Connectivism: Teaching Library Users How to Find Information

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

April 27, 2021

I really enjoy reading about learning theories. There are so many ideas for how to teach and for how people learn, and many of them are relevant in a special library setting.

While I consider myself a social constructivist (someone who believes that knowledge is created through interaction with others and that knowledge is built on previous experience), one theory that I am particularly interested in is Connectivism. Connectivism is a learning theory for the modern technological age. The principles of Connectivism are:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  • 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 (Siemens, 2004, p. 5)

Applying the principles of connectivism in libraries

In practice, these principles have a lot of say about how we teach and work with people in our libraries. For me, the primary takeaway is the importance of teaching others how to find information. Secondly, it is vital that people understand information architecture and how knowledge is created and shared.

As someone who has taught a lot of 50-minute instruction sessions, and who currently teaches research courses, I observe that teaching people how to find information is an undervalued skill. I suspect many of you encounter the same thing. To demonstrate the value of information seeking skills, I have pointed people to the ideas expressed in Connectivism. Specifically, I explain how people need to be able to see connections between information sources (i.e., Scholarship as Conversation) and that as information landscapes change it is important that we all have the ability to adapt.

As you think about your instruction program, and what goals you have for it, I encourage you to dig into Connectivism. It may be a theory that underpins much of what you want to do. The principles can provide a framework for organizing content. Below is an example table of how you might use the principles as an organizational tool:

Principle from Connectivism Instruction Content
Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources
  • Cited by feature in Google
  • Citation tree
  • Tracking legislative updates
Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
  • Internet search skills
  • Database search skills
Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  • Sort web pages by date
  • Set-up journal alerts for new publications

References

Siemens, G. (2004). Elearnspace. Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. eLearngSpace. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.1089.2000&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri. Please read her other posts about skills for special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterpriseand GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets.

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