The Science of Networks: How Connectivism is Changing Our Interactions

Working - Vietnam: Jan. 14, 2019

Connectivism Can Change the Way We Work

Psychologists are Divided About the Implications of Being Constantly Connected to the Digital Sphere

Developing Connections Within Networks is Actually More Important Than Acquiring the Knowledge Itself

ConnectivismImage source: ematrix.uk

Almost everything these days revolves around our gadgets and, more specifically, the networking apps that help us get through the simplest of daily tasks as well as social or professional situations. This is evident everywhere from catching up over social media with friends or e-meeting potential business contacts to finding a personal assistant through a gig economy app or even getting a virtual doctor’s check-up!

Everything is networked. Everything is connected. This newfound sense of being connected has led the academic world into a tailspin as social scientists and psychologists try to understand the implications. While there are many different theories that explain individual elements of the impact of digitalisation and how networking has changed the way that modern society functions, none are quite so poignant as the emerging study of ‘Connectivism’.

What is Connectivism and How Does it Affect the Workplace?

Connectivism is rooted in the belief that everything belongs to a network. Networks are the basis for biological life—the integration of cells to form a living object. Networks are the basis for social life— the integration of relationships to form a community. Networks are the basis for technology: nodes connect to hubs to create complex digital applications.

Connectivism emphasises that the capacity to learn through these networks and foster them are a core life skill. Essentially, it is through networks that all knowledge is acquired and distributed.

The originator of the connectivism theory, George Siemens, wrote in his article “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age” that “Connectivism also addresses the challenges that many corporations face in knowledge management activities. Knowledge that resides in a database needs to be connected with the right people in the right context in order to be classified as learning”.

Connectivism also highlights the surprising idea that learning to maintain and develop connections within networks is actually more important than acquiring the knowledge itself.

One example of this is recent research published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research publications, which has found that being connected to a large social network within an organisation is more influential than being knowledgeable or holding an important title.

Social media platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn are great examples of connectivism at work in the business sector. These networking sites demonstrate that the more followers you have, the more influence you have to disseminate information. LinkedIn has recently capitalised on this accessible connectivity by creating an invite-only LinkedIn Influencer program.

According to the Nordic media monitoring company, Meltwater.com, the program is made up of “… a global collective of 500+ of the world’s foremost thinkers, leaders, and innovators”.

While LinkedIn Influencers are primarily made up of public figures, social media influence is present even on a smaller scale across the internet. The research report, “Enabling Community Through Social Media”, published by JMIR Publications, comes to the conclusion that “Prominence in the network appears to be related to familiarity with individuals, for example, more active participants receive more attention in terms of mentions and retweets”.

This opens the possibility for employees who may have been confined to the ‘lower ranks’ of an organisational hierarchy, to gain an audience as large as the managing board, dependent on their ‘connectivism’ skills to entice followers.

In this way connectivism is already organically encroaching into organisations large and small. Traditional hierarchies, which place power at the top level of management, are being replaced with models that allow for greater levels of power distribution. Models that promote feedback networks in which reflexive learning and decision-making give a voice to employees at all levels of the organisation are starting to be seen as the future in office culture.

Workplaces are necessarily moving away from “Do as I say” to “What do you think?”, promoting employee engagement. This demonstrates that connectivism is helping companies to fully value each member of the team, while equally supporting each member to become more invested in the company’s goals. Both results are achieved in companies that perform as an integrated network, rather than a top-down pyramid.

How Does Connectivism Relate to Vietnam?

Connectivism, and understanding its role in Vietnam, is perhaps most important when applied in training the next generation.

ConnectivismImage source: Shutter Stock

Corporate Connective Open Online Courses (COOC) should be used to make the future Vietnamese workforce more connected, according to Nguyen Manh Hung’s article “Using Ideas from Connectivism for Designing New Learning Models in Vietnam”, published in The International Journal of Information and Education Technology, Vol. 4. A COOC is basically a networked way of learning that allows corporations to offer targeted online training courses for future employees or clients.

Nguyen expresses the need for Vietnam to move away from traditional learning methods in the education systems towards COOC, which can be used successfully in “education environments with developing infrastructure like Vietnam”.

The digitalisation of the workplace has created an increasing demand for employees who are flexible, agile, resilient and able to make connections—to learn as the job requires. The recommendation to promote skills that make us effective lifelong learners, which started as a whisper, has turned into an urgent cry.

It is no longer enough to train youth in industry-specific knowledge. Now it is necessary to train them to know how to make connections. Future leaders need to know how to make connections between information pools in order to create, innovate and make refined decisions. They need to be able to connect to networks in order to become influencers, visionaries and leaders. Connections are what will allow them to continue to be a part of our evolving human story.

A giant in the research of networks, Dr Barabasi, said, “Each of us is part of a large cluster, the worldwide social net, from which no one is left out. We do not know everybody on this globe, but it is guaranteed that there is a path between any two of us in this web of people. Likewise, there is a path between any two neurons in our brains, between any two companies in the world, between any two chemicals in our body. Nothing is excluded from this highly interconnected web of life.”

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