Connectivism refers to a theory of learning that stresses the contribution of cultural and social context in the learning process. Connectivism is closely linked to activity theory proposed by Engeström (Dunaway, 2011). The association between knowledge, education, and experience is an important aspect of connectivism. In the digital era, connectivism refers to a learning theory that stresses technology and communication and their effects on a student’s education.
Compared with conventional courses that charge tuition, issue college credit, and have enrollments of 20 to 30 students, MOOCs are free and do not issue credits to participants (Pappano, 2012). Since anyone with an Internet connection can register, enrollments can be enormous, occasionally numbering into the thousands (Rodriguez, 2012). Due to the large number of students, faculty cannot respond to each student individually. Students work collaboratively in study groups organized into online forums. The primary instructional medium is the video lecture. Assignments, homework, tests, and final exams may also be included.
Rodriguez (2012) studied an artificial intelligence (AI) MOOC given at the University of Stanford that had an enrollment of 160,000 students. The MOOC was taught by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, two leading experts on AI (Rodriguez 2012). The MOOC was an experiment by the Stanford University computer science department to increase technology and innovation education worldwide. Norvig and Thrun issued a certificate of accomplishment to students who completed the course (Rodriguez, 2012). The Stanford University computer science department caused a controversy in higher education with their participation in a MOOC that drew an unexpectedly large number of students taught by two of the world’s leading experts on AI (Conole, 2013). Conole (2013) noted that the AI MOOC controversy caused higher education to investigate new methods of developing online courses that would not only make more effective use of technology but also would attract a more diverse student body due to technology. Jenkins (2009) cautioned that students participating in MOOCs needed to possess adequate technology and literacy skills to find and use information effectively as is often present in connectivist learning theory.