New Learning Theory or Not?


Clark Hull identified three essential criteria for any theory.

(1)     A set of explicit assumptions that are the theoriest’s basic beliefs about the phenomenon.”

(2)     Must include explicit definitions of key terms.

(3)     The theorist must derive specific propositions (principles) from the assumptions that can be tested through research (body of the theory)” (Ormrod, Schunk, & Gredler, 2008, p. 6).


Further “a fourth requirement, which applies only to learning theories, is that they should explain the underlying psychological dynamics of events that influence learning” (Ormrod, et al., 2008, p. 7).


Connectivism may not be a “learning theory” per se.

It is possible that Connectivism as posited by Siemens does not fulfill all of the requirements essential to a learning theory, rather providing methods of instructional practice.


Kerr states Connectivism is not a “learning theory” because

(1)      “Connectivism does not contribute to a theory or learning reform;

(2)     Connectivism does ‘contribute to a general world outlook’, and

(3)     Connectivism ‘misrepresents the current state of established alternative learning theories such as Constructivism, Behaviorism and Cognitivism, so this basis for a new theory is also dubious’” (Davis, Edmunds & Kelly-Bateman, 2008, p. 1).


How Does Learning Occur?

Begins with the individual and spreads outward through construction or development of a learning network.
“Distributed within a network, social, technologically enhanced, recognizing and interpreting patterns” (Davis, et al., 2008, p. 1).


“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” (Siemens, 2005, p. 1).


What Factors Influence Learning?

“George Siemens’ theory of Connectivism is the combined effect of three different components: chaos theory, importance of networks, and the interplay of complexity and self-organization” (Davis et al., 2008, p. 1).



“Siemens posits the following principles of connectivism:

  • Learning and knowledge rest 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 learning activities.
  • Decision making”  (Davis, et al., 2008, p. 1).


“Diversity of network” (Davis, et al., 2008, p. 1).


What is the Role of Memory?

“Adaptive patterns, representative of current state, existing in networks” (Davis, et al., 2008, p. 1).


Essentially, there is more value in knowing how to acquire knowledge, interpret the value of knowledge, and distribution of knowledge than in maintaining knowledge facts that are continuously evolving and changing.


How Does Transfer Occur?

“Connecting to (adding nodes)” (Davis, et al., 2008, p. 1).


“Transfer” per se, of isolated facts is unnecessary as long as the individual has the technological skills to find the information necessary.


What types of learning are best explained by this theory?

“Complex learning, rapid changing core, diverse knowledge sources” (Davis, et al., 2008, p. 1).


How is technology used for learning in your industry?

Development of personal networks; Web 2.0, Web 3.0 resulting in expanded learning connections / access to information from everywhere to anywhere via the Internet.  Open forum classes online; online libraries, books, articles, magazines, blogs, etc.
Online Learning aka eLearning (formal and/or informal) utilizing Course Management Systems (CMS) and/or virtual worlds such as the AET Zone (“Emerging,” 2002).


“Constructivist-focused, online teaching: interactive learning, collaborative learning, facilitating learning, authentic learning, learner-centered learning, and high quality learning” (“Emerging,” 2002, p. 1).


Technology tools provide “the means through which individuals engage and manipulate both resources and their own ideas. Some kinds of technology tools can extend memory and make thinking visible. Good examples include brainstorming and concept mapping software such as Inspiration(r). Others help to represent knowledge and facilitate communication. For instance, the Collaborative Visualization or CoVis Project provides visualization software designed to help students collect and analyze climatological data and visualize effects due to greenhouse gases and other phenomena. Finally, some tools, like simulations mentioned above, enable learners to experiment with modeling complex ideas. NetLogo, for example, provides a programmable modeling environment for simulating natural and social phenomena, such as how segregated neighborhoods can arise, not from any specific bias, but from the simple desire of people to live near others who are like themselves” (Driscoll, 2002, p. 1).


CSILE (or Computer-Supported Intentional Learning Environment aka Knowledge Forum) is one example of software that supports a networked, multimedia environment in which students collaborate on learning activities. They do this by creating ‘notes’ to express their ideas or integrate outside information about a topic. Then they read and respond to the notes of others, all of which builds a communal database producing shared knowledge about the topic or problem.  CSILE also facilitates connections between schools and the scientific community, allowing practicing scientists to serve as mentors to students. Other projects, such as Kids as Global Scientists, also bring students and various experts together in virtual communities through Internet links. Such a dialogue-based approach to learning creates a rich intellectual context, with ample opportunities for participants to improve their understanding and become more personally involved in explaining scientific phenomena” (Driscoll, 2002, p. 1).


Additionally, the Horizon Report, “introduces six emerging technologies or practices that are likely to enter mainstream use in learning-focused organizations within three adoption horizons over the next one to five years” (Johnson, Levine, & Smith, 2009, p. 3) in the areas of “mobiles, cloud computing, geo-everything, personal web, semantic aware applications and smart objects.



Davis, C., Edmunds, E., & Kelly-Bateman, V. (2008). Connectivism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology (p. ). Retrieved from Retrieved from

Driscoll, M. (2002). How people learn (and what technology might have to do with it). Retrieved from

Emerging theories and online learning environments for adults. (2002). In Theories of Educational Technology. Retrieved November 24l, 2010, from

Johnson, L., Levine, A., & Smith, R. (2009). The Horizon Report (2009 ed.). Retrieved from

Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2008). Overview. In Learning theories and instruction (Laureate custom edition) (pp. 1-26). New Jersey, NY: Pearson.

Siemens, G. (2005, Jan). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. Retrieved from


5 thoughts on “Connectivism

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