The Philosophy of Connectivism

16.08.2020 |

Episode #9 of the course The theory of education: Effective learning and teaching by K.C. Finn


When the idea of Connectivism first came around, it was labeled as “learning theory for the digital age” by George Siemens, and for the most part, that idea is still right today. The explosion of the internet over the last twenty years has seen a wealth of online education opportunities pop up, like the one you’re using right now! So let’s find out how this theory works, and how we can get the very best from it for our self-improvement.


Where Does the Method Come From?

The key writers for this area were relatively new, both bursting onto the research scene in the year 2005. Researchers George Siemens and Stephen Downes became very interested in the advent of digital media, especially how young people were adapting to it and learning from it so instinctively. This led them to form their idea that knowledge can be a network of ideas, and that our learning process is our journey through that network from connection to connection, picking up and recognizing patterns in the data as we go. They call these bits of data “nodes”, and they can be anything from entire web pages to single images or comments. As we move from node to node, we develop our skills in perceiving which ones are related to one another, and so our knowledge base grows.

As with any theory, there are always some criticisms to be aware of. When we are left to our own devices with a massive network of information such as a MOOC (Massively Open Online Course), there can be a lack of direction in our learning, and we’re in danger of falling down “rabbit holes” of unrelated content, or getting bored and logging off. So let’s explore how we can avoid those prevalent pitfalls, for ourselves and when teaching others.


The Role of the Teacher

Just because Connectivism has come about theoretically in the world of the internet doesn’t mean it always has to involve being online. As a teacher, you can provide a wealth of both online and offline resources for students to explore. The central goal is to encourage learners to become independent and develop their skills in perceiving connections between subject areas, concepts, and ideas.

If it helps, you can think of this principle in terms of an escape room game. You set up “the room” for learners, providing all the clues, hints, and puzzles that they need to connect in sequence to achieve the escape at the end. It’s vital, then, that online components which you recommend are guided in some way, rather than leaving students to run wild all over the hugeness of the net.


• Provide lists of recommended websites where you know the information is correct and useful.

• Utilize different types of platforms like YouTube, which deliver information for different learning styles.

• Encourage students to work interactively with classmates in online forums or social settings for ideas to flow in a new way.


The Role of the Learner

As the role of the teacher encourages students to learn to perceive, so the role of the learner must be to recognize our perceptions and where they lead us. This can be especially important when we think about distractions and how internet sources are so often full of ads and clickbait that want to take us away from the area we’re exploring, usually for commercial purposes. So when we perceive our learning journey, we need to be aware of what looks relevant and what doesn’t. People are natural decision-makers, so we can utilize this skill and train it to help us learn more and learn faster. For the independent learner, decision-making is a key element that will help to cement each connection which you make.

Key take-aways:

• “I need to be mindful that not all of the information I find will be relevant online, but it is all part of the connected journey, and it trains my decision skills to sort through it.”

• “If I can’t find what I want, I should look to other people who can recommend resources to me with direct links.”

• “Sharing information that I have found and discussing it with others adds to the knowledge network, and will help me make better sense of it for myself.”

As the course comes to a close, we need to think about how to organize all that we have learned and use it as we move forward with our teaching and learning experiences. In lesson ten, we’ll talk about the methodology of triangulation, and how combinations of different approaches can help you achieve your optimum learning style. This is a question of finding a balance and setting yourself up with the knowledge and tools to maximize your educational powers for a successful future.

See you then!



Recommended reading

Connectivism was “new” in the year 2005, so how has it changed since then? Here’s a fantastic article from IRRODL which explores that idea.


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