Cognitivist-Connectivist Learning Scenario

I am not an artist but for some reason I could see these two learning scenarios as compatible with an art history subject at art school. For example the students are studying Chinese Art of a certain period, say the Song dynasty. The learning objectives are to understand what influenced the typical subject matter and techniques of that period. The students are asked to demonstrate their understanding through group work and practical artistic submissions. (See below for feedback from my brother, who is indeed an artist!)

One amazing thing I have learned in this course is that for group work to be enjoyable and educational, it’s absolutely critical to “form and norm” first. Please see this amazing paper from Dr. Donald R. Woods on this subject. So any Cognitivist or Connectivist group work needs to include as many of these techniques as possible before the group starts producing anything.

In a Cognitivist scenario, the instructor could assign some initial readings on the history and selected literature of that period, as well as an overview of the most famous artists and their work.

The students would come prepared to class to work in groups. They should summarise key themes from culture, politics and literature which are obvious in the artwork they had to review. The groups should present their findings to the entire class. Then the entire class agrees on the three or four themes they find most relevant.

Then the instructor can review some standard subject matter, symbolism, leading artists and relevant artistic techniques of the period, perhaps confirming what the groups have found, perhaps adding more. Then there is an individual assignment to create two original works– one a more traditional example of the period, and one including more modern subject matter and symbolism but still using the artistic techniques from the period.

The individuals bring their work to their group for discussion and feedback. Each individual has the chance to refine their product based on several rounds of feedback. In addition, there is a group project, which is refined over some time based on peer feedback from the rest of the class.

In a Connectivist scenario, this subject matter still probably works best for a group of people who are meeting in person regularly. However the instructor can be more free with the prework assignment, providing some background but encouraging students to seek out additional background based on their own research.

As part of prework before a class session, the instructor could ask each student to analyse a typical work of the period that they find online themselves. The student should summarise subject matter, symbolism and even some background on the artist, if possible. Students will be asked to review each others’ prework before class, give feedback and vote for the submissions they find most enriching to their learning.

In the classroom, the instructor can ask some individuals to present their prework and get feedback. The group activity would be much the same as in the Constructivist scenario, however there is a class blog available for each individual and group to maintain their portfolio. The work is digitised and available for the entire class to work with during the term.

In both scenarios, as is mentioned in Dr. Woods’ paper, it’s important for the students to do self-assessment and peer assessments, as well as a group after-action review.

Postscript: Feedback from an actual artist who went to actual art school:

“Overall it sounds fairly realistic, not insane,  well conceived,etc.
The Chinese art as a theme sounds great and the way it wraps in history, tools and technique is all good.
I guess the only thing i can add as an artist is that the reality is this- it’s good to make artists try varied subject matter and techniques for sure. But in execution it would be better served to try broad subject matters like abstract cubism, chinese watercolor, to have a real flow with a group. Too specific might be too limiting in execution.
If its about studying art instead of actually creating art in a group then anything goes!
But if it’s about making art in class then the scope shouldn’t be too narrow.


Woods, D. R. (2012, January 17). Having Students Work in Groups? 5 Ways to Get the Results You Want. Retrieved December 6, 2017, from