Connectivism: Learning Theory for the Future?

The “future of education” – that fancy-sounding terminology is always on the top of our minds here at AIDA. Like many other sectors of society today, education sector is in the middle of a massive transition. There is general consensus that we need to rethink everything about education – people, processes, output, outcome, impact – from the ground up. (see RSA Animate video of Sir Ken Robinson’s Changing Education Paradigms TED talk for a background).

This is one reason why George Siemens’ Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age was so interesting and thought-provoking at many levels. The article points to a few trends in learning, two of which deserve a special mention here since they also serve as part of AIDA’s philosophical foundations:

Beehive (cc) Barabeke

Beehive (cc) Barabeke

  • Informal learning is a significant aspect of our learning experience. Formal education no longer comprises the majority of our learning. Learning now occurs in a variety of ways – through communities of practice, personal networks, and through completion of work-related tasks.
  • Learning is a continual process, lasting for a lifetime. Learning and work related activities are no longer separate. In many situations, they are the same.

Picking up where three widely-used learning theories – Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism – fail, the author proposes Connectivism as more appropriate for the knowledge society of the future. The fact that this theory, proposed in 2004, seems to be holding good in 2013 is by itself an achievement in these times when everything seems to come and go at supersonic speed.

What is Connectivism and what are its core principles?

Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories.

In a knowledge economy, the flow of information is the equivalent of the oil pipe in an industrial economy…

The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today. A real challenge for any learning theory is to actuate known knowledge at the point of application. When knowledge, however, is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill. As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses.

Connectivism sounds like a learning theory that is more suitable to current times. Of course, there may be a teeny-tiny bit of bias in there, since it reflects some of our own thoughts on this subject. So what? Argue with me about the merits of this then… :-)

On a more serious note, if this is the future of education, then it also opens up a whole new set of complicated questions and issues. For instance, how do we change the education system in a way that facilitates lifelong learning? How can institutions recognize and accredit informal education? If access is the foundation of learning, what about the millions who face the barriers of affordability (internet access is pricey) and literacy (information is predominantly in English)?

I will share more in this space as we grapple with those and other such topics.

Acknowledgements & Notes:

  • Thanks to Michael Trucano’s Making Sense of MOOCs — A Reading List blog post for the original link to Connectivism
  • Also of note for those interested in KM: “Connectivism also addresses the challenges that many corporations face in knowledge management activities. Knowledge that resides in a database needs to be connected with the right people in the right context in order to be classified as learning.”
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