Basic Connectivism – Or “Connectivism for Dummies”

Connectivism and K-12 education

Tomorrow night we will be having George Siemens as our guest on the WOW2 Webcast. I have been following George’s discussions about the new learning paradigm, connectivism, for a couple of years now. When I mentioned that we would be discussing connectivism on an upcoming webcast, one of my friends couldn’t quite recall what she had heard about that particular learning approach when she had been in college way back when. I pointed out to her that, in fact, this paradigm had really only been around for a couple of years! At that point,she sheepishly admitted she didn’t know a thing about it.

Because our webcasts are designed for educators in the K-12 arena,
we want to keep our discussion about connectivism pertinent to the K-12 educational experience. While there have been many engaging discussions about connectivism and whether it is a viable theory of learning, we want to keep our discussions as practical and useful to the K-12 educators as possible.

And so, I was encouraged to write a post on “Connectivism for Dummies”. I checked with George first, to be sure not to cause offense. He generously gave his permission for me to write my thoughts about connectivism and quote his book.

I want to apologize for what I write about this because I know I will not be able to do justice to the topic. Please feel free to comment and straighten me out!

A few months ago, I went through George’s book Knowing Knowledge and have isolated some of the text that presents a condensed version of the tenets and features of connectivism.

In today’s developed world, we are hyper-connected by the Internet, cell-phones, mobile pagers, and the like, to the extent in which we are over-saturated with information. How, what and why we make sense of this information and knowledge (and George does distinguish between these two entities) to make meaning from it is what we would call connectivism.

Below are excerpts from Knowing Knowledge:

    We are trying to force the changed context and expressions of knowledge into structures and processes that served a previous age.

    For most of us, we find our higher-level understanding through reflection and informal learning, where we engage with knowledge to gain new understandings. The skills and processes that will make us people of tomorrow are not yet embedded in our educational structures. While there are many who are attempting new approaches, the vast majority are ensconced in structures, preparing students and employees for a future that will not exist.

    Social tools are emerging which permit rapid exchange of knowledge, and high levels of dialogue. Communication can now occur collaboratively (wiki, online meetings), through individual broadcast (blogs, podcasts, video logs), and in shared spaces (social bookmarking). Knowledge, when buffeted by numerous forces and factors, is under constant scrutiny by the masses.

    A property of one entity must lead to or become a property of another entity in order for them to be considered connected; the knowledge that results from such connections is connective knowledge.

    Knowing and learning are today defined by connections. Connectivism is the assertion that learning is primarily a network forming process.

    Technology is providing new affordances for individuals to become involved in publishing, knowledge exchange, and access to experts.

    The more closely the content is positioned to the point of doing/need (i.e. just-in-time delivery?), the more effective the learning process. Additionally, it is important to acknowledge that learning is much more than exposure to content. Social, community, and collaborative approaches to learning are important.

    When we stop seeing knowledge as an entity that is possessed within a person and start to cast it as a function of elements distributed across a system, we notice a dramatic impact on the education process:

    * the educator becomes a supporter (not the center),
    * the content is not as critical as the connections,

    * learners find value in their aggregated perspectives

    * learners become content creators,

    * and learning is continuous, exploratory, and sustained (not controlled or filtered by only one agent).

    Change is shaping a new reality under the fabric of our daily lives. Seven broad societal trends are changing the environment in which knowledge exists:

    1. The rise of the individual

    2. Increased connectedness

    3. Immediacy and now

    4. Breakdown and repackaging

    5. Prominence of the conduit

    6. Socialization

    7. Blurring worlds of physical and virtual


    Individuals have more control, more capacity to create and to connect than in any era in history.

    Relationships are defined by convenience and interest not geography.

    We can work wherever and whenever. Time and space no longer limit global conversations.

    People are able to connect, share, and create. We are co-creators, not knowledge consumers. Content generation is in the hands of the many.

    Co-creation is an expression of self…a sense of identity…ownership.

    We own who we are by the contributions we make.

    We are no longer willing to have others think for us. We want to read what concerns us. Listen to what we want. We want only the pieces that interest us, and we want to repackage it so that it makes sense to us.

    What is the impact of changes to knowledge?

    Overload of Quantity
    We can no longer manage the quantity of knowledge ourselves. We cope by relying on networks of people and technology.

    Overload of Diversity. Knowing resides in the collective of many differing, diverse viewpoints. This requires new skills of interacting and functioning, especially since our schools are still teaching basics for an era that no longer exists.

    Skills Outdated
    . The skills that have served us well for navigating hierarchical, structured knowledge no longer serve our needs. We require sensing skills (to sense what is happening, how things are changing)…and improved capacity to respond/react.

    Dehumanizing. We have yet to learn how to be human in this space. We need to learn how to communicate our emotions (empathy, courtesy) in virtual spaces.

    Validation/Authenticity. How is authority created? How do we know who we can trust? How do we know an idea has value? Is the validation of peers in a distributed environment as significant as the validation of knowledge through established models by experts?

    Identity. . What is happening with identity? How do I know you are who you say you are? …thirdparty voices can speak into the process; they can validate and comment on our authority and identity.

    What types of skills do our learners need?

    Anchoring. . . . Staying focused on important tasks while undergoing a deluge of distractions.

    . . . Managing knowledge flow and extracting important elements.

    Connecting with Each Other
    …..Building networks in order to continue to stay current and informed.

    Being Human Together. Interacting at a human level, not only utilitarian, to form social spaces.

    Creating and
    Deriving Meaning
    Understanding implications, comprehending, meaning and impact.

    Evaluation and Authentication …. Determining the value of knowledge…and ensuring authenticity.

    Altered Processes of Validation
    . Validating people and ideas within appropriate context.

    Critical and Creative Thinking . Questioning and dreaming.

    Pattern Recognition. . . . Recognizing patterns and trends.

    Navigate Knowledge
    Landscape .
    . . . Navigating between repositories, people, technology, and ideas while achieving intended purposes.

    Acceptance Of Uncertainty . Balancing what is known with the unknown…to see how existing knowledge relates to what we do not know.

    . Understanding the prominence of context…(understanding seeing continuums…ensuring key contextual context games) issues are not overlooked in context-games.

    The artist and the scientist

    The artist is the individual who sees the magic in learning. They may not know exactly why something worked well, but can see (and dare I say, feel?) that the learners are changing, growing, and developing.

    The artist of learning sees beauty in the dialogue, in the interaction, in the connections formed between what is known and what is becoming known. The artist sees (and accepts) the beauty of uncertainty and values learning as both a process and a product. In creating a knowledge environment, the artist splashes the magic of learning across the entire canvas of life. Tools are used like paint brushes to create the desired painting of learning.

    We need the voices of both the scientist and the artist. Neither one is necessarily better than the other. In some cases, a business may require the metrics and method of a clearly-defined, scientific model. In other cases (especially when pursuing innovation and creativity), they may desire the beauty of learning created by the artist. Both, held in balance and for the appropriate task, are needed for learning and knowledge.

I found the section on the need for reflection to be especially thought-provoking given our hurried information-overload society:

    Pascal has apparently stated that “all of man’s problems stem from his
    inability to sit in a quiet room alone.” 96 In a learning sense, we have a
    similar challenge. It seems that we will utilize any tool of distraction to
    prevent a “quieting of our minds.” Save a few minutes by using a search
    engine, spend more time searching other resources. Save time by having
    technology manage part of our knowledge, immediately set out to
    experience even more.

    Learning has a reflective component. Most people will trust a bad idea
    they read in a book sooner than a good idea they arrive at through reasoning
    and reflection. Our restlessness is a challenge to learning.
    We rarely slow down enough to begin to use our advanced thinking
    skills. Instead we skim the surface of knowledge, learning to distrust
    our own intuition and cognition.

    When a learner sits down and thinks, she/he is engaging in a reflective
    process. Nebulous thoughts and feelings are put to words. External
    ideas are scrutinized. The natural capacity of harmonizing our emotions
    and thoughts with ideas and concepts is evoked—a small cognitive and
    emotional oasis in the desert of busyness, and, I imagine more learning
    occurs in only a few minutes here than hours anywhere else…

I find that reflection is a practice that takes discipline and is not well-promoted or valued in our contemporary culture.

Once a month I meet with a group of colleagues at my school for a Critical Friends Group dinner. We chat informally about professional development issues and the group represents a mix of educators (francophones and anglophones) from kindergarten to grade 12 across all subject areas. The issue of digital literacy and information overload arose recently and I mentioned the lens of connectivism which presents some strategies to cope with this new age of knowledge oversaturation. So we looked at some of the connectivism material a month later and now, next week, our “homework” is to provide concrete ways in which we could provide educational opportunities for our students to develop the skills mentioned above (i.e. anchoring, filtering, connecting with each other, etc.). I confess that I am going to ask George to help me with my homework when we chat with him tomorrow night!

Please join us tomorrow night as we discuss practical ways we can use a connectivist approach with our students!

Our chat can be found here at WorldBridges and a channel there will be carrying the webcast live. Or we will, as always, post the podcast later.

3 thoughts on “Basic Connectivism – Or “Connectivism for Dummies”

  1. Hi Sharon,

    Just a quick note – thanks for the invite to speak to WOW2 last night. You were an excellent host and facilitator. It was my pleasure to be involved. And, I noticed on reading the chat comments that you mentioned feeling sheepish about your blog post…please don’t! This experience of defining who we are becoming and what it means to learning is currently an ongoing conversation. Anyone can add their voice at anytime (as you have done here). And each voice is equally valuable. So, in my eyes, the fact that you – and those involved with WOW2 are engaged in defining what changes mean at a classroom level – are involved is what’s really important. Knowledge isn’t a product as it was once perceived to be. As mentioned in Knowing Knowledge, it’s a process today. As a result, we don’t evaluate each other only by the quality fo the products we create, but by our willingness to engage in the process…

    btw – sorry for not focusing more on the K-12 sector. I woke up at night with the gnawing feeling that I hadn’t fully included the audience by staying too theoretical…

    Take care

  2. I have also, just begun the blogging process. I agree that the most difficult part is reflecting about what we are doing. Recently, I have participated in some work and reading about being in the NOW! Being concscious about what we are thinking and experiencing and paying attention to what is going on in our relationships. In the world, we are in an overstiimulated world and it is so difficult to quiet our selves and appreciate the life and the moments that we have now.

    I am excited and frustrated with the blogging process. I am a technology immigrant and so to learn these new processes can be overwhelming. I am excited to be part of a community where we discuss and share new infomation and impressions with others globally.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *