Learning Networks

Learning has become a lot more social. Whereas previously the focus has been largely on knowledge transfer, more recent pedagogic trends have emerged that recognise that this is not the only way to learn. Human interaction is a vital component in the process of acquiring new skills or knowledge, or for creative processes. Pedagogic theories like socio-constructivism or connectivsm explore and try to explain this and form the basis for a lot of our technology driven teaching and learning approaches.

Especially in the area of professional learning humans almost always act within communities, that is with people or experts with whom we discuss and share our knowledge. These communities of practice (CoP) or communities of interest (fanclubs etc.) are organised in online networks. For the purpose of learning, they are called learning networks. Learning networks show the right flexibility to support ad-hoc learning and other informal methods of knowledge building.

Learning networks, like other networks, are built upon links and connections, but, in learning networks, connections in turn depend largely on two human characteristics: trust and passion. While there is already a good stock of research looking into learning networks, these areas are still mainly unexplored. It is also still unclear what makes such a network successful. Mostly, success is understood in terms of scale, i.e. size of membership or volume of content, but this may actually be not the decisive criteria for a successful learning network. More research into these questions is required.

Being internet-based, learning networks utilise online social platforms, or, sometimes, purpose-built platforms. Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms have entered education and are increasingly used in courses. Because the internet is full of useful tools and technologies, more personal combinations of these are now possible that were not available before. This increasingly open way of providing tools for learning leads away from the traditional provision of tools and platforms to a personal learning enviroment that is centred around the learner, not around the institution.

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