When an individual studies to become a teacher, they learn about five core theories relating to learning. These include the Cognitive Learning theory, Behaviourism, Constructivism and Humanism. These theories all play a part in understanding how we learn and develop. With digital technology on the rise, right now, perhaps the most important theory is the fifth – Connectivism.

The educational theory of connectivity was first established through two books published in 2005; Connectivism: Learning as Network Creation, by George Siemens, a Professor of Psychology; and An Introduction to Connective Knowledge, by Stephen Downes, an expert in digital learning.

Connectivism looks at how people learn and grow through their connections. These connections can be their working relationships, friends and family, or networks created through their hobbies and interests.

In 2014, Dr Siemens explained that his initial perspective on Connectivism was informed through blogging. He described how different writers were introducing new ideas on their blogs, and how readers were then processing and adapting these ideas through their own knowledge and personal perspectives. Dr Siemens outlines how technology plays a major role in the expansion of these ideas, allowing people across the globe to read each other’s ideas, and then develop them as new content for a worldwide audience. Connectivism, then, is about building links between people, and using these links to support the learning process. Given these links are increasingly being developed online, we need to understand how improving access to technology will in turn improve learning outcomes. I recently co-authored an article for the European Journal of Education Studies on how mature students have responded to the increased use of online learning during the coronavirus pandemic. Our research found that technology was welcomed as “exciting” by mature students, and that they would like to continue using technology for remote learning in the future. We concluded that technology is an important way of improving access to learning opportunities for mature students. We also concluded that by offering detailed training on the use of technology, and by addressing common problems relating to hardware and internet connectivity, we can introduce more students of all ages and backgrounds to online learning. During the pandemic, there has been an understandable focus on digital learning. But technology needn’t just be a short term solution necessitated by social distancing. We can use technology to improve connectivity in the long term too.

By allowing more students to access online learning platforms, we can help more people – no matter their age, background or geographical location – to develop new connections, and learn more as a result. For all of us involved in education, to use connectivity and technology to improve learning outcomes should be a primary goal.

You can read our recent study on technology and mature students by going to https://oapub.org/edu/index.php/ejes/article/view/3440/6076.