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



Are OER both open and innovative

How innovative is OpenLearn?

Looking at OER through the lens of OpenLearn ( to answer the question “Are OER both open and innovative?”

How to judge OpenLearn in terms of my definition of innovation?

My definition of innovation in this context: facilitating a change in practice with technology as the enabler as “technology shapes practice and practice shapes the way technology is used” (Veletsianos and Kimmons, 2012) which in turn challenges an established educational norm.

OpenLearn is innovative in the following ways;

  • free of direct cost to the learner
  • openly accessible online
  • individuals can study at their own pace
  • individuals can structure their studies how they wish
  • there is no formal assessment
  • can earn badges and a statement of participation
  • can share some courses with a wider audience through LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter
  • some courses enable discussion with fellow students but these usually have a start and finish date for the material although individuals can complete at their own pace as they stay ‘open’

What key challenges facing the OER movement can be dealt with more quickly than others?

Legal: further development of loosening copyright through CC. One high profile example is the Google Library Project which is an attempt to digitalise books held in five major university libraries. There are issues with copyright and some books will only be able to be sampled and reviewed and another – the WIPO Marrakesh Treaty, guaranteeing reproduction rights for blind / VI people.
Practical; providing access to content. 2.4 billion users of the web worldwide. (UK Government Digital Inclusion Strategy, 2014), but this has to be seen against the back drop of a current world population of 7.3 billion people (The Population Institute, 2014). Whilst the user figure is remarkable given the relatively short lifetime of the web, there remain issues of inclusion, whether it is lack of access, lack of digital skills, lack of motivation or restrictions on participation or knowledge control by government. Though there is an assumption here that the remaining 4.9billion people have an interest in using the web.

There is work in progress to address some inclusion issues. Governments and institutions are beginning to make their educational resources available online, as of June 2012 45% of governments had an OER policy, (Hoosen, 2012). The UNESCO 2012 Paris OER Declaration called on all governments to make these publicly funded educational resources openly available online. Governments are also active in creating policy to improve digital literacy e.g. the UK Government Digital Inclusion Strategy (2014) has been initiated with an aim that “by 2020 everyone who can be digitally capable, will be”.

Technical: developing an environment for open access. Technological developments and developments in practice progress hand in hand; e.g. multiple devices through which to access the web and the knowledge stored within it, fast connection and downloads, online practices of sharing, editing and disseminating information and collaborating with others and therefore opportunities for individuals to own and take responsibility for their learning.

How do open educational resources challenge conventional assumptions about paying for higher education modules?

  • cost
  • culture of setting personal study goals, own pace at any time – no need to be at the same stage as everyone else
  • individuals sharing what they know through social media, therefore content is unprotected.
  • consumed and published in different ways – content can be mashed up, reused, developed and republished
  • development of badges and certificates of participation. Substitutes for assessed qualifications.


McAndrew and Farrow (2013), Open education research: from the practical to the theoretical

OpenLearn available at (last accessed 5th February 2016)

Veletsianos, G, & Kimmons, R 2012, ‘Assumptions and Challenges of Open Scholarship’, International Review Of Research In Open & Distance Learning, 13, 4, pp. 166-189, Education Research Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 5 February 2016

Learning to work out loud

I have long been fascinated by the work of John Stepper in Working Out Loud and have been thinking long and hard about realising the benefits… and challenges!…. of articulating and refining my thinking and practice in a public space. More recently I have been inspired by Jane Bozarth’s excellent book Show Your Work. Though lacking the courage to begin in earnest I have been lurking in the shadows, reading, reflecting and learning from other’s work.

Now, as I begin to study “Openness and Innovation in E-learning” at the Open University, I am presented with the opportunity to explore and experiment. My intent is to push my personal boundaries as I progress through this 30 week journey and to develop “working out loud” to become just the ways things are done around here.