Learning theory behind the Personal Learning Environment

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Personal Learning Environment (PLE) has already blurred the distinction between formal and informal learning. With the advancement of technology, we have become a node of an interconnected network. Learning is embedded not only in our professional life but also in our personal life since technology is changing rapidly. What is the learning theory which reflects the characteristics of learning in the digital age? I doubted whether the traditional learning theories, Behaviourism, Cognitivism and Constructivism could explain the learning behaviour in a PLE.

Connectivism, a concept which I recently learnt by reading an article by George Siemens (Siemens, 2015) is found to be the most suitable learning theory to explain a PLE. Connectivism is an alternative approach for traditional learning theories Behaviourism, Cognitivism and Constructivism. I suppose this theory has been evolved based on the associationism (Wikipedia, n.d.) in a networked environment.

“Connectivism is a theory of learning in a digital age that emphasises the role of social and cultural context in how and where learning occurs. Learning does not simply happen within an individual, but within and across the networks” (Wikipedia, n.d.).

The Connectivism has first introduced in 2005 by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. They have changed the definition of learning as “Learning is the process of creating connections and developing the network” (Downes, 2009).

How can we apply this concept in e-learning? Siemens, Downes and Cormier have developed a MOOC course to model and explain the connectivism, but unfortunately, it is not available now. As per other researches argument, the role of the teacher in a connectivistic environment is not adequately defined since it’s mostly focused on the learners (Bates, 2015).

However, as per Dowen’s interpretation (Downes, 2009), the role of the teacher in a connectivistic environment is similar to the constructivistic environment. It is just a facilitative and observable role in a more open manner.

There are some criticisms of the connectivism (Machness, 2011) approach in teaching and learning. The main criticism is its novelty.  The critiques stated that the connectivism had been obtained some features from other known theories such as “connectivism is connectionism, in computer science, associationism in philosophy and psychology, graph theory in mathematics and social network theory”. I also think it is related to some features describe in the Social constructivism, Engstrom activity theory and Authentic Learning concept.

Some teaching and learning models were proposed to implement connectivism theory through a personal learning environment (Gillet, 2014).


Bates, A. T., 2015. Teaching in a Digital Age. Vancouver: Tony Bates Associated Ltd.

Downes, S., 2009. Connectivist Learning and the Personal Learning Environment, s.l.: LinkedIn Learning.

Gillet, D., 2014. Personal Learning Environments as Enablers for Connectivist MOOCs, s.l.: HAL.

Machness, J., 2011. Attacks on connectivism. [Online]
Available at: https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/attacks-on-connectivism/
[Accessed 23 Feb 2019].

Siemens, G., 2015. Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Technology and Digital Learning, 2(1).

Wikipedia, n.d. Associationism. [Online]
Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Associationism
[Accessed 23 Feb 2019].

Wikipedia, n.d. Connectivism. [Online]
Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connectivism
[Accessed 23 02 2019].