Connectivism: Does Learning Always Mean Gaining Knowledge?

Best practice. What does it look like?

It seems as though teachers are constantly tweaking their classroom philosophy, seeking the “sweet spot” between student-centered learning and rigorous content delivery.

But what about a philosophy that focuses on HOW content is delivered, not so much the what or the whom? This philosophy is called “connectivism.” Connectivism is a learning theory which dares to suggest that meaningful learning can occur through a network of peers sharing resources online. *Cue teachers’ collective sighs after vehemently admonishing students for using Wikipedia as a resource.* This is controversial for a few reasons, none as much as the idea that acquiring knowledge isn’t necessary through connectivism.

So then, what IS acquired? Here are my thoughts:

When connectivism proposes that knowledge is not acquired, it means that knowledge acquisition is and should not be the end goal of education. One’s knowledge is not something fixed or to be obtained, but is to be constantly changed, built on, or altered in some way–not necessarily “acquired.” The focus then is on facilitating how the learner learns and not what.

In this way, connectivism truly IS student-centered learning. Students are seeking out and learning from peers. They may have to do some follow-up and fact checking. This will surely irk the many teachers who are enraged at the idea of a student referencing Wikipedia, but if there’s one thing teachers are familiar with, it’s need for change. That includes our mindset.

Structured learning typical of education today relies too much on students to acquire and regurgitate information which is a really ineffective way for a student to engage in and retain what is learned. As an educator, I often try to incorporate an opportunity for student inquiry in my curriculum, which I think is an essential concept to connectivism. I think what is gained through connectivism instead is the process of and ability to constantly alter your perception of truth and knowledge through the process of inquiry, research, and sharing.

In a way, connectivism actually calls to mind many ways students currently learn. Given resources, inquiry based, student-led, peer reviewed, fact-checked research are all pretty common in any area or subject of teaching. I think what makes this theory controversial is that it is so much harder to assess than learning acquisition. How do we hold students and ourselves as teachers accountable? As soon as we get a better grasp how to give direct, effective feedback to our students on how well they can engage in a process, rather than acquire and regurgitate knowledge, then we will be ready to embrace connectivism as a 21st century learning theory.


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