My Personal Learning Experiences with Cognitivism and Connectivism

Being a digital native, Connectivism has always played a large role not just in how I develop and facilitate curriculum – but also in my own personal learning experiences. For example, when I was a 14-year-old middle school student, I wanted to build my own website so I used Connectivism to teach myself how to read and write HTML code.

I was in middle school during the height of the first Dot Com Boom, and I just knew this “World Wide Web” stuff was important. I wanted to master HTML and web design – and maybe even start my first business – by building websites for myself and my friends. I started by using the search engine Ask.com, which was called Ask Jeeves back then, to search for HTML tutorials for beginners. Eventually, that led me to the excellent website, HTMLgoodies.com, which features a variety of hands-on tutorials for teaching yourself to read and write HTML, JavaScript, and more – all while you build working webpages.

In this way, I used various different digital tools to seek out information on the Internet from a variety of places. And I didn’t stop there. While reading the information displayed in each tutorial, I simultaneously typed the code in Notepad as instructed. As I followed along, I also compared my code to the visual images that were included in each tutorial. By testing my code in the Internet Explorer browser, which was the gold standard back then, I was able to instantly verify that my code was working. This was another way I used a diverse variety of digital tools (specifically, the Internet, a tutorial website, a web browser, and Notepad) to learn something new.

When I stumbled across a problem, such as broken code, I learned to troubleshoot and quality check my code. I also learned the important skill of searching the internet for help. By pulling information from multiple different resources, including various websites, search engines, and online forums or other communities, I was able to slowly piece together a working knowledge of web design and development. Of course, not all online resources are accurate. I had to learn good decision-making skills to discern which “advice” I should follow and to determine which tutorial websites were the best for what I was trying to achieve.

My social and cultural influences also played a role in my learning. I was friends with lots of teenage boys who were gamers, web developers, and what you might call “computer fanatics.” This social circle was extremely helpful to me as they supported my decision to learn to code, shared tips, tricks and resources, and assisted with quality checking my code when it needed debugging. These experiences allowed me to gain a mastery of HTML that I was able to build upon for decades to come, and also introduced me to JavaScript, which I now use in my curriculum development and instructional design role.

Today, with modern resources such as in-person coding workshops (which were unavailable to me as a middle school girl in Kentucky decades ago), YouTube video tutorials, podcasts, conferences, and a variety of social media learning tools and eLearning or MOOC websites, I would have an even greater opportunity to put Connectivism to work for teaching myself to code. Throughout my career in adulthood, I have been a lifelong learner using Connectivism and digital media to further my own learning experiences.

Through the Cognitivist Lens:

The scenario listed above was not purely Connectivist; it also has some elements of Cognitivism. For instance, the tutorial websites I looked at took cognitive load into account. Lessons were broken into smaller segments so I could pick up the technical information with ease. The tutorial images, such as screenshots, were placed beside the corresponding text to improve clarity and avoid any confusion. Non-essential information was omitted from the tutorials.

At the time, I recall the website being laid out in a way that reduced cognitive load. However, that was the mid-1990s and, as we all know, the look and feel of the internet in general was a bit of a mess overall back then. I’m sure if I were to go back in a time machine to take a look at the 1997 version of HTMLGoodies.com, it would be overwhelming and I would feel overloaded by the design and layout. (The current layout of the website is not very clean or modern, but the information architecture is at least organized in a way that I can easily find what I am looking for within a few seconds. Of course, my perceptions of the website today are shaped in part by my own history and knowledge, as well as my own cultural and social background.)

I had an internal motivation to acquire this knowledge and I used my social network of people familiar with web design to assist me with the learning process. HTMLgoodies.com taught the content in small chunks, making the information easier to absorb for a newcomer like myself. Courses were set up in a way that I could read the instructions and then try for myself. As I did this over and over, I built a level of self efficacy and grew to master the content, becoming motivated to learn more and more about this topic.

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