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A Connectivist Approach to Inclusive and Socially Responsible Education

Submitted by genesisl on Aug 10, 2017

August 9, 2017

By: Dr. Kaveh Abhari,

The current education system imposes serious challenges to diverse learners (nontraditional majority) including students with racially, culturally, socioeconomically, intellectually and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Inclusive education, as a socially responsible education model, intends to address these challenges by enhancing dynamic but equal learning opportunities for all students regardless of their background and differences. Whereas our education system has tried to implement inclusive strategies for some time, the move toward inclusive instruction using social learning and social technologies is relatively recent. Addressing this necessity, CDS’s STEMD2 R&D Group1 has developed and tested a set of integrated strategies for improving inclusive and socially responsible education. These strategies draw from a connectivist approach to problem-based learning (PBL) and set a foundation for a new inclusive instructional-model supporting all learners.


Connectivism is characterized by its key principle that the knowledge is a commodity and therefore, capacity to learn is more important than what is currently being learned. In the connectivist approach, knowledge is distributed across networks, and therefore, learning occurs through navigating these networks and understanding connections. Connectivist learning is thus defined as a process of connecting information sources in which the ability to see these connections is the core learning skill. Connectivism, if implemented in a social context, demonstrates the potential for inclusive education due to its emphasis on diversity, flexibility, openness, and learner agency (autonomy). This approach can also facilitate learners’ knowledge discovery and formation through social activities enabled by empowerment, networking, interactivity, and social experimentation.

The connectivism principles (autonomy, openness, connectivity, and diversity) can be operationalized using social technologies in K-12 to enable inclusive, contextual, and socially responsible learning. To implement this new generation of learning, STEMD2 advocates for a new version of PBL instructional model with four strategies––social exploration (problem identification), social ideation (creative and collaborative problem-solving), social experimentation (solution verification) and social validation (solution presentation and feedback solicitation)––that can reach, engage and empower all students for productive learning experiences regardless of their background and their diverse abilities.

Social exploration extends the learning process beyond the classroom and into students’ communities. Social exploration requires teachers to encourage students’ active participation in dynamic interest-based social exchanges beyond the classroom boundaries to identify a social problem based on their own interest. Social exploration allows students to find and process knowledge in their own preferred way and define the value of knowledge in their own social context, when and where it is needed. Then, social ideation enables students to connect different disciplines and subjects and engage students to collaboratively ideate to address existing and emergent problems. Students may compete in proposing better solutions, but at the same time, collaborate to critically analyze their own or others’ ideas. Social experimentation allows students to make predictions and elaborate on different aspects of the solutions by testing and evaluating hypotheses in a social setting. The most important complement of social experimentation is social validation when students publicly present the results of the experimentation and solicit feedback. This strategy helps teachers demonstrate the application of know-how and know-why in the students’ sociopolitical or sociocultural environment.

This new instructional model allows students to explore problems from different perspectives and providing open learning opportunities via social feedback. This model emphasizes aspiration more than motivation, contextual problems more than generic world problems, organic knowledge acquisition more than direct instruction, purposeful knowledge processing more than procedural skills, and freedom to fail more than formal assessment.

STEMD2 findings suggest that the systematic implementation of this model supported by social technologies can facilitate inclusion, maximize engaged learning time, and diversify learning contents and approaches. We believe this model has the potential to narrow the opportunity and achievement gaps for diverse learners while promoting socially responsible education.

STEM D2 Teacher Guides

STEMD2 R&D Group develops, evaluates, and disseminates research-based instructional practices and resources to support STEM education for diverse learners in Hawaii. STEMD2 was initially funded by the U.S. Department of Education and Native Hawaiian Education Act Program, through grants such as Ne‘epapa Ka Hana (NKH), to develop technology-enabled instructional models for improving inclusive mathematics instruction. STEMD2 currently offers a wide range of products including teacher professional development and coaching programs, socio-culturally responsive curricula, social learning platform, and student development & mentorship programs. For more information, visit

Photo: Kaveh Abhari

Kaveh Abhari, PhD, is an interdisciplinary researcher at the University of Hawai‘i, and is committed to making education, innovation, and entrepreneurship accessible for all including underserved and disadvantaged communities. He is researching and developing social technologies to enable large scale, systemic and sustainable social changes. Abhari has an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Communication & Information Sciences with backgrounds in Education Research, Business Development, and Electrical Engineering.