verhagen (University of Twente), November 2006
- which radical discontinuity?, Bill Kerr, February 2007
- Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past? Rita Kop, Adrian Hill. In "The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, Vol 9, No 3 (2008), ISSN: 1492-3831"
- Foundations of Educational Theory for Online Learning, Mohamed Ally. In The Theory and Practice of Online Learning, Terry Anderson, Ed., May 2008
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