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Digital networks afford new opportunities and ways of learning.

Networked learning and connectivism

As we’ve seen, technological advancement has been facilitating new ways of accessing information, which in turn, is enabling new and varied ways of learning.

According to the influential educator and researcher, George Siemens, ‘our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today’.

Following more well-known learning theories such as behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism, Siemens’ (2005) proposed connectivism – a ground-breaking theory of learning based on the idea of networks and connectivity within the web.

Siemens work presaged the invention of MOOCs – a term coined by Dave Cormier in 2008 – and which subsequently shook formal education to its core with its open and networked approach to online learning.

Principles of connectivism

Connectivist theory is underpinned by eight principles:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in a diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialised 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.

Connectivism provides a useful lens for thinking about how networks, digital technologies and humans interact and how this intersection leads to learning in a digital age.

As we’ll explore in the next few steps, digital learning is not just about digital tools, but the networks and connections these provide for learning.

Digital, online or networked learning?

In this course, you might have noticed that we use the term ‘online’ and ‘digital’ interchangeably in relation to learning that relies on access to the web.

As Carvalho and Goodyear (2014) noted, while we view learning as ‘a sustained change in behavior resulting from experience’ (p. 34), our idea of digital or online learning follows what Goodyear et al (2005) earlier described as ‘networked learning’:

… in which computer and information technology (C&IT) is used to promote connections: between one learner and other learners, between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources (p. 473).

They also noted that ‘some of the richest examples of networked learning involve interaction with online materials and with other people. But online materials is not a sufficient characteristic to define networked learning’ (p. 474).

Learn with the experts

In his recent podcast interview with digital education scholar Professor Neil Selwyn, Siemens discusses the ‘sloppy concept of “being skills”, one domain that computers can’t quite succeed at yet’ as an extension of his work on connectivism.

This podcast provides a good link to what we discussed earlier in this course with regards to life-long learning and the transferable skills required for work in the 21st century.

Your task

According to digital education theorists such as Siemens (2005) and Carvalho and Goodyear (2014), when it comes to networked learning, ‘everything is connected to everything’.

What does this statement mean to you?

Use the comments to reflect and discuss some of the challenges and opportunities that networked learning and connectivity raise in relation to either your digital learning and/or professional context.

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This article is from the free online course:

Transforming Digital Learning: Learning Design Meets Service Design

Deakin University

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