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Limits of Connectivism

September 25, 2008


Question:  What are the limitations of Connectivism as a Learning Theory?


Perhaps I have been looking at this all wrong. I have been thinking that Connectivism is a learning theory in the sense of a linear progression from other theories, and as a replacement for them. Something along the lines of  


Behaviourism – >  Cognitivism – >  Constructivism  – >  Connectivism. 


There are some hints that the proponents view it this way, See George Siemens and his articles that discuss the shortcomings of previous theories to explain learning in the context of the emergent digital age.


Maybe it’s a totally errant view to see things this way. Perhaps connectivism should be viewed as a niche theory, of use in describing learning in a digital network setting only, and inadequate for any other purposes.


Stephen Downes gives clues as to the limitations of connectivism.


Where connectivism differs from those theories, I would argue, is that connectivism denies that knowledge is propositional. That is to say, these other theories are ‘cognitivist’, in the sense that they depict knowledge and learning as being grounded in language and logic.

Connectivism is not a representational theory. It does not postulate the existence of physical symbols standing in a representational relationship to bits of knowledge or understandings. Indeed, it denies that there are bits of knowledge or understanding, much less that they can be created, represented or transferred.

Connectivism is, by contrast, ‘connectionist’ 

It may consist in part of linguistic structures, but it is not essentially based in linguistic structures, and the properties and constraints of linguistic structures are not the properties and constraints of connectivism.

Ref. Downes, S. (2007) Moodle forum post retrieved Sept 20/08  from


I wonder if a discussion of how this is a theory is in order. Is this more of a model than a theory? Is connectivism grounded in research, or merely posited as a deduction by its proponents? Where is the data to support its contentions?


Niche seems to be the way.




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  1. You have asked the question that is one my lips about the research evidence. But I am wondering if it matters whether there is ‘evidence ‘ or not? The value of this whole huge discussion is that it gets us thinking.

  2. deadvocate permalink

    Hi Sarah. I appreciate the value in the discussion, no question there. And I understand that it is possible because of the technology, and for this course, the facilitators Stephen and George.

    However, if it is a theory that is being asserted, I think I would like to see some rigorous research behind it. Maybe that will happen going forward, or maybe that is happening now, and this course is in fact a research project for the facilitators, and others. Seems to be little to support the contentions made, other than just talk.

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