Cognitivism & Connectivism

October 16, 2020

A comparison between cognitivism and connectivism

In this section, I compare two learning theories, which look at learning from two diverse perspectives. In cognitivism the learner and its social environment are the focus, while in connectivism technology is the main factor.

We will look into the details of the two theories in the next infographic, however, both rely on the agency of the learner. The inner compass that allows us to discover the knowledge necessary to reach our goals.

Yet, our sense of direction when we learn is a delicate balance. As a designers of learning environment we need to support the learner to direct themselves by both human interaction and the learning environment.

What is cognitivism?

The purpose of education is not to impart knowledge, but to facilitate child's thinking and problem-solving skills to transfer to a wide range of situations.

Cognitivist use the metaphor of the mind as a computer: information comes in, is processed, and leads to certain outcomes. Yet, how the information is processed is strongly based on value, experiences and emotion of the single individual. Talking about computer, the following learning theory integrates technology in the concept of learning.

What is connectivism?

Connectivism is a learning theory that explains how Internet technologies have created new opportunities for people to learn and share information across the World Wide Web and among themselves.

Cognitivism relies on the concept that many learners will move into a variety of different, possibly unrelated fields throughout their lifetime. Identifying learning as a continual process lasting for a lifetime.

Below an overview of the difference of these two theories

Connectivism and service in e-learning

In this section, I will show how connectivism is present in design and the so called "learning communities" which designers take a great advantage of. In Duolingo which is a learning language platforms, the community building and involvement contributes to the growth of the platform. Duolingo propose to translate pieces of text to learners, after detailed peer review the translations are added to create more content for other learners, which is monetised by Duolingo. This process create a profit for the platform but also a good profit for the learning community who can learn a language for free.

Duolingo strategy

How I use connectivism in UX

I am currently involved in a project on increasing hand washing practices in the African context with an App. One part of my work is focussed on teaching when to wash hands and how to wash hands to users with a high rate of illiteracy. However, the learners develop a great chunk of knowledge when practicing hand-washing and creating hand-washing station. The knowledge developed by learners and users will be re-introduced in the learning app.

Connectivism and Iwash app
The concept of this app roots in connectivism and on the concept of knowledge-sharing.

In the three steps, I describe the learner development stages.

  • In the first step, the learner absorbs the basic learnings of hand hygiene.
  • In the second step, the learner gather and share information on defined topic, such as: hand-washing station or correct behaviors on hand-washing practices.
  • In the third step, the learners  interact with the learning community in which new topic are created such as: maintenance of hand-washing stations, community building or new practices. In this step designing a proper system of knowledge sharing is extremely important for facilitating learners to effectively gather information. The platform will be organised  and facilitated by "wash-professionals", the learner will be supported by facilitators and other learners to post events, knowledge and workshops. In this creative and rich environment the learner will track his learning or new information in a dedicated section.

A short conclusion

With the COVID-19 pandemic, we faced a forced technological push and even if at the beginning was uncomfortable, at least for my experience as assistant in higher education for designers, we can also see the potential of increasing learning communities. Now that we can teach and learn everywhere, we still need to design system that support learning communities and empower learner to self-direct their learning.



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Self efficacy and agency.  Retrieved from

Cognitive Load Theory. Retrieved from


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