Networked learning

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Draft 4

Editor: Chris Jones, The Institute for Educational Technology, The Open University (UK).

Contributors: Vivien Hodgson, Lancaster University (UK), David McConnell, UK.


Networked learning is “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” (Goodyear et al., 2004, p.1).

The definition takes a relational stance towards learning, which is defined as taking place both in relation to others and in relation to learning resources. The central term in the definition of networked learning is connections. These connections include interactions between people and materials and resources, but interactions with materials alone are not sufficient. Networked learning requires some element of human-human interaction mediated through digital technologies.

Comments on the history

The definition of networked learning comes from the Centre for Studies in Advanced Learning Technology (CSALT) team at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom (Steeples and Jones 2002 p.2). This definition arose from a series of UK and EU projects during the late 1990s and it has also been associated with the Networked Learning Conference series since 1998 (Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al., 2011). The definition has proved remarkably robust since it was first published despite the rapid technological changes and the arrival and demise of a number of competing terms and definitions (e.g Computer Assisted Learning, CAL; e-learning; online learning; and Computer Supported Collaborative (Co-operative) Learning, CSCL; see Steeples and Jones (2002) p.6 and Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (2009) p.259).

Related terms such as “learning networks” have been used in a North American context (Harasim et al., 1995) with a more limited range restricted to text based asynchronous media. This kind of use is associated with the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks. The term learning networks continues to be used and it has included research using social network analysis.

Related terms

CSCL: Computer Supported Collaborative (Co-operative) Learning; Learning network, Asynchroneous learning networks

Translation issues

French: apprentissage en réseau
German: Vernetztes Lernen
Chinese: Either 1. Pinyin wǎngluò, sim 网络, (network) or 2. Pinyin shùzìhuà, sim 数字化 , (digitallised) combined with Pinyin xuéxí, sim 学习, (learning)

Note: the usage of networked learning is different in mainland China to the uses described here. Networked learning in the Chinese context often takes the form of resource-based learning, where material (often in the form of a text book) is placed online and students are expected to learn it on their own.

Disciplinary issues

The term "networked learning" has a close relationship to CSCL (McConnell 2000) but the term networked learning implies a greater concentration on remote rather than face-to-face collaborations. Networked learning literature also tends to emphasise collaborations involving medium to large numbers rather than dyads or very small groups (Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al., 2009). However networked learning is not restricted to collaborative learning nor is it restricted to the strong links that terms like cooperation, collaboration and community imply (Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al., 2009 pp20-21).

The use of the term networked without qualification can lead to confusion with broader notions of Social Networks that do not have any necessary connection to information and communication technology. Networked learning is generally restricted to learning that is mediated by digital networks. Networked learning can also cause confusion because the use of network does not imply a strong link to the use of the term network in computer science.

Key references

[1] Dirckinck-Holmfeld, L., Jones, C., and Lindström, B. (Eds) (2009). Analysing Networked Learning Practices in Higher Education and Continuing Professional Development. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, BV.

[2] Dirckinck-Holmfeld, L., Hodgson, V. and McConnell, D. (Eds) (2011). Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning. NY : Springer

[3] Goodyear, P., Banks, S, Hodgson, V. and McConnell D. (Eds) (2004). Advances in Research on Networked Learning, Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers

[4] Harasim, L., Hiltz, S.R., Teles, L., and Turoff, M. (1995). Learning Networks: A field guide to teaching and learning online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

[5] McConnell, D. (2000). Implementing Computer Supported Cooperative Learning. 2nd Edition. London: Kogan Page.

[6] Steeples, C., & Jones, C. (Eds.) (2002). Networked learning: perspectives and issues. London: Springer.