Friday, June 22, 2012

Connectivism in the Gifted Classroom's all the rage these days!  But what does it mean? Is it learning theory? A pedagogy? What does it look like? What are it's implications for learning?  Would it apply to gifted learners too?

This is (potentially) a huge topic (prolific writer and thinker Stephen Downes does it in just over 600 pages) !  But a very easy one to comprehend and explain.  Well, sort of...

Let's take it from the top.  Connectivism is a learning theory that was first proposed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes.  Dubbed A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, connectivism is a pedagogy based on the realization that any knowledge, all knowledge, is (complex). Knowledge is not something we can package neatly in a sentence and pass along as though it were a finished product" (like I am trying to do here).  "It is complicated, distributed, mixed with other concepts, looks differently to different people, is inexpressible, tacit, mutually understood but never articulated" 
(Connectivism and Connected Learning: Essays on learning and learning networks. Downes, 611).

Let's let George Siemens explain his experience with connectivism.
While this course was designed for a university, and would look different in an elementary or high school, many of the fundamental principles easily transfer over, especially to a gifted class.  For example, having students either blog or microblog, or connect through Skype allows for students to have an open conversation with an author, politician, or anyone in any other part of the world.  This connect takes information, applies technology, and transforms it to higher ground through connection.  

Now watch the video below and see the implications for the learner in this theory.  It's easy, all you need to do is connect the...
One can see that this theory is closely related to constructivism (see my blog post Construct and Create for more), but that it also goes beyond it in that connectivism acknowledges that technology connects us through informal networked arenas.  This theory, then, emphasizes the primacy of the connection, and the distribution of knowledge across a variety of networks.  Furthermore, as learning is an actionable knowledge, there is an emphasis on the learner's ability to navigate the information (Siemens), and create something out of it.  

Downes (2005) lists the qualities of networked learning as:
  •  diversity
  •  autonomy
  •  interactivity
  •  openness

What are the implications of these qualities for the gifted learner?

Nauta and Ronner define a gifted individual as a "quick and clever thinker, who is able to deal with complex matters; an individual who is autonomous, curious and passionate; a sensitive and emotionally rich person, who is living intensely. He or she is a person who enjoys being creative" (2009).  Much like connectivism is about making connections along thin strands of knowledge, the gifted learner is also encouraged make connections in order to have a more complex understanding of their world.  As gifted learners are encouraged to use learning strategies that represent the triadic spectrum for self-regulating and managing personal processes, behaviour and environment, there is often more freedom in a gifted classroom to explore connections and enrich understandings through connections to literature, videos, poetry, music, and any other piece of information.  Furthermore, as gifted learners are often labeled as "creative" (which, really, we all are), the implications of connectivism are great, as it does not constrict creativity.

How does a connectivist teach?
He or she attempts to apply network theory, systems theory and social learning theory.  In other words, connective educators are:

  • technologically competent   
  • experimental
  • autonomous
  • creative
  • playful
  • capable of complexity

In Connectivism and Connective Knowledge, Downes describes connectivist teaching and learning as consisting of four major sorts of activities:
1. Aggregation- content- delivered through a variety of sources (example: newsletter)
2. Remixing-make connections, and then keep track of these resources and connections through blogs, delicious, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
3. Repurposing- creating
4. Feeding forward- sharing with the world

Hmmm...certainly lots to think about over the summer.

Stay tune...



  1. Nice post, Aaron, and excellent combination of ideas. It's neat to see George talk about his approach when it was still in its infancy and while he was still at the U of M, and Jenn (@injenuity) is one of my favourites too. It's interesting to think that maybe connectivism offers a fresh way to think about approaches to gifted education. In some ways, I think it might be about trust (I know, I see trust issues lurking everywhere, right?). Anyway, allowing your students to break out of the traditional box is normal in gifted ed. What connectivism does is invite you to break out and then burn the box. If we recognize that our learners will come at their own problems in their own ways, and trust that they will in the process build a valuable learning experience, then we are well along the way to incorporating some of these ideas in our classrooms. But it means you have to trust your students first, doesn't it? Trust them to take the job of learning seriously. Trust them to invest their energies in learning. Trust them to locate the resources and sort them out for themselves. Trust them to do something worthwhile.

    Ahhh.... trust. One of my favourite little disruptive words.

  2. A simple concept, trust, but like many simple concepts, not always easily attainable. However, this can be reached if done properly (an open and caring environment that fosters personal and academic growth helps).

  3. Hi, Aaron. Thanks for sharing my video. I recorded that years ago, around the time I met your wonderful professor! I'd like to bring it full circle and share a link to a presentation I created about Networked Teachers. I actually purchased the domain and used WordPress as a presentation platform, rather than PPT. You can see a link to Dr. Schwier's work in the resources I shared during the presentation at I spoke with the audience about how Rick openly shared his progress and challenges while writing his book, and the importance of letting students see you learn. I've definitely benefited greatly from his presence and connectivity.
    It's interesting to see Connectivism applied to teaching gifted students. I've tended to avoid the whole "gifted" label with my own kids, possibly because I've not been educated enough about it. However, if I let it happen, they'd likely both be classified as such. I've got kids going into 1st and 6th grades. They both have had their own domains since birth, and the sites have developed as they've grown. The 6th grader has a more traditional blog, and the 1st grader has a photo blog. When my 1st grader was in kindergarten this past year, we used a wiki for him to do presentations, rather than the kindergarten worksheets. You can see it at along with some recordings of his presentations.
    I'd say my own network connections have been the most valuable in connecting my kids to content, experts, and friends. They're more likely to suggest we ask people for answers, rather than simply "googling" things. It will be interesting to see how you apply your learning to your own professional practice!

  4. Thanks for your post; sorry it took so long to get back to you. And thanks for all the links. I will certainly use them in the near future.
    What wonderful ideas you have with your children- authentic audience can be such a motivator, and it is nice when we allow children to explore them.
    I look forward to connecting again soon.