Theories Related to Connectivism

I was asked:

But i have some questions about my research. First i need ten-year findings of connectionim learning theory, second i got confused with telling the difference between connectionism, connectivist because some Chinese translators/scholars have had their own versions.The version raises argumentation. I also wonder if there are any differences between connection theory in other field such as grammar, linguistics, and even in computer science. Third i should be informed of the trends of connectionism in the world and even the application of the theory in Computer Assisted language learning or online learning.

The number of theories with similar names is confusing. Here is my own take on it. I have no doubt there are other theories outside the scope of this short discussion.


This is the name coined by George Siemens and given to a theory of learning and pedagogy. In his formulation it is mostly about social learning in a network, and was probably derived from Constructivism. I considered this theory to be essentially the same as what I had been calling Learning Networks, but with the addition of the idea that the mind - and not just society - is a network.


This is the theory that knowledge is in some way 'constructed' by learners (and by people in general). This is a theory of knowledge creation, based in the work of John Dewey. This theory has its roots in American pragmatism, and has the idea that knowledge is something you make, rather than something you find or discover. There's a branch, called Social Constructivism, based on the work of Lev Vytgotsky, which suggests that knowledge construction is a social phenomenon, not an individual phenomenon (it reminds me of the theory of language proposed by Ludwig Wittgenstein).


This is a theory developed by Seymour Papert. It holds essentially that learning is an outcome or consequence of creating or making things. For example, a person could learn mathematics and logic for themselves by making their own computer programs.


This is a their of knowledge that has its roots in computer science. Essentially, it is based on the idea that knowledge is created by neural networks (as opposed by sets of rules or axioms defined abstractly that govern operations in symbol systems). It traces its roots to the early work of people like Donald O. Hebb, who described simple associationistr (or connectionist) processes. See also 'Parallel Distributed Processing', by Rumelhart and MacClelland, and the work of Seymour Papert and Marvin Minsky. This work was very influential on me in the 1990s and led directly to the theory of Learning Networks as a pedagogical theory.

Some other theories and schools of thought are relevant to this discussion.


One of the foundational copncepts of British Empiricism is that knowledge is based on the association of ideas. See, for example, David Hume, a Treatise of Human Nature. The idea that, instead of being based on logical construction (as in mathematics, for example), knowledge is based on the association of ideas through 'custom or habit'. Associationism forms the basis of John Stuart Mill's philosophy and system of logic, but was largely abandoned by the Logical Positivists, who asserted that knowledge was based on logical constructions from sense experience. My own theories of knowledge are based in associationism.

Graph Theory

This is a branck of mathematics that is based on the study of relations between entities. It originates in Leonhard Euler's study of the possible ways to cross the seven bridges of Konigsburg (the same city in which we find Immanual Kant, the godfather of Logical Positivism and noted critic of Hume). Graph Theory is where we get the terminology of 'nodes' and 'edges'. It is also the foundation for work in the modern study of social networks. The idea of 'six degrees of deparation' comes from Graph Theory, and we see this reflected in the work of Duncan J. Watts and Alfred Laszlo Barabasi. This is also the root of the idea of 'self-organizing networks' which we see in James Surowicki's 'The Wisdom of Crowds'.


I don't know about connection theory in linguistics, but work in neurolinguistics has been influential in my own work. In particular, language according to Noam Chomsky is based on a generative structure based on an innate knowledge of fundamental syntactic structures. This is the origin of the physical symbol system hypothesis, advanced by theorists such as Jerry Fodor, which suggests that human though actually is the manipulation pf physical symbols. People like Zenonm Pylyshyn and Steven Pinker also argue along these lines. I disagree with this theory, and refer to work from people such as Paul and Patricia Churchland, and David Marr (who writes on vision). Language (and logic and mathematics), I believe, is an emergent property of neural networks, and not a system of rules that governs them.

I hope this helps.


  1. There seems to be fine line between 'ivism' and 'ionsm'. Going away from the theories, the bottomline is that to learn the best one has to 'construct' and 'connect' (not in that order necessarily).
    And connect not just with the society and other members but also with oneself. I believe that would have the most profound impact.

  2. First would have to say: What is a theory?.
    What has to meet a set of statements to be a system of ideas?
    What has to meet a set of ideas to be A THEORY?

    Then we can tell if the things you say are theories.

    I have exposed what is a theory, I analyzed connectivism as Siemens puts, and have found that only a SYSTEM OF IDEAS. You can view it at: et seq.

    You can see it in full

    I hope you find it useful.

  3. You analyze the description as offered by Siemens, but have you looked at my own account? I think you'll find a much deeper and richer version of Connectivism. See especially my ebook on my home page, which describes applications and inferences that can be drawn, not just a set of ideas. And note - the concept of the MOOC constitutes a *test* of the theory.

  4. Thanks for your reply.

    You say yourself
    "This is the name coined by George Siemens and given to a theory of learning and pedagogy."
    So I used the version from Siemens.
    I've read his work, I do not rule discuss some ideas.

    The MOOCs can try many things, or their opposites, but you have to prove your character test.

    I have also written something:
      and in general:

    I appreciated your attention to read my work and do it in Spanish :-)

  5. Connectionism and constructionism are theories of mind and knowledge creation

    Connectivism and constructivism are theories of pedagogy

  6. Research scientists, artists, writers, ... create knowledge. But this learning activity is not, strictly speaking. Or at least it is not its main feature.

    Learning is how people incorporated knowledge (usually existing knowledge).

    Theories about how learning occurs are the basis of how it is taught. They form the basis of pedagogy. Theories of learning are inextricably linked to pedagogical theories.

    But any theory implies a causal relationship to be evident.

    In spanish (Many Hispanics who read this):

    Los investigadores científicos, los artistas, los literatos,... crean conocimiento. Pero esta actividad no constituye aprendizaje, en sentido estricto. O al menos no es su rasgo principal.

    Aprendizaje es cómo la gente incorpora conocimiento (conocimiento normalmente ya existente).

    Las teorías sobre cómo se produce el aprendizaje están en la base de cómo se enseña. Constituyen la base de la Pedagogía. Las teorías del aprendizaje van indisolublemente unidas a las teorias pedagógicas.

    Pero toda teoría implica una relación causal, que hay que evidenciar.

  7. You say, "Learning is how people incorporated knowledge (usually existing knowledge)."

    There are two major branches of learning thery:
    - transmission based, which say that people *acquire* and incorporate knowledge that has been transmitted to them by others, and
    - construction based, which say that knowledge is *created* anew by each person based on input or stimuli, and that it is not and *cannot* be simply transmitted and incorporated.

    Connectivism falls into the second category. Knowledge is not transmitted, it is created by the learner.

    So you cannot criticize connectivism simply because it is not a theory of knowledge transmission. Many learning theories today are not theories of knowledge transmission.

    You write, "Theories about how learning occurs are the basis of how it is taught. They form the basis of pedagogy. Theories of learning are inextricably linked to pedagogical theories."

    In transmission theories, learning is taught. In construction theories, a learning environment is created, and learning is created by the students.

    You write, "But any theory implies a causal relationship to be evident."

    This is not strictly true (there are many non-causal theories) but even so it is not a criticism of connectivism. Indeed, one of the advantages connectivism has over traditional constructivism is that it provides a better causal story of how learning occurs.

    But note: th only necessary causal story that needs to be told is how a student comes to have some sort of knowledge. If theory T shows how knowledge P comes to be caused, it doesn't matter whether T originates from a teacher, or from an environment. All that matters is that the story can be told how the knowledge comes to be created.


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