This week I read George Siemen’s article Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Even though it was written in 2004, the ideas and principles outlined in the article still hold true today.
Siemens begins by providing an introduction to the three main learning theories: behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. He then discusses the limitations of these three learning theories in the modern world, and he provides an alternative theory: connectivism. Connectivism acknowledges that in today’s interconnected world, learning takes place within networks. Networks are made up of people, groups, systems, and entities which are called nodes. These nodes are linked together which creates connections between people and sources of knowledge. The theory of connectivism holds that the connections are more important that the knowledge itself. As the rapid evolution of technology and information continues to alter the world, connectivism becomes increasingly important as we increasingly rely on each other to sort through knowledge.
In his article, Siemens also discusses how connectivism helps learners know how to gain and maintain knowledge. A connectivist approach is beneficial because it can apply to all areas of one’s life and not just their formal education. People today have to constantly acquire new knowledge in order to stay current. Siemens explains that as the knowledge supply continues to grow and evolve, the ability to “plug into sources” of knowledge becomes increasingly important. Access to knowledge (the pipeline) becomes more important than the knowledge itself (contents of the pipeline). Therefore, a connectivist approach has value outside of education. It is useful in our jobs and personal lives as well.
Siemens gives an example of one way in which a connectivist approach was taken in Maricopa County. The Maricopa County Community College system undertook a project that connected senior citizens with elementary school students in a mentorship program. The results indicated that the students listened to their mentors better than they listen to their own parents. The conclusion was drawn that the efforts of the senior citizens complimented the efforts of the teachers, and I would argue the efforts of the parents.
I believe that mentorship is a great way to use a connectivist approach in education. I think that any type of mentorship program is worthwhile as long as the mentors are able to connect with the students and make a positive impact on their lives. In this case, the senior citizens have many insights on life that the elementary students do not have. Because of this they are probably effective in helping to develop students’ personal values, morals, and sense of self. They can offer students’ advice and guidance in a more neutral way than parents are able to.
In addition to providing the students with mentors, there are a lot of other ways that we could use a connectivist approach in the classroom. Educators should take a more cross-disciplinary approach because according to Siemens, the ability to see connections across disciplines is a core skill of connectivism. To get students more comfortable connecting with others educators could have students do more group work where they need to communicate with each other in order to complete various tasks. Educators should also bring technology into the classroom and encourage that students use a variety of sources on the Internet to find knowledge. These can include interactive media and multimedia available on the Internet, resource databases, social media, and the knowledge of others found on blogs, personal websites, and directly through email and other communication methods (live chat, web conferencing, etc).