Wednesday, 17 April 2013

A Connectivist approach to digital literacy...

Here's my attempt to look at the digital skills mini-course sketched out in Week 1 through a 'Connectivist lens' with some suggested activities.

In my view, the concept of Connectivism is useful as it adds to the dialogue about learning theories and their relevance or otherwise in a 'digital age'. It also encourages us to think more carefully about the nature of networks and the way our learning is becoming distributed. However, I also have some doubts about it and think it needs to be approached with caution (see below).


Week 1

1. Finding & Evaluating online resources
(search skills and developing critical awareness of web content)
Provide a set of links to articles / blog posts about learning in a digital age. Give learners a set of questions designed to make them consider issues of reliability, credibility of source, reputation and so on. (Learning and Knowledge rests in diversity of opinions)

Ask each student to contribute 2 more links to articles/posts they find useful. Set up a group Diigo or Delicious account for them to add their links to. (Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources).

Week 2

2. Creativity Tools
(moving from consumer to producer of content: video, audio, blogging, Prezi etc.)
Look at various different content delivery mechanisms/platforms: Slideshare, Prezi, YouTube, Issuu, Haiku Deck, podcasts, Powerpoint etc. – which do they prefer and why? Are some more suitable for certain types of content? Students choose one tool, or a combination of tools and use it to describe their own developing Personal Learning Network, then upload or embed this on their blogs. Then comment on another student’s PLN. (Decision making is itself a learning process…)

Week 3

3. Building your learning network
(e.g. using Twitter, social bookmarking, research portals etc.)
Students would be encouraged to use RSS feeds to ensure they stay up to date with bloggers they identified in Week 1. (Learning may reside in non-human appliances)
Have students set up a Twitter account and suggest 4 or 5 well-known thinkers / practitioners to follow. (Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources). Students think about how they could use the PLN they are building for future learning opportunities – e.g. setting up subject specific social bookmarking groups, following experts in their field on Twitter and so on (capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known)

Week 4

4. Staying safe online
(raising awareness of privacy issues on social networking sites etc.)

Use case studies of people who’ve got into trouble through things they’ve posted on social media sites (e.g. young police commissioner and Twitter). Students think about their own online profile and how they can make sure it doesn’t come back to haunt them one day. (ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill).

Week 5

5. Managing your online identity
(looking at online profile as a graduate attribute to be actively developed)

Students set up a Linked In profile. Provide links to expert current advice on maintaining a Linked In profile (Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities) and have students use this to help them create their own profiles. (Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning).

While connectivism perhaps encourages us to think again about learning in a technology-saturated environment, I don't think it can or should be held up as an all-encompassing learning theory, and in my view the more traditional behaviourist, cognitivist and constructivist theories are still relevant and useful in helping us to understand learning. In the course above, I've somewhat artificially levered in some of the connectivist principles (which I'd do anyway without calling them connectivist), but at the same time:

  • One objective of the course would be to 'condition' students to use distributed networks to access up to date information, use social bookmarking sites to save and share relevant sites and effectively change their behaviour etc. (Behaviourism?)
  • Through providing readings and other sources of information, I'd also hope that this would help them shape their ideas, comparing new information with what is already known and building on existing 'schema' (Cognitivism?)
  • I would certainly expect them to interact with their peers and build on their existing knowledge through social interactions (Social Constructivism?) 
In conclusion, the majority of effective teachers and learners throughout the world have probably never heard of connectivism, rhizomatic learning or social constructivism, but they still do what they do very well. It's useful to try to describe learning theories, but let's not get too hung up about it. That's my view anyway ;-)


  1. Many thanks for this Jim, it's really useful. for some reason, I am struggling a bit to get my head around the concept of connectivism but your illustration really helps. Perhaps my difficulty is that, as you say, this is what a lot of educators do anyway. I think this may be similar to Stephen Downes' point that they are trying to describe how people learn so if some of it sounds obvious...maybe it is. I might be guilty of overthinking what is involved in connectivism.

    Anyway, many thanks for the illustration and I think the course would be invaluable!


    1. Thanks Daniel. I looked at Siemens and Downes CCK11 mooc as I was doing this exercise (if that isn't connectivist, what is?) It seems to be based on readings, webinars, blog posts, and so on, so nothing particularly revolutionary. I think, like you, I was struggling because I was looking for something really different or new that I hadn't seen before. I think they just articulate some of the good practice we all do or aspire to do at times..
      If I ever put that course together, I'll send you the link!

  2. We all have our upsides and downsides and I think there can be a tendency for those who work in highly specialized fields of academia get caught up making simple concepts overly complicated by talking too much amongst themselves. Some have an incredible ability to take simple concepts and "common sense" events and create a "jargon" then a "discipline" around it thus complicating simplicity and keeping the creators' small world intact. Maybe a side effect of the publish or perish stressor and writing dissertations-:)

    1. I agree, Deborah. It's all too easy to forget what it's really all about i.e helping people learn. I think there is a danger of getting too caught up in the jargon, as you say. It kind of reminds me of management training sessions or self-help books - how to take basic common sense and invent new words to make people think it's something new or different...