Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Exploring connected versus/and networked learning

On a very wet, Australia day long weekend I’m hoping to explore some of the differences, similarities and connections between networked and connected learning. This is all part of my attempt to participate in #etmooc which is currently looking at “Connected Learning – Tools, Processes & Pedagogy”. Networked learning is the term I’m most familiar with and it appears to have a longer history. I’m wondering where connected learning has come from, why and what does it offer as a concept?

Another shot of the creek

#etmooc and Connected Learning

#etmooc’s connected learning introduction is hosted in a Google doc. It contains links to all of the resources, including the slides and a recording of the presentation. I’ve skimmed the slides and need to find the time to watch the presentation, Alec’s always worth a listen.

The “connected learning” term seems to derive from this infographic on connected learning and the folk who developed it. Their “What is Connected Learning” provides more of an overview, including principles (see the following table) and a research synthesis report.

Learning principles Design principles
Interest-powered Production-centered
Peer-supported Openly networked
Academically oriented Shared purpose

My vague recollection is that this work is coming from a newly announced collection of American academics and researchers. Search around various websites (e.g. a hub and the Connected Learning site) reinforces that and suggests they are doing some interesting work.

Networked learning

I can’t help getting over the impression that their formulation and presentation of connected learning feels a little like a refinement/prettying up of “networked learning”. The Wikipedia page on Networked Learning offers this definition

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.

. McConnell et al (2012, p. 4) suggest

The development of networked learning has largely been infl uenced by understanding
of developments in technology to support learning alongside thinking stemming
from the traditions of open learning and other radical pedagogies and humanistic
educational ideas from the likes of Dewey, Freire, Giroux and Rogers

(the Wikipedia page adds Illich). McConnell et al (2012) is actually one of the editors contributions to a book arising from the 2012 Networked Learning Conference, a regular bi-annual European conference.

As part of their history of Networked Learning, McConnell et al (2012) offer a section titled “A pedagogic framework for networked learning” which includes “six broad areas of pedagogy that need to be addressed when designing networked learning courses” (p. 8), they are:

  1. Openness in the educational process.
  2. Self-determined learning.
  3. A real purpose in the cooperative process.
    Which includes the sentence “If learners have a real purpose in learning, they engage with the learning process in a qualitatively different way”.
  4. A supportive learning environment.
  5. Collaborative assessment of learning.
  6. Assessment and evaluation of the ongoing learning process.

I wonder if a table can show the overlap here. Let’s start with the table from above summarising the principles for connected learning. Then, ignoring the difference between learning and design principles, see how the “six broader areas of pedagogy” (in emphasis) of networked learning fit?

Learning principles Design principles
Self-determined learning
A supportive learning environment which is described as “one where learners encourage and facilitate each other’s efforts.
Openly networked
Openness in the educational process
Academically oriented Shared purpose
A real purpose in the cooperative process which is described as promoting “positive interdependence” (p. 9)

Not a perfect fit, but certainly some overlap. The chapter goes on to talk about work within Denmark and end with a summary that includes

The various scholars and practices associated with networked learning have an identifiable educational philosophy that has emerged out of those educational theories and approaches that can be linked to radical emancipatory and humanistic educational ideas and approaches. It can on the one hand be seen to emulate and refl ect principles associated with areas of educational thinking, such as critical pedagogy (cf Freire 1970; Giroux 1992; Negt 1975) and democratic and experiential learning (cf. Dewey 1916; Kolb et al. 1974) . While on the other hand it is seen as an approach and pedagogy within the general field of technology mediated learning especially exploring the socio-cultural designs of learning as mediated by ICT and enacted by networked learning participants

The overview of the rest of the book provided by McConnell et al (2012) suggests that this community is interested in the increasingly prevalent, alternate theoretical notions (e.g. connectivism) and are exploring what they mean for networked learning. Following the path of that exploration looks interesting. Many interesting chapters in the book.

Back to connected learning and some blog prompts

The final chapter of the networked learning book introduced in the previous section – written by the editors of the book, considers four important questions including this one “Is networked learning a theory, practice or pedagogy?”. A question I wonder about the vision of connected learning which is claimed as “a model of learning that holds out the possibility of reimagining the experience of education in the information age”. But that is perhaps a bit academically navel gazing for late on a wet Sunday night.

Let’s return to a couple of the blog prompts Alec had at the end of his presentation

  • How important is connected learning? Why?
    It’s important. It’s important because it captures – for me at least – the current learning milieu. While I and others might argue about aspects of the particular definition of connected learning I point to above. It represents another perspective on the current learning mulieu that is also being examined by the networked learning folk above and those in the connectivist camp (and a few others).

    It’s important because it captures how I’m currently learning and represents perhaps the richest environment/method in/through which I’ve ever been able to learn.

    It’s important, perhaps, because it represents a stepping stone in the path towards what learning will become. If you accept that

    We are living in a historical moment of transformation and realignment in the creation and sharing of knowledge, in social, political and economic life, and in global connectedness.

    then 30/40 years (at most) into this transformation, we can only be looking at the earliest possible blurry outlines of what learning will become.

  • Is it possible for our classrooms and institutions to support this kind of learning? If so, how?
    It would appear very unlikely that existing educational institutions could effectively support this kind of learning. Focusing just on the specifics of this specific connected learning definition it is hard to see how the current grammar of school could possibly make sense of it. There are too many aspects of connected learning that would be seen “as nonsensical as an ungrammatical utterance”. “Interest-powered” in an era of National (e.g. standards-based) curricula is just one example.

    But then, I also think it will eventually change. I think it will change by bricolage, by accident, cultural and generational change, and unintended consequences. There won’t be one great vast top-down, strategic change driven by politicians and formal change processes. It will instead be the gradual accumulation of small changes that will lead to large slippages and change.

    But I could be wrong.

  • What skills and literacies are necessary for connected learning? How do we develop these?
    By taking “Connected learning 101”? Perhaps not. Don’t we learn by doing? By participation?

    I wonder if the desire to pre-identify the necessary skills and literacies doesn’t reveal an unquestioned tendency of educationalists of having to identify what we need to teach. I wonder if the skills and literacies required to engage in this “historical moment of transformation” (actually I find myself questioning the phrase “transformation” which strikes me as so one-off, won’t the transformation be an on-going process of transformation?) will emerge from participation and continue to emerge as those skills feedback into the transformative process. Does it make more sense to ask what appear to be useful skills and literacies for today?

  • What are limits of openness in regards to privacy & vulnerability? Are we creating or worsening a digital divide?
    An interesting question that I can’t answer just now, but which I find interesting.

    However, I do think that Ross (2012) may offer some interesting insights. This is another chapter from McConnell et al (2012). The closing paragraph of the introduction to the paper is

    I what follows, I propose a set of (often conflicting) norms and expectations widely associated with blogging. These cluster around themes of authenticity, risk, pretence, othering, narcissim and commodification. I explore how these are reflected in the assumptions and practices of students and teachers, an go on to argue for greater attention to be given to the nature of online reflective writing, and a more explicit and critical engagement with the tensions it embodies.


Mcconnell, D., Hodgson, V., & Dirckinck-holmfeld, L. (2012). Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning. In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld, V. Hodgson, & D. McConnell (Eds.), Exploring the theory, pedagogy and practice of networked learning (pp. 3–24). New York, NY: Springer New York. doi:10.1007/978-1-4614-0496-5

Ross, J. (2012). Just what is being reflected in online reflection? New literacies for new media learning practices. In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld, V. Hodgson, & D. McConnell (Eds.), Exploring the theory, pedagogy and practice of networked learning (pp. 191–207). New York, NY: Springer New York. doi:10.1007/978-1-4614-0496-5


1000 blog posts – a time to look back


BIM 2.0 – cleaning up part 4


  1. I read this post a while back and then found myself writing about it today for a paper. I figured I’d post what I came up with here in the spirit of sharing to see if you (or others) agree. This is an extract from a paper that will probably be in ASCILITE 2015:

    The description of online communities typically adopts one of three paradigms, each of which make a commitment to valuing the connectedness between learners and all of which are complementary: (online) communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, White, & Smith, 2009), connected learning (Ito et al., 2013) and networked learning (Goodyear, Banks, Hodgson, & McConnell, 2004). I will use the term online communities with an understanding that they can be viewed through any or all of these lenses which place the emphasis respectively (and arguably, given the diversity of views that each term has come to represent) upon:

    (communities of practice) The cultural norms and collaborative relationships that emerge within a group of practitioners with common purpose, where “communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Wenger, 2011).

    (connected learning) The open nature of learning in a connected world allows for learning to be authentic and linked with society beyond classroom walls to promote interest and hence learning, where connected learning is “embedded within meaningful practices and supportive relationships” and is committed to recognising “diverse pathways and forms of knowledge and expertise” (Ito et al., 2013)

    (networked learning) Learning is understood to take place through connections of learner-learner and learner-resource and this connectedness can be greatly enhanced through technology, where networked learning is “learning in which ICT is used to promote connections between one learner and other learners; between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources” (Goodyear et al., 2004)

    In summary:
    1) CoPs emphasise the people element and how they grow together through shared practice
    2) CL emphasises the open nature of learning and seeks to bring this into formal education and other spaces that were previously “closed”
    3) NL emphasises the possibility for technology and design to enable better connections between learners and between learners and resources

    So for me your work with BIM could be described by all three with the emphasis in different places:
    1) The learners in the blogging world share language and and work together to develop their own culture in understanding technology in education
    2) But this learning is in the open world and anybody in the world could access the blogs and comment and bring something else to the learning; it is also a very open form of expression allowing learners using the blog to bring their particular skill set and interests to the task
    3) And it’s a great example of how the internet can facilitate new kinds of connections between learners and resources. Your learners connect to each other in ways they would not have previously; and may well find resources they would otherwise not have come into contact with; and the quality of these connections may be enhanced


    • Ahh, an eloquent and enjoyable respite from the tedium of end of semester finalising of results and processing of academic misconduct.

      I liked your distinction between the three paradigms (would like to read the paper once your done). Got to the heart of the differences/connections more so than my ramblings above. The definition of Networked Learning again has me thinking about the “meta-application” of Networked Learning to learning about how to use Networked Learning to teach. I think our institutional use of technology to enable better connections between learners learning how to do Networked Learning (i.e. the teachers) leaves a fair bit to be desired.

      I also like and agree with your characterisation of how I’m trying to use BIM within EDC3100. There are elements of all three. I wonder what that says about the value of the different paradigms as categories, or what does it say about what I’m trying to do. Not focused enough?

      However, I wonder whether how the students use blogging (e.g. this) and what they think of blogging (there were a few posts really questioning it) matches the reality. Which then beg the obvious pragmatic questions of why this is the case? and what can I do about it?

      And playing to my (techno)prejudices, I immediately leap to the “Networked Learning paradigm”. How is my use of the technologies limiting student learning. Networked Learning is more than that. Much more to think about, time for dinner.

      Thanks for the comment and the spark.

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