Lisa’s CCK08 Wordpress Blog

October 3, 2008

Paper #1: My Position on [C]onnectivism

Filed under: papers,Week 4 — Lisa M Lane @ 4:00 pm

Connectivism Paper #1
Lisa M. Lane
October 2008

Connectivism is a learning theory based on the premise of knowledge distributed across networks of connections. During the first several weeks of this class, I have dealt intensively with the issues of connectivism in numerous blog posts, but for this short paper I will delineate connectivism with a little “c” (the practice of learning through connections) and Connectivism with a big “C” (the theory). My position on connectivism is that such a mode of learning has been popular for centuries, among people living together and those communicating at a distance. The sources of knowledge for this kind of connectivism can be people, letters, or books, artifacts of lives past or present. My position on Connectivism is that it is a contemporary learning theory that seems dependent on particular conceptions of knowledge and a perspective focused on contemporary computer-based internet technology. I have no problem with seeing it as a theory. The whole field of studying learning is so new that I find the argument over whether it is or is not a “real theory” not only distracting but somewhat absurd. If behaviorism and constructivism are learning theories, so is Connectivism.

I have many areas of agreement with connectivism (the practice). It is an excellent explanation of a way that people can learn. Its pedagogical approach can be pragmatic and useful, particularly in Downes’ Educational Theory of the student’s job being to practice and reflect, and the teacher’s job being to model and demonstrate. In one extension of connectivism, Cormier’s rhizomatic model, I see great usefulness for understanding the connections among educational technologists, if not other disciplines. I also appreciate the cognitive acknowledgement that informal learning (a la Jay Cross) is important, as are contacts we may have with others who are experts in their fields, or who are learning similar things as ourselves. I agree strongly with the contention that pre-literate, story-telling cultures are just as connectivist, if not more so, than ours (Om Design notes the Maori in his Moodle forum comment of October 1). Connections to ideas and people are everywhere, and are infinitely useful to us.

I have three main areas of disagreement or concern with the concepts inherent in Connectivism (the theory). The first concerns the definition and validity of knowledge. I appreciate Downes’ idea that true knowledge means you can’t not know something (2005); it is engrained. I see knowledge and wisdom as higher forms of cognition, and thus I have concerns about the idea that “knowledge” achieved through weak connections is automatically as “valid” as more traditionally developed knowledge. It is a small step toward disregarding the quality of information (whoever may determine that); I agree with Mike Bogle that it may be necessary to modify open learning with something that ensures some “well-informed ‘nodes'”. For this reason, I am thus far unable to go along with the idea of the “pipe” being “more important than the content” (Siemens 2004). My second area of criticism concerns presentism, the tendency to disregard the past or apply contemporary standards to people living in the past. Regardless of the bizarre, sometime séance-like reaction induced by my Networks of Dead People post, the elements of Connectivism that disregard the past I see as faulty, despite the assurances that “our focus needs to be on the big changes of history, not the current instantiation of those trends” (Siemens’ Moodle post Sept 28, 2008).

While attempting to explain the diversity of learning, Connectivism nevertheless establishes its applicable base in contemporary technology and today’s sense of being overwhelmed by information. To say that the “half-life of knowledge is declining” (or, as Viplav Baxi put it, “terribly fluid”), is to see knowledge as transient, to view the past dismissively, and to put far too much worth on the present and its glittery toys. Thus my last objection to Connectivism is the moral implication, which I’ve written about particularly in response to Barry Wellman’s articles (Little Boxes and response, Networks for Newbies and response). What I am seeing is a tacit belief that the move toward an intenet-connected world, a world of “networked individualism”, is a good thing. There is an implication throughout the course that not only do people learn this way, they should learn this way. The social disconnection and selfish individualism exemplified by voluntary, self-formed learning networks is not necessarily a good thing. It may be a reflection of the very worst in human nature: greed, self-centeredness, presentism, knee-jerk cynicism, cocksuredness.

There are a number of areas which I need to explore further. I would like to see modern networks compared more directly to those of the past, to place today’s networks in a historical tradition, a major determinant of validity for me. I cannot accept a novelty as being very significant. Paradoxically, I also have trouble accepting as an innovation something that may just be a scaled-up version of the historic networks I understand, as when Kerr notes that simply more people and more connections does not make for a new theory. I also need to examine the problem of assessment, brought out in Jason Green’s questions about “copious assessment” with learners who are not like those of use taking the class. My own definition of knowledge means that not all learners will attain it, so how does one assess “learnedness”? Cognitive networks, although being sidelined in this class, are of great interest to me because I suspect (like Ken Anderson) that it is there, more than in the social pipe, where the learning occurs. Cognitive connectivism would resonate much more with my own learning style. Additionally, I need to read a lot more about the idea of knowledge being “distributed”, a concept I am having difficulty grasping intuitively. Last, I need to better understand why the internet seems to be so central to Connectivism. According to founder George Siemens “[c]onnectivism focuses on the inclusion of technology as part of our distribution of cognition and knowledge” (2008). What is meant here is web technology, not printwork. Perhaps, as I suggested on a concept map, that is the main difference between Connectivism and connectivism.

Selected Resources

Cormier, Dave. (2008) “Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum.” Innovate 4 (5).. Retrieved on October 1, 2008, from

Downes, Stephen (2005). “An Introduction to Connective Knowledge”. Retrieved on October 1, 2008, from

Downes, Stephen (2006). “Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge”. Retrieved on October 1, 2008, from

Kerr, Bill. “A Challenge to Connectivism”. Connectivism Conference Presentation notes at learningEvolves wiki. Retrieved on October 1, 2008, from

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. Retrieved on October 1, 2008, from

George Siemens (2008). “What is the unique idea of connectivism?” Connectivism Blog . Retrieved on October 1, 2008, from

Wellman, Barry. Little Boxes, Glocalization, and Networked Individualism. 2002. Retrieved on October 1, 2008, from .



  1. Hi Lisa,

    Interesting post and nice job on the paper. I liked your reference to Cognitive Connectivism and believe that this is where I’m leaning as well. Thanks also for including the link to Ken Anderson’s comments about it. I haven’t had the time to devote the amount of effort to the course that I should have so far, so maybe I’m missing something, but every time I dive into it I come away with the thought that most of the ideas fit easily into the field of cognitive science. The course is stimulating and I’m learning a great deal, but I really am having trouble seeing how it is new or a separate learning theory.

    I’m also trying to sort out networked individualism which seems kind of narcissistic to me, especially the idea about people no longer having strong family ties, but just temporarily hooking up with people for a while before moving on to something new. I can’t quite see how that’s an improvement for us in the long run. Maybe it’s where some societies seem to be headed at the moment, but is it something to be celebrated?

    As a history undergrad, I also enjoyed your thoughts on how networks to the past fit into Connectivism. I need to spend more time on this.

    Comment by Steve Sorden — October 3, 2008 @ 8:52 pm

  2. Hello Lisa!

    Thank you, your paper is very interesting. I like your historical perspective of the topic and I agree with the idea that “it is a contemporary learning theory that seems dependent on particular conceptions of knowledge and a perspective focused on contemporary computer-based internet technology”. And I like very much also your criticism when you say “a world of “networked individualism”, is (is not necessarily) a good thing”.

    Kind regards

    Comment by Carlos — October 4, 2008 @ 4:31 am

  3. Hi Lisa!
    Congratulations! Excellent work, it helped me to understand better what has been said. I have “a wall” as Stephen mentions and I need to tend to it to improve my understanding of the concepts which are new for me.

    I agree with you in that the struggle to define it as a theory is distracting, I consider it a model that time will validate even if it is so focused in the present. What matters to me is to see if it really works and provides a sound way to ensure learning.

    I cannot pinpoint exactly why but the idea of minimizing the value of the “pipe” does not resonate with me. I want to see how do they sort out the assessment or evaluation issue which I consider critical.

    I see that Connectivism places a lot of weight on the Internet because is is being promoted as a Learning Theory for the Digital Era. Digital and Internet go hand on hand but even if they see that the whole world is already on that Digital Era I have doubts about that point. As far as I can see Mexico is not there yet.

    I like the way you include the past here, I believe we are what we are due to our past. Denying it will only lead to trouble in the long run.

    I admire the way you placed your sources, thanks for sharing your views.
    See you around. Love: Maru

    Comment by Maru — October 5, 2008 @ 10:18 pm

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