Exploring learning theories: Connectivism

In this second post on learning theories I’m focusing on the ‘learning theory for a digital age’ – connectivism. This learning theory, posited by George Siemens acknowledges that knowledge is expanding exponentially. While knowledge was able to be measured in decades, it is now being measured in months and years due to its rapdily changing nature.

What is connectivism?

Connectivism came about through the realisation that learning needs to take into consideration not just our own personal experiences, but the experiences of others through forming connections and developing networks.

Experience has long been considered the best teacher of knowledge. Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge. (Stephenson, as cited in Siemens, 2014)

Where people, and perhaps books, were once the holders of knowledge, connectivism sees networks being critical in holding and creating knowledge. The nodes of the network can be individuals (this is where connectivism starts), organisations and institutions (education-2020, n.d.).They can be human or non-human (Kizito, 2016). Knowledge is transferred by expanding your network by adding nodes (education-2020, n.d.).

Siemens (2014, p. 5) identifies the following 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.

The theory of connectivism sees learning, no longer as something done on one’s own, but through participation in informal learning opportunities such as communities of practice and personal networks (Connectivism: Teaching and Learning, 2017).

Connectivism in educational design

In employing connectivism in the design and development of online courses, the critical component to consider is the network and the growth of it. Consideration needs to be made around “distribution of expertise and intelligence over the learning network” (Kizito, 2016, p. 24). Network formation and human connections need to be developed and supported throughout a course. Therefore, the courses should be designed with this in mind (Kizito, 2016).

Kizito (2016, p. 24) highlights two characteristics for connectivist learning activity design:

  • A stimulating and motivating learning activity that asks of and allows for learners to create artefacts in personal networks linked to other social networks.
  • A technologically-supported environment that supports meaningful dialogue and collaboration.

What this means for an educational designer then, is that they need to allow for expanding networks outside of a (potentially closed) LMS. This might mean designing activities that are specifically aimed at using social networks such as Twitter, Google+ or Facebook to encourage further learning opportunities to students. The use of hashtags might help to filter these learnings and discussions.

Formal learning should not necessarily mean that all learning is received from one source. Informal learning may need to take a more prominent role in a formal learning institution/course. This is not without its challenges, as when money changes hands, as service is expected. Institutions would therefore need to consider carefully how students are informed about these types of practices so that they can see the benefit of developing learning networks. One such way would be to encourage and support the development of personal and professional learning networks that would not only benefit the student while studying, but also develop further in the workforce, as many of the connections with key players within their industry or profession may have already been made. This could support students in finding employment at a later date.


Connectivism: Teaching and Learning. (2017, January 29). ETEC 510. Retrieved from http://etec.ctlt.ubc.ca/510wiki/index.php?title=Connectivism:Teachingand_Learning&oldid=63512.

education-2020. (n.d.) Connectivism. Retrieved from http://education-2020.wikispaces.com/Connectivism

Kizito, R.N. (2016). Connectivism in learning activity design: Implications for pedagogically-based technology adoption in African higher education contexts. International Review of Research in Open Distributed Learning, 17(2), 19-39.

Siemens, G. (2014). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved from http://er.dut.ac.za/handle/123456789/69

Nathaniel Written by:

Nathaniel is passionate about people reaching their full potential. He has expertise and experience in education, e-learning, face-to-face and online facilitation, virtual mentoring, training, leadership and school governance.