Is it possible to learn without being connected? How does the strength of an individual’s network impact their value as an employee? Why should employers encourage their employees to build robust personal and social networks?
Established learning theories, like behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism, are grounded in the idea that learning occurs inside the human brain. However, technological advances are challenging that assumption. The explosion of artificial intelligence is a testament to the reality that knowledge can be created and stored outside of the human mind.
People no longer need direct experience with something to learn about it. Instead, humans can access the information they need to make decisions and take actions by tapping into their personal networks, computer networks, and social networks.
A single person can only experience or learn so much; however, connection to a broader network allows them to draw on specialized data sets in their networks as needed. Given the massive amounts of knowledge being generated all of the time and the shrinking half-life of knowledge, our ability to connect with relevant and current information quickly is invaluable. This makes networks an essential part of the learning process.
George Siemens’ asserts that a new learning theory is needed for the digital age. Connectivism is grounded in the idea that “learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of
Siemens points out that learning theories must mirror the time period and that traditional learning theories do not account for the significant impact that technology, and our hyper-connectivity, has had on our lives.
In addition to reflecting the changing landscape of learning in a technology-rich world, connectivism attempts to “address the challenges of organizational knowledge and transference.” Siemens describes a new cycle of knowledge development. Knowledge begins with the individual, who brings his/her personal knowledge into an organization. That personal knowledge is composed of a network on which the individual draws to contribute to the organization. The organization gains knowledge and feeds the network. As a result, learning is happening at every level and information flows between the individual, the network, and the organization.
Given this new cycle of knowledge development, organizations (e.g. schools) should encourage their employees to build robust learning networks. The stronger the individual’s network, the more valuable that individual will be to the larger organization.
Even though many school districts and universities invest in professional development, that learning is often treated as an event when learning should be an ongoing process. Individuals with a strong network will continue learning and growing between these learning events and their learning will be more personalized because they are seeking information that is relevant to their specific needs.
Siemens, G. (2005). “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age.” InternationalJournal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 1, 1-8.