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Connectivist Learning Theory: Leveraging Technology to Promote Learning

Traditional learning is no longer effective in this digital age. In this article, you'll learn how the relatively new theory of connectivism can help you create a learning environment that fits the needs and learning style of students today.

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The bottom line
  • The Connectivist Learning Theory focuses on collaborative learning, on forming and making use of connections with others to gain knowledge.
  • This theory seeks to bridge the gap between traditional learning and the rapidly changing technology that we have today.
  • According to connectivism, learning is no longer limited to formal education. People learn more effectively when they interact with others – sharing ideas, opinions, and experiences.

The digital age has had a huge impact on the accessibility of knowledge and the way students learn. The amount of information available online is overwhelming. These days, students tend to seek answers from the internet instead of reading books and asking teachers.

According to a Top Hat Student Pulse survey conducted in 2017, 41% use Google to answer in-class questions. 42% use Google to answer homework. In fact, most people use Google instead of their memory to store information. Who needs to remember anything when the answer to your question is just a keyboard click away?

Connectivist Learning Theory is a relatively new concept, especially compared to other learning theories such as constructivism and behaviorism. It was developed to show the importance of technology in learning and how it has increased the amount of information students have access to, as well as the speed at which they can access it.

In this article, we will take a deeper look at the Connectivist Learning Theory, its relevance to the digital age we live in, and how we can leverage it to help students achieve academic success.

Table of Contents

What is the Connectivist Learning Theory?

Most of us have experienced traditional learning, wherein knowledge is imparted to us through formal education, such as classroom lectures. Students passively receive the information presented by the teacher. It is the teacher that decides what knowledge should be imparted and emphasized. This is what is known as teacher-centered learning.

Connectivism, on the other hand, emphasizes student-centered learning. While the teacher is still considered the expert or authority in the classroom, the students play a more active role in the learning process. The teacher is more of a facilitator that guides the students. More importantly, it was designed to fit the current environment we live in today.

Connectivist Learning Theory was first introduced by George Siemens and Stephen Downes in 2005. They believed that “knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.” In simpler terms, technology allows people to get together and share ideas, opinions, and resources, which creates learning opportunities. In addition, learning can occur outside of ourselves – from the people around us.

Thanks to technological advancements, we can easily gather ideas and knowledge from a wide variety of sources – people, communities, organizations, etc. We can also store knowledge outside of ourselves using technology. In short, connections and connectedness affect learning. The better connected we are, the easier it is for us to gain knowledge.

 So, let’s give a real-world example. The teacher and students in a class can each be considered a “node” because we all have knowledge to share. As nodes, we can connect or “link” to other nodes in class. Students can exchange information within the classroom (a.k.a. a learning community), contributing to the network of knowledge within. The students share ideas, experiences, and opinions as well as engage in discussions. They actively participate in their own learning process.

Now, the students aren’t only connected to each other inside the classroom. They are also connected to other nodes outside of the classroom. These could be larger networks of knowledge such as forums, social media platforms, blogs, online communities, etc. Because they are constantly connected to various resources, students can make decisions on their learning – what, how, and where they learn.  

A group of young people sitting in a circle and engaging in lively and enjoyable conversation

Key principles of Connectivist Learning Theory

According to the research of Siemens and Downes, there are 8 key principles of connectivism

1. Learning and knowledge rest in a diversity of opinions. We gain insight and alternative perspectives from the ideas and opinions shared with us.

2. Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources. You can learn from a wide range of sources. By building connections to different sources, we open up ourselves to new information, ideas, and even skills.

3. Learning may reside in non-human appliances. We can store knowledge outside of ourselves using technology such as a video, an app, a forum, or even a social media post.

4. The capacity to know more (learning) is more critical than what is currently known (knowing). In layman’s terms, the desire to keep learning today is more important than what you already know. Because what is true today may no longer hold true tomorrow.

5. Nurturing and maintaining connections are needed to facilitate continual learning. While technology makes it easy for us to connect to so many people, it’s also hard to keep those connections alive. It’s important that we maintain collaborative social interactions to create a long-term learning environment.

6. The ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill. The ability to correctly connect pieces of information together is a crucial element of the Connectivist Learning Theory. This is how we build knowledge.

7. Accurate, up-to-date knowledge is the intent of all Connectivist learning. Our end goal is to always have up-to-date knowledge. Like, Pluto is no longer a planet, but also a planet – albeit a dwarf one, and it can possibly become a real planet again in the future. This means that we should always constantly update and reinforce our understanding.

8. Decision-making is a learning process. What we choose to learn and what knowledge we hold today might change tomorrow. The right answers that we have now might turn out to be wrong tomorrow because the information climate is constantly changing. We need to accept that knowledge doesn’t stay the same over time. It evolves because we are constantly able to gain new information. Just like with Pluto.

Three young women sitting at a table, discussing and working on a project

Advantages of the Connectivist Learning Theory:

  • Connectivism promotes collaboration. We work together to create this network of knowledge by sharing ideas, solutions, and alternative perspectives.
  • Connectivism increases engagement. It pushes us to be more active and participate in activities with our peers. Technology can also add an element of fun to learning.
  • Connectivism increases our motivation to learn. Student-centered learning places the decision-making in our hands. We have more control over what they learn and how they can learn it.
  • Connectivism embraces diversity. Because we learn outside of ourselves, we can become open to learning from others, regardless of their cultural and social backgrounds. We value everyone’s ideas and experiences. More importantly, we all have an equal opportunity to impart knowledge to others.

How can educators apply Connectivist Learning Theory in the classroom?

Unlike traditional teaching methods, connectivism promotes student-centered learning. Students are now the ones responsible for their own learning experience. The role of the educator is to guide them in finding more opportunities to enhance their learning networks.

Social Networks

Educators can create a class social media account where the students can share information amongst themselves and engage in discourse. The account can also be used to announce projects and link to tools, webinars, and online courses related to the class. Aside from social media, there are other online social networks that teachers can introduce to their students to help them create new connections, such as online discussion forums. Brainly, for example, is an app that allows students to connect with knowledge experts and other students for help with lessons and homework.


Another way to incorporate connectivism in class is through gamification. Making activities, homework, and even projects into competitive games can increase students’ engagement in class and provide them with a more interactive learning experience.

There are many technologies, such as learning-based apps, that teachers can introduce in class for the students to use. DuoLingo, for example, makes learning languages fun through game-like lessons. Other examples of these apps include Khan Academy, Quizlet, and EdApp.


Classroom simulations allow students to put their learning into action. These active learning exercises can easily engage learners while giving them autonomy on how to apply their knowledge. Moreover, practicing their skills can cause “aha!” moments, enabling them to gain a new understanding of old information. One good source for classroom science and math simulations is the PhET Interactive Simulations project of the University of Colorado Boulder. Virtual Reality is another good resource for simulations.

A group of people energetically gesturing and engaging in a lively conversation with enthusiasm


There’s no question that technology has greatly influenced what we learn, where we learn, and even how we learn. Connectivism allows us to adapt to a constantly changing information environment. Learning is no longer an internal or individualistic activity but a social one. By applying the key principles of Connectivist Learning Theory, you can effectively leverage technology to assist your students in creating more learning opportunities, facilitate their own learning, and thrive in this digital era.