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

Engaging with #etmooc – how and what perspective

#etmooc has commenced. The flood of introductory emails flowing from the #etmooc Google+ community is a sure a sign as any. The questions begin. How effective are all these introductions? How will I engage with the course? Why am I engaging?

Why engage?

The main reason is perhaps that this is the area I teach. Educational technology, especially the considerations of the application of educational technology with schools. #etmooc provides an opportunity to connect with a wide array of people in this area. Including quite a few with some very interesting perspectives and insights.

Some other reasons I’m hoping to engage

  1. To model the type of practice I’m hoping to see from the students in the course I’ll be teaching soon.
  2. To identify some activities, communities, and people that I can point my students toward.
  3. To connect with some new ideas and reflect on how that might change my practice.

How to engage

This is the $64K question. Will my participation crash and burn in this cMOOC, just like all those others? Will I make the time to engage?

Adding to this potential issue, is the fact that I haven’t yet found the “syllabus”. What should I be doing. I can see the Topics & Schedule which gives the overview, but what should I do, read, watch, listen to?

The guide for participants has some useful information. A lot of which is familiar. A sign that I’m a member of some level of this particular culture?

The guide for facilitators is also interesting. I like the quote from Herbert Simon

Learning results from what the student does and thinks and only from what the student does and thinks. The teacher can influence learning only by influencing what the student does to learn

But where is the list of tasks for me to engage with? Am I showing my traditional learner origins? Am I simply being thick and can’t find it?

Of course it would be on the etmooc blogs as the orientation week activity. Thanks to John Johnston’s introductory #etmooc video for the pointer.

My Introduction

I’ll take the easy/cop out approach to the task, and reuse one I’ve done before. This type of introductory task is something that Alec has used before and I liked it. I borrowed it and used it in my own teaching last year. As part of that task, I created a popplet introducing myself. That plus the above seems to fulfil the task requirements.

Do the introductions work?

One of the aims of the #etmooc introduction is to “help participants better relate and connect with you”. Based on the evidence in my InBox – lots of introductions – and the Google+ etmooc community – not many of those introductions having replies – there may not be that much connection. Perhaps there are lots of people lurking, viewing introductions and connecting via means other than the Google+ community?

The variety of tools being used is useful (e.g. this use of Animoto by Mairead but are there connections being formed? Are there better ways of forming them?

For my course there will be a focus on reflection. An introduction like this – especially the “what to gain from the course” – is intended to be used as a reflection later in the course.

How do you help folk starting out in a course like this make connections?

The quality of the introductions is certainly on aspect. As is the ability to see some commonality (e.g. this example of a Brazilian connection). Would making the commonalities easier to see be a good thing? Would it close off the chance of diversity?