After reading George Siemens’s 2005 proposition of Connectivism as the new learning theory of the digital age and Mohammed Ally’s 2008 discussion of online learning theories, I wondered if Connectivism had been accepted and become relevant in the decade since. (I should have had some indication, based on its inclusion in this course, that it had.) I searched for “connectivism” in the Rasmusen Library, and this short, very recent article was the third result.
Utecht, J., Keller, D. (2019). Becoming relevant again: Applying connectivism learning theory to today’s classrooms. Critical Questions in Education, 10(2), 107-119. Retrieved 12 September 2019 from search.ebscohost.com.
The article is not based on original research. The two authors purport to be experts in educational technology. This article is their analysis of the role connectivism ought to play in secondary and post-secondary education. The authors divide the article into eight sections based on the Eight Principals of Connectivist Learning Theory and give examples of how each principal is applied in online learning. The authors begin by defining learning as “the acquisition of skills and knowledge through a learners’ actions and personal experiences” (107-108), then list the Eight Principals:
- Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
- Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
- Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
- Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.
- Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
- Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
- Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
- Decision making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision (108).
Each principal hosts one or two topics of discussion for the authors. For example, the first principal becomes a discusson of Wikipedia and crowd-sourced information. Discussions of free data, artificial intelligence, web search replacing library research, skilled web searching, and online learning communities follow, with some discussion of how these things are implemented in teaching (109-115). When the authors reach the sixth principal, they make a dubious assertion: that learning by connectedness is a new concept. They follow this assertion with two anecdotes of educators failing to adapt to connectedness in their classrooms (115). The authors finish with the last two principals discussing more good practices in internet searching (116-117).
The authors consistently emphasize a need for new literacy skills that enable learners to find and discern information from various sources and occasionally describe how to teach those skills. They also emphasize throughout the power of technological tools for accessing information and for collaborating on learning products. I believe that these are the important new contributions of connectivism.
To assert that connected learning is entirely new, though, is false. The authors overlooked that the roots of connectivism and many of its principals are planted solidly in the liberal arts tradition. Collaborative scholarship, free and open data, and the ability to draw on learning from diverse disciplines are not unique to online learning, but they are enhanced by it. Many of the discussions within the principals were not new or unique: the merits of Wikipedia (109-110) have been debated to great volume; the need to adapt to rapidly changing knowledge (116-117) has become an undeniable reality; and so on. Totally omitted was any discussion of what foundation is necessary for students to successfully deploy connectivism: what basis of knowlege must be acquired through one of the other three learing theories before connectivism is effective.
The article does serve to demonstrate what I hoped to discover, namely that connectivism is a relevant learning theory in 2019. Its eight principals are not entirely unique, and they do not entirely span the needs of an individual learner, but they do offer a coherent approach to learning online at the secondary and post-secondary levels and beyond. Connectivism offers a paradigm that fits to the current reality of the learning environment.