Still here in Anguilla, doing something strange-blogging and thinking about teleporting myself to ALTC2010. I guess I will have to wait till I get my head out of the virtual and into real world. Nonetheless, here goes another one of my ramblings that seeks to address network learning by focusing on its social and technological aspects.

In a previous post, “Collaborative Learning in Social Networks”, I reflected on collaboration and participation in the social network setting in trying to make sense of how individuals negotiate meaning in social networks. This time Hurricane Earl made this blogging process a challenge. My central argument established collaborative learning as a process that requires participation, negotiation, critical dialogue and critical reflection. My developing perspective takes this sense-making process a step forward by giving some attention to the theoretical assumptions of learning in social networks. I go on to show how some common themes assist in explaining theoretically the sort of learning that takes place in social networks. As started in previous post, this blogging activity draws on the social media sessions that I co-presented with Andy Coverdale at the University of Nottingham, Graduate Centres.

Online social networks or social networking sites has shifted the focus on content acquisition to the process of content creation, sharing, and remixing as predominantly an attitude that enables participation using various technological tools that repositions the thinking online learning (Downes 2005). Therefore, learning in social networks addresses the social aspects of learning and this approach to learning is associated with a number of theoretical frames that seek to explain the sort of learning that takes place in online social networks. These theoretical frames which seek to explain learning in social networks has been linked to a number of learning theories. These theoretical frames go on to explain the sort of learning that takes place in networks (network learning), but remain overshadowed by the complexity of coming up with a single definition. However, an understanding of the notion of network learning manifests itself in the social, technological and cognitive aspects of learning within the online social networking setting. I will focus on the social and technological aspects and give attention to the cognitive later.

Social aspect of network learning
Learning is seen as a social activity that is facilitated through interaction and engagement over time. The idea of learning in networks therefore is an extension of social aspect of learning that takes place within networks in that it stresses the inherent interconnectedness of humans. It further assumes that humans are connected to each other into networks which are socially constructed and maintained. Therefore an important aspect of network learning is seen as ‘forming and promoting connections’ (Siemens 2005; Johnson 2008). At a very basic level, this follows very closely to what defines a social network. Social networks comprises of individuals which are seen as ‘nodes or hubs’ connected to each other by a number of social relationships. While social networks formed a basis for human learning before the increase of technology, much of its usage and understanding is situated within a technological background and this makes the connection between individuals more visible. On the surface of this, it appears that there is an inclination to equate social networking with network learning and this mismatch further undermines making the concept clearer. However, I see social networking as the broad spectrum of activities within which network learning operates and build on the thinking that network learning as a process of engagement with particular nodes in a network. It follows therefore that if learning in networks are defined by social connections and relationships that individual be seen as actively trying to build these connections. Within an online social network, these social connections are mediated by the technological tools. This is given some attention next.

Technological aspect of Network learning
Technology impacts learning in many ways (Andersen 2007) and this influence though not limited to network learning seems to suggest themes that emanate from the way individuals interact online using various tools. Technology has always been a major aspect of human learning and it therefore becomes a challenge to exclude technology from its social dimension. As such, any attempt to describe the technological aspects of network learning should factor in the social affordances that network learning offers. Warschauer (2004) in his multiple country empirical research identifies this connection between the technological and social as the ‘social embeddedness of technology’:

The framework of the digital divide implies that technological and social contexts can be separated from each other and that these two separate context interact through a mechanism of causality…There is a complex mutually evolving relationship between a technology and broader social structures, and the relationship cannot be reduced to a matter of the technology’s existing on the outside and exerting an independent force.
(Warschauer 2004, p.202)

Thus network learning takes advantage of the social affordances of the internet and is subjected to the notion of online identity, user connectedness and the sort of dialogic exchanges that form part of this online interactive framework. I identified from previous blog post that the social web or web 2.0 as it is often labelled speaks to a set of social values that seems to propel network learning. These values go on to upset the way learning takes place in online settings. These include aspects of social participation and collaboration, openness, sharable, ‘remixable’ and accessible and these values though not directly addressed is hinted by Illich (1971) in his prophetic deschooling agenda proclaimed in what he called ‘learning webs’ long before the establishment of online social networks. Ilich pushed for a consumer focused use of technology to support decentralised learning webs that would prevent institutions from monopolising the learning process (Illich 1971). Therefore network learning is underpinned by Vygotsky’s notion of learning as a socio cultural embedded activity. Such a claim manifests itself in the way users actively seek out and build knowledge using various online tools such as blogs, social bookmarking, wikis and online social networks. This according to Andersen (2007) addresses the ‘innate’ pedagogical implications of how web 2.0 tools are adapted. The proliferation of online social networking tools signifies the value users place on this social learning approach. Siemens takes advantage of this by promoting what he calls ‘Connectivism’ a learning theory for the digital age. But this is given some attention in the cognitive aspect of network learning. Perhaps another pending hurricane will motivate me to write something.

Short of a conclusion, I will hasten to add that network learning will continue to receive attention as a process that is socially situated but linked to a wider set of processes and practices that makes it a complex process to pin down.

References
Andersen, P., 2007. What is Web 2.0?: ideas, technologies and implications for education, Citeseer.

Downes, S., 2005. E-learning 2.0. eLearn magazine, 2005(10). Available at: http://www.elearnmag.org/subpage.cfm?article=29-1&section=articles [Accessed August 6, 2010].

Ellison, N.B. & Boyd, D., 2007. Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), 210-230.

Illich, I., 1971. Deschooling society, Harper & Row New York.

Johnson, M., 2008. Expanding the concept of Networked Learning. In The 6th International Conference on Networked Learning. Halkidiki, Greece. Available at: http://www.networkedlearningconference.org.uk/past/nlc2008/abstracts/Johnson.htm [Accessed May 10, 2010].

Siemens, G., 2005. Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1), 3-10.

Warschauer, M., 2004. Technology and social inclusion: rethinking the digital divide, MIT Press.

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