What is networked learning?

I have been feeling overwhelmed by what networked (and global) learning really is? How does it apply to my current learning? How can networked learning be used? Can I use it to teach others? What are networked learning principles?

After reading the course blog, I decided that I needed something more basic, a simple overview of networked learning. So a simple search for “networked learning” retrieved a wonderful Wikipedia entry for me on Networked Learning. Unlike the other resources presented to me so far, I really liked the logical structure and explanation of the Wikipedia entry.

Networked learning is a process of developing and maintaining connections with people and information, and communicating in such a way so as to support one another’s learning.”

From the wiki page I learnt that networked learning is a decentralised way of learning. Not everything is taught by the teacher within the structure of the institution. Networked learning recognises that contact with places, people, situations, communities and content outside the ‘school’ environment is just as much part of learning. Particularly enabled by the internet as a medium to create and distribute content and connect people to people and content. Educational institutions try to harness this by implementing learning management systems. 

By trying to constrain online learning to Learning Management Systems (LMS) often for administrative purposes means that the learning that is possible via informal means but that enhances learning is not promoted, captured or supported. Should educational institutions embrace informal learning by letting students find their own path with guidance and by modelling what the right ‘identity’ is for their career? Or is the LMS using the complexity approach. Complexity theory as described by Dave Snowden from Cognitive Edge (2009):

“We manage the emergence of beneficial coherence within attractors, within boundaries”

Is the LMS the boundary? I personally am enjoying David Jones’ approach to this course as he is modelling and demonstrating how learning can occur in a networked global environment by delivering his course via a blog and allowing students to practice and reflect on their learning using their own blog. This is contrary to most online courses and recognises that learning occurs outside of specific boundaries.

In my search for answers, I came across Leigh Blackall’s blog post (which I am now following) where he makes a case for and against using an LMS. Leigh acknowledges that without the LMS:

The skills gained immediately transfer to other areas of academic work, such as community and industry engagement, and other contact groups that typically have no need for an LMS and much more need for people who expertly know and understand the Internet.

Perhaps educational institutions need to teach the skills to operate in networked environments, how to behave in order to find information or forge connections rather than prescribing methods that only work within the education institution and won’t have any meaning in the real-world…eg digital literacy, information literacy skills, communication skill, interaction skills. 




6 thoughts on “What is networked learning?

  1. Hi Brigitte,
    You brought up a number of things that resonated with me. Firstly, students often complain to me about the complexity of research related to concepts in their course. I used to go through a process of analysing academic research with them; increasingly, I find myself telling them to go to Wikipedia for an explanation; then return to the research with the clear, concise answer that Wikipedia has become famous for. So, in essence, Wikipedia has become part of NGL – a tool that helps students negotiate their path towards knowledge.
    I imagine this creates some consternation within the academic community about the validity of sources found on the internet. Bonzo and Parchoma (2010) raised the issue about the concern academic institutions have about the reliability of sources available freely on the internet; and also, I suspect institutions are even more concerned about their role as the “knowers” being usurped by a generation of learners constructing their own knowledge.
    You also raised the issue of LMS use in HE. I liked the way you identified LMS as a “boundary” in Snowden’s complexity theory. Ironically, our institution’s Communications team discourage the use of any platform apart from the LMS or university controlled media tool. Maybe those restrictions contribute to our clogged email inboxes and low student participation in discussion forums and LMS activities.


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