A Learning Theory for the Digital Age – Siemens

Siemens argues that in today’s interconnected and complex world the three accepted learning theories of behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism have significant limitations in that they don’t address the learning that occurs outside people (stored in technology) nor do they describe learning that happens within organisations. He claims these theories are concerned with the process of learning rather than the value of what is being learned.

Siemens proposes a fourth theory of learning which takes into account integration of the principles of chaos, network, complexity and self-organisation theories, a theory he calls Connectivism.

Within this theory learning is defined as “actionable knowledge” and it is a process that occurs within “nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual”. These tenets sit at the heart of Connectivism. If we accept this, then it follows that knowledge sits outside the individual and that the nature of knowledge changes from “know how and know what to know where”. Siemens proposes a knowledge development cycle which begins and ends with the individual.

Knowledge development cycle

Adapted from The Knowledge Development Cycle. Siemens

This cycle sees the organisation as a learning organism and learning as a continual process with decisions being made against a constantly shifting base as new information is continually being acquired. Siemens highlights that this landscape demands two critical abilities

  1. Ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information
  2. Ability to recognise when new information changes the landscape altered by yesterday’s decisions.


  • Connectivism requires the ability to master sophisticated skills such as distinguishing between important and unimportant information. How can this be taught at an early age?
  • Overcoming homophily (the tendency of individuals to associate with similar others) This is prevalent in organisations and social networks alike
  • Ability of an organisation create a culture of informal information sharing and recognising this as critical to building knowledge
  • Overcoming organisational politics; Individuals within organisations trusting that sharing information will not leave them exposed or vulnerable


A Summary: Learning Theory for the Digital Age – Siemens 

Digital literacy skills

It is worth reviewing digital literacy skills as identified by Weller (2012) here too.  Whilst Connectivism provides the learning theory, Weller may provide an index of skills required.

Weller digital literacy



Siemens, G. (2005) ‘Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age’, The International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning [online], vol. 2, journal/ jan_05/ article01.htm

Homophily in social networks

De Choudhury, M. (2011). Tie Formation on Twitter: Homophily and Structure of Egocentric Networks. SocialCom/PASSAT, 465–470.

Huang, Y., Shen, C., Williams, D., & Contractor, N. (2009). Virtually There: Exploring Proximity and Homophily in a Virtual World. International Conference on Computational Science and Engineering, 4, 354–359.

McPherson, M., Smith-Lovin, L., & Cook, J. M. (2001). Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks. Annual review of sociology, 27, 415–444.

Mislove, A., Viswanath, B., Gummadi, K. P., & Druschel, P. (2010). You are who you know. Presented at the third ACM international conference, New York, New York, USA: ACM Press.

Digital literacy

Weller, M. (2012) The Digital Scholar: How Technology is Transforming Scholarly Practice. Martin Weller. Bloomsbury Academic

H817, Week 3, Activity 11



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