Getting Connected with Connectivism

by brenda sherry

This week I began a course with George Siemens and Stephen Downes called Connectivism and Connected Learning CCK11.  I’m in that beginning state of reading and digesting some new material and needing to spend some more time thinking and reflecting, but there have been some points that have resonated with me as a teacher this week.

2 things have really jumped out at me this week from the readings:

The first is Stephen’s theory of teacher practice:

“And I have also expounded, in slogan form, a basic theory of practice: ‘to teach is to model and demonstrate, to learn is to practice and reflect.’  No short-cuts, no secret formulas, so simple it could hardly be called a theory. Not very original either. That, too, is not my fault. That’s how people teach and learn, in my view.  Which means that a lot of the rest of it (yes, including ‘making meaning’) is either (a) flim-flammery, or (more commonly) (b) directed toward something other than teaching and learning. Like, say power and control.”

I just can’t stop thinking about this related to all that I do in the classroom, and it accurately captures my frustration that so much of the job that is unrelated to teaching and learning, but is actually about contrived situations put in place to control teachers and students.  I look forward to seeing how an environment that appears to lack a centre will empower learners as I observe my learning and the learning of others throughout this course.   Sounds like the control resides with the learner…and I love that!

The second thing I’m thinking about are the connected learners:

I’ve noticed for a while now, that some teachers just seem to learn differently than others.  All of my colleagues can be considered ‘good learners’ in that they have reached certain milestones of certification that allow them to be Ontario teachers, however some teachers I meet embrace technology a little more quickly than their colleagues.  I had been thinking that teachers who come from a more ‘constructivism’ philosophy about learning seem to see the benefits of technology use for the autonomy and contact with resources (and people) on the web that it brings to students.  After this week I’m rethinking that idea and I’m wondering if perhaps these teachers are different in another way too.  Are they more connected learners to begin with?

I’m thinking that connected learners might have some common characteristics:

  • initiative
  • autonomy
  • a tendency to search out and exploit resources (people, books, technology) around them
  • a reflective nature
  • self-regulative behaviour

I’m still not sure about the difference between constructivism and connectivism and right now I’m comfortably confused about it.  These are just my initial thoughts as a novice to connectivism and I’m looking forward to more learning in the upcoming weeks.

I’m looking forward to immersion in this connected environment of my first MOOC to see what connected learning is all about!



  1. Thx Brenda.

    My guess is that there are a lot of ‘constructivist’ learners out there who could care less about the technology and its affordances. Many in our culture seems to thrive on the connectedness, the immediacy, the onslaught, the ‘knowledge flows’ that bombard and occupy us. We often call them ‘connected’ learners and we even celebrate the ‘early adopters’.

    As you know, I have been questioning this a lot lately. This approach, I think, does not fully acknowledge all aspects of self. I need to research this deeply, and I will, but it seems that the emotional self, the reflective self, the mindful self, the introverted self – and indeed millions of other global citizens without these affordances of ICT – also can be expert learners as well.

    Perhaps it is us who are subject to the flim-flammery.



  2. Thanks for pushing my thinking and I appreciate your comments – I know that you’ve been thinking deeply about this for a long time.

    I would argue that those expert learners from around the world without the affordances of ICT, may actually be more connected to the people with whom they do their learning than we are. It would be fascinating to find out more about that. Indeed Stephen’s definition of teaching and learning might fit better with our aboriginal communities than with our modern ones. Thoughts?

    My thinking about connected learners in general doesn’t just mean those that use ‘digital technologies’. Do you notice that among many groups there are just those folks who connect more than others? Artists, librarians, musicians, chefs, scientists, knitters, maybe even rock climbers? 🙂

    Using my own example, as a pre-web learner, I leveraged the contacts I had with people, enjoyed finding and sharing resources and found the old-fashioned library a great place to start to answer questions that I had. The technology resources that came along later just seemed like a natural and easier extension of what I was already doing. I wonder if that’s the case with many of our technology users today?


    • Do you mean that ‘connected’ is better than ‘unconnected’? If there is a continuum of connectedness, is there an optimum level of connectedness? Do we, one again, imagine our ‘slider’, so that the learner can exercise his/her ‘locus of control’ by opportunistically moving among levels of connectedness?

      And what about quality of connectedness – never mind quantity?

      And, of course, multiple connectedness with a rich, textured tapestry of diversity, voice, opinion, background knowledge, culture, values, socio-economic status, education, profession should also perhaps fall under an individual’s choice depending on intention.

      Hmmmmm…connectedness ain’t so simple. 🙂

      Thank you, as always, for the conversation.


  3. “Sounds like the control resides with the learner”

    I wonder if control is best left with the learner at all ages? Would a child of tender years benefit from control in the same way as an adult might, or vice versa? I wonder that teaching is only modelling and demonstrating. Is there an aspect of teaching that seeks to transmit conventions of representation from experienced to in-experienced, e.g. things such as language in the form of the naming of objects?


    • Hi Ken,
      My initial thought is that naming objects for the young child would definitely fall under the modeling and demonstrating category, as the parent repeats words and extends sentences appropriately for the child at an appropriate level of difficulty. I’m thinking that often the request comes from the child…either for something they want (basic language to explain their needs) or about something that interests them.

      Are you thinking of something else when you mention “an aspect of teaching that seeks to transmit conventions of representation?”


      • Hi, yes, I agree with you that naming objects for a child would fall under the concepts of modelling and demonstration. I was wondering if knowledge is thus transmitted in that manner? e.g. what is actually received through the modelling and the demonstrating?


  4. Hi there,
    Ah…I see what you mean. I tend to believe that knowledge is not transmitted from one to another in that way. I think the learner must DO something with what they see/hear/learn from the teacher.

    Perhaps the knowledge building happens in the learning (practice and reflection ala Downes) phase. So, the modeling and demonstrating can be there, but if there is no practice and reflection it doesn’t become learned knowledge.

    I always seem to have lots of questions about knowledge construction. In Math for example, (or any subject where content is being memorized) we may know students who spend a fair bit of time observing teachers who model and demonstrate…but they never practice or reflect and therefore don’t internalize the learning. Similarly, I’ve seen many students practice, but without any reflection, it just doesn’t have meaning for them and therefore lasting learning doesn’t happen. It doesn’t become knowledge – that place where you can’t ‘unknow’ something as Stephen mentioned this week.

    The simplicity of that theory (or definition) that Stephen wrote about is really ringing true for me with all the examples I can think of!

    Interesting to think about, for sure!


    • I haven’t looked specifically yet – but is there mention of passion (emotions) in the connectivism materials? I have to check.


  5. […] The (hash)tag will be visible to some participants when they do a search (on Twitter or on internet or on WordPress). That will make them to connect to other parts of the network.  Eva will connect to Dave and Eva is already connected to Forest and Gerald and Hanna. In this way connections will grow fast and the choice of who will connect immediately to who (commenting) will be abundant. “… Getting Connected …” […]


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