Networked Learning: Social Networking in Learning & Teaching

jokaynetworkgraph.pngNetworked Learning is a relatively new learning and teaching strategy which focuses on the use of online tools to create learning communities.

This section provides an overview of the impacts that social networking is having in teaching and learning and provides a range of resources for you to explore. Click on the links below for more info:

  1. What is Networked Learning?
  2. Connectivism and Learning and Teaching
  3. How Does Social Networking Enhance Learning and Teaching?
  4. Social Media, Participative Pedagogy, and Digital Literacies
  5. The Networked Student
  6. The Networked Teacher
  7. Find Out More About Networked Learning
  8. References
  9. What's Next?

Activities for this topic

Learners who are completing the Social Networking Course should refer to the Moodle site for more information about the activities provided:

1. What is Networked Learning?

Networked Learners establish an online identity and formulate relationships with other people to communicate and develop knowledge. The focus of Networked Learning strategies is on developing and maintaining connections between people and information to facilitate learning and collaboration.

Networked Learning strategies can be used to facilitate both formal and informal teaching and learning, and provides opportunites for learners to develop their knowledge by sharing, communicating and collaborating with others. This could include other learners in a class or course, learning with colleagues from across a company or organisation or globally - sharing information with experts and other learners form other parts of the world.

Since the emergence of Web 2.0 and social media sites, educators around the world have been exploring the use of these technologies to create learning opportunities for their students. The online identity tools and personal publishing opportunities offered by social networking sites empower users to create and discover learning opportunities.

Networked Learners engage in a range of online learning activities, often using social networking tools - for example blogging, wikis, podcasting, creating and publishing digital images and videos online, and using free and open source software. They are also often engaged in collaborative activites including finding, reusing and sharing learning resources, tagging and sharing resources in social bookmarking sites, creating and adding to collaborative documents (for knowledge sharing) and creating sites, guides and resources which they publish online.

Check out the Networked Learning slides by Leigh Blackall provided here, which give a visual overview of Networked Learning and its basic principles.

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2. Connectivism and Learning and Teaching

Networked Learning is closely associated with Connectivism - an educational theory developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes to explore and address how learning occurs when it moves into informal, networked, technology-enabled environments.

"Connectivism started as my frustrations with existing learning theories rose. I started to see, in classrooms and online, that the theories of learning I had been taught were no longer adequate for (or representative of) how people were learning. Instead of cognitivism (and the views of cognitive schema) or pure construction of knowledge, I noticed learners were actually connecting – with each other and technology." George Siemens, An interview for the Global Summit, October 2006.

Watch 'The Changing Nature of Knowledge' - a short video of George Siemens explaining his view on the changed nature of knowledge and connectivism.

The Principles of connectivism include:
  • The integration of cognition and emotions in meaning-making is important. Thinking and emotions influence each other. A theory of learning that only considers one dimension excludes a large part of how learning happens.
  • Learning has an end goal - namely the increased ability to "do something". This increased competence might be in a practical sense (i.e. developing the ability to use a new software tool or learning how to skate) or in the ability to function more effectively in a knowledge era (self-awareness, personal information management, etc.). The "whole of learning" is not only gaining skill and understanding - actuation is a needed element. Principles of motivation and rapid decision making often determine whether or not a learner will actuate known principles.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources. A learner can exponentially improve their own learning by plugging into an existing network.
  • The capacity to know more is more critical that what is currently known. Knowing where to find information is more important than knowing information.
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate learning. Connection making provides far greater returns on effort than simply seeking to understand a single concept.
  • Learning and knowledge rest in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning happens in many different ways. Courses, email, communities, conversations, web search, email lists, reading blogs, etc. Courses are not the primary conduit for learning.
  • Different approaches and personal skills are needed to learn effectively in today's society. For example, the ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
  • Organizational and personal learning are integrated tasks. Personal knowledge is comprised of a network, which feeds into organizations and institutions, which in turn feed back into the network and continue to provide learning for the individual. Connectivism attempts to provide an understanding of how both learners and organizations learn.
  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning.
  • Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate impacting the decision.
  • Learning is a knowledge creation process...not only knowledge consumption. Learning tools and design methodologies should seek to capitalize on this trait of learning.

Sourced from Connectivism: A learning theory for today's learner -, accessed 10 June, 2010.

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3. How Does Social Networking Enhance Learning and Teaching?

The Networked Learning model aims to provide students with access to larger and richer sources of knowledge and wisdom by connecting to global networks; and to provide students with the support to learn how to manage and understand social networking and social media. In a post examining how these new paridigms are impacting on learning and teaching, Bill Farren has included two fantastic infographics which illustrate the differences between traditional educational models and the networked learning paradigm.

As Farren notes: The traditional model "... insulates itself from the outside world; it separates institutional members from one another; it silos subjects from each other."

Infographics by Bill Farren -

Whilst the Networked Learning model "... is about connecting and taking advantage of the educational power of large, heterogenous groups." Check out Farren's post for further details - Education for Well-being: Insulat-Ed.

The use of open, networked tools can provide students with the opportunity to engage in rich learning experiences which are not possible within the boundaries of the traditional school model, and also empower them to develop critical 21st century skills in knowledge creation and information sharing.

Networked Learning strategies and connectivist theories also impact on the role of teachers and facilitators, and raise questions about the ways we support learning. Teachers are challenged to provide a balance between structured learning and self-directed, personalized learning. This transition is sometimes referred to as 'from sage on the stage to guide on the side.'

In a post on 'Teaching in Social and Technological Networks ', George Siemens identifies the roles teacher play in networked learning environments:
  • Amplifying: As one of the most prominent nodes in a learner’s network teachers are able to amplifie thoughts, ideas, messages and content to ensure participants are more likely to engage in valuable and useful content.
  • Curating: The curator collects andarranges key elements of a subject in such a manner that learners will “bump into” them throughout the course. Instead of explicitly stating “you must know this”, the curator includes critical course concepts in her dialogue with learners, her comments on blog posts, her in-class discussions, and in her personal reflections.
  • Wayfinding and socially-driven sensemaking: We find our way through the social web via active exploration. Designers (teachers) can aid the wayfinding process through consistency of design and functionality across various tools, as well as supporting students to develop social networks which aid them in filtering and sense-making.
  • Aggregating: Teachers can support learning by using a variety of techniques to pull together fragmented content and conversations. These includes tools like start pages (iGoogle, PageFlakes), RSS aggregators and readers and via social bookmarking tools.
  • Filtering: Filtering resources is an important educator role - expertise still matters. Educators often have years or decades of experience in a field and are are familiar with many of the concepts, pitfalls, confusions, and distractions that learners are likely to encounter. Educators are important agents in networked learning - leading AND sharing the task of filtering content with other members of the learning community.
  • Modelling: "To teach is to model and to demonstrate. To learn is to practice and to reflect.” (Stephen Downes, LTC, 2007 ) What cannot be communicated and understood by lecture and learning activities alone can be addressed through modelling by the teacher. In networked learning communities, teachers are often not only modelling the subjects and content to be addressed in the course, but are also modelling the techniques used to create personalized learning networks and engage in networked learning communities.
  • Persistent Presence: To teach well in networks – to weave a narrative of coherence with learners – requires a point of presence. As a course progresses, the teacher provides summary comments, synthesizes discussions, provides critical perspectives, and directs learners to resources they may not have encountered before. Persistent Presence can be created using a range of social networking tools including blogs, wikis, social bookmarking sites and microblogging sites.

Check out Stephen Downes' recent Slideshare - Connectivist Learning and Teaching, which was presented at the National Research Council, Canada (May, 2010) and provides an overview of how connectivism impacts learning, and the strategies that both learners and facilitators can use to create connectivist learning opportunities for their students.

4. Social Media, Participative Pedagogy, and Digital Literacies

Howard Rheingold is a writer and educator who has focussed on the cultural, social and political implications of digital media including the internet, mobile networks and virtual communities.

In May 2010 he presented a keynote presentation titled 'Social Media, Participative Pedagogy, and Digital Literacies' at the CollabTech 2010 Conference. It provides fantastic overview of the impacts of social media and how it has changed the way we connect, communicate and learn. He also provides a demonstration of how he uses social networking tools and participative pedagogy to work with his tertiary students.

During the presentation Rheingold provides an overview of what he considers to be the five key literacies for the 21st Century:
  • attention literacy (fundamental)
  • participation literacy
  • cooperation and collaboration
  • critical consumption (Crap detection)
  • network awareness.

Watch Rheingold's keynote and reflect on social media and participative pedagogy in your own classroom, and in your own learning. How can you support your students to develop these key literacies.

For further information visit the Social Media Classroom website or

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5. The Networked Student

So what does all of this mean for learners? Networked learning is flexible and may form part or all of a learning program, depending on the learners needs, the educational context and the subject area being explored.

Check out the 'The Networked Student', a fantastic video which depicts an actual project completed by Wendy Drexler's high school students and illustrates how they are using a range of social networking tools to create personalized learning spaces.

Using Networked learning strategies, these students have developed a range of skills including:
  • Digital Literacy - the ability to locate, understand and be critical about information and resources online
  • Digital Media Skills - the ability to make knowledge, create online content and publish and share using social media sites
  • Research and knowledge management skills - the ability to use online tools to manage information
  • Networking Skills - An understanding of networks and how to connect to people and communities which enable personal learning
  • Content Creation - Skills in making meaning, writing with purpose and developing and sharing opinions
  • Recording Learning - skills in creating eportfolios and other digital objects or sites which document and record learning for assessment
  • Life-long learning skills - the ability to find and contribute to learning communities and to engage in 'just-in-time' learning activities.

You can read Wendy's blog post about the project here or via read her conference paper - "The networked student model for construction of personal learning environments: Balancing teacher control and student autonomy" by Wendy Drexler, University of Florida Australasian Journal of Educational Technology (PDF) .

Are you or your students currently using any of these strategies? Consider how you could be using these tools in your classroom!

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6. The Networked Teacher

The Networked Teacher (Couros, 2008)
Teachers learning a lot more from what they tell and share with each other than what they are told by an expert." (Dang 2005).

Social Networking offers great opportunities to connect with current colleagues or to find new people who share your interests. It can also help you to build your online reputation and find new resources and ideas. Most importantly, online social networks designed to support professional development can provide educators with an opportunity to reflect on shared knowledge and experience in dealing with learning and teaching challenges. They enable teachers to refine teaching strategies, develop more effective learning resources, gain skills in using technology with their learners, and to engage in ongoing, self-directed professional development.

There are a wide range of ways that you can engage in professional development online and connect to professional development networks and communities of practice for educators. Consider some of the following options:

There are also an enormous number of organized online networks that support educators and/or are focussed on learning and teaching issues. Consider some of the following options and explore their online presence for further information.

Australian Flexible Learning Framework Website
The AFLF website provides a range of tools to support groups and networks. Users can create groups and discussion forums on topics of their choice. For further information see: or locate groups of interest here:
Classroom 2.0
Classroom 2.0 is one of the largest online social networks for teachers. It is focused on Web 2.0 and Social Media in education and supports more than 44,000 members.
Edna Groups
edna Groups contains a large range of online communication tools for educators based on the open source Moodle learning management system software. Groups can be public (open to all) or private (invitation only). Explore Edna Groups to locate groups that fit with your learning and teaching interests. provides Australian education and training professionals with an online networking and profile space. Use to: create an online professional profile and connect with educators who have similar interests / share links, news, photos, ideas, opinions / blog about your work and professional learning / aggregate your online activity to show what you are doing online.
The oz-Teachernet has been working with and for teachers since 1995. It is an award-winning non-profit community service managed and maintained by academics at the Queensland University of Technology. They provide online resources and an email-based discussion forum.
Wiki Educator Community
The WikiEducator is an evolving community intended for the collaborative: planning of education projects linked with the development of free content; development of free content on Wikieducator for e-learning; work on building open education resources (OERs) on how to create OERs.

Consider joining one of the above online educator communities, or do some research and find one that fits with your area of practice. Feel free to the educator networks you discover to the table above!

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7. Find Out More About Networked Learning

Articles and Papers on Social Networking in Education

Blog Posts about Social Networking and Education and Networked Learning

Networking Learning Guides and Resources

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8. References

Conole, G., de Laat, M., Dillon, T., & Darby, J. (2006). Student experiences of technologies. Retrieved January 10, 2008, from dec06.pdf

Dede, C. (2005). Planning for neomillennial learning styles. Educause Quarterly, 28 (1). Retrieved January 10, 2008, from:

Downes, S. (2006). Learning networks and connective knowledge. Retrieved January 10, 2008, from

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for a digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1). Retrieved January 10, 2008, from

Siemens, G. (2007). Networks, ecologies, and curatorial teaching. Retrieved January 10, 2008, from

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9. What's Next?

  1. If you are completing the Social Networking Course, visit theMoodle site and complete the activities for Topic 3: Networked Learning: Social Networking in Learning & Teaching
  2. Check out the next section of the SWSI Social Networking Wiki - Creating Your Online Identity
  3. If you are exploring Social Networking independently, check out the Social Networking Matrix and select the tools that will be using in your teaching practice.

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