Cognitivism & Connectivism

Read about the similarities and differences between Cognitivism and Connectivism.

"We begin with the hypothesis that any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development."

Bruner, 1960 as cited in Smith, 2002

Bruner (1915-2016)

Jerome Bruner (1915-2016), an American psychologist whose influence has largely been felt in education. He considered the ways in which needs, motivations, and expectations influence perception. Bruner, along with Leo Postman, looked at the development of human cognition, particularly the role of strategies in the process of human categorisation. This led to a curiosity in the cognitive development of children and further to education and its appropriateness (Smith, 2002).

Unlike Piaget’s focus on the stages of development (related to age), Bruner suggested that intellect developed in step-by-step stages and was largely dependent on how the mind is utilised (Smith, 2002; Mcleod, 2019).

Bruner argued that the age of a student should not matter in terms of when a person was ‘ready’ to learn the content but rather, the student should be introduced to the content and revisit the basic ideas continuously until they have been built upon and fully understood (the spiral curriculum concept) (Mcleod, 2018; Mcleod, 2019).


Cognitive theory developed as a reaction to Behaviourism as cognitivists felt that behaviourists ignored the internal processes that lead to learning – the thinking (Rhalmi, 2012). Cognitivism started out by looking at the active acquisition of knowledge rather than the passive learner approach of behaviourism (David, 2015; Michela, n.d.). In more recent times, cognitivism has begun to focus on the student’s learning processes and how they receive, organise, store and retrieve information (Michela, n.d.). During this process, the person also develops their own original ideas that are not directly related to any supposed ‘inputs’ (David, 2015).

Whilst Bruner’s work heavily influences constructivist theory, his work also influenced cognitivism in that he showed that past experiences shape mental processes with cognition changing when there is a difference in the way information is presented compared to previously (UMGC, n.d.).

Social Cognitivism

Social cognitivism combines cognition with the recognition that learning is not a process completed in solitude but rather a process that takes place with a social influence (LaMorte, 2019). In short, the social influences- both past and present- are believed to have an impact on the learner and their potential for engaging in behavioural action. Thus, Albert Bandura (1925- ) proposed that both extrinsic and intrinsic factors motivate learning with the construct of self-efficacy joining with the development of social cognitivism (LaMorte, 2019).

A person’s sense of agency, or self-efficacy, refers to the internal monitoring and the subsequent adjusting of one’s behaviour based on outcomes and the belief that one can do something (McLeod. 2016). It is also the sense of mastery one feels over what they do and the results they observe (Kurt, 2019). The concept of self-efficacy improves as learners gain mastery with the aid of others and provides a bridge between learning theory and theories of behaviour change (McLeod, 2016).

In addition, Bandura proposed that learning in isolation is not enough to provide the highest potential for learning and therefore he proposed that a learner’s mental state and motivation have a direct impact on learning (Kurt, 2019).

Bandura demonstrated that observational learning can occur without resulting in a permanent change in behaviour and proposed that a learner’s mental state and motivation have a direct impact on learning (Kurt, 2019). This resulted in his exploration of what needs to occur in order to create change. The result of his inquiries led to the discovery of four necessary steps for behavioural change to occur:

  • Attention – the learner needs to pay attention and reduce distraction
  • Retention – the learner needs to retain the information presented
  • Reproduction – once the learner has paid attention & retained the information, they must now reproduce the information or apply it
  • Motivation – the learner must be motivated enough to imitate the behaviour or apply the learning

(McLeod, 2016)


Connectivism is a relatively new and emerging theory which has developed in response to the digital age and the subsequent increased access to networking technologies and the social process of creating and sharing knowledge (Corbett & Spinello, 2020). It provides a model for learning in a society where the tides continually change and learning is an interactive, social activity comparable to cognitivism (Bates, 2019; Siemens, 2017).

Siemens (2004, p. 5) suggested that in the context of connectivism, ‘learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under control of the individual’ referring to information that is stores on computational devices, servers and databases.

 Siemens also identifies that in our new digital world, new information is constantly being acquired and the ability to distinguish between important and unimportant information is essential. The learner must then be able to recognise if and how the new information has changed the landscape and now effects the way forward (Bates, 2019; Siemens, 2004; Siemens, 2017).

The principles of connectivism according to Siemens (2004) include:

  • The diversity of opinions leads to learning and knowledge
  • The process of learning involves connecting specialised information sources
  • Learning may reside in technology and not always within the human
  • The capacity for knowing more is more important that what is currently known
  • Fostering and upholding connections is essential in facilitating continual learning
  • The ability to make connections between ideas, concepts and fields (e.g. the field of psychology to teaching & learning) is considered a core skill
  • The intention of connectivist learning is to remain up-to-date in a world of rapid change/advances
  • Making decisions and recognising that while the decision is right today, it may be wrong tomorrow is a learning process

(Siemens, 2004; Bates, 2019)

Connectivism largely underpins the massive open online courses (MOOC)- online courses that are provided free of charge and use online learning software and systems to facilitate learning. The courses have clearly set out objectives and curricula and have facilitators guiding the learning however learners take responsibility for what they learn and how they share their learning (UMGC, n.d.).

These online learning communities promote learning through the open sharing of knowledge into the network promoting interactions among participants and facilitators who contribute further to the content (krist2366, 2015; Siemens, 2004)

The technologies commonly referred to in connectivism include YouTube, online forums, email, wikis, web browsers and social media (kirst2366, 2015).


Bates, Q.W. (2019, October 10). Connectivism. In Teaching in a Digital Age (Chapter 2.6). OER Commons. Retrieved October 6, 2020, from

Corbett, F., & Spinello, E. (2020, January 20). Connectivism and leadership: Harnessing a learning theory for the digital age to redefine leadership in the twenty-first century. Retrieved October 6, 2020, from

Krist2366. (2015, June 01). Connectivism (Siemens, Downes). Retrieved October 10, 2020, from

LaMorte, W. (2019). Behavioral Change Models. Retrieved October 6, 2020, from

Michela, E. (2020). Cognitivism. In R. Kimmons & S. Caskurlu (Eds.), The Students’ Guide to Learning Design and Research. EdTech Books.

Rhalmi, M. (2012, June 03). Learning Theories: Cognitivism. Retrieved October 6, 2020, from

Siemens, G. (2004). Elearnspace. Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Elearnspace. org.

Siemens, G. (2017). Connectivism. Foundations of Learning and Instructional Design Technology.

University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). (n.d.). Cognitivism. Retrieved from

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