Most people have heard of behaviourism, made popular by Skinner and Pavlov and many people are aware of the constructivist theories of Piaget and Vygotsky and how they influence training and education systems. This article aims to introduce you to a relatively young learning theory – Connectivism. This theory, by George Siemens, began to take shape in 2004 and has gained traction over the last 15 years.

There are eight principles to connectivism which centre on the idea that learners need to learn, unlearn and re-learn information quickly in an ever-changing environment. Information is now able to be created and processed at a much higher rate than at any other time in history, and technology is a key part of learners’ lives in this theory. The growth of technology and its functionality[1] has meant that the first generation of ‘digital natives’ are now young adults and entering our workforce and they bring with them certain expectations, skills, and knowledge.

The Eight Principles:

  1. Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  2. Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources.
  3. Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  4. Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.
  5. Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  6. Ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a key skill.
  7. Remaining current is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  8. Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to the alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.

These ‘digital natives’ have evolved utilising technology in their school classrooms (smart boards, internet connectivity, laptops, tablets, LMSs and even VR in some cases) and it is a key part of how they interact with others in their daily lives. There has been a conceptual shift by digital natives in Table 1.





The role of the instructor is to manipulate the environment in an effort to encourage the desired behavioural changes.

A facilitator, not a source of knowledge but someone who enables the learning (similar to constructivist theories)


To be acted upon by the instructor, to follow their lead. A blank slate who must be provided the experience.

Collaboration with other learners is the key to creating new knowledge. Collaboration and sourcing knowledge is done through technology. Learners require skills to find knowledge and criticise the knowledge available to them.


Can be used to provide learners with data about their performance that can then provide the desired response of a learner.

The key holder of knowledge and enables networking and the collaboration of learners.


Learning occurs through rewards and punishments which promote the desired behaviours.

Not simply being taught. For it to truly occur, learners must be active in constructing new knowledge themselves and this is often through solving real problems by coming up with tangible solutions.

Table 1: Conceptions of Behaviourism versus Connectivism

Further, their ideas of knowledge and learning are different to people of previous generations. Knowledge is no longer held only by the instructor or contained in library books. It is not a set of facts but an ability to learn, unlearn and re-learn. Information can be accessed anytime, anywhere through technology – this is the just in time learning environment of today, as articulated in Principle 7.

Learning is something done by accessing new information and through collaborating with others across time and space. The process can be quick given how highly accessible and readily available information is, such as through a Google search, but due to the changing nature of the world there is a need to maintain current knowledge by unlearning and re-learning information almost constantly.

Digital natives are proficient in using tools and platforms such as Google, YouTube, blogs, online forums, and various social media apps, addressed in Principles 1, 2 and 3. These are accessed daily, often multiple times per day, to keep informed or to search for something previously unknown. Enabling this capacity to find information are well constructed search function tools. One example of an area that we can better assist our members would be to improve the accessibility functions on the Defence Protected Network (DPN) search bar.

It can be difficult to navigate the DPN and find what one is looking for, particularly for newer members, which can lead to disenfranchisement and ‘learned helplessness. Accurate information is important but if it cannot be accessed by the learner then the information is not useful in informing the learner of a particular topic.

Connectivism purports that learners are ‘prosumers’, people who simultaneously produce and consume content, evident in how people use social media apps and online forums. Learners can access diverse perspectives with an internet connection and from this they are able to think critically about what they know and why they think they know it [Principle 6]. For these learners it is not about knowing more for the sake of knowledge but rather for the purpose of understanding and application.

The ability to apply knowledge is developed through collaboration with others [Principle 5]. While collaboration is important, it doesn’t just happen. There needs to be certain tools and platforms in place designed to enable it. A lack of collaboration, under connectivism, would effectively result in a disjointed network where knowledge is clustered and problems with accessibility would impact understanding and application. Army has made some developments in this space through the Army Training System Collaboration Environment and through platforms such as The Cove; however, there is still room to grow in this space.

The practical application of connectivism is best seen in distance education and the development of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). There have been articles written previously on MOOCs. The key components of MOOCs are that learners are given autonomy, they are able to connect with others in the digital platforms, diversity of opinions is encouraged, and that these courses are open and offered for ‘free’ in many cases. These components promote learner autonomy and support Knowles’ adult learning principles [Principle 8].

Army has platforms (Cove, Cove+, Campus [DPN only] and ADELE) for members to participate in professional development (PD) and professional military education (PME) which are accessed online, anywhere anytime. I acknowledge the Cove app and Campus Anywhere; however, there are no links on the DPN homepage for The Cove or ADELE. Instead, learners need to access these sites via searches, URLs, or other pages. A link on the DPN homepage, similar to Campus, would simplify this. Digital natives want to access information and we need to make it more easily accessible and visible to them.

While much of this information is not new, I hope to have provided some context from an educational perspective on learning in the 21st century.