Posted in C21st Learners, knowledge networks and digital innovation, Teaching and Learning, Technology in Education

Learning in the Digital Age: It’s not what you know, it’s how you connect


The old adage ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ has a new incarnation among some educators of the digital age.  The view held by these educators is that the connections we make are the most powerful contributor to our learning.  Central to this view is the belief that due to technology and the explosion of information, the lifespan of knowledge is diminishing and the way we learn is changing.

Theories of learning such as behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism were developed prior to the digital age and do not take into account the impact digital technology has had on society and consequently, learning environments.  The theory of connectivism developed by Stephen Downes and George Siemens attempts to do this.

Some of the key points from theory of Connectivism include:

  • Technology is altering our brains and the way we learn.  Know-how and know-what is being supplemented by know-where.  If I can google it, I don’t need to know it. The ability to talk about things is more important than the ability to name things.
  • The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital as is the ability to recognise when new information changes the way we think about issues and the decisions we make.
  • As knowledge grows, access is essential to learning – our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today and to get this information, learners need to access networks which are crucial sources of up-to-date knowledge.

(Siemens, 2004)

PLN’s – an example of Connectivism in action

The development of a PLN (Personal Learning Network) has been advocated as an essential component of learning in the Digital Age.  Groups such as the State Library of Victoria and the School Library Association of Victoria have been running a Personal Learning Network program throughout recent years. Below are three videos that explain personal learning networks and their benefit for educators.

How to Build Your PLN

Personal Learning Networks for Educators

Personal Learning Networks

The development of a PLN fits well with Siemen’s theory of connectivism because the connections made in this network are about our ‘knowing-where’ to get accurate & up-to-date information.  A PLN also involves talking about learning, sharing resources and supporting the learning of others in a network.   According to Siemen (2013), in the past a course involved a textbook and a teacher and you learned the content and concepts necessary for the exam or assignment – now students also connect with people quoted from the textbook on twitter, join google groups to discuss the concepts and so on – the teacher and the textbook are nodes in the network not the complete picture.

In schools today, there is a lot of talk about digital citizenship, digital literacy and building a positive digital footprint.  If we accept there is value in the theory of connectivism, then we must also investigate ways our learners can access networks and use these in their learning.  Getting students to build a PLN is one way educators can do all of these things – it involves digital literacy, it will provide connections that extend learning and it will demonstrate positive digital citizenship.  Access to digital and social media is essential for building a PLN and it is of much concern that some schools still shut down this avenue of learning which is so critical in contemporary society.  It is also of concern that with the diminishing lifespan of knowledge, some teachers are not engaged in networks and still view learning as a teacher and textbook model.


The Agenda with Steve Paikin. (2013, September 26). George Siemens: Changing Schools, Changing Knowledge. Retrieved April 27, 2014, from

Digitalang. (2012, February 21). How To Build Your PLN (Professional Learning Network). Retrieved April 27, 2014, from

Downes, S. (2012). Connectivism and connective knowledge: Essays on meaning and learning networks [1.0]. Retrieved April 27, 2014, from

Downes, S. (2012, May 21). Downes on Connectivism and connective knowledge. Retrieved April 27, 2014, from

Richardson, W. (2007, December 07). Personal Learning Networks. Retrieved April 27, 2014, from

Siemens, G. (2004, December 12). Connectivism: A learning Theory for the Digital Age [Web log post]. Retrieved April 27, 2014, from

State Library of Victoria. (2014). Personal Learning Network. Retrieved April 27, 2014, from

Via, S. (2010, June 10). Personal Learning Networks for Educators. Retrieved April 27, 2014, from

 Image Attribution

Geralt, System Network News Personal Figures Connection, CC0



As the Curriculum Leader of the Mt Alvernia iCentre, my key areas of interest are: Teaching and Learning The information landscape Digital Literacy Digital citizenship Literature Reading

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