Cognitivism V. Connectivism

Cognitivism V Connectivism
Venn Diagram for Cognitivism and Connectivism

Cognitivism V. Connectivism

Cognitivism was created in a time when learning was not affected by innovation and technology (Siemens, 2004).  Cognitivism refers to the study of the mind (brain) and how it acquires, processes, and saves or stores information (Stavredes, 2011).  In cognitive theory, learners are active participants in their learning.  The cognitive view of learning is teacher-centered, where teachers present information in an organized manner for students to achieve the most efficient learning (Stavredes, 2011). 

Since the 1980’s, technology has radically altered daily life, communication, and education (Siemens, 2004).  Siemens, the developer of connectivism labeled it as a relatively new learning theory heavily influenced by technology (Siemens, 2004). It is a theoretical framework driven by the understanding that information is a network continually being acquired and updated (Siemens, 2004).  The network assists learners in creating their own learning (Bell, 2011).  Through this connected network or web, learners will be able to (a) stay up-to-date with content as it changes, (b) identify credible resources, and (c) draw distinctions between important and unimportant information (Siemens, 2004).  In connectivist theory, the view of learning is that students have an understanding of where to find knowledge, which may be more important than answering the how or what that knowledge encompasses (Siemens, 2012).  

Abik, Ajhoun, and Ensias (2012) asserted that to advance the quality of learning in a traditional teaching environment, educators prescribed different learning theories, such as cognitivism.  In a position paper, the authors suggested that those methods are no longer valid because they were adopted in schools during the “pre-technology” period of education.  Due to the implementation of new forms of online and distance learning, such as E-Learning (Electronic Learning), M-Learning (Mobile Learning), and P-Learning (Pervasive Learning), connectivism should be considered as the new pedagogical approach (Abik et al., 2012).  P-Learning can take place outside the learner with the assistance of technology as an extension of the brain by releasing the learner from cognitive practices, such as the search for and storage of information (Abik et al., 2012).  If one compares the learning theories of cognitivism where students encode, store, and retrieve information to that of connectivism where students can incorporate electronic devices for the “off-site” storage of information, the two learning theories treat the role of memory in different ways.  With connectivism, technology is permitted to become part of the student’s internal learning process.  With connectivism, technology is permitted to become part of the students’ internal learning process.  The authors found that while cognitivism has its place in the communication of basic knowledge, ultimately teaching and learning must embrace connectivism to ensure that knowledge in the 21st century will be properly conveyed (Abik et al., 2012).

Before technology appeared on the pedagogical landscape, selected theories for the creation of learning were through a teacher-centered focus where information were presented in an organized manner (cognitivism), or by learners becoming dynamic members in the development of learning while the teacher served as facilitator (constructivism) (Stavredes, 2011).  In the post-technology world, George Siemens proposed connectivism as a learning theory for the modern age.  According to Siemens (2004), learning is no longer a personal activity.  In connectivism, knowledge is distributed across networks where connections and connectedness inform learning .  Heavily grounded in technology, connectivism is a learning theory based on the acquisition of the knowledge needed for the future, not the past (Siemens, 2004).

The central premise of the cognitive and constructive learning theories is that learning is internal (Bandura, 1997).  Cognitivism does not address that learning may be external and knowledge can be externally stored and manipulated by technology.  Cognitivism fails to address how learning can happen within cohorts or networks.  The research of Williams et al. (2011) recognized that knowledge can be transmitted through a group or network, however they were not willing to dismiss the traditional learning theories of cognitivism in the creation of online education.  Fonseca (2011) found the opposite experience with educators in Columbia, where cognitivism was wholly abandoned for connectivism.  

Learning theory and internet (web) technologies form the basis for what is considered an online educational experience.  Although the teacher, student, and content generally remain the same, the transmutation of student–teacher–content pedagogical triangle of the cognitive theory to the student–teacher–group–content tetrahedron of the connectivist learning theory implies that both learning theories have an important place in an online educational experience.  Whether a student is learning alone, part of a learning community, or learning network, education can be greatly improved by applying an understanding of how people can learn more effectively; cognitivist and connectivist learning theories each play an important role.


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