Connectivism and its Critics: What Connectivism Is Not


“Right now we are engaged in the process of defining what connectivism is. Perhaps it may be relevant for a moment to say what it is not.”


Post written during the CCK08 vblog – one of the first cMOOCs, in 2008, and describes a process very much unfoldong, and defining itself through it#’s own practice.


Siemens seminal paper is written in the same year, hence, to a degree, my reliance on Kop’s later writing for a cleaerer, more literature framed picture and explanatioHe references Siemens tabnle comparing learning theories/ One weakness of Siemens graph is that it treats these ideas as discrete, when they are not.


For example, he puts prior l;earning, as schema, as a cognbitivist idea, but, in fact, it’s key to constructivism too. The saparation of constructivism and connectivism seems artificial (they are both social learning theories, they both have networks, or Communities of Practice at their heart, and, although he puts technologically enhanced as an aspect of Connectivism, constructivists, behaviorists and cognitivists have bneen technologically enhancing their theories for decades. Cl;ark and Mayer, for example, have an experiment and evidnce driven body of work on gognitivism and elearning)/


He does point out one idea which I haven’t integrated fully – the pattern in the network / info stream recognition aspect (thoiugh I’ve caught aspects of it in terms of the shift in focus from verifying information, to verifying sources and sifting nodes)


” learning occurs as a distributed process in a network, based on recognizing and interpreting patterns

– the learning process is influenced by the diversity of the network, strength of the ties

– memory consists of adaptive patterns of connectivity representative of current state

– transfer occurs through a process of connecting

– bets (sic) for complex learning, learning in rapidly changing domains ”

The strength of the ties aspect al;so tends to take into account weak ties, and their possible use as brokering situations, where the opportunity occurs to allow new knoweldges to develop an inward boubnd trajectiry. As in Communities of Practice.

The pattern recognition aspect is new, but also, not explicated, though we could locate it in the knoeldge hal life argument.

It’s not clear, but the memory aspect would seem to be knowing who, and where, and not what. But that needs clarification.


Siemens argues that trnsfer is not precisely the best description, as network nodes create knowledge (knowledge is” grown anewC”, but I think some things are transferred. Many individuals value resource exchange, for example.

” learning it is not structured, controlled or processed. Learning is not produced (solely or reliably) through some set of pedagogical, behavioral, or cognitive processes.

(my note…so it’s marekdly different to other theories oin some respects, but not with any detail or clarity)

– learners are not managed through some sort of motivating process, and the amount of learning is not (solely or reliably) influenced by motivating behaviours (such as reward and punishment, say, or social engagement)

(my note: Downes account of reqward here is simplified, and incomplete, and, to be frank, social engagement may well be a large part of the reward. Certainly, it;s easy to find individuals who ebthuse about the community aspect, and are invigorated by it. In fact, both Community of Inquiry theory, and Bandura’s social learning theory, and his self-efficacy ideas, explicitly talk about social motivation…this hardly seems new, distinbct to connectivism, or, as Downes seems to be suggesting, not part of the Connectivist experience)

– learners do not form memories through the storage of ‘facts’ or other propositional entities, and learning is not (solely or reliably) composed of mechanisms of ‘remembering’ or storing such facts  ( my note problem based learning, lots of consturctivist type learning, Papert’s Constructionism, all avoid propositional type learning,)

– learners do not ‘acquire’ of ‘receive’ knowledge; learning is not a process of ‘transfer’ at all, much less a transfer than can be caused or created by a single identifiable donor  (see above)

– learning is not the acquisition of simple and durable ‘truths’; learners are they are expected to be able to manage complex and rapidly changing environment ” (this point is key to my thesis. Not all el;arners can, and those who can;t, suffer as a consequence. Partially in ways explicable, and avoidable, using Behavioruist, Cognitivist, and Conmstructivist techniques)


“And we expect students to be able to manage complex and rapidly changing environment – in other words, to be able to manage through just the sort of chaos we are creating.

Saying that “can lead to some educational chaos” is therefore not a criticism of connectivism.

To be sure, educational chaos does not work well in traditional learning and existing academic institutions. So much the worse (we say) for traditional learning and existing academic institutions. ”


This seems, in shortm, as reductivist, and inflexible…well..problematically so. It’s not explicitly stated thqat Connectivism, as a theory, is limited to self motivated learners, with high levels of digital literacy, and metacogbniotion techniques, but that is the case.

It’s curious that a learning theory that explicity esxchews other learning theories should non explicitly require so mucg prior knowledge from it;s learners. The capacity to navigate info streams, technology, and tools in this way would seem to constitute schema, and prior knowledge.











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