There are three current broad theories of learning: behaviorism, constructivism, and constructivism. These theories have developed over time to describe the process of learning and then been used to develop learning systems, mainly schools. Each has a place in the practice of teaching, but just as other technologies (writing, print press, electronic media) has caused a necessary re-evaluation of learning theories the latest technology evolution, digital media and the Internet, has created a need to once again re-evaluate learning theories.
Connectivism is a learning theory driven by the development of the Internet and digital media. It is being developed by George Siemans and Steven Downes, two Canadian educators. Their development of Connectivism is based on several observations of significant trends in learning:
- Many learners will move into a variety of different, possibly unrelated fields over the course of their lifetime.
- Informal learning is a significant aspect of our learning experience. Formal education no longer comprises the majority of our learning. Learning now occurs in a variety of ways – through communities of practice, personal networks, and through completion of work-related tasks.
- Learning is a continual process, lasting for a lifetime. Learning and work related activities are no longer separate. In many situations, they are the same.
- Technology is altering (rewiring) our brains. The tools we use define and shape our thinking.
- The organization and the individual are both learning organisms. Increased attention to knowledge management highlights the need for a theory that attempts to explain the link between individual and organizational learning.
- Many of the processes previously handled by learning theories (especially in cognitive information processing) can now be off-loaded to, or supported by, technology.
- Know-how and know-what is being supplemented with know-where (the understanding of where to find knowledge needed).
The learning theories of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism assume that learning takes place inside people, but not the learning taking place outside of us. Connectivism is a learning theory that recognizes that in a networked world the way that information is created, distributed, processed, and evaluated plays a significant role in the learning process.
Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.George Siemans lists the principles of connectivism as:
- Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
- Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
- Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
- Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
- Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
- Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
- Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
- Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.