#ocTEL Activity 3.1 Theories of active learning – connectivism

I chose to review connectivism because it’s a theory I have become increasingly aware of as I have read various articles and blog posts by George Siemens, as I became interested in the emerging concept of MOOCs.

What is connectivism?

“Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual….[It] is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations.” (Siemens, 2004).

The basic tenet is that even learning theories which acknowledge social aspects of learning, such as social constructivism, do not fully address the idea that learning may happen outside the individual, and that in the digital world, an element of learning is learning from others’ experiences (as expressed e.g. through social media) and being selective about which sources of knowledge and who you choose to listen to (David White – see earlier post – expresses this as being selective over who you allow to take up your mindspace!)

Reflection: relationship to how I learn

I used to think that I ploughed my own furrow with regard to my learning process, and it was an intensely individual and private process.  This may be a function of having done little groupwork up to my undergraduate studies.  I returned to this during professional exams – when the training was very traditional, involving lots of practice drill-type exercises, particularly in the middle level papers.  However, when we got to the final case study, it was all about group preparation, synthesis and application of knowledge – very different, without this being expected at the start by myself and my peers!  With hindsight, we weren’t very well prepared in terms of our expectations of the professional exams…

However, on reflection, I did and do recognise that elements of my learning were not within me – for example, I was taught to listen to others’ corrections in ballet class, and then process these to improve my own work.  I return to this maxim from time to time in my teaching – especially during a revision period like now.  I encourage my students to listen to others’ questions and the answers both f2f and on discussion boards.

Siemens acknowledges the increased accessibility of information and ‘knowledge’ in his article about connectivism – it seems to prompt a different kind of learning.  In some subject disciplines and contexts, it is about knowing where to look and who to contact to develop one’s own knowledge – an individual cannot know it all, but technology can help with the pipeline (as described by Siemens).  I’ve been exhibiting some connectivist tendencies on ocTEL – I’ve been storing up resources using Delicious for future use – I know I will want to return to some later, rather ‘just in time’ learning.  I don’t like instrumental learning – I used to soak things up like a sponge, just for fun, but I do recognise that not everyone is in it for the joy of learning, and this is not necessarily a problem, although I find it sad, like Ramsden (2003).

Reflection: relationship to my practice

As I have become increasingly interested in, and pursued studies in educational technologies, and led online and blended learning courses, I have gradually recognised the power of connectivism to develop my learning and teaching.  I think for me, that Twitter has been the gamechanger – the ability to share links in particular, and then bookmark for later. I’ve been doing this for my students, with the hope that they use up the store during their revision!

Reflection: activity design

One interesting issue I sometimes face in my teaching is how to make best use of a guest lecture (either virtual or in person).  Trying to build wrap around activities is sometimes a challenge, even though the lecture itself will always be aiming to be relevant to the course.  Sometimes the links between what is said and the course syllabus need to be made more explicit for students, before and after the session.  So, I can see that some activities such as following the guest lecturer on Twitter and retweeting relevant tweets (exhibiting selectivity skill) plus following others who follow/are followed by the guest lecturer etc.   The learning from the benefit of others’ experience can be powerful in a guest lecture, as can the ability for myself and the students to make a contact with a key figure in industry.


Siemens, G. (2004) Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age [online].  Available from: http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm (accessed 6 May 2013)

Ramsden, P. (2003) Learning to teach in higher education.  2nd edition, Abingdon, Routledge Falmer


One thought on “#ocTEL Activity 3.1 Theories of active learning – connectivism

  1. Pingback: Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age | Cognitive game dynamics

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