Thursday, 24 September 2015

How NGL can inform my role as teacher

 Image CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Alec Couros
Networked Teacher

(Image : Cronin, 2014)

The ‘tree metaphor’ of connections, so aptly referenced to permaculture, is not indicative of modern life, whereby knowledge is so highly interconnected, the complexity of these connections can no longer be drawn in a ‘tree and distinct branches’ metaphor (RSA, 2012) but is now a highly interconnected network, as demonstrated in the diagram  from Cronin (2014) above. Lima (as narrated in RSA, 2012), so aptly states “Knowledge is highly interconnected” and “you need to know a little bit of everything”, and not be an expert in one area in order to function in society. After participating in NETGL, I see learning as encapsulating "informal, self-directed, vocational and/or interest-based learning" (Carvalho & Goodyear, 2014, p. 139). This has vast implications for reflections as a teacher in this interconnected space. Creating my own personal knowledge network and creating a leaner focused design on my social media application, have been identified as priorities not only for me as a learner and student, but also as a teacher. 

Reflecting on myself as a ‘teacher’, I am perhaps different to the majority of my peers in this subject. I am not in formal teaching position in a primary, secondary school or other educational institution, and thus am dealing with online adult learners in an informal learning space (Arshavskiy, 2014). In this aspect I am interpreting ‘teaching’ as how I do something to help others learn. Adult learners are different to compulsory education learners as they have different and competing priorities, and are often involved because they are looking to expand their knowledge and their progression in their employment, or seeking a completely different perspective (Koller, 2012). They are not participating because they are ‘forced’ to, and regardless of the online learning mode, are generally self-motivated, self-paced and self-disciplined (Chan & Swatman, 2002). Most adult learners are technological savvy, critical and sophisticated when using materials, so the content I portray needs to be attractive, easy to find, and impressive (Chan & Swatman, 2002). A question I have been asking of myself has been ‘why would learners potentially seek out the information that I am looking to share?’ In terms of NETGL in my teaching environment, I need to understand what it is learners are wanting to know, how they want to find it with links to more information, but to also have that connection or interaction, as purely on-line materials are not sufficient to define networked learning (Goodyear, 2001).

With the plethora of information coming across smart phones, laptops and hand held devices, adults need help from knowledgeable others to assist them with the skills they need in order to function in society. The specific role of the teacher, in my instance, has definitely shifted away from an ‘expert’ to a ‘facilitator’ of knowledge, and perhaps manager of knowledge. Perhaps more appropriately, I need to become part of a community of practice (Lave & Wegner, 1991), which is basically a ‘self-organising systems of informal learning’ (Gray, 2004, p.23).  An interesting point is that all participation is considered learning (Gray, 2004) and it is through this participation we learn not only how to do, but also how to be (Delors, 2013). One aspect that has become vitally apparent in the process of personally learning about NETGL, is that in order to function as a ‘teacher’ in this informal learning environment, I need to be interconnected and have good and varied networks. In the article I referred to in an earlier blog post, Parise, Whelan & Todd (2015) discuss using social media (in their particular example Twitter, but also blogs, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn) and using these networks as ‘scouts’ for innovative ideas, but to then put my own twist on the connections and then reinvest them and share them with the network. It is recommended to use a variety of online social media forms to attract learners who frequent one type of media over another (Arshavskiy, 2014). I have taken this advice on board, and have started to build networks (by joining Twitter, I am already a member of Facebook and LinkedIn), and aim to do more networking with my blog after the subject has finished (this is to not confuse posts and the purpose of my original blog).

As a teacher, I also need to give reflection to how adult learners learn and to attempt to meet their needs in a networked capacity. For a teacher, ‘the psychological model we hold for the mind influences the way we think and act in designing and participating in intentional learning settings’ (Riel & Polin, 2004, p. 2). Stillborne and Williams (1996), base their discussion around Malcolm Knowles’ concepts of Androgogy. I have summarised their approaches applicable to my role as teacher in a networked environment in the table below.

Implications for ‘Me as a teacher’
Adult learners must want to learn (motivation) – Adults need to know why they are being asked to learn something and what the benefits for them are
-          Different modes of presenting information
-          State benefits of each segment at the beginning
-          Communicate with others, or provide examples of those who have ‘done the work’ (network)

Adults will only learn what they think they need to learn
 – they evaluate the importance of the information, set priorities and allocate their time, information is relevant and have an immediate effect
-          Real world solutions and problems
-          Real world applicability of material – connecting to other information
-          Build flexible well marked routes through the information so the learner can pick and choose what is applicable to them
-          Limit hyperlinks during information – constantly loosing leaner off ‘on another path’
Adults learn by comparing past experience with new experience
-          Build ways for learners to share ideas and experiences with one another and the teacher
-          Create a ‘community’
Adults try and avoid failure
 – much less open to ‘trial-and-error’
-          Build up skill level
-          Keep technology simple to use

In summary, key areas that will need to be developed for ‘Me as a Teacher’ in the future, in NETGL are building and maintaining networks with consideration given to how I find, display and distribute my information in a credible way for others to want to be part of it. Another interesting point is how I design and use social media in order for me to engage with others and likewise for them to engage with me.


Arshavskiy, M. (2014). Social media tools – Taking informal learning to new heights. Retrieved from

Carvalho, L. & Goodyear, P (Eds.). (2001) The Architecture of Productive Learning Networks. London: Routledge.

Chan, E.S.K., & Swatman, P.M.C. (2002). eBusiness model for networked learning. Retrieved from
Cronin, C. (2014). Networked learning and identity development in open online spaces. Retrieved from
Delors, J. (2013). The treasure within: Learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be. What is the value of that treasure 15 years after its publication? International Review of Education, 59 (3), p. 319-330. 

Goodyear, P. (2001, January). Networked learning in Higher Education Project (JCALT). Centre for Studies in Advanced Learning Technology [ebook]
Gray, B. (2004). Informal learning in an online community of practice. Journal of Distance Education, 19 (1), 20-35.

Koller, D. (2012, June). What we are learning from online education [video file]. Video posted to
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.   

Parise, S., Whelan, E., & Todd, S. (2015). How Twitter users can generate better ideas. Retrieved from
Riel, M. & Polin, L. (2004). Online learning communities: Common ground and critical differences in designing technical environments. In S. Barab, R. Kling & J. Gray (Eds). Designing for Virtual Communities in the Service of Learning. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

RSA, (2012, May 21). The Power of networks [video file]. Video posted to
Stillborne, L. & Williams, L. (1996). Meeting the needs of Adult learners in developing courses for the internet. Retrieved from

As a student, participation in NGL was useful for me

Looking back as a student coming into this subject, I was particularly naive of the way this subject would transform my thinking about being a student in a NETGL environment.  It has opened my mind to different possibilities with learning online, learning in a different manner, and challenging previous held notions about what actually constitutes learning. However, there are aspects that I struggled with as evidenced in some of my blogs. Upon further reflection, I think the true nature of why I found being a student in NETGL so difficult is because psychologically, as a formal educational subject with assessment pieces, I needed information and direction that was clear on what was required to produce sufficient evidence of learning. Participating in this course as one of the last in my series of formal learning, threw a curve ball to my traditional thinking about formal learning and hence my progress was not as extensive as I would have liked in this subject to achieve true networked learning. 

To begin, networked learning is distinct from online learning, as “learning in which information and communications technology (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, 2001, p.9). Bell, Zenios & Parchoma (2010) extended this definition by identifying it as a social form of learning with emphasis on the connections and relationships formed between users. Essentially this subject was attempting to build a ‘community of practice’ (Lave & Wegner, 1991), which is a ‘self-organising systems of informal learning’ (Gray, 2004, p.23). The difficulty in achieving that in this subject was the formal education requiring assessment component. In other formal study subjects I have collaborated with groups using technology such as Google Docs and Blackboard Collaborate, Skyped group conversations, developed YouTube videos to share resources, and although I can admit to absolutely loathing these processes in a group setting, I felt these forced more of a ‘community of practice’ onto the group than reflecting, commenting and sharing ideas through blogs and other programs such as Feedly, Diigo did. This is not to say that I criticise the use of these tools in networked learning in this subject, however perhaps the amount of time to form bonds properly between individual learners was not long enough, and the connections were not strengthened; “the strength of ties is a…combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal service which characterize the tie” (Granovetter, 1973 as cited in Gilbert & Karahalios, 2009). 

The speed of the learning processes within the first few weeks I found personally phenomenal, and to be honest I don’t think I ever recovered fully from. Shirky (2008) talks about the collapse of filtering systems, to be able to deal with the volume of information, and ultimately it is system failure in relation to social systems and interactions. I can relate to this, and in addition I was definitely within the parameters of Kligyte (2009)’s ‘troublesome’ concept, with some aspects feeling alien and counter-intuitive. I felt a constant pressure to be ‘connected’ and I felt a massive failure as a student as I was struggling to keep up to date with the subject. This was magnified when I did manage to check Feedly and see how far behind everyone else in the course I was. I think perhaps I could not shrug the psychological mindset of requiring a central anchor point to drive my learning.  As Jarche (2006) comments “formal education has been shown to foster dependent learners who have difficulty in the disorienting contexts that often accompany informal learning. If we truly want to foster lifelong learning, we need to create more informal learning opportunities in our entire educational system”. Although I had previous experience in writing a personal blog and networking with other blogs, as discussed previously my posts, studying this subject through my blog felt completely different and stressful compared to exploring topics of interests through my blog. In essence though, both were very similar in approach. I think because of the pressures of a ‘formal’ study approach, I was more worried about keeping up with the material, making comments on others blogs, and attempting to know all the material and readings, rather than blogging more , interacting and creating that ‘community of practice’ (Lave & Wegner, 1991). Perhaps as Jarche (2006) described, I am a classic by-product of the formal education system. As Kligyte (2009, p. 541) highlights “learners need to find their own unique pathway to transformative understanding of networked learning. There’s no simple and straightforward way to mastery that can be taught” I think I required longer (and less personal background noise) to be able to mastery this different type of learning. It was hard to shake the mindset and so easy to revert back to that which is comfortable when I am under stress, basically wanting to revert back to an “industrialist consumption-based model of learning” (Downes, 2011). 

Reflecting back on this experience as a student, I would have far preferred to have studied this subject like this towards the beginning of my studies as it gives a completely different viewpoint to how learning in a networked online capacity can be. This would have implications for aspects of learner, teacher and student. It would then put pressure on other subjects to do more than just be a textbook online in which to work through.


Bell, A., Zenios, M., & Parchoma, G. (2010). Undergraduate experiences of coping with networked learning: Difficulties now, possibilities for the future. In L. Dirckinck‐Holmfeld, V. Hodgson, C. Jones, M. de Laat, D. McConnell, & T. Ryberg (Eds.), 7th International Conference on Networked Learning 2010 (pp. 904–911).

Bonzo, J., & Parchoma, G. (2010). The Paradox of Social Media and Higher Education Institutions. In Networked Learning: Seventh International Conference (pp. 912–918).

Downes, S. (2011). Connectivism and Connective Knowledge.   Retrieved from

Gilbert, E. & Karahalios, K. (2009, April). Predicting tie strength with social media. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 211-220). ACM.  Retrieved from

Goodyear, P. (2001, January). Networked learning in Higher Education Project (JCALT). Centre for Studies in Advanced Learning Technology [ebook]

Gray, B. (2004). Informal learning in an online community of practice. Journal of Distance Education, 19 (1), 20-35.

Jarche, P. (2006). Formal education needs more informal learning [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Kligyte, G. (2009). Threshold concept: A lens for examining networked learning. In Proceedings of the Ascilite 2009 Conference (pp. 540–542). Auckland, NZ.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.   

Shirky, C. (2008). Web 2.0 Expo NY: It’s not information overload. Its filter failure [video file]. Video posted to