Theorizing about connectivism

Kop and Hill (2008), in their article Connectivism: Learning Theory of the Future or Vestige of the Past?, examine if connectivism, as given by George Siemens and Stephen Downes , is a viable theory to be used in education and its development within the digital age. They argue whether connectivism is an emerging, tested theory or one that is developing, primarily providing a framework to view a phenomenon. They consider it as the latter with potential to be tested empirically later, and which provides practical implications for elearning and pedagogies today.

Downes and Siemens see knowledge as the collective arrangement of information, not something that solely develops in one’s mind. Thus, they see the web as a key source for knowledge building. And by selecting and filtering information, based on a person’s decisions, experience, and skills, people learn. However, other learning theorist defend the use of language, logic, and the social influence as the way people learn. The differences in this argument makes for an interesting discussion.

The main conclusion was that learners still want to be led by an instructor and not necessarily wander through the vast web networks selecting information on their own, or learning entirely in informal ways. Kop and Hill think this method would diminish the learning required for formal education. Thus, they feel critical engagement, developed thinking and debates need guidance. Guidance could also include the best uses of technology.

Though the authors realize newer generations are more adept at using modern technology and new softwares than are older students and even institutions, this does not give license to removing tutors or minimizing their role as a facilitator. There must be leaders in the learning process that offer critical and localized influence, as believed by Freire. Kop states “nearly all students preferred the help and support of the local or online tutor to guide them through resources and activities, to validate information, and to critically engage them in the course content” (p.8).

Yet with connectivism, learner autonomy is high relying on informal learning and individual information/network choices. Perhaps, there can be a blend of the two views on how people learn. Would giving liberties to develop student-selected networks, to build one’s own understanding and presenting it as such gird against the formal education system? How would one assess this? Could the instructor give up that much control? Do we need to rethink what constitutes knowledge and learning in our own settings?

Yet, perhaps blending constructivism- and connectivism-based learning methods, in the end, would only create conflict, and counter the essence of each. More so, addressing epistemology is a large debate that would take a long time to resolve. Too long to consider if and how to use connectivistic ideals in education. In the meantime, connectivism is a welcomed new idea and discussion on how we think and learn, and can use advanced technologies to support this.

  • Rita Kop November 10, 2008, 2:58 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to digest the article in IRRODL by Adrian and me. You got to the essence of the article, which is that not everyone is an autonomous learner and that there are quite a few people who need a critical tutor to help them on the journey to self-direction. The other issue in the article was that connectivism is not necessarily a new theory, but that a connectivist approach to learning has existed for quite a while. The Internet has increased the scale of the operation, but has not necessarily made major changes to the process itself.

  • edmusings November 14, 2008, 7:59 pm

    Rita, thanks for dropping by and commenting on my summary. In your paper, I appreciated the critical view on connectivism and its popularity. I do like the notion of it and was pleased to see some examination of it in comparison to established learning theories. It just makes for healthier consideration of what is best for online learning.


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