Connectivist Learning Experience

My latest professional role was as a Client Success Manager for a software company. At least half of the job involved being a deep subject matter expert on the product, and being fully aware of all implications of quarterly version upgrades for our clients. This monkey was probably smarter than I was after a quarterly release.

Our initial certification work on the product was well-designed but rather lockstep and focused on passing a certification exam as quickly as possible. This provided us just enough information to be dangerous. The real learning started once we started working with clients.

Our clients typically are trying to shoehorn existing complex business processes into a product which will only support about 85% of what they want to do. Part of our job was first, to understand what the business need was for the remaining 15% of requirements. If there was a compelling enough case or the client wasn’t willing to change, we had to figure out how to work something out in the system.

As we have several hundred practitioners globally, we leveraged several Connectivist ways to help each other and share knowledge:

  • Our EMEA team had a Skype chat, which enabled us to ask each other questions and provide answers in real-time. Unfortunately it was difficult to archive the great stuff coming out of this tool for later use.
  • Our client success team maintained a secure blog with discussion threads. Practitioners were expected to search carefully to check whether the answer already existed. If not, the question would go to a designated expert and we would normally have an answer on the blog within 24 hours. We could also answer questions if we had a better answer. Several times my colleagues reached out to thank me for taking the time to do this as it helped them out of a jam.
  • We were encouraged to provide corrections and additions to the product’s Online Help function. This benefited clients as well.
  • Finally for product upgrades, the product managers recorded short videos explaining the new features and impacts for clients. These were assigned to us through our learning management system. We could post questions, which showed up during the video. We normally got an answer within 24 hours and the answers were available to everyone.
  • During release testing, clients could post questions on a discussion topic and the product managers normally answered them within 24 hours. The answers then benefited all clients as well as us practitioners.

Dr. George Siemens (2005) mentions these Principles of Connectivism, and here is how this scenario compares:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.

Sometimes colleagues had an even more clever workaround than the designated expert. Additionally getting perspective from colleagues about what their clients did helped us tell clients when they were better off changing their business process.

  • Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources.

We used several highly-specific sources to find solutions to our questions.

  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.

We maintained rich digital sources of information for maintaining and growing knowledge.

  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.

Agreed, it was not possible to know absolutely everything about the product “off the top of one’s head,” but it was critical to know where to find the answer quickly.

  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.

Contributing to the community made one more visible to colleagues and thus, someone who could more easily get help when needed. Although I was in Sweden and far away from the headquarters in California, a lot of people knew who I was.

  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.

Sometimes we could use a part of the system to support a business process, even if it was designed for something completely different! An example: After understanding the business requirements for a training nominations process, I could help the client use the Succession/Talent Planning module to support it.

  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.

Absolutely, which is why these very searchable, digital artifacts were so important to maintain. The product was upgraded quarterly and patched every two weeks.

  • 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 alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.

This is the nature of software today. Everyone working in the technology industry is trying to run a marathon whilst simultaneously undergoing open heart surgery. However  I think we had less scope for “deciding what is important to learn” in the specific context I mention here, and this principle may be less relevant to the scenario.


Siemens, G. (2004). A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. Retrieved December 7, 2017 from


No photographer attributed. Retrieved December 8, 2017 from


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



Constructivism-Connectivism Venn Diagram

Here’s how I see these concepts in my mind, hope it is interesting for you. I picture constructivism more as the individual learner being provided a foundation by the teacher, then building a house on top of it. If the learner is really motivated, s/he will decorate the inside and buy nice furniture too.

I picture Connectivism in a much less “boxy” way. The teacher provides some initial knowledge but encourages the learner to use that as more of a virtual knowledge “lilypad” to spring from. The learner is free to seek out connections and synthesise his or her own concepts, then come back to the community to share new learnings and insights. Their conceptual and social networks grow naturally as the quality of connections increase.

Sources for diagram:


McLeod, S. A. (2016). Bandura – social learning theory. Retrieved from

Siemens, G. (2004). A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. Retrieved December 7, 2017.

Downes, S. (2010, September 10). Connectivism and its Critics: What Connectivism Is Not. Retrieved December 7, 2017, from

Siemens, G. (2009, September 12). What is Connectivism? Retrieved December 7, 2017, from

Discusses how Connectivism differs from other learning theories.


Grandjean, M. (2015, March 16). Social network analysis and visualization: Moreno’s Sociograms revisited. Retrieved from

BeWiser Business Insurance. (n.d.). Bricklayer Insurance. Retrieved from