Some notes on connectivism

In preparation for the Networked Learning Conference 2010 presentation, I considered the question, ‘Is connectivism a theory’? This was discussed in depth in CCK08 and I seem to remember the discussion becoming increasingly convoluted with no decisions being made. The jury is still out on this question.

For me, the following notes, pulled together from George and Stephen’s blogs and writings – elearnspace , connectivism , halfanhour,  and OLDaily list the points that I need to know and want to remember. There is  a lot more to it than this  and I see these notes as a simple aide-memoire for some of the key ideas.



Connectivism is essentially the assertion that knowledge is networked and distributed and the act of learning is the creation and navigation of networks.


George claims it is a theory on the basis of 5 criteria for deciding whether something is a theory –

  1. How does learning occur?
  2. What factors influence learning?
  3. What is the role of memory?
  4. How does transfer occur?
  5. What types of learning are best explained by this theory?

George has compared connectivism to Behaviourism, Cognitivism and Constructivism. Connectivism builds on these theories. He and Stephen write about connectivism as follows:

Connectivism recognises that:

  • Learning is distributed across a network
  • Leaning is a network phenomenon, influenced and aided by socialisation and technology
  • Learning is socially and technologically enhanced
  • Learning involves recognising and interpreting patterns
  • Learning is influenced by diversity, strength of ties and context of occurrence
  • Knowledge growth exceeds our ability to cope; quantity and complexity of information available is overwhelming
  • Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today
  • Learning is the act of recognising patterns shaped by complex networks (internally as neural networks and externally as social networks
  • Essentially our need to derive and express meaning, gain and share knowledge, requires externalisation

Stephen has written about connectivism as follows:

  • ‘Knowledge is distributed across a network of connections’
  • ”To learn is acquire certain patterns’
  • ‘Learning is the ability to construct and traverse connections’

Connectivism also:

  • accounts for continual expansion and creation of knowledge which existing theories do not
  • emphasises the primacy of connection;  all learning starts with a connection;  we need to understand how and why connections are formed

Critiques of connectivism have been that it is

  • unsubstantiated philosophising
  • unnecessary

Matthias has an interesting perspective on this. If I have interpreted him correctly he believes that – it is not useful to think of connectivism in terms of theory – it is too complex and better thought of in terms of relationships – not what it is, but how it is related to/connected to. Traditional criteria for defining a theory are too narrow. See his blog post made during CCK08 – My take on Connectivism – and other posts in his blog

7 thoughts on “Some notes on connectivism

  1. suifaijohnmak July 3, 2010 / 4:25 am

    Hi Jenny,
    What a superb summary! You have now stimulated me to write a paper on Connectivism. I have yet to think about Matthias’s views, though I think I could consider theory under a different “philosophy” that I still have to mull it over.

    I suppose every learning theory including Connectivism is philosophical, so “unsubstantiated philosophising” is a natural emergence, when it is especially subject to various interpretations under different contexts.

    I will spend the next few months in looking this, but surely want to get something out…

    For me, this is just the beginning of another hard journey – in search of learning theory……


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