Connectivism is learning through connections: connections between neurons, connections between people, connections between organizations and connections between ideas.

Stephen Downes and George Siemens advocate connectivism as a learning theory. Connectivism has been coined as a new learning theory for the digital age: a personal learning theory for the networked student. The exponential growth of knowledge and significant technological advancements over the last couple of decades has lead to this influential theoretical system for learning in the twenty first century. Connectivist learning requires integrated tasks, a diversity of perspectives, tactics, expertise, and pertinent, accurate, up to date knowledge within a social network.

Connectivism coalesces relevant fundamentals of behaviourism, humanism and cognitivism but shares most similarities with constructivism. These earlier theories are based on the belief that learning happens inside a person and that is how connectivism differs from them: connectivism acknowledges that learning can happen outside of a person, within technology. The limitations of the other learning theories prompted Downes and Siemens to postulate this learning theory. There appears to be three basic tenets to connectivism: learning is a continual process; know-how and know-what are being superseded by know-where; and technology is changing our brains.


Connectivist learning involves the use of social media to aggregate, remix, repurpose and feed forward. The theory views learning as a network phenomenon, which encompasses:


1. Openness- the network has no borders

2. Autonomy- each individual member of the network will respond according to their personal objectives, priorities and values

3. Diversity- knowledge is constructed best with a variety of perspectives and inputs

4. Connectedness/Interactivity- knowledge emerges in a network from the interactions of all members


These four criteria make networks reliable and semantically relevant. These networks employ multiple technologies such as: web 2.0 applications, social networking for synchronous and asynchronous communication (blogs, wikis, twitter, Skype, Google documents, bookmarking etc.), xml, mash-ups and a myriad of others. Connectivism provides the opportunity to expand knowledge acquisition and distribute it differently emphasising the connection more than the content in the learning process.

Learners have autonomy and teachers must be true facilitators of learning acting as a learning architect, learning concierge, modeller, network navigator, connected learning incubator, synthesiser and most importantly, a change agent. Pedagogy and teaching methodologies need to capitalize on the knowledge creation process. An acute awareness that actionable knowledge is enhanced by connecting information sources (knowing how to find information is more important than actually knowing the information) is imperative.

Some issues associated with this learning theory are:

1. There is simply too much information- where to store it and how to scan/filter it?

2. Finding relevant information and how to validate it

3. Localization and personalization of information

Essentially, connectivism is founded on the idea that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections and thus learning manifests as the ability to traverse and assemble those networks: with learners becoming creators of knowledge, not consumers. Ultimately, teachers and learners need to work together in a networked community of learners to arrive at new knowledge.


So do YOU think Connectivism is a theory for online learning?

The table below indicates how prominent learning theories differ from connectivism:






How learning occurs

Black box—observable behaviour main focus

Structured, computational

Social, meaning created by each learner (personal)

Distributed within a network, social, technologically enhanced, recognizing and interpreting patterns

Influencing factors

Nature of reward, punishment, stimuli

Existing schema, previous experiences

Engagement, participation, social, cultural

Diversity of network, strength of ties

Role of memory

Memory is the hardwiring of repeated experiences—where reward and punishment are most influential

Encoding, storage, retrieval

Prior knowledge remixed to current context

Adaptive patterns, representative of current state, existing in networks

How transfer occurs

Stimulus, response

Duplicating knowledge constructs of “knower”


Connecting to (adding) nodes

Types of learning best explained

Task-based learning

Reasoning, clear objectives, problem solving

Social, vague
(“ill defined”)

Complex learning, rapid changing core, diverse knowledge source




Connectivism. (2010). Connectivism: a learning theory for today’s learner. Retrieved September 20, 2010, from


Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Retrieved September 22, 2010, from


Downes, S. (2009). Places to Go: Connectivism and Connective Knowledge. Retrieved September 20, 2010, from


This piece was written by Wilkes, D. (2010) for the ETEC 511 MET course.  Key WordAssignment: Connectivism.


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