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Connectivism: A Failed Attempt to Create A New Learning Theory
Connectivism is a learning theory for the digital age. (Siemens, 2005.) Like its predecessors, behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism, connectivism attempts to describe how human beings process and acquire knowledge. What distinguishes connectivism from the others is the influence of technology. Siemens maintains that much of what people previously knew can now be done with technology, and that the management of information and networks supersedes the knowledge itself, i.e.: know-how and know-what are stepping aside for know-where. (Siemens, 2005.) in 2005, George Siemens presented connectivism as a new learning theory for the 21st century, but connectivism has not had a significant impact on educational practices.

Some of the proponents and opponents of connectivism have weighed in as follows:

Proponent of connectivism as a unique learning style:
  • According to Stephen Downes (2007), while connectivism may share some aspects of other theories, especially constructivism, it sets itself apart as a unique theory because of the networks.

Disputant of connectivism as a unique learning style:
  • Kop and Hill (2008) maintain that connectivism lacks the support of educational research, and that many of the tenets of connectivism can be explained by constructivism.
  • While Dr. Mehmet Sahin does not fully discount connectivism as a learning theory, he contends that much more research is necessary to support this newer theory. In addition, qualitative research which has been carried out thus far lacks a decisive stance on whether or not connectivism is indeed a valid learning theory and not just a branch of constructivism which deals with the use of technology to manage learning.
  • While distinctly in favor of connectivism, the article by Alshalabi, Hamada, and Elleithy clearly describes connectivism as an instructional format (rather than a learning style) which should be used in tandem with other theories to design E-Learning and M-Learning options for students.

The theory of connectivism, like that of constructivism, behaviorism, and cognitivism, claims to be supported by significant research on how the human memory system works. The human brain is the storehouse for all information that an individual encodes and stores for later retrieval. According to the Peak Performance Center, The process of encoding, or entering information into memory, is best completed by paying attention to information and linking it to existing knowledge. The better that information is encoded, through activities such as linking it to existing knowledge, the more likely one is to be able to retrieve it at a later time. For that reason, the notion of a network made up of nodes which are connected together to form knowledge, such as connectivism presents, fits with the way the human brain has proven to best encode and store information (Siemens, 2010). In proposing these ideas, connectivism is similar to and sometimes even confused with constructivism.

The theory of connectivism goes beyond the individual processing of information to say that a group of individuals working together can build a larger network to draw knowledge from. By creating networks of people, technology, etc., learning communities are established which enrich and provide a broader scope of knowledge to link new information to (Davis, n.d.). This too is similar to the ideas of constructivism.

The idea of connectivism combines ideas from behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism and attempts to connect them to the technology available in the 21st century. Since connectivism makes connections between learning theories rather than proposing a new theory, it has not been widely accepted ("Connectivism", n.d.). Connectivism simply combines elements of these theories and tries to connect them using 21st century technologies ("Theories", n.d.).

The ideas of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism have been analyzed by many critics and one can certainly criticize different elements of each theory. One thing they have in common is that they have a significant amount of data to support the theory. Connectivism was proposed in 2005 by George Siemens. However, a simple search of the Internet does not turn up many scholarly articles related to connectivism. After browsing several recent Psychology textbooks, connectivism is not mentioned as a learning theory alongside the likes of behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism. Connectivism is an attempt to create new theory by connecting previous theories to technology that has not be widely accepted and does not currently have a significant impact on educational practices.

Technology expands the resources that we have available, and as teachers, we must help learners to manage this ever increasing influx of information, however, gathering resources and managing them has always been a part of instruction. Perhaps the volume and types of resources have changed, but not the overall need to arrange and control them. While the use of technology has enhanced learning and inspired new methods of instruction, connectivism fails to hold water as a learning theory. One could consider it an instructional model, but in the end, learning is much more than just knowing where to find information or building networks to store facts.