What the heck is Connectivism and Whats It Doing in My Mooc?

Posted: January 30, 2013 in ETmooc
Tags: , , ,

A couple of weeks through the Educational Technology and Media course #etmooc, and it seems like a lot of participants are learning and enjoying themselves.  Recently though I have noticed some post’s questioning the process of this course, if there is any learning taking place, and comparing it to other mooc’s.  Here is an expert from Steve Mackenzies blog.

Steve Blogfinal

Nick Dinardo  thought that you may have to be an autodidact to participate and Louwarnoud van der Duim wondered if what takes place in activities like ETMOOC can be qualified as learning.

So I thought it might be a good time to start a new discussion. We have heard a bit about connectivism in the opening session, but there is a lot more to learn about the theory behind etmooc.

I wrote a synthesis of literature for my final masters project entitled “Strategies for Improving Online Learning”. In one part of the study, I attempted to determine what learning theories facilitate the development of effective online instruction. During that process, I spent a lot of time reading about cognitivism, constructivism, and connectivist theory. It was a fascinating endeavor, and I learned some great ways to employ all of those theories to enable effective learning. You can read the full story about what I came up with through the link on the sidebar. I’ll cover some of the conclusions in a later post but for now I‘ll concentrate on connectivism.

I wrote in my paper that in 2004 George Siemens, along with Stephen Downes, envisioned connectivism as a contemporary theory of learning that recognized the impact of technology on society and ways of knowing.  Their viewpoint was that learning in the digital age is no longer dependent on individual knowledge acquisition, storage, and retrieval, but instead relies on the connected learning that occurs through interaction with various sources of knowledge and participation in communities of common interest, including social networks, and group tasks (Brindley, Walti, & Blaschke, 2009). Learning is seen as the process of building networks of information, contacts, and resources that are applied to real problems (Siemens, 2005).

Connectivism assumes that information is plentiful and that the learner’s role is not to memorize or even understand everything, but to have the ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information (Anderson & Dron, 2011).  Effective learners will be able to navigate through large complex quantities of information in order to retrieve the knowledge they seek, and will possess the skills necessary to create and effectively participate in learning communities and social networks (Brindley, Walti, & Blaschke, 2009).  According to Siemens (2005) learning is a lifelong process, and most learning takes places outside of formal settings such as college, so these learning communities, will help foster the ability to be lifelong learners.

I wrote those words almost a year ago, and now that I am participating in this mooc I can really see connectivism in action.

We are a community with common interests using blogs and twitter to share and build a network of information contacts and resources. Many of us seem to have the skills necessary to participate in this etmooc community. What we are creating is a living, breathing creature that will provide lifelong learning resources for us, and others that encounter what we have created, for many years beyond the close of this session. Is this the best way to conduct an online learning course, that’s still hard to say, but after just one week and hundreds of blog and twitter posts later, it seems like a good strategy.

There are other learning theories utilized in online courses but Mcloughlin and Lee (2011) concluded that connectivism strives to overcome the limitations of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism, “by synthesizing the salient features and elements of several educational, social, and technological theories and concepts to create a new and dynamic theoretical construct for learning in the digital age”

Siemens (2006) proposed that the information explosion and the subsequent distribution of knowledge over the internet gives more control to the end user, and contributes to the enrichment of learning so that that learning becomes a process of gathering, adapting, and creating knowledge.

Connectivism is of course a theory of learning, and it will have to be tested in courses like etmooc as will other ways of learning in the digital age. A true assessment of a how successfully the participants of etmooc completed the learning objectives may be hard to determine also, but the guidelines proposed by Seimens for designing an effective and relevant program of learning seem realistic and appropriate for etmmoc and for learners of the future.

Those guidelines include:

  1. Learners should be allowed to be autonomous and independent in their exploration and research so that they can acquire current information to build a valid and accurate knowledge base.
  2. The rapid increase of information available from a variety of sources means that some information is not as important or genuine as other information. As a result, the learner must be able to identify important information from unimportant information
  3. Learning and knowledge rests in a diversity of opinions. As a result, learners must be allowed to connect with others around the world to examine others’ opinions and to share their thinking with the world.
  4. Learning should be delivered in a multi-channel system where different communication technologies are used to deliver the learning materials to facilitate optimal learning

You can discover more about connectivism on my Scoop.it page.


I feel like I am being challenged.  I also feel that in a short time, I have been able to acquire some new technology skills that meld well with older knowledge, which will undoubtly help me on the road to lifelong learning.

What do you think? What have you learned? Let me know in the comments.


Ally, M. (2008). Foundations of educational theory for online learning. In T. Anderson (Ed), The theory and practice of online learning (pp.15-44). Retrieved from http://www.aupress.ca/index.php/books/120146

Anderson, T., & Dron, J. (2011). Three generations of distance education pedagogy. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(3), 80-93. Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/890

Brindley, J. E., Walti, C., & Blaschke, L. M. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3), 1-11. Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/rt/printerFriendly/675/1271

Siemens, G. (2004, December 12). A learning theory for the digital age (Web log post). Retrieved from http:/www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

Siemens, G. (2005) Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology & Distance Learning, January 2005, http://www.itdl.org/Journal/Jan_05/ article01.htm.

Mcloughlin, C., & Lee, J. W. (2011). Pedagogy 2.0: critical challenges and responses to Web 2.0 and social software in tertiary teaching. In M. J.W. Lee, & C. McLoughlin, (Eds.), Web 2.0-based e-learning: applying social informatics for tertiary teaching (pp. 43-69). doi: 10.4018/978-1-60566-294-7.ch003

  1. louwarnoud says:

    Thanks for this great post, very nice to read. I totally agree with what you quote from Bonk and Reynolds (1997) and Ally (2008). That is indeed what must be done on the web to get to learning. I feel uncomfortable about the balance between teacher and student. To much emphasis is placed upon the students ability to acquire new knowledge on his own. To little emphasis is placed upon the role teachers play, also in a connectivist setting.

  2. […] What the heck is Connectivism and Whats It Doing in My Mooc? […]

  3. Jim Stauffer says:

    I’ve caught the excitement of it. Really nice to see it backed up by scholarly resources. Thanks for the excellent post. I will be borrowing (and referencing) it and your sources in a paper designed to give my excitement some credibility with puzzled colleagues. They can’t quite figure out what I keep going on about, but sense that it has made a difference for me.

  4. Thomas Joseph Okon says:

    Borrow all you want. also look at my scoopit page that has many more resources for connectivism its at http://www.scoop.it/t/connectivism-for-online-learning

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