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Rethinking Your Online Classroom with Connectivism

Submitted by on May 24, 2013 – 11:59 am3 Comments

E014624One of the greatest challenges we face in today’s rapidly changing, tech-saturated educational landscape is the decrease of physical classrooms based on traditional notions of localized, embodied community. Emerging online classrooms mirror digital, distributed modes of connectivity made possible through the Web and information and communication technology. Online learning commentators Stephen Downes and George Siemens have proposed connectivism as a modern learning theory that supports our fluctuating, digital knowledge economy.

Why Connectivism?

Downes defines 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.” The network metaphor is crucial because it highlights the ongoing shift away from rigid, hierarchal modes of organization towards asymmetrical, decentralized models. Networks are comprised of nodes (actors) and links (actions). In complex networks, no one node determines how the others will behave; instead, the interactivity between each node contributes to the emergent, self-organizing functionality of the system as a whole. What this means for teaching and learning: Knowledge does not exist “in the heads” of learners or instructors but through the variety of connections established amongst students, instructors, and technologies. With connectivism, static student-teacher roles become as fluid as the technology that mediates them, and the process of learning becomes more important than the final product.

Knowledge doesn’t exist “in the heads” of learners or instructors but through networked connections.

Six Skills for Connectivist Pedagogs

On his blog elearnspace, Siemens defines six key skills today’s educators need:

1. Technical Competence—Proactively engaging new educational technologies. “Using any tool well requires a blend of technical competence and awareness of pedagogical opportunities.”

2. Experimentation—Blending and borrowing teaching methods and tools. “Educators should constantly be experimenting with new technologies and pedagogies, refining their learning approach to constantly changing contexts.”

3. Autonomy—Providing learners with an autonomous learning space. “Much like every educator is a researcher, every student needs to be a teacher –exploring, engaging, defining her/his own learning.”

4. Creation—Learners need to create to engage in active learning. “Creation does two things:  1) Ideas morph when they are implemented. 2) Learner-produced creations re-center learning activity in a course.”

5. Play—Exploring big ideas. “Simple exploration with loose boundaries.”

6. Developing a capacity for complexity—Adaptability in the face of uncertainty. “Most answers don’t exist in advance of engaging with the phenomenon. Answers and questions are not like lego-blocks that need to be clicked together. Instead, answers are more like a painting or canvas in response to a problem landscape.”

Connectivism in Action

Although connectivism might be theoretically challenging, here are a few simple tools to give your class a network-oriented makeover:

  • Blogs—Blogs give students a digital voice and allow authors to connect readers with a diverse range of outside authors and media artifacts. Blogging can strengthen the network of both student and instructor, and can also make for great study assignments.
  • Social Media—Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all phenomenal tools for stimulating real-time interaction between class participants. These tools permit peers to point each other towards new materials that foster emergent learning.
  • MOOCs—Massive Open Online Courses are exciting because they most closely embody the theory within connenctivism. The Web contains an abundance of MOOC resources available for exploring the potentiality of MOOCs (which we’ve been interested in for some time here at Academic Partnerships).

Your Turn!

Do you utilize any of the above tools or skills harnessed by connectivist educators? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below. [social-bio]