Motivation: 3/12 Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age

“Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age” December 12, 2004 George Siemens

As an educational technologist, I was at first skeptical since this was published in 2004. Sometimes reading articles, research, or theories about technology or our approaches to it, I am skeptical that it could be a bit outdated in 2018. However, I believe that Siemens brings up fundamental concepts concerning our approach to technology and the theoretical frameworks that shape our thinking that is relevant in educational environments. I even think he shares some prophetic truths our students and teachers are facing today. In fact, I think I found my new favorite learning theory!

I spend a lot of my time thinking about the best approaches Schools of Education should take in teaching educational technology for pre-service educators because of my unique positioning as a high school English teacher and Adjunct Professor. In NYCDOE schools, I feel like the conversations Siemens wants us to have are happening within clusters of very passionate educators who understand the way that technology can transform classroom learning. However, this seems to be happening in the K-12 environment since it is absent, or not refined, in the Higher Education sphere.

Ultimately, no matter what the learning environment, there are fundamental similarities about the way that we learn that we must consider when thinking about pedagogy. Siemens writes that “Technology is altering (rewiring) our brains. The tools we use define and shape our thinking.” As a millennial who grew up without smartphones, went to school without interactive whiteboards, and is a teacher where technology is everywhere, I also consider the way that technology has re-wired our approaches to teaching environments.

Another part of the text that struck me is when he writes that “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.” This made me question, well, what is formal education anymore?

I enjoyed the concept of Connectivism as a theory since I think it encompasses, or perhaps even perfectly summarizes, my approach to education: “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.” To me, this translates to that learning is continuous and not limited to the classroom and that we can use technology to empower us as educators and learners. Technology can bring learning alive and — in its own way — is nebulous too.


Provocateur questions:
Siemens closes his essay writing that “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.”

1. I am curious as to what ways people think they have seen this statement as True or Not True according to their own experiences in education (K-12 or Higher Ed).
2. When Siemens references nebulous, he says that “learning occurs within nebulous environments.” When looking up nebulous, one of the definitions describes “in the form of a cloud or hazy.” I think it’s ironic (and potentially prophetic) that we now collaborate and operate a significant portion of our technological lives in “the cloud.” How has cloud-based learning (like Dropbox, drive, iCloud) enhanced the meaning of connectivism since 2004?
3. The other day, the company Mursion was brought to my attention by a technologist colleague. They are a VR/AR company that simulates real-life experiences to refine essential skills for practitioners. How can the idea of connectivism play a role in learning with new and innovative technologies that are now emerging like these?