Connectivism – Learning Theory or Tool for Learning (Friedman’s paper)

Connectivism – Learning Theory or Tool for Learning

Mark Friedman

October 2, 2008


Apologies to start this informal paper with a quote, but it really is my abstract…


“The idea of learning through digital connections and peer collaboration enhanced by technologies driving Web 2.0. Users/Learners are empowered to search, create, and collaborate in order to fulfill intrinsic needs to learn new information.” (eLearning Guild, E-Learning 2.0 “Learning in a Web 2.0 World”, Wexler et al, 23 Sept 2008)


I think that Connectivism helps explain why certain Web 2.0 technologies actually work – and help people achieve desired learning. Obviously, we are all told that tools don’t solve problems, but that people do. Using these tools in a creative and innovative ways is how people vary and some leverage these tools differently than others can.  What excited me about the deep thinking that CCK08 has helped me perform over the past four weeks, is mostly surrounding the results of an integrated network – what I have begun to refer to as a Personal Learning Environment/Network (PLE).


“The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe… A real challenge for any learning theory is to actuate known knowledge at the point of application.” (, “A Learning Theory for the Digital Age”, Siemens, 12 Dec 2004)


This quote by George Siemens resonated with me, in that it brought together my prior knowledge of McCluhan (Medium is the Message) with my a-priori knowledge that LinkedIN’s primary value had to lay in the business/social network aspect of the service. I have actually utilized this free tool, at the point of application, so to speak, as a last minute source for what needs to be called market research, and possibly even Subject Matter Expertise. So whether or not I had given any thought to what a Learning Theory was, before CCK08 began, really becomes less relevant than my realization that my prior use of Facebook, Second Life, Twitter, AIM, Google Docs & Reader and LinkedIN…. essentially I have understood how these tools are actually learning tools and how they can be combined to form a fluid PLE.


I do want to spend some time in CCK08 exploring the idea that shear acceleration of information growth in our society is bound to have a profound impact on our Personal Learning – just like it is on our formal learning constructs. Today’s kindergartners will graduate high school facing 128 times as much information as today. Obviously, we need disruptive technologies, as well as wonderful innovation tools just to be able to handle the enormous information overload. Communication skills, creative skills and analytic skills are all three going to be ever more important (and sometimes I think more rare than they should be, but that’s a reflection on our formal learning institutions!).


Some questions have come to mind so far in this course, including what are the real implications of Connectivism within society, and specifically within the Educational Community. Of course, I have posted that question in LinkedIN already to attempt to get the audience’s opinion on that (smile). I also agree with a fellow classmate, Tom Whyte, who posted a thought, of “what number of participants in a network are required to make it valid and/or effective”? Is there something magical about the 100-node network? What advantages are there is growing from 125 up to 175 people? These are things I would still like to research and learn about.


Ending with a pertinent quote, from my LinkedIN Q&A, posted at 7am today, and answered within 4 hours (i.e. what a great Web 2.0 network!):


“What then constitutes the safest and most effective learning environment? Some believe that you have to contextualize learning to achieve efficiency. Other believe that abstract learning is better, followed by vocational training as required. These issues are independent of the growth in the volume of information available to be learned. Selection criteria of the content to be offered for learning is not the same as the activity of learning. However, you correctly imply that it is a nonsense to distinguish between theories of cognition and theories of learning. How the mind acquires signals, attributes meaning both denotative and connotative, and operationalizes activity based on those meanings is a complex but single process representing the ability to learn and adapt behavior based on that learning.” (David Marshall, 2 Oct 2008)



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