connectivism a learning theory for the digital age december 12 2004 george siemens update april 5 2005 i ve added a website to explore this concept at www.connectivism.ca introduction behaviorism cognitivism and constructivism are the three broad learning theories most often utilized in the creation of instructional environments these theories however were developed in a time when learning was not impacted through technology over the last twenty years technology has reorganized how we live how we communicate and how we learn learning needs and theories that describe learning principles and processes should be reflective of underlying social environments vaill emphasizes that learning must be a way of being an ongoing set of attitudes and actions by individuals and groups that they employ to try to keep abreast o the surprising novel messy obtrusive recurring events 1996 p.42 learners as little as forty years ago would complete the required schooling and enter a career that would often last a lifetime information development was slow the life of knowledge was measured in decades today these foundational principles have been altered knowledge is growing exponentially in many fields the life of knowledge is now measured in months and years gonzalez 2004 describes the challenges of rapidly diminishing knowledge life one of the most persuasive factors is the shrinking half-life of knowledge the half-life of knowledge is the time span from when knowledge is gained to when it becomes obsolete half of what is known today was not known 10 years ago the amount of knowledge in the world has doubled in the past 10 years and is doubling every 18 months according to the american society of training and documentation astd to combat the shrinking half-life of knowledge organizations have been forced to develop new methods of deploying instruction some significant trends in learning many learners will move into a variety of different possibly unrelated fields over the course of their lifetime 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 technology is altering rewiring our brains the tools we use define and shape our thinking the organization and the individual are both learning organisms increased attention to knowledge management highlights the need for a theory that attempts to explain the link between individual and organizational learning many of the processes previously handled by learning theories especially in cognitive information processing can now be off-loaded to or supported by technology know-how and know-what is being supplemented with know-where the understanding of where to find knowledge needed
background driscoll 2000 defines learning as a persisting change in human performance or performance potential which must come about as a result of the learner s experience and interaction with the world p.11 this definition encompasses many of the attributes commonly associated with behaviorism cognitivism and constructivism namely learning as a lasting changed state emotional mental physiological i.e skills brought about as a result of experiences and interactions with content or other people driscoll 2000 p14-17 explores some of the complexities of defining learning debate centers on valid sources of knowledge do we gain knowledge through experiences is it innate present at birth do we acquire it through thinking and reasoning content of knowledge is knowledge actually knowable is it directly knowable through human experience the final consideration focuses on three epistemological traditions in relation to learning objectivism pragmatism and interpretivism objectivism similar to behaviorism states that reality is external and is objective and knowledge is gained through experiences pragmatism similar to cognitivism states that reality is interpreted and knowledge is negotiated through experience and thinking interpretivism similar to constructivism states that reality is internal and knowledge is constructed all of these learning theories hold the notion that knowledge is an objective or a state that is attainable if not already innate through either reasoning or experiences behaviorism cognitivism and constructivism built on the epistemological traditions attempt to address how it is that a person learns behaviorism states that learning is largely unknowable that is we can t possibly understand what goes on inside a person the black box theory gredler 2001 expresses behaviorism as being comprised of several theories that make three assumptions about learning 1 observable behaviour is more important than understanding internal activities 2 behaviour should be focused on simple elements specific stimuli and responses 3 learning is about behaviour change cognitivism often takes a computer information processing model learning is viewed as a process of inputs managed in short term memory and coded for long-term recall cindy buell details this process in cognitive theories knowledge is viewed as symbolic mental constructs in the learner s mind and the learning process is the means by which these symbolic representations are committed to memory constructivism suggests that learners create knowledge as they attempt to understand their experiences driscoll 2000 p 376 behaviorism and cognitivism view knowledge as external to the learner and the learning process as the act of internalizing knowledge constructivism assumes that learners are not empty vessels to be filled with knowledge instead learners are actively attempting to create meaning learners often select and pursue their own learning constructivist principles acknowledge that real-life learning is messy and complex classrooms which emulate the fuzziness of this learning will be more effective in preparing learners for life-long learning.
limitations of behaviorism cognitivism and constructivism a central tenet of most learning theories is that learning occurs inside a person even social constructivist views which hold that learning is a socially enacted process promotes the principality of the individual and her/his physical presence i.e brain-based in learning these theories do not address learning that occurs outside of people i.e learning that is stored and manipulated by technology they also fail to describe how learning happens within organizations learning theories are concerned with the actual process of learning not with the value of what is being learned in a networked world the very manner of information that we acquire is worth exploring the need to evaluate the worthiness of learning something is a meta-skill that is applied before learning itself begins when knowledge is subject to paucity the process of assessing worthiness is assumed to be intrinsic to learning when knowledge is abundant the rapid evaluation of knowledge is important additional concerns arise from the rapid increase in information in today s environment action is often needed without personal learning that is we need to act by drawing information outside of our primary knowledge the ability to synthesize and recognize connections and patterns is a valuable skill many important questions are raised when established learning theories are seen through technology the natural attempt of theorists is to continue to revise and evolve theories as conditions change at some point however the underlying conditions have altered so significantly that further modification is no longer sensible an entirely new approach is needed some questions to explore in relation to learning theories and the impact of technology and new sciences chaos and networks on learning how are learning theories impacted when knowledge is no longer acquired in the linear manner what adjustments need to made with learning theories when technology performs many of the cognitive operations previously performed by learners information storage and retrieval how can we continue to stay current in a rapidly evolving information ecology how do learning theories address moments where performance is needed in the absence of complete understanding what is the impact of networks and complexity theories on learning what is the impact of chaos as a complex pattern recognition process on learning with increased recognition of interconnections in differing fields of knowledge how are systems and ecology theories perceived in light of learning tasks?
networks small worlds weak ties a network can simply be defined as connections between entities computer networks power grids and social networks all function on the simple principle that people groups systems nodes entities can be connected to create an integrated whole alterations within the network have ripple effects on the whole albert-lászló barabási states that nodes always compete for connections because links represent survival in an interconnected world 2002 p.106 this competition is largely dulled within a personal learning network but the placing of value on certain nodes over others is a reality nodes that successfully acquire greater profile will be more successful at acquiring additional connections in a learning sense the likelihood that a concept of learning will be linked depends on how well it is currently linked nodes can be fields ideas communities that specialize and gain recognition for their expertise have greater chances of recognition thus resulting in cross-pollination of learning communities weak ties are links or bridges that allow short connections between information our small world networks are generally populated with people whose interests and knowledge are similar to ours finding a new job as an example often occurs through weak ties this principle has great merit in the notion of serendipity innovation and creativity connections between disparate ideas and fields can create new innovations 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 learning defined as actionable knowledge can reside outside of ourselves within an organization or a database is focused on connecting specialized information sets and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations new information is continually being acquired the ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital the ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday is also critical principles of connectivism 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.
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 behaviorism cognitivism and constructivism do not attempt to address the challenges of organizational knowledge and transference information flow within an organization is an important element in organizational effectiveness in a knowledge economy the flow of information is the equivalent of the oil pipe in an industrial economy creating preserving and utilizing information flow should be a key organizational activity knowledge flow can be likened to a river that meanders through the ecology of an organization in certain areas the river pools and in other areas it ebbs the health of the learning ecology of the organization depends on effective nurturing of information flow social network analysis is an additional element in understanding learning models in a digital era art kleiner 2002 explores karen stephenson s quantum theory of trust which explains not just how to recognize the collective cognitive capability of an organization but how to cultivate and increase it within social networks hubs are well-connected people who are able to foster and maintain knowledge flow their interdependence results in effective knowledge flow enabling the personal understanding of the state of activities organizationally the starting point of connectivism is the individual personal knowledge is comprised of a network which feeds into organizations and institutions which in turn feed back into the network and then continue to provide learning to individual this cycle of knowledge development personal to network to organization allows learners to remain current in their field through the connections they have formed landauer and dumais 1997 explore the phenomenon that people have much more knowledge than appears to be present in the information to which they have been exposed they provide a connectivist focus in stating the simple notion that some domains of knowledge contain vast numbers of weak interrelations that if properly exploited can greatly amplify learning by a process of inference the value of pattern recognition and connecting our own small worlds of knowledge are apparent in the exponential impact provided to our personal learning john seely brown presents an interesting notion that the internet leverages the small efforts of many with the large efforts of few the central premise is that connections created with unusual nodes supports and intensifies existing large effort activities brown provides the example of a maricopa county community college system project that links senior citizens with elementary conclusion in a mentor program the children listen to these grandparents better than school students they do their own parents the mentoring really helps the teachers the small efforts of the the pipe is more important than the content within the pipe our ability to learn what 2002 this many the seniors complement the large efforts of the few the teachers we need for tomorrow is more important than what weand understanding challenge for extension of theory is to amplification of learning knowledge know today a real through the any learning a personal actuate known knowledge at the point of application when knowledge however is needed but network is the epitome of connectivism 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 presents a model of learning that acknowledges the tectonic shifts in society where learning is no longer an internal individualistic activity how people work and function is altered when new tools are utilized the field of education has been slow to recognize both the impact of new learning tools and the environmental changes in what it means to learn connectivism provides insight into learning skills and tasks needed for learners to flourish in a digital era.
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