25yearsedtech,  pedagogy

25 Years of EdTech: 2010 – Connectivism


[Continuing the 25 Years of Ed Tech series]

The early enthusiasm for e-learning saw a number of pedagogies resurrected or adopted to meet the new potential of the digital, networked context. Constructivism, problem-based learning, and resource-based learning all saw renewed interest as educators sought to harness the possibility of abundant content and networked learners.

Yet connectivism, as proposed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes in 2004–2005, could lay claim to being the first internet-native learning theory. Siemens defined connectivism as “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.”

Further investigating the possibility of networked learning led to the creation of the early MOOCs, including influential open courses by Downes and Siemens in 2008 and 2009. Pinning down exactly what connectivism was could be difficult, George stressed it was not a pedagogy, but rather it could be viewed as a set of principles:

  • 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.

What was significant about connectivism was that it represented an attempt to rethink how learning is best realized given the new realities of a digital, networked, open environment, as opposed to forcing technology into the service of existing practices. This has been surprisingly rare since – Dave Cormier and others have ventured rhizomatic learning, I don’t think I ever explored the concept of a pedagogy of abundance fully, and there is now some development around the idea of open pedagogy, but in general it feels that we have stopped noticing the possibilities of networked technology. For example, while connectivism provided the basis for MOOCs, the approach they eventually adopted was far removed from this and fairly conservative. Perhaps when the internet was new, we noticed these differences more starkly, but now it is the norm, the contrast doesn’t raise as many questions. Even if it’s not connectivism per se, we should continually revisit the impetus to examine the learning possibilities that led to its formulation.


  • Kay Oddone

    My (soon to be completed – yay!) PhD thesis explores the professional learning of teachers by engagement through personal learning networks. I have conducted a collective case study and have developed a model of the connected professional. This model is empirically based and draws upon connectivism, connected learning and networked learning.

    I agree with your final statement in this post that “we should continually revisit the impetus to examine the learning possibilities that led to its (Connectivism) formulation” and think that my research may be useful in doing so.

    I am very interested in how networked, connectivist learning environments might be leveraged to develop authentic and open pedagogy – for learners in a variety of contexts. Do you see potential for this area of research, and who would you suggest is doing innovative work in this (broad) area?

    I have been blogging my research at http://www.linkinglearning.com.au .

    I would love to chat with you further about this and other related topics.

    • Miriam B Larson

      My co-author, Barbara Lockee, and I are currently working on the 2nd edition of our 2014 book, Streamlined ID: A Practical Guide to Instructional Design. In the first edition, we described the three pedagogical approaches of Instructivism, Constructivism, and Connectivism, and then in every chapter we included tables that elaborated on strategies, assessments, objectives, etc., that could be used to fulfill each of those approaches. It was, and remains, one of the first attempts that we know of to “put feet” to the theory and make some practical suggestions on how to implement it.
      Miriam Larson

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