#Change11 Connectivism and Constructivism – What’s similar and different?

Relating to Connectivism versus Constructivism, I could see the following similarities in principles:
(a) buffer between learner & potentially damaging effects of instructional practices, dialogue rather than a pure didactic approach
(b) provide a context – where Connectivism emphasizes the use of PLE and aggregate-remix-repurpose-feed forward in MOOC (networked learning with navigation and construction of networks), and Constructivism emphasizes on situated learning and COPs.
(c) Learning that supports autonomy and relatedness –
(d) embed reasons for learning – Under Connectivism-learning as personal growth and knowledge as pattern recognition (Downes) to achieve personal goals and create value networks, and under Constructivism- knowledge and truth are constructed by people and do not exist outside the human mind (Duffy and Jonassen, 1991). Learning as a change in meaning constructed from experience (Newby et al. 1996)
(e) Both support self-regulated learning – Connectivism stresses on autonomy, diversity, openness and interactivity and connectivity as property of networks. Constructivism stresses on social learning, and must be viewed as an active process where students actively construct their knowledge, and that learner is central to the learning process.
(f) Both strengthen learner’s tendency to engage in intentional learning process – Connectivism – the capacity to form connections between sources of information, and therefore create useful information pattern, is required to learn in our knowledge economy (Siemens, 2004). Constructivism – the design task, is one of providing a rich context within which meaning can be negotiated and ways of understanding can emerge and evolve (Hannafin et al., 1997)

– The design process is recursive, non-linear, and sometime chaotic
– Planning is organic, developmental, reflective, and collaborative
– Objectives emerge from design and development work
– General Instructional Design experts do not exist
– Instruction emphasizes learning in meaningful contexts
– Formative evaluation is critical
– Subjective data may be the most valuable

– The design process is based on chaos and complexity theory, theory of emergence and self-organisation. Chaos recognizes the connection of everything to everything (Siemens, 2004). Self organization and emergence in learning explains why the process is often “chaotic” and emergent in nature, when interaction among agents leads to connective and emergent learning.
– There are multiple objectives – all defined by individual pursuit of personal objectives, but all inter-related through complex emergent self-organised networks and communities
– Learning is situated at personal (neuro, conceptual) and social level (outside information sources and agents) and thus is distributed across networks.
– Instruction is based on demonstration and modelling, where learning contexts are likely based on PLE and conversation and cooperation (sharing of information). Here cooperation within networks and collaboration within groups, though small group collaboration and personal learning based on lurking emerge as self-organizing phenomena rather than imposition by outside bodies
– Formative evaluation is secondary to learning under Connectivism. Peer evaluation of PLE and artifacts emerged from interaction, conversation and negotiation.
– Critical thinking, curation, digital literacies and “aggregate-remix-repurpose-feed forward” is central to Sensemaking and Wayfinding

What are the common issues for Connectivism and Constructivism?

– Assessment based on “pre-determined learning objectives” may be a problem in a constructivist or connectivist learning environment.
– Connectivism – which is based on the integration principles explored by chaos, network, complexity and self-organization theory needs further elaboration on how those principles are integrated in practice. It seems a paradox when networked learning is heavily promoted within institutional and corporate education and learning environment, but then the challenges remained un-resolved – on openness – OER, open design, open research, open teaching etc., digital literacy development using social media and mobile technology, pedagogy etc. Currently, there are still too many “wicked problems” – where the problems are not clearly defined, and where risk management and innovation and creativity are at “odds” in a complex adaptive system.
– Constructivism – which is based on a social learning approach, encourages active, rather than passive learning and the use of group-based cooperative learning activities, which can be best mediated through telecommunication technologies. “A central strategy for building constructivist learning environment such as situated learning, multiple perspectives and flexible learning is to create a collaborative learning environment”. The reality is that such learning environment often requires students to question each other’s understanding and explain their own perspectives. This is easier said than done. Engagement and participation normally falls into the 1-9-90 or the 10-20-70 pattern, with the majority staying at the edge of Community. This may be due to the different backgrounds and skill levels of learners (i.e. digital literacy capacity), and the often perceived “power” and “group think” issues associated with group learning, with compliance and conformance that could silence the “critical thinkers” and “solo or solitary learners”, or the “dis-allowing” of lurkers or legitimate peripheral learners who often are situated in the networks and COPs.

So, in summary, the absence of specific learning objectives and outcomes has earned the “criticism” for constructivism as “inefficient and ineffective”. This may equally be a challenge for Connectivism to be adopted as a mainstream pedagogy. Unless the specific learning objectives and outcomes (based on competency-based learning) are adequately addressed and resolved, it seems both Constructivism and Connectivism would still be operating in a hand-in-hand “networked” informal learning “paradigm” waiting to be absorbed as new and emergent pedagogy.

May be the assumptions behind Constructivism and Connectivism need to be viewed under a new light, when those similarities and differences are leveraged, leading to a new form of emergent learning theory that meets the societal, institutional and personal goals. The paradoxes may be the catalyst of a transformation in education and learning. Who has got the crystal ball? You :)

Postscript: This blog provides useful information about Learning Theories – Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism and Networked Learning.  However, there wasn’t any mention about Connectivism.  Quite a surprise.

51 thoughts on “#Change11 Connectivism and Constructivism – What’s similar and different?

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  4. Great post John – when innovators express their ideas, it is hard for them to recognise similarities to other theories. We who apply theories in practice don’t have such hang ups and can think about what’s similar? and what’s different? In CCK08, I observed may practitioners seizing the ideas of connectivism and applying them in social constructivist setting. Rock on!!

  5. @Frances, Fully agreed. I would like to acknowledge the best way to test a theory is to experiment it, and apply them in various settings. An objective and interpretive lens, coupled with conversation and sharing would surely lead to a better understanding of the principles underpinning those theories.

    Thanks for your visit and kind words.

  6. @Brenda,
    I haven’t listened or watched Rory McGreal yet. Assessment is critical to learning, under an institutional environment, where accreditation is required. I need to think more about what computerized assessment would mean in a Connectivist environment. As you said, there may be little room in Open Education for emerging learning, as a prescriptive learning approach is still the mainstream adopted in most formal education (HE, K-12). There are however, new lights shed, as accreditation could be gradually be based on eportfolios, personal learning environment (PLE) and the artifacts created. These also require a change in the way we look at Open Education, Open Assessment and Accreditation, which sounds like Paradoxes in practice, in formal education. The routes towards openness and autonomy are all intermingled with complexities and constraints – due to “wicked problems” – with ill defined problems and difficult to agree upon solutions. I will read your post again to explore those further issues. Thanks for your comments and visit. John

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  10. Very nice post, I’ve read it once and I’m sure I’ll re-read it. You helped clarify things for me!
    I did want to comment on what you said about formative evaluation. You said: “Formative evaluation is secondary to learning under Connectivism. Peer evaluation of PLE and artifacts emerged from interaction, conversation and negotiation.”
    Formative evaluation (seems to me) is a process for those who are creating the instruction not for the ones learning it. So maybe i’m not sure what you meant by that. Of course, learners do evaluate whether or not they learned something but that seems different than formative evaluation done as part of the design process.

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  15. Thank you for such a thorough piece. I’ve thought and read a lot about the intersections and differences but still get tangled sorting them out.

  16. Hi Barbara,

    Thanks for referring me to your wonderful post. “In Constructivism, the classroom is still teacher-centric with the teacher managing and coordinating projects. I know we call it student-centered, but the teacher is still designing who does what. It’s a beginning. It’s learning to let go.” That’s where personalized learning (or customised learning takes place) when the teacher tries to facilitate the learning for the learners, aggregating, curating, and encouraging and supporting the learners to think, reflect and practice based on learning tasks and activities.

    How does it differ from Constructivism? Personal learning via PLE and the aggregate- re-mix – re-purpose and feed-forward process, where the focus is on the learning process initiated and shared by the learners, based on their autonomy. As shared by Stephen, the educators (of MOOC) are merely suggesting such an approach, whereas the learners would decide based on their self-regulation and autonomy. So, the learners would be at the centre of the learning, with teachers or knowledgeable others as one of the nodes in the networks. In the process of engagement, sharing, interaction and think-reflect-action-review, the learners may also be sharing the role of the teachers, in actively modelling and demonstrating various teaching and learning strategies throughout the networks. This to me, could be challenging for educators when educating in the classroom environment, as the educators may in turn become just one of the nodes of the learning network, and would need to assume the role of the learner, in order to interact and dialogue with the learners. Frances Bell illustrates this process well in her latest post.

    As shared in my post about blind folding persons exploring about elephants (metaphorically, internet, social networks, are the virtual and digital elephant with information sources and agents), we are all looking for truths and wisdom, information, knowledge, and trying to solve our riddles of life, or problems, or looking for life strategies (emotions, relationships) and practical procedures or instructions on processes at work. Our goals might be different, but we all like to “claim” that we know a part of the “truth” in the searching and learning process.

    I think we are on similar lines of thoughts. Surely, there are still lots of constraints and limitations as to how such practice could be adopted in a “traditional classroom environment”. It may be necessary to move the class into a digital space. Whether we could open such space to the “wildly open” is a matter of decision that we have to make cautiously, especially for younger students (K-6 say), when educators are still responsible for the students’ learning, the duty of care as an educator. Besides, the onus of learning might have been transferred from the educators to the learners, which means that learners must understand that they are responsible for their active learning, not just the educators. If there is a failure in the learning process, say for instance in the failure to filter information, or might have learnt about “process and knowledge” in the wrong way, or based on the wrong information, the learners would also need to reflect on the learning himself/herself, rather than relying solely on the feedback mechanism under formal education system, or the educator’s response and feedback. So, this goes beyond “constructivism”, with a wholly learner-centred approach towards learning based on “networked learning”, with a “COP” or network “backing” where necessary.

    Thanks again for your visit and insights.

  17. Hi Sylrog,

    You said: Of course, learners do evaluate whether or not they learned something but that seems different than formative evaluation done as part of the design process. How do you see them differently? Is it based on the online or classroom formative evaluation? Would that be the evaluation based on Constructivism, where teachers would design and conduct such formative evaluation?

    Under connectivism, the formal evaluation is secondary to learning, as such evaluation is no longer a process for those who are creating the instruction (i.e. the evaluation done solely or mainly by the instructors), although the instructors may still like to evaluate the learners if they wish to do so. Peer evaluation would and could be part of the formative evaluation in MOOC, or under the traditional formal education system. However, this may not be the same as that of the formal evaluation done as part of the design process. Here, in MOOC, the instructor is assuming a different role to that of the closed formal online education or learning system, in that he/she is just a node in the network. So the learner(s) would decide who and how he or she would like to evaluate the PLE (the central focus of networked learning) with, based on peer evaluation, rather than just the instructors. We have to evaluate the PLE based on the interaction, conversation and negotiation that emerged out of networked learning, or it’s creation, and so that makes “formal evaluation secondary to learning”.
    Aren’t “we” evaluating each others’ PLE and self-evaluating them ourselves through this sort of interaction? Our evaluation criteria set for our PLE may be: “Has the posts (in PLE) critically researched and analysed the information collected? Has there been valued exchange and conversation taking place based on the PLE? What has been learnt through the PLE? What could be improved through PLE?”

    Great to learn from you.

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  34. Hi John, a further difference: constructivism seems to treat human beings as distinct form their environments.: we learn by building blocks, but it is not essential to this theory that we are part of those building blocks. That the knowledge construction is a co-constructive experience. They appear to separate the episitemology from the ontology. Perhaps there is space if connectivism was to really engage with distributed knowledge, for an ontoepistemology to evolve.
    “We dont obtain knowledge by standing outside the world; we know because we are of the world” (Karen Barad)

  35. Hi Ailsa,
    I like that: if connectivism was to really engage with distributed knowledge, for an ontoepistemology to evolve. Will dig deeper into it. Have you got any papers on this area? John

  36. some not easy writing by Alecia Y. Jackson and
    Lisa A. Mazzei (2012)
    in a book called thinking with theory in qualitative research.
    Has a section on Karen Barad.
    If you are interested you could email me at ailsa dot haxell dot aut dot ac dot nz

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