Connectivism: Learning as a Community

In a modern world where knowledge objects are ubiquitous and openly accessible, the roles of educators and learners must evolve to meet the growing needs of the resulting high-paced, digital society. Connectivism is an emergent, net-enabled learning theory that suggests the most important result of a learning situation is the ability of the learner to make connections between distinct ideas using social capital and the affordances of digital networks. The process of learning, then, involves students creating personalized knowledge and identifying relationships between their own knowledge and the knowledge of others within a greater network.

Steve Montague, fellow D:2:L blogger, likens Connectivism to a spider web; a continuously growing web that creates a strong physical (and in our case, mental) foundation. The more connections in the web, the stronger it becomes.

Rather than memorizing facts and learning broad concepts, Connectivism suggests that learners should be able to analyze problems and understand how to tackle those problems by navigating their own path to knowledge. The digital world evolves quickly, so digital-age learners must be able to develop a certain cognitive nimbleness in order to evolve their skills as needed.

Connectivist theorists believe that the acquisition of knowledge is no longer bounded by the presence of a content expert or academic institution, but rather occurs within groups, communities, and global networks. These communities and networks may be comprised of peers, subject matter experts, or even the community at large. In an open Network Learning Environment, students are able to seek out information, consume content, become engaged in communities of inquiry, and interact with the community at large. Being free from the restrictive nature of an LMS affords the learner greater control of their own learning structure, and provides access to more natural forms of social networking and collaboration.

In its simplest form, Connectivism presents an opportunity for learners to construct their own understanding of the world around them by associating pre-existing knowledge with their own interactions with society.


Applying Connectivism in the Classroom

Here are four simple ways to infuse Connectivism into your learning environment:

Incorporate Social Networking Activities into the Curriculum

This idea is difficult for some educators, especially those who see the phrase “social networking” and see a bunch of youth watching viral videos and stalking their friends. Social media can be so much more than that! Remember, Connectivism is all about learners making connections with the world around them through social interaction.

Try creating an assignment that involves learners reaching out to their social network about a topic of interest. Have them create a survey to assess how their friends and family perceive a specific topic. Encourage students to use their social network to find find professional organizations who research particular topics and analyze their social presence. Create online discussion boards where learners can elaborate on their ideas.

Another suggestion is to create a classroom social network, like Edmodo, that gives your learners the ability to interact with each other after class. In a safe online space, learners can bounce ideas off each other in an environment that they are comfortable with. They can continue learning from each other even when they are not physically present. Here’s a list of free tools that may help get your social network off the ground:

Encourage Learners to Join Professional Communities

Professional Learning Communities have become a popular trend in the working class. In fact, the contributors to this blog are all members of the eLearning Guild, a community of practitioners devoted to improving the effectiveness of eLearning. Whether you are training professionals are teaching younger students, PLCs are a great opportunity to assimilate trending knowledge in your area of expertise.

A quick online search will unearth a myriad of these communities, covering an ever-growing number of subjects. Have your learners join a PLC, and analyze what popular trends are occurring, or what professionals are saying about particular topics.

Create “Pen Pal” Style Relationships with Learners in Another Class

Not all classrooms evolve the same way. If you assign two separate groups of learners a brainstorming task, you may well see two completely different ideas take shape. Connect with other instructors either in your organization or outside your organization, and have your learners discuss their learning process with other learners.

One of my favorite examples of this comes from the Global Classroom Project at Arizona State University, a collaboration that brings undergraduate students from Arizona and Germany together, through video conferencing, on a regular basis to discuss solutions in Sustainability.

Encourage Learners to Create a Personal Dashboard

Personal Learning Environments are a great way for learners to take ownership of their own learning. PLEs are learner centric, allowing learners to curate their own environments using tools and resources from the Internet to collect their ideas

Start simple. Give students a framework for designing their PLE. Have them first incorporate their email and social networks, and perhaps some twitter feeds from well known Professional Learning Communities. Then allow them to be creative and find RSS feeds and learning tools that can help them continue to grow and interact with the community around them. You may also suggest creating a dashboard to accumulate all these tools, like NetVibes.

Here’s an example of a mind map detailing one of my own PLEs:

Connectivism PLE Example


One quick disclaimer: if you are teaching younger students, please ensure that you think about online safety. Instead of letting your students loose online, start by creating some structured online activities, and try to get parents involved in directing learners’ online activities.

How have you implemented Connectivist strategies in your learning environment? Let us know in the comments below!

Kegan Remington, an Instructional Designer from NAU, specializes in Active Learning Pedagogy and the development of dynamic, collaborative, technology-enhanced learning environments. With a decade of experience in education, Kegan’s career is focused on developing high-fidelity learning materials, integrative learning environments, and promoting effective instructional techniques for the 21st century learner.

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