Learning Theories in a Digital Age

In an article from December of 2004, George Siemens outlines connectivism as a new learning theory for our digital age.  He writes, “Behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism are the three broad learning theories most often utilized in the creation of instructional environments. These theories, however, were developed in a time when learning was not impacted through technology. Over the last twenty years, technology has reorganized how we live, how we communicate, and how we learn. ”

I would agree with most of what Siemens says, however I would argue that learning has always been impacted through technology.  Whether the technology was pen and ink, pencil and paper, film and video, or today’s 2nd generation of internet technologies, technology has always had enormous impact on education.  Connectivism is a new learning theory that has come about because of changes in the landscape of learning environments.  Connectivism is a new learning theory for our digital age.  However, it is not THE learning model.  It does not replace other theories of learning.

Behavioral learning represents the acquisition of skills [ei. driving, keyboarding, or playing musical instruments]in which practice and repetition is important. Cognitive learning represents the internalization of information, knowledge, and concepts.  Constructivism is learning through which the learner construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences.  Constructionism is a theory that emphasizes that learning occurs especially well when the learner is engaged in constructing something for others to see.

I believe that learning is multi-faceted and so therefore is teaching.  Learning takes place in a variety of ways, shapes, and forms.   Learning takes place in behavioral, cognitive, contructivist, constructionist, as well as connectivist ways, perhaps simultaneously.  One theory or method is not superior to another, in fact a good teacher enables all modes of learning to take place whether they are aware of this or not.

It is true that our world is changing rapidly.  Information is changing, knowledge is changing, learning is changing.  A new connectivist theory of learning allows us to explore how we allow learners to connect to information and to form knowledge.  At the same time,  however, the ‘older’ theories of learning have not become any less important.

Tony Forster, in a blog post from 2007 brings up some great questions about connectivism as a learning theory.  This may be an area in which the questions are more important than the answers.


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