A Stand Against Connectivism

by: Mary, Tom, Mike S., Julie, Tammy

What is Connectivism?

Connectivism is an attempt by George Seimens to evolve the three pillars of learning theory (behaviorism, constructivism, and cognivitism) by incorporating the ideas of networking groups and technology as a major part of the learning experience. Seimens states that the three previous learning theories are restricted only to the learning that goes on within a person. He believes that what goes on around a person is as important if not more than what goes on within a person.

Is connectivism a learning theory?

According to Verhagen (2006), "the instructional level deals with how learning takes place, and learning theories are relevant at that level. The level of the curriculum is concerned with what is learned and why" (A pedagogical view...).

Kerr (2006) says that "networks are important but haven't changed learning so much that we need to throw away all of the established learning theories and replace them with a brand new one" (A challenge to connectivism). Kerr lists three criteria for a good learning theory, including the requirement that it should result in learning reform. Connectivism does not lead to learning reform, however, because its language is too generalized. In addition, Kerr finds the connectivism theory lacks credibility, as a result of misrepresentations of existing theories,such as constructivism, behaviourism and cognitivism (A challenge to connectivism).

Discussing the value of information networks, Ip (2006) states "we may be able to access more information, ask more people for help. However, the decision is still made based on the amount of "thing" encoded inside the organ between our ears. Nothing more, nothing less. All the external connections help us to build a better internal view of the external world and consequently help us to make better decision or perform better. The connections themselves ARE not learning" (concluding para.).

Is connectivism relevant to your teaching practice? If so, how?

As teachers our sole mission is to allow our students to learn to the best of their ability. To do this we must take into account learning theories that will best help us to understand and accommodate our students’ learning. By examining these learning theories we can best determine what strategies that we need to implement into our classrooms that allow the maximum amount of knowledge acquisition. Connectivism really does not play a part in our examination because it is not truly a learning theory as we mentioned above. Connectivism is merely a pedagogical view (Verhagen 2006), not a new learning theory itself. Connectivism is relevant to teaching only in so far as it is a view from which we may choose those pedagogies that will result in high student achievement.


In mathematics, there are absolutes that cannot be subject to interpretation. When building a body of knowledge for a particular math subject, there are initial assumptions upon which everyone must agree. All subsequent knowledge for a particular area of math is built upon these common assumptions. Much of the subject of plane geometry is based on four postulates, or axioms, originated with Euclid circa 300 BC. According to Joyce (1996), "each postulate is an axiom—which means a statement which is accepted without proof— specific to the subject matter, in this case, plane geometry" (About the postulates).

In language arts as in mathematics there are discreet pieces of knowledge that must be learned in order to have the tools with which to think and talk about speaking and reading and writing. The language itself must be learned. A grammar must be mastered. Conventions must be internalized. Yes, their is a group consensus on what the meaning of a word is or how that meaning may be changed as the word is used differently or how syntax influences meaning, but the internalization of these facts must be accomplished with the mind of the individual. Language which is required to communicate about any of the disciplines may be passed on by the social network in which we live, but it is an individual process. In Science Daily, the connection between language acquisition and genetics is reported. A team of researchers from the United States and Great Britain studied language acquisition among twins, fraternal and identical and found that among the identical twins who have delayed language development, if one twin has delayed language development, in 92% of the cases, so did the other. On the other hand, if the twins were fraternal, the correlation dropped to less than 50%, indicating a genetic connection in language development. Learning is part of the individual, not the network. This study would seem to support the fact that we are hard wired for language acquisition, that it is the individual who learns the language or even creates his own language. The network the social connections, influence the individual in so far as a child growing up in a home that speaks French will learn to speak French, not English, but that language acquisition process is within the child.

"Between 5-25 percent of children and teenagers in the United States are obese" (Dietz, 1983), why as educators would we want to promote more sitting at the computer. Children used to walk to school. Now they get a ride even if they live close. Kids used to go outside to find their friend and see what they are doing now they go online to my space, facebook or instant messenger. Today, kids can take classes online. We used to worry about a sprained ankle, now we worry about carpal tunnel. Do we need to add body fat % to the students report cards? Many school are learning how movement help the brain & body.

Being connected through a computer network is a false community, in my opinion. "The social skills children acquire will last a lifetime. The value of sportsmanship, cooperation, sharing, empathy, and teamwork are not only PE goals but "Skills for Life.""

Dietz, W. H. (1983). Childhood obesity: Susceptibility, cause, and management. Journal of Pediatrics, 103(5), 676-686.

Does connectivism support your students?

Does being connected to a community of learners support my students? Yes! But not to the exclusion of constructivism or behaviorism or whatever ism. Connectivism, Learning is not the organization. It is within the individuals that learning happens. It is within the individual mind that learning occurs. Learning is supported by the community, but learning still occurs within the individual. The individual must construct his/her own learning.

Are parts of the theory more compelling or relevant to you than others?

I find it compelling that Siemens talks about ‘non-human appliances’ in his paper as if this is something new. However this simply is not the case. Storing information in non-human appliances such as books for example has been around for generations (Verhagen 2006). It seems to me that connectivism is Siemens’s way of ‘reinventing the wheel’. His reasoning for developing this new ‘theory’ (which we have established is not a theory) is that with our ever-changing world the old learning theories are outdated. However, connectivism does little to supply the solution to this dilemma.
If any part of the theory were relevant it would be the recognition of the potential of networking and connecting, but these are ways of learning, the pedagogy. Otherwise, the theory does not describe how we learn, how we make the connections inside of ourselves nor does it describe what we learn.

Are there parts of the theory which you find confusing?

"The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today. A real challenge for any learning theory is to actuate known knowledge at the point of application. When knowledge, however, is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill. As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses."

First, the analogy of a pipe being more important than what flows through the pipe is ridiculous. Why would you need the pipe if you do not need what is to flow through the pipe?

This seems to be too far to the opposite side of the spectrum. How can you not acknowledge what you have known as being a vital part of what you will need to know in the future? Can you have the skills of the future without relating them at all to the past?

"If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."
----- Sir Isaac Newton

In my research, I found a discussion that was trying to make the distinction between connected intelligence and collective intelligence. I believe that this is a further discussion of connectivism. This is one of the reations to Stephen Downes' web site:

"This is exactly right: "(Surowiecki) makes the point that people do not think together in coming to certain conclusions, but rather than people think on their own and the value of the collaborative comes in the connection and combination of ideas. Each person retains their own identity and ideas, but they are shaped and influenced by the work of others. The concept here is related somewhat to Stephen Downes' discussion of groups vs. networks. At stake in these discussions (Surowiecki, Downes, de Kerchove) is how we are to perceive the individual in a world where the collaborative/collective is increasingly valued." That is why I, too, prefer the concept of connective (not collective) intelligence."

He is making the distinction between collected knowledge which seems to me to be the storage of knowledge that is created by people each of whom "retains their own identity and ideas" which can be "shaped and influenced" by others.