Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Connectivism and Social Learning in Practice

As we continue through the progression of various learning theories, we begin to explore Social Learning Theory and Connectivism. The fundamental belief in these theories is that students learn best when they actively engage with learning while working with others (Laureate Education, Inc., 2009b). Dr. Orey explained Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, the notion that students have the capacity to learn only what is intellectually accessible, and the concept of inert knowledge, which refers to statically learned information that does not carry over when applied (Laureate Education, Inc., 2009b). All in all, the concept that underlies social learning theories is that without the interaction and play of conversation and dialog, students will not be challenged to form a full understanding of a concept; it is the acts of defending one’s stance and being influenced by the perspectives of others that helps a student gain a multifaceted understanding of a concept. To further explain social learning theories, George Siemans speaks about connectivism and the idea of networks as a manner of representing information (Laureate Education, Inc., 2009a).

In Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, we learn of various means of grouping students for activities with the common goals of positive interdependence, promotive interactions, individual and group accountability, interpersonal and small-group skills, and group processing (Pitler, et. al., 2007). These goals work together to ensure that each student wants to and does pull their own weight, works with their teammates in a respectful, supportive, and productive manner, and use the skills and work of all to create an experience that could not have been achieved independently. Cooperative learning serves to improve the learning experience in breadth and depth by sharing the burden (Orey, 2001b). Various means of interacting and working together are presented for incorporating technology into cooperative group work. Wikis, web quests, blogs, multimedia presentations and website creation can all be the technology used during group work, but I was most impressed by the technology that changed the dynamics of group work and aided students in their tasks. Bandura spoke of “reciprocal determinism,” the concept that each member of the group is affected by and effects upon others (Huitt, 2006).

Pitler, et. al. also discussed the use of “keypals,” rather than pen pals, which intrigued me. Technology affords the opportunity for students to work with others from all around the world or in the classroom next door. Social learning theory suggests that students gain a better grasp of content when they interact with others. I believe that increased experiential diversity in the group leads to greater understanding as more is brought to the table. The use of “keypals” and software that allows interaction with others, such as instant messaging and Voice over IP/Video over IP, diversifies the make-up of the group and increases the benefits of the group work. Beaumie Kim related that social constructivism values varying perspectives and backgrounds to help understand the complexities of content (Orey, 2001c) and these technologies help to provide opportunities for these interactions to take place.

I was equally impressed by the use of online software and programming that helps to make the process of working together easier and clearer. Online calendars, document sharing, bookmarks, and management tools can make the large, sometimes confusing, process of group work easier to organize and therefore, more productive. The three elements of connectivism are “chaos theory, importance of networks, and the interplay of complexity and self-organization” (Orey, 2001a). These organizational tools allow the intellectual process to meet these undefined ideals, while providing a procedural structure that gives some boundaries for the experience.


Huitt, W. (2006). Social cognition. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved March 28th, 2010, from http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/soccog/soccog.html

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2009a). Program 8. Connectivism as Learning Theory. [Educational video]. Baltimore: Author.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2009b). Program 7. Social Learning Theories. [Educational video]. Baltimore: Author.

Orey, M.(Ed.). (2001a). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/ Section: Connectivism

Orey, M.(Ed.). (2001b). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from 
http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/ Section: Cooperative Learning

Orey, M.(Ed.). (2001c). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/ Section: Social Constructivism

 Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD


  1. Nancy,

    When teaching technology I found that there is something to be said about how much knowledge my students have and their sharing ideas with me and I with them is the social learning theory in action. When I assigned my first wiki assignment, I did not know everything about a wiki. Neither did my students, but we each new a little and through collaboration and discussion we learned from each other. Today, both my students and I are pretty good at wikis and I am challenging them to add widgets (after my approval) to their personal wikis. If the widgets are cool, I will have that student share theirs with the class. We all learn from each other.

    Technology gives today's students so much ability to collaborate that group work is easier than ever to add to the curriculum. I totally agree that technology affects the dynamics of group work (I think in a positive way)because it gives my quiet students a chance to speak up without being embarrassed and can tone down my overbearing students.


  2. Hi Craig!

    Thanks for your comments. I agree that learning about technology needs to be a shared process. In my opinion, the majority of my skill developed by just playing around with my computer and various websites. I am always excited when students offer me hints and tips. I have always been a desktop and therefore mouse girl, but when I transitioned to a laptop, my students taught me so many shortcuts that I wasn't hindered by the new set-up!

    It sounds like you have had great success with using wikis in the class and that gives me a great deal of hope! I would like to bring wikis into my classroom, but I haven't been able to teach the skill in class and have had even less success with asking the kids to play around on the site independently.

    I hope that the technology allows for students to work better together by also providing for more independence in their computer work. As you stated, shy students may feel more comfortable sharing digitally rather in front of others and students that like to slack off will be more apparent if they do not complete their work. These resources and sites allow for quality collaborative work and thus quality learning experiences.

    Thanks again for your comment!


  3. Nancy and Craig,

    One thing came to mind while reading your conversation about wikis in the classroom. You both referenced how we don't know everything about these tools, and neither do our students, but as we work on these projects we can teach eachother as we learn more about applications and widgits, etc...

    What came to mind for me was that if all teachers were working on creating wikis in the classroom, we wouldn't have to spend as much time teaching our students the ins and outs of wikis. For example, I would bet that most students who work on a wiki in one class don't work on one again for quite some time. But imagine if all teachers in your building were required to do a wiki project at some point during the year. The students would have so much repetition, as would the teachers, that we would no longer have to spend time teaching the kids how to use a wiki page. We could just assign more complicated tasks, and the kids would be off and running because thay have already done this before.

    Like Craig was saying, we all can learn from one another. But if only one of us in the entire building is doing this stuff, it could be overwhelming because you and your students are all on your own.

  4. Ryan,

    Thanks for your comment. As you mentioned, it would be most beneficial for students to use these resources across all subjects and throughout the school year. It does become a daunting task to use technology because we need to start from square one each time we use new tech. Hopefully as students become more and more proficient in typing skills, computer courses can begin to focus on technology rather than typing and thus allow students to jump into class activities with ready-to-go skills!