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Clarissa Davis, Earl Edmunds, Vivian Kelly-Bateman
Department of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology, University of Georgia

Review of Connectivism


Just like anything else that involves human experience or interaction, the act of learning does not happen in a vacuum. It is at the intersection of prior knowledge, experience, perception, reality, comprehension, and flexibility that learning occurs. In years past, the traditional learning paradigms of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism have been the benchmarks against which the learning process has been measured. What happens, though, when you throw into the mix all the technological advancements that have come about over the last 40-50 years? These theories certainly do not become obsolete by any means, but they do need to be used in a very different way to be able to incorporate the attributes of a 21st century learning environment. In today’s technology-rich society, it has become increasingly important to learn how to learn. Vail put it simply by declaring that learning must be a way of being (1996).

Half-Life of Knowledge

New technology forces the 21st century learner to process and apply information in a very different way and at a very different pace from any other time in history. As a result, the span of time between learning something new, being able to apply it, and finding that it is outdated and no longer useful continues to decrease. This phenomenon is what Gonzalez refers to as the "half-life" of knowledge - the time span from when knowledge is gained until it becomes obsolete (2004). Since the advent of technology, from the radio to the internet, the half-life of knowledge has decreased significantly. Gone is the era when it takes days, weeks, months, or years for something to catch on with the general population. Something that may have taken that long just ten years ago can now reach literally millions of people around the world within a matter of seconds. The link to the video below demonstrates the dramatic effect this has had on society in recent the years: (Fisch, McLeod, & Brenman, 2008)

Taking into account the ideas presented in the video, how is the 21st century learner supposed to assimilate all this information, and make valuable use of it?

Components of Connectivism

At its core, George Siemens’ theory of connectivism is the combined effect of three different components: chaos theory, importance of networks, and the interplay of complexity and self-organization.

Chaos Theory

The idea behind Chaos Theory is that, regardless of how unrelated events may seem, when studied together, they create a pattern that can show relevance beyond the individual events themselves (Salmon, 1999). This creates what Gleick refers to as a “sensitive dependence on initial conditions” (1987). Basically, if the underlying conditions used to make decisions change, the decision itself is no longer as correct as it was at the time it was made. “The ability to recognize and adjust to pattern shifts, therefore, becomes a key learning task” (Siemens, 2005).

Importance of Networks

According to Siemens, “considering technology and meaning-making as learning activities begins to move learning into the digital age” (2005). Inherent to this new viewpoint on learning is the idea that we can no longer personally experience everything there is to experience as we try to learn something new. We must create networks which, simply defined, are connections between entities. By using these networks - of people, of technology, of social structures, of systems, of power grids, etc. - learning communities can share their ideas with others, thereby “cross-pollinating” the learning environment (Siemens, 2005).

Complexity and Self-Organization

Heylighen (2008) describes the delicate interplay between complexity and self-organization as follows: “Complexity cannot be strictly defined, only situated in between order and disorder. A complex system is typically modeled as a collection of interacting agents, representing components as diverse as people, cells or molecules. Because of the non-linearity of the interactions, the overall system evolution is to an important degree unpredictable and uncontrollable. However, the system tends to self-organize, in the sense that local interactions eventually produce global coordination and synergy. The resulting structure can in many cases be modeled as a network, with stabilized interactions functioning as links connecting the agents” (p. 1). In addition, Luis Mateus Rocha (1998) defines self-organization as the “spontaneous formation of well organized structures, patterns, or behaviors, from random initial conditions” (p.3).


APA Citation: Davis, C, Edmunds, E, & Kelly-Bateman, V. (2008). Connectivism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved <insert date>, from