CCK08: Assignment 1: Is Connectivism a description of a Revolution in Learning Affairs?

Is Connectivism a description of a Revolution in Learning Affairs?


Bradley Shoebottom, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, 2008-10-06


Connectivism and Connected Learning, CKK08

George Siemens and Stephen Downs, Instructors

University of Manitoba

Recent trends in social web technologies, the growth in freely available information, and discussions in how human’s network together has led to a desire to formulate a new theory in learning. Connectivism seeks to explain how learners actually learn from each other more than from the traditional authoritative forms of teachers or expert. In doing so, Connectivism actually describes a revolution in learning. Teachers or the schools no longer have a monopoly on how learning occurs. This revolutionary idea is just beginning to take hold. Before talking about how revolutionary it is, we need to discuss a definition of Connectivism. Then, does it rate its own status as a theory? Some other questions include: Who hates it and likes? What makes it attractive to someone like me? Finally, we outline some problems with Connectivism. Then, we can tackle the issue of is Connectivism a revolution in learning.

Connectivism is a theory advanced by George Siemens and Stephen Downs. Siemens describes Connectivism as networked relationships towards learning where learning occurs at numerous levels (biological, neural, social, conceptual and external), facilitated by advanced communications technologies with the idea of the primacy of context or the moment. (Siemens, 2008) He goes to say that Connectivism finds its origins in social learning theory, contextual nature of learning, complexity of the mind, complex and systems-based thinking, network theory, epistemological views, communications tools, and McLuhan (“The medium is the message”). Downs describes learning based on connections and experiences as opposed to the cognitivists’ view of learning based on linguistics and logic. (Downs, Feb 3 2007) According to Downs, with Connectivism, knowledge is not really about transferring, making, or building knowledge, rather it is the connections one makes when undertaking activities to grow oneself. This type of learning happens best in networks that are diverse, autonomous, open (free), and connective (with others). Where the two diverge is that Siemens considers Connectivism to be more about the absorption of information by the learner interacting with others, whereas Downs focus is on the creation of new knowledge through the learning interaction which can then be consumed, or lead to even newer creations of knowledge.

Essentially, Connectivism is a theory emphasizing networks that change depending on the context of the learning enabled by the social internet. Previous theories[1] did not reflect that rapidly changing networks that is common to internet-based learners. (Siemens, 2008b) Siemens analytical focus is on behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism. Constructivism is the closest to Connectivism, but as Siemens points out, constructivism is based on mixing old and new knowledge. Connectivism is about the expansion and creation of new knowledge using theories from previously untapped fields of “neuroscience, cognitive science, network theory, and complex systems” added by communication technology. (Siemens, 2008b)

A new theory does not come without its own detractors. Bill Kerr admits the technology side that has become associated with Connectivism offers resonance that is hard to ignore in the Web 2.0 period. Learning has become “just in time”. (Bill Kerr, 2007) That aside, Kerr points out the four issues of language pre-dates the internet, how we think about the mind is a several thousand year-old discussion, that there are other theories that discuss distributed cognition so Connectivism is not the first, and that “network based learning theories might be more visible because the network is more visible, new and exciting.” Catherine Fitzgerald, a learner in the Connectivism and Connected Learning course run by Siemens and Downs in the fall of 2008, believes that Connectivism, because of its premise on the Web 2.0, allows a few people to dominate networks as opposed to it being a truly democratic and thus learning forum. (Catherine Fitzpatrick, 2008)

Connectivism does appear to be an explanation for the web 2.0 phenomena. It brings in the new disciplines like network theory and complex systems to help explain what is happening out there in the social web. For me, I am all about adding new people to my circle, not because of what they know, but what can be achieve through our discussions together. However, adding new people with similar interests or even people from different disciplines but intrigued by the same dilemma is difficult in small communities much like Barry Wellman explains in the phenomena of little boxes (groups), glocalization, and networked individualism. (Barry Wellman, 2002) The Web 2.0 allows for a global contact group that can then truly aid in the creation of new knowledge while consuming. The connections are as important as the information residing in the other person.

Now that I put Connectivism into my own context, I am left with two difficulties. The first is the impact Connectivism will have. Is it revolutionary? Second, Connectivism does not offer some clear prescriptions for how to apply it in the real world.

When talking about a revolution, it is necessary to clarify by what I mean by “revolutionary.” Quite simply, it is “is a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time.” (Wikipedia) It ususally applies to the social, historical, political, and economic spheres. In essence, there is drama to the “sea change” as it occurs reletively quickly. One could argue it is a transformation[2] where there is “a change or alteration, especially a radical one”. (Free Online Dictionary) Note that a transformation does not specify a period of time. The change may be no less than a revolution, but there would appear to be less “drama” caused by a more compressed time frame. What is not clear is if a transformation can be evolutionary which is paramount when comparing to a revolution. It would appear a transformation could be evolutionary. This implies it may be harder to pinpoint exact moments in time where significant events or influences (and what those influences were) had in the change.

So, what does this mean about Connectivism? Are we living in revolutionary times? For it to be revolutionary, we would have to see certain basic structures changing or toppling. For example, the end of universities or schools as centers of learning. OR, companies would stop charging for their training programs that support their products or stop hiding their content inside learning management systems. This has not happened. In fact, organizations are becoming quite adept at providing face-value acceptance of Siemns and Downs in that knowledge is no longer the “property” of the instructor or the institution. Other mainstream literature seems to think we are in a revolutionary time. (David Scott, Sept 2008 and Mary Ellen Bates, September 2008) One only has to look at the availability of user manuals, consumer product rating sites, or unofficial blogs on “how-to-use-my-camera”. Even presitigious universities like MIT have made their content open to the world. (Vijay Kumar, 2008) Where these institutions then retain control is over the networking with the information and the issue of credentials. To be able to contact the instructor for clarification or exaplanation or to have credit for the course, requires payment. So, where does this leave Siemens and Downs? If I could borrow a historical metaphor, they are the Marx and Engels of Socialism. They have a revolutionary theory, but the Russian Revolution of 1917 has not yet occurred.[3] In fact, organizations are borrowing some ideas from the theory, much like liberal democracies did in the late 1800s and early 1900s to curb the excesses of capitalism. In fact, Siemens and Downs would not want a Russian Revolution of 1917, because that revolution, much like any other political revolution of the 1900s, saw the original ideas horribly corrupted to suit the local needs. So, perhaps “transformation” is a better word when discussing this theory among educators. Siemens and Downs argue learning best occurs through networks, via the Web 2.0 communcations tools, and it is learner-centric, and contextual. What’s so revolutionalry about that?

The second issue I have is that Connectivism does not affor much practical advice as to how organizations should adapt to Leanirng 2.0. How should human resource departments and management approach worker performance, training, and hiring? Modern business human resource management is about linking performance to business goals. Business goals are constantly changing, so performance must also change. Proffessional development is a key part in this adaptation to change. But, how can a human resource department measure progress and competency if it is network based? How does a employee that lacks Web 2.0 skills learn? Is there a base knowledge that needs to be transferred that can be tracked. After that, is it up to the employee to indicate when they are ready? It would appear network learning is similar to the mentoring methodology that has become popular since the late 1990s, but network learning would appear to be much more dynamic. In the defence of Siemens and Downs, they do offer a prescription: open source knowwedge with communications mechanisms (the social web) to offer the bridge to the information. Not even Marx in the Communist Manifesto said anything about how to set up a judicial system or how to ensure you have the right person doing the right job (he only talked about each person would find their own niche).

In conclusion, Connectivism is a revolutionary learning theory with the potential for revolutionary outcomes. However, a student of history would note that revolutions are rare. Instead, there is a steady adaptation by people and organizations to new theories. There is nothing wrong with a revolutionary idea. It can bring out the best in people. It can also bring out the worst. What we would likely prefer to have happen is a “peaceful” grass roots thoughtful change as opposed to a usurpation of the Connectivist model.

Works Cited.

Mary Ellen Bates, “The Three Dimnesional Internet”, Vol 31, No 7, September 2008.

Stephen Downs (2007), “What Connectivism Is”, Half an Hour, Stephen Downs Website, February 3, 2007,

Catherine Fitzpatrick (2008) , “Skeptic,” Connectivism and Connected Learning, CKK08 Moodle Foum, Week 2,

Bill Kerr (2007), “A Challenge to Connectivism,” Connectivism Conference 2007, February 7, 2007.

Vijay Kumar (2008), “Recasting Distance Learning with Network-Enabled Open Education, An Interview with Vijay Kumar,” Journal of Online Education, Vol 5, No 1, October/November 2008.

Tony Poole (2008), “Re: Are we in a Revolution of Learning Affairs?” Connectivism and Connected Learning, CKK08, University of Manaitoba, Moodle Forum, Week 3, Fall 2008. October 5, 2008,

David Meerman Scott, “Unlearn What You have Learned,”, Vol 31, No 7, September 2008.

George Siemens (2005), “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age,” International Journal of Instructional Technology & Distance Learning, Vol 2, No 1, January 2005,

George Siemens (2008a), “What is the unique idea in Connectivism?Connectivism Blog,

George Siemens (2008b), “What is Connectivism? Week 1: CCK08” Connectivism and Connected Learning, CKK08, University of Manaitoba, Fall 2008.

Barry Wellman, “Little Boxes, Glocalization, and Networked Individualism,” Digital Cities Conference in Kyoto October 2001 and to a joint meeting of the NTT Communication Sciences Laboratories and the IEEE-Kyoto section, 2002.

[1],, October 2008, accessed October 6, 2008

[2] Thanks to Tony Poole for helping me negotiate a Revolution versus a Transformation., October 5, 2008

[3] Marx and Englels considered themselves revolutionaries either Marx never “particpated or led” a revolution preferring to take a bystander reporter/philopsher perspective, but Engels did serving as aide-de-camp in an abortive uprising in Germany. See and



2 Responses to “CCK08: Assignment 1: Is Connectivism a description of a Revolution in Learning Affairs?”

  1. Writing Assingment #1: A Personal Reflection « Bradleyshoebottom’s Weblog Says:

    […] Bradleyshoebottom’s Weblog Just another weblog « Assignment 1: Is Connectivism a description of a Revolution in Learning Affairs? […]

  2. rockwell sonicrafter Says:

    Very good article. Can’t wait to read more about this topic.

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