Networked learning in a networked world

Last year I took part in The Future of Learning In A Networked World (FLNW 2006) conference. It was really outstanding event.

Since then I have been in touch with almost all the participants. This is not common with conferences. In most of the cases you go there, talk your talk, have dinner with some people and never contact them or hear about them again. After going to the same conference for five years you start the conversation with the other people: “I think we have met somewhere before, could it be last year in this conference”. The FLNW 2006 was very different and it looks that it will be very different this year, too.

The The Future of Learning In A Networked World 2008 conference is a social inclusion experiment. There is a group of people who will gather together in Thailand (I am not, I am in Bogota), but most of the events will take place online. Everybody is welcome. The participants will come from all the continents to discuss about whatever theme related to the future of learning in a networked world. Everybody is free to propose a theme.

While Skype-chating with Alex Hayes – one of the main organizers of the FLNW 2008 – I decided what I want to talk. I want to talk about “networked learning”, “informal learning”, “non-formal learning”, “networks” and “groups”.

Networked learning is a term widely used in online discussion about teaching and learning. According to Wikipedia article, as it is in December 19, “networked learning” “is a personal process of developing and maintaining connections with people and information via the Internet” (Networked learning. 2007, September 26. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 02:53, December 19, 2007)

Considering networked learning mainly as learning taking place on internet is very limiting. It may also lead us not to see the real potential and character of “networks” in learning. If we’ll see networks as a more general term, it may also enrich our understanding of the term “networked learning”.</

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines “network” at first as a technical infrastructure: “fabric or structure of cords or wires”, “a system of lines or channels resembling a network” and “a group of radio or television stations”. The last definition of a network is related to people: “a usually informally interconnected group or association of persons (as friends or professional colleagues)”.

When talking about learning we should, first of all, pay attention to people, their social networks and groups they are involved in and working with.

We learn all the time: when awake and when sleeping. Informal learning means learning that is taking place in every day life situation when we are interacting with the outside world or with our own inside world. Most of the learning is informal and purely accidental and random.

In a human brain there are about 100.000.000.000 neurons with about 100.000.000.000.000 connections. New connections are made all the time and old are called off. Human brain is very plastic and in a continuous change. Our informal learning experiences are shaping our brains.

Can we “fight” against the power or “informal learning”? We can. and people always have been fighting against it. The guidance of “informal learning” takes place in a socialization process where earlier generations are transforming for younger generations their culture and how to live within it. In a “cultural informal learning” we learn language and symbols mediating our interaction, the norms, attitudes, values, motives and social roles.

The cultural informal learning does not stop to the youth. It continues when we meet and integrate with new cultures and sub-cultures. At some point of our life we may be more connected to the criminal sub-culture and later to the culture of internet dilettantes. We are plastic.

Networked learning can also be non-formal. Non-formal means that it is informal but with objectives. If a group of criminals are organizing a discussion group in a bar to share ideas about latest burglary techniques they are having a non-formal learning session. It is informal but with an objective. When internet dilettantes are getting together in Thailand and online to talk about networked learning it is organized because they have recognized a need to have non-formal learning experience about the topic.

These events are build out from networks but organized in form of groups. This brings light to the differences between networks and groups. Networks are “usually informally interconnected group or association of persons” whereas “group” is “a number of individuals assembled together or having some unifying relationship”. The assembling together and unifying relationship comes from the shared objectives.

So, what is “networked learning”? Is it informal, non-formal, network or group learning?

I would like to see that “networked learning” is considered as non-formal or formal learning taking place in a non-hierarchical groups that are constructed from the participants’ social networks.

7 thoughts on “Networked learning in a networked world

  1. Hi Teemu, nice summary. I really like the connection between criminals and FLNW people 🙂 I like that alot in a strange type of way…I wonder though, does it follow that networked learning be non-formal? If a criminals are networked by virtue of their occupation or cultural setting, then they group based on common interests and complimentary perspectives, then they learn non formally by organising a meeting.. then the network part is separate to the group part and therefore the non formal part. They do appear to be connected in the sequence but not necessarily… networked learning might be more like the hidden curriculum you have referred to elsewhere. The intangibles that emerge from the network or cultural setting.So, for example – the edublogasphere.. is a network of bloggers writing about education. They are networked by virtue of their common use of the Internet and blogs to communicate.. but they are not grouped yet. They learn from each other still, but it is more distant than in a group or non formal learning process. FLNW is a group that emerges out of the edublog network and other groups and networks. But the learning that goes on in that group is different to the informal or hidden learning that goes on in the networks. Ah…! here we go again 🙂 it is an interesting discussion and I hope we are all willing to have another belt at it. Thanks for bringing it up again Teemu? Your fellow groupie who used to be nothing more than a node in your network 🙂

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  2. The problem of the edublogasphere (and actually the whole blogasphere) in the context of learning is that people in the sphere do not – at least often – form any groups (an entity of individuals with an objective). For sure people learn in the edublogasphere, but so do they learn in a local pub. I am actually sure that sometime you learn much more important things in the local pub than in the edublogasphere. So, all this is simply "informal learning" that happens regardless what we do or even if we are awake or sleeping. For me the "network" in the term "networked learning" means the social network, not the technical infrastructure. Some people in our social networks are willing to commit their time and effort to work on to understand and act with us, most of them are not. Those that are willing to do this makes "networked learning" possible, those who just hang around are simply offering us input in our daily informal learning. Both are important, but if we call the "informal networking" part also "networked learning", what is anymore left outside? Meditation? Sleeping?

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  3. Hmm, well I reckon it rests on what we find acceptable to call a network 🙂 I am happy with a network being a largely ungrouped, informal and mostly distant connection between individuals, information, media, groups and other nodes. I wouldn't call my group of friends a network is all. The pub is an interesting analogy too. I might go to the pub as an individual for the chance to be around other people and talk about what ever.. the quality of Finnish bear perhaps.. to me this is networked learning. It is the same as if I go to the blogasphere and set up my own blog to talk about education. I don't really mind who I meet and talk with, all I hope to do is meet people and connect. It is after I make this connection and build a stronger relationship that I might then form a group such as FLNW and focus the learning and even set objectives. This, I think, is different to networked learning.

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  4. Leigh: networked learning is now becoming a synonym for “life”. So, why not call it just “informal learning”? is there some reason why you want to live outside meditation and sleeping? 🙂 No man is an island. 🙂

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  5. Pubs and public saunas are good places for informal networked learning (see, I just came up with a new term and maybe accepting some of Leighs thoughts). In pubs and saunas there are very little outside given hierarchy and everybody has a right to talk with everybody. Anyway, I think we should have terms that will define “learning” that is not informal and purely accidental and random. Anyway maybe we must talk about “informal networked learning”, “non-formal networked learning” and “formal networked learning” – if it is even possible in a formal context.

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  6. Thanks Wilfred, Interesting. I don't agree with the definition of the "networked learning", as it is in the dissertation, but there is a lot of interesting things in it.

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