Connectivism: The Future of Learning?

Curious Vault - Connectivism

Learning Theories

Learning theories form established frameworks that help relate psychology with the process of learning. Three widely regarded theories of learning include behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. Below is a brief description of each theory and how it relates to learning. Practical application of these theories can be found in previous Insider posts.  

  • Behaviorism: Learning is shaped by behavioral responses to outside stimuli. Positive and negative rewards influence behaviors.
  • Cognitivism: Describes learning as a process of input and output. Information comes in, is processed, and leads to certain outcomes.
  • Constructivism: Learning is an active and constructive process. Students learn by linking past ideas and knowledge to new information.  

Ideas regarding learning must meet certain standards in order to become recognized theories. To start, the theory must be useful in predicting behavior and persist through significant observation and testing. The 3 aforementioned theories continue to be relevant in designing learning experiences for students, despite seeing their origins long before the internet or use of available modern technology.


An emerging thought seeking to close the gap between traditional learning and the use of technology is connectivism, promoted by George Siemens and Stephen Downes, which seeks to demonstrate that technology warrants looking at learning through a new lens. The two facilitated a MOOC in 2011 to expand on their ideas, defining Connectivism as:

“..the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks. It shares with some other theories a core proposition, that knowledge is not acquired, as though it were a thing. Knowledge is, on this theory, literally the set of connections formed by actions and experience.”

Connectivism seeks to be the 21st-century solution to perceived gaps that exist in traditional ideas about learning, particularly those concerned with the use of technology. For example, connectivism promotes learning that happens outside of an individual, such as through social networks and knowledge that occurs or is stored by technology. It builds upon established theories to propose that technology is changing what, how, and where we learn. In their MOOC and research, Siemens and Downes identify 8 principles of connectivism:

  1.     Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  2.     Learning is a process of connecting.
  3.     Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  4.     Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.
  5.     Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed for continual learning.
  6.     Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
  7.     Accurate, up-to-date knowledge is the aim of all connectivist learning.
  8.     Decision-making is a learning process.  What we know today may change tomorrow. The right decision today may be the wrong decision tomorrow.

In a world of increasing access to information, students will need the skills necessary to sift through what is relevant and what is not. If connectivism will be viewed as vital to learning as established learning theories remains to be seen. For now, its ideas on student interaction with peers and the environment around them provide fascinating possibilities for the future of learning.

References and Suggested Material:

Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age

Connectivism as a Digital Age Learning Theory

Erika Huezo was a Senior Instructional Designer at FIU Online. She joined FIU Online in 2010 as a Course Developer, helping to create an introduction to online teaching course for faculty and assisted with the department’s implementation of the Quality Matters (QM) program standards. Erika worked closely with faculty to create engaging learning environments and kept current with instructional theories, tools, and trends.