Networked learning

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.

The central term in this definition is connections. It takes a relational stance in which learning takes place both in relation to others and in relation to learning resources.[1]

CSALT, a research group at Lancaster University, UK, associated with the Networked Learning Conference series and several edited collections, has defined networked learning as "learning in which information and communication technology is used to promote connections: between one learner and other learners, between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources."[2]

Salmon (2001) wrote "learning is built around learning communities & interaction, extending access beyond the bounds of time and space, but offering the promise of efficiency and widening access. Think of individuals as nodes on a network!"[3]

Networked learning can be practised in both informal and formal educational settings. In formal settings the learning achieved through networked communication is formally facilitated, assessed and/or recognised by an educational organisation[citation needed]. In an informal setting, individuals maintain a learning network for their own interests, for learning "on-the-job", or for research purposes[citation needed].

It has been suggested that networked learning offers educational institutions more functional efficiency, in that the curriculum can be more tightly managed centrally, or in the case of vocational learning, it can reduce costs to employers and tax payers.[4] However, it is also argued that networked learning is too often considered within the presumption of institutionalised or educationalised learning, thereby omitting awareness of the benefits that networked learning has to informal or situated learning.[5]




In 1971, Ivan Illich envisioned 'learning webs' as a model for people to network the learning they needed:

I will use the words "opportunity web" for "network" to designate specific ways to provide access to each of four sets of resources. "Network" is often used, unfortunately, to designate the channels reserved to material selected by others for indoctrination, instruction, and entertainment. But it can also be used for the telephone or the postal service, which are primarily accessible to individuals who want to send messages to one another. I wish we had another word to designate such reticular structures for mutual access, a word less evocative of entrapment, less degraded by current usage and more suggestive of the fact that any such arrangement includes legal, organizational, and technical aspects. Not having found such a term, I will try to redeem the one which is available, using it as a synonym of "educational web." Ivan Illich, 1971[6]

In 1977 Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein, Max Jacobson, Ingrid Fiksdahl-King and Shlomo Angel wrote and published A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. In this seminal text, mostly referred to by architects, lists a "Network of Learning" as the 18th pattern ([7] p99) and cites Illich's earlier book as "the most penetrating analysis and proposal for an alternative framework for education.." Alexander et al. go on to advise builders and town planners interested in establishing learning networks with:

" in piecemeal ways to decentralize the process of learning and enrich it through contact with many places and people all over the city: workshops, teachers at home or walking through the city, professionals willing to take on the young as helpers, older children teaching younger children, museums, youth groups travelling, scholarly seminars, industrial workshops, old people, and so on. Conceive of all these situations as forming the backbone of the learning process; survey all these situations, describe them, and publish them as the city's "curriculum"; then let students, children, their families and neighborhoods weave together for themselves the situations that comprise their "school" paying as they go with standard vouchers, raised by community tax. Build new educational facilities in a way which extends and enriches this network."

In the 1970s, The Institute For The Future at Menlo Park in California experimented with networked learning practices based on the Internet and computer conferencing.[8][9][10] Soon after their reports were published two educational pioneers in the use of Internet technologies, Hiltz and Turoff, linked education directly with this pioneering work[11]


In the late 1980s Dr. Charles A. Findley headed the Collaborative Networked Learning project at Digital Equipment Corporation on the East Coast of the United States.[12] Findley's project conducted trend analysis and developed prototypes of collaborative learning environments, which became the basis for their further research and development of what they called Collaborative Networked Learning (CNL),[13] and Collaborative Learning-Work (CLW).[14][15][16]

The idea that the Internet would enhance opportunities for networked approaches to learning was sketched out by several authors in the late 1980s and early 1990s. For example Harasim et al. (1995) wrote in terms of Network Learning and suggested that:

"Network learners of the future will have access to formal and informal education of their choice, wherever they are located, whenever they are able to participate … The network learner will be an active participant … learning with and from experts and peers wherever they are located" ([17] p273)


Since the development of the Internet as a significant medium for access to information and communication, the practice of networked learning has tended to focus on its use. In the first phase of the Internet its use for networked learning was restricted by low bandwidth and the emphasis was largely on written and text based interactions between people and the text based resources they referred to. This textual form of interaction was a familiar academic medium, even though there was recognition of the unique qualities hypertext emerging in the online form.[18][19]

In 1991, Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger published Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, in which they cited numerous examples of networked learning within a wide range of settings for informal learning and within communities of practice.[20]

In the later half of the 1990s, open, interactive, situated and networked views of learning were marginalised by educational institutions as they tended to develop or deploy content and practice through proprietary learning management systems (e.g. Blackboard Inc, WebCT), and collaborative work tools such as IBM Lotus Notes/Learning Space and Quick Place), generally following concepts around "e-learning". These systems enabled the restriction of access and the management of students for the administrative concerns of educational institutions.[citation needed]

Since 1998, an international Networked Learning Conference has been held biannually. The conference proceedings from all the conferences since 2002 are available via the conference web site.[21]


From around 2004, the idea of networked learning had a popular resurgence, corresponding with the emergence of social media and concepts of open source.[citation needed]

In 2005, George Siemens published a paper in the International Journal for Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, called Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age[22] in which he argued the need for a new learning theory, one that captured the essence and represented the process of networked knowledge creation and learning. In 2011, the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning published the first peer reviewed collection of scholarly articles on Connectivism. This special issue was edited by George Siemens (Athabasca University and Grainne Conole (Open University, UK).[23].

In 2007, Starke-Meyerring, Duin, & Palvetzian first described Globally Networked Learning Environments (GNLE), a term that refers to networked learning environments which are specifically designed to connect students from different parts of the world[24]. GNLEs are designed to facilitate dialogue and collaboration across and within groups of students, to develop greater understanding and competencies for global work and citizenship. GNLEs take many different shapes and forms, primarily because their inherent uniqueness which is derived from the intersection of the different course topics and content, the teachers' pedagogical approaches, the partnerships between the teachers, and their local and national policy environments[25]. In addition, technological capabilities and capacities (including 'know how' and access) of the teachers, students, and their institutions also play a significant role in how the GNLE is designed and developed. In Higher Education, generally these learning environments have emerged from grassroots initiatives from faculty, but some have emerged and are supported by third party institutions such as the NGO Soliya and institutional centers such as the SUNY Center for Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL).

In 2010, E-Learning and Digital Media published a special issue on globally networked learning titled Globally networked learning environments: Re-shaping the intersections of globalization and e-learning in higher education, and in 2011, COIL launched the first ever Institute for Globally Networked Learning in the Humanities.



Success in a MOOC, by Neal Gillis and Dave Cormier

A Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) engages networked learning methods within the typical structure of a course.[26] The first such course so named was Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2008, hosted by Stephen Downes and George Siemens.[27] More like an online event, MOOCs invite open online participation around a schedule or agenda, facilitated by people with reputation or expertise in the topics, relying on successful formations of learning networks to assist people studying the topics.

Earlier examples of online courses using networked learning methods:

Open and Networked Research

Some researchers have used networked learning methods to collaborate and support each other's research. The Wikiversity page for Doctor of Philosophy is supporting a small group interested in pursuing a PhD title informally. They name their practice OpenPhD or Open and Networked PhD.[citation needed]


The NLC Programme

In England, the National College of School Leadership (NCSL) ran a program called the Networked Learning Community (NLC) programme. More than 134 schools networks (an average of ten schools per network[28]) were involved from 2002 to 2006.[29] An English study compared the grades of the NLC schools versus the national sample. It concluded that there was large variation in scholarly improvement and that the overall improvement was aligned with the national trend.[30] The study interpreted this result as a caution to the claims of digital networked learning scholarly effectiveness.

To the study's own admission, there was no control group and that other factors, such as varying school socioeconomic status and after-school programs, could have influenced the quantitative results.

The yearly cost for resources in the NLC programme was about £50,000 (approximately US$95,000 in 2008) per school network.[31] After the NLC programme ended in 2006, the school networks had to find other partnerships to continue. There might be school boards that would not be willing to financially invest in the initial implementation and eventual maintenance of a networked learning system.

Situated learning

Some have argued that using formal education as a setting for researching networked learning misses most if not all of the value proposition of networked learning.[32] Instead, Fox proposes situated learning and Actor-network theory as the better approach for research.[33]

See also


  1. ^ Dirckinck-Holmfeld, L., Jones, C., and Lindström, B. (2009) Analysing Networked Learning Practices in Higher Education and Continuing Professional Development. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, BV
  2. ^ Goodyear, P. Banks, S. Hodgson, V. and McConnell, D. eds (2004) Advances in Research on Networked Learning. London: Kluwer Academic Publishers p1
  3. ^ Salmon, G. Changing Learning Environments, Association of Learning Technology (ALT) Conference, 2001
  4. ^ Steve Fox. Studying Networked Learning. Chapter 5 in Networked learning: perspectives and issues By Christine Steeples, Chris Jones. Springer 2002.
  5. ^ Steve Fox. Studying Networked Learning P81, in Networked learning: perspectives and issues By Christine Steeples, Chris Jones. Springer 2002.
  6. ^ Ivan Illich. Deschooling Society, Chapter 6: Learning Webs. Calder & Boyars, 1971.
  7. ^ Alexander, C. Et al. (1977). A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. New York Oxford University Press.
  8. ^ Vallee, J., Lipinski, H., & Miller, R. H. (1974). Group communication through computers; Design and Use of the FORUM System. Menlo Park, CA: Institute for the Future.
  9. ^ Vallee, J., and others (1978). Group Communication Through Computers. Volume 4: Social, Managerial, and Economic Issues. Menlo Park, CA: Institute for the Future.
  10. ^ Vallee, J., Johansen, R., Lipinski, H., Spangler, K., Wilson, T., & Hardy, A. (1975). Group communication through computers: Pragmatics and dynamics. Menlo Park, CA: Institute for the Future.
  11. ^ Hiltz, S. R., & Turoff, M. (1978). The network nation—human communication via computer (1st ed.). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
  12. ^ Findley, C (1987). Collaborative Networked Learning Project - Digital Equipment Corporation. Primary documents stored on Internet Archive
  13. ^ Findley, Charles A. 1988. Collaborative Networked Learning: On-line Facilitation and Software Support, Digital Equipment Corporation. Burlington, MA. and Collaborative learning-work
  14. ^ Wright,Kieth C. and Davie, Judith (1999) Forecasting the Future: School Media Programs in an Age of Change. Scarecrow Press: Maryland, pps.33,106.
  15. ^ Findley, Charles A. 1989. Collaborative Learning-work. Presentation at the Pacific Telecommunications Council 1989 Conference, January 15–20, Honolulu, Hawaii.
  16. ^ Findley, Charles A. 1987. Integrated Learning and Information Support Systems for the Information Age Worker. Presentation at World Future Society Conference, Cambridge, Massachusetts, November 1987.
  17. ^ Harasim, L., Hiltz, S.R., Teles, L., and Turoff, M. (1995) Learning Networks: A field guide to teaching and learning. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  18. ^ Harasim, L. (Ed.). (1990). Online education; perspectives on a new environment. New York: Praeger.
  19. ^ Mason, R., & Kaye, A. (1990). Towards a new paradigm for distance education. In L. Harasim (Eds.), Online education: Perspectives on a new environment. New York: Praeger.
  20. ^ Lave. J, Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge University Press
  21. ^ Networked Learning Conference
  22. ^ George Siemens. Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Journal for Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, January 2005
  23. ^ Ed. Conole, G. Siemens, G. Special Issue - Connectivism: Design and Delivery of Social Networked Learning. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, Vol 12, No 3 (2011).
  24. ^ Starke-Meyerring, D., Duin, A. H., & Palvetzian, T. (2007). Global partnerships: Positioning technical communication programs in the context of globalization. Technical Communication Quarterly, 16(2), 139-174.
  25. ^ Starke-Meyerring, D., & Wilson, M. (Eds.) (2008). Designing globally networked learning environments: Visionary partnerships, policies, and pedagogies. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
  26. ^ Mak, Mackness and Williams (2010). The Ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC. Seventh International Conference on Networked Learning
  27. ^ MOOC or Mega-Connectivism Course. George Siemens 28 Jul 2008
  28. ^ Fox, Alison, June Haddock, and Tracy Smith. "A Network Biography: Reflecting on a Journey from Birth to Maturity of a Networked Learning Community." Curriculum Journal 18.3 (2007): 287
  29. ^ "Networked Learning." National College for School Leadership. Accessed February 02, 2008 [1]
  30. ^ Sammons, Pam, et al. "Participation in Network Learning Community Programmes and Standards of Pupil Achievement: Does it make a Difference?" School Leadership & Management 27.3 (2007): 213
  31. ^ Fox, Alison, June Haddock, and Tracy Smith. "A Network Biography: Reflecting on a Journey from Birth to Maturity of a Networked Learning Community." Curriculum Journal 18.3 (2007): 287
  32. ^ Illich. Deschooling Society. Calder & Boyars, 1971
  33. ^ Fox in Networked Learning: Perspectives and Issues, P82. Springer 2002.

External links


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