Making (personal) sense of learning theories

It isn’t easy to identify clearly what constructivism is – a number of ideas seem to have shaped it, as McLoughlin and Lee (2008) point out, including cognitivism and more general socio-cultural learning theory. When I think about constructivism I understand it to be highly context –dependent and therefore referring to the third of McLoughlin and Lees’ metaphors:

“learning as a sociocultural dialogic activity – a social constructivist or sociocultural approach in which learner interaction and dialogue are central to the learning process (Vygotsky, 1978; Bandura, 1977)” (p. 642).

It focuses on what learners say, think, do and produce, as long as these activities involve thinking, analysis, making connections, synthesis and the use of the learner’s own words. This involves personalization – ‘reading’ resources from a variety of audio-visual media and re-presenting them in ways that have meaning for the individual. The discoveries of learners are as valid as those of the teacher and the content authorities – breaking down some of the power dynamic of traditional academia.  Activities we ask learners to do should be purposeful and ideally based on authentic inputs with practical tasks that constitute real-world activity or rehearsal for real-world activity.

In implementation of constructivist theory, collaboration must be involved, as it acknowledges that learning is shared, enriched and deepened by social interaction. In an earlier article describing Pedagogy 2.0 McLoughlin and Lee (2007) emphasise participation as a central to learning with technologies. This implies that teachers need to carefully consider process – how to introduce a new technological tool, how to mesh it with an authentic and purposeful task and how to encourage learners to collaborate while respecting individual levels of contribution.

In production (the third ‘P’ of Pedagogy 2.0) the information and ideas which learners have generated are propagated among a wider community of learners for comment, feedback and/or evaluation – so relationships and reciprocity are emphasised.

Also skills to negotiate way around resources and reshape knowledge are important. A theory called Navigationism has been identified around this, according to McLoughlin and Lee (2008) but the term ‘information literacy’ seems to me more useful.

Connectivism seems to emphasise the importance of both connections between people and among resources. The rationale for this seems to relate to connected thinking, the idea of collective intelligence and synergy – that we can be more creative, diverse if we share and help each other to generate ideas. In some respects connectivism seems to be the logical conclusion of social constructivism; I wonder if it’s necessary to have a separate ‘-ism’ to describe it.

I’m not sure I agree with all the principles outlined by Siemens (2005, p. 7) but these are some that seem to be keys to effective learning:

v. Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning;
vi. The ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill;
viii. Decision making is in 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 alterations in the information climate affecting the decision” (cited in McLoughlin & Lee, 2008, p. 646-647).

Ohr, R. (2012, April 27) Innovation and diversity. [Blog post]

McLoughlin, C., & Lee, M. (2008). Mapping the digital terrain: New media and social software as catalysts for pedagogical change. Paper presented at the ASCILITE Melbourne 2008, Deakin University, Melbourne. Retrieved from

McLoughlin, C. and Lee, M. (2008). The three P’s of pedagogy for the networked society: Personalization, participation and productivity. International Journal of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, 20(1), 10-27. Retrieved from


One thought on “Making (personal) sense of learning theories

  1. I found the concept of “connectivism” a bit difficult to understand, so what did I do? I read some articles, watched a presentation, watched a video, read an encyclopedia entry and then viewed some diagrams, putting it all together in my mind. I guess that proves a few of the ideas as true!
    It’s interesting to see all the ways that information literacy has been re-packaged into new “isms”, but if it gets the point across, I’m OK with that! People often re-invent the wheel with a sexier new paint job on it (if you paint wheels, that is…). I’m also glad they are acknowledging the “shifting information climate”. Web tools and services boom and bust so quickly, and it’s speeding up. Remember MySpace? what about Friendster? They used to be so huge and important, and now they are just 2.0 has-beens. I wonder where Facebook and Twitter will be in five years (owned by Google no doubt, but will they survive)?

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