Welcome to "Doctoral Studies in Networked Learning?"


As an introduction to this topic, and letting you know the reason this is important and pertinent for me, I’d like to just briefly introduce myself to you. I’m Don Passey, and I’m Professor of Technology Enhanced Learning in the Department of Educational Research at Lancaster University. As part of my role, I am the Director of Studies for the Doctoral Programme in e-Research and Technology Enhanced Learning, which supports professional part-time students from across the world in undertaking doctoral studies. At any one time, there are about 100 students on this programme; many focus their doctoral study on aspects of networked learning, but we also use and rely on networked learning to engage with and support them. Hence, my interest!

Doctoral studies are concerned with in-depth investigation, and how the outcomes of those investigations can contribute to our existing bank of research knowledge. Networked learning benefits from the fact that it is well defined, and indeed, that the definition that has been most accepted has endured over many years. The definition, however, can be seen through a number of different lenses; those lenses might be focused more on theoretical concepts, or more on development, or more on existing practices in networked learning, as examples. With these possible different lenses, there is not necessarily a single way that these different foci might be considered or applied through any doctoral study; a doctoral study might take a practice dimension as its main focus, while another might take a theoretical conception as its main focus.

So, is there much research that explores these alternative foci, and the way that they relate? Certainly, there are plenty of studies going on, and the past Networked Learning conferences and their subsequent publications demonstrate this and chart this well. Given the points above as a background and introduction, this Hot Seat is concerned with the challenges that face those undertaking current and future doctoral studies.

I look forward to engaging with you in discussing these key questions, and hope that this discussion might then also be taken forward within the Doctoral Consortium that opens on Sunday 8th May 2016 (details can be found on the conference website). Please, in these discussion threads, do share your ideas, thoughts, or experiences!

Please, introduce yourselves and share what about this topic is of interest to you!

Don Passey
Professor of Technology Enhanced Learning, Lancaster University, UK


Thank you for your introduction and welcome Don. My name is Lyz Howard and this particular Hot Seat piqued my interest for a number of reasons. Firstly I am one of your students on the eResearch and TEL programme; secondly I’m just at the stage of converting to Part 2, which brings with it the probably quite common feelings of anxiety regarding ensuring a unique contribution to the field of technology enhanced learning and networked learning (TEL/NL); finally my interest for forthcoming eResearch is in the potential for autonetnography as a reflexive tool for teachers/lecturers in TEL/NL to scaffold their professional development. As you can see, this topic is timely and interesting. I look forward to having further discussions next week.


Hello Lyz, Many thanks for your post and for your introduction. I think your focus on autonetnography is very interesting and pertinent to this field. I hope you will be able to explore this a bit within the discussions - maybe saying something about how you see its role, purpose and potential outcomes in this field. For example, I wonder whether you see this method as offering something different, or offering different dimensions or possibilities beyond those that have been used already?


Hi Don and others. Thanks for the welcoming introduction. I’m Howard Spoelstra (from the OUNL), and I just finished a doctoral study in networked learning :wink: As Don mentioned, networked learning concepts are rather well-defined. In my view it is in the translation of those concepts into practical solutions that a wide range of issues come to light. In practice, what do learners attempting to exhibit networked learning behaviour encounter?

Let’s start from the observation that not all learners score high on self-direction readiness scales (Guglielmino, 2013). Add for instance these observations by Alvarez and Olivera-Smith (2013) about learning while using unsorted learning materials and various services that seem to support networked learning settings:
“… there is also a danger that, due to the vastness of resources available in the web, students may find themselves drifting in an “information ocean”, straining to solve ill-structured problems with little idea of what concepts, rules and principles are required for the solution or of how to organise themselves and what is the best solution.”
What you get are possibilities for networked learning, but not effective implementations.

I based my research on implementing Stahl’s group cognition framework. I noticed this conceptual framework too leaves open several implementation issues related to designing effective networked learning settings. It doesn’t assure that: i) learning questions are related to the sources available in environment in which they are asked, ii) collaboration takes place between suitable knowledgeable peers, iii) knowledge sources are available that fit the learners needs, iv) suitable peer learners get connected, v) the interactions between learners are structured and connection-building.
Based on lessons from CSCL research and designs I therefore looked into facilitating learners to assess the semantic relation between their learning question and the information sources available, the formation of effective learning teams, and defining learning task activities based on well-proven pedagogies.

When concepts are well-defined, I guess my point is that we should get from the “should” and “ought” to the “can” by putting a bit more research focus on building and experimenting with networked learning settings that can be shown to be effective.


Hello Everybody,

I am happy to see that our next Hot Seat has started after the Christmas break and a belated happy new year to you all.

I hope we will see some interesting examples of great research ideas and i am already triggered by the concept of auto ethnography. I am doing some work on social network analysis and learning analytics and i guess this is in a way closely related. I hope to be able to talk about your research.
Here is a link om some of my work on this:
Visualizing Informal Professional Development Networks: Building a Case for Learning Analytics in the Workplace
Maarten de Laat & Bieke Schreurs


Hello Howard, all, Thanks for your introduction and post. Your research into ‘facilitating learners to assess the semantic relation between their learning question and the information sources available, the formation of effective learning teams, and defining learning task activities based on well-proven pedagogies’ sounds a very pertinent and useful area to be exploring. It would be interesting to know what you found in terms of ‘well-proven pedagogies’ and their relationships to networked learning. Do you think these might help in moving to the ‘can’ position?


Hello Maarten, all, Visualisation coupled with learning analytics is a very interesting area indeed. How far do you think at the moment we are visualising the ‘management of the learning’ rather than ‘the learning per se’? If we are limited in what we do in this field at the moment, do you see this as being a limitation of types of data or types of methods to analyse/view the data?


Hello Maarten, and thank you for your post. I’m pleased that the topic of autonetnography has interested you. I have finally worked out my overarching research question as I prepare to focus my proposal. I would be grateful if you (and other members of this Hot Seat forum) could comment on the appropriateness of it in its naive form:

Casting the ‘net’ in autonetnography: experiential development of the “autonetnographic I” as a model to guide professional development in technology enabled teaching

I have already developed a theoretical model (autonetnographic I) by drawing heavily on autoehnography and netnography in light of the lack of theory relating to the emergence of autonetnography as an eResearch methodology for one of my module papers, and I hope to explore the reality of using the model in practice through experiential means (I.e. Using the model to see if it has any value for online teachers to use to frame their professional development) and to create new iterations of the model as I progress. I’m struggling to make sense of specific research questions at this point so any advice would be appreciated.

I think the theoretical model already requires reconsideration and I haven’t even started using it yet! That is the nature of learning and TEL/NL - questions always create more questions (except for research questions in my case!!).

As requested, in terms of my profile, I can tell you a little of myself. I work as a health and social care senior lecturer in the Isle of Man. Our population on the island is 85,500, which is relatively small and as a consequence, we have no higher education institute to call our own. The members of our team are all health and social care professionals (8 of us) and we are collaborative partners with Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Chester. We run 9 degree/masters programmes and I am the only member of the team with an interest ( more of an obsession really) in TEL/NL. There is significant potential for further development in what we offer online, and my colleagues and manager are supportive of the developments we have made to date.

I will upload a picture at some point - it will probably be a picture of me with my grandson who is my other obsession. I love to travel with my husband and am saving for a long haul trip when I finish my PhD - my husband will deserve the break!

That’s enough of me for now - I look forward to hearing from you and others throughout the week :grinning:


I forgot to mention Maarten that I used social network analysis (SNA) to visualise the interactions of my students, a guest speaker and me as the teacher in my online learning course for one of the weeks. It revealed some interesting relationships and was really intriguing. My research was for one of the modules on the eResearch and TEL programme, so the analysis and visualisation was done manually, but it would be really exciting to see a more complicated SNA. Thanks for sharing your work. Any you were correct - autonetnography compliments SNA, which might be one of my methods of exploration.

Best regards,



Hello Howard,
Thank you for your post - your work sounds really interesting and very pertinent to my current practice. As you can see from my response to Maarten, online learning is relatively new to the local population of Isle of Man (Manx) health and social care professionals. Learners who have participated in online learning within my practice, have found moving towards online learning from the more traditional face-to-face classroom sessions a challenge. The nature of the learning is the practical application of health and social care theory to practice, and many of the learners have a preference for practical skills over the academic requirements of Level 6 or Level 7 development. Your work may go some way to guiding my practice as an online teacher as I support those learners to develop both professionally and academically through fostering supportive yet independent learning.

Please share some more of your perspectives!

Best regards,



Hi Don,
This field is relatively new and very much in development. An interesting conference on learning analytics is the LAK conference. This time it will be in Edinburgh. See http://lak16.solaresearch.org for more details.
As a sort of answer to your question; it is indeed true that a lot of analytics concentrates on using management (LMS) and administration insights and try to use this information to improve our insights about the learning process and trajectories that students develop. Linking analytics directly to the learning process itself is a different cattle of fish as in all our learning related research it is very difficult to say something about how learning activities actually impact learning itself, let alone atomise it.

An area we are interested in is also called social learning analytics - see also the work done by Simon Buckingham Shum and Rebecca Fergusson - this is mainly about understanding the social nature of learning and see what analytics can do to facilitate this.

I will end with a link to another article - with the ambitious title :slight_smile: - Social Learning Analytics: Navigating the Changing Settings of Higher Education, that describes further some of the research we do in this area:

This article was part of an special issue on BIG data and learning analytics:


Thanks, Maarten,
Very interesting indeed - a question that continues to come up for me is ‘how do we distinguish clearly between features and factors that can influence the management of learning and those that influence the learning per se?’. I’m hoping that the work you and others are doing in this area might shed more and more light on this. From an NL perspective, this distinction I think might be more blurred than it is in other contexts and settings. I’d very much value any thoughts on this from you and others who are online.


Howard, what brought you to doing doctoral studies in networked learning?



Lyz, your interest in autoethnography was one of the litmus tests I used when I was looking for doctoral programs; small world! We may have some interesting overlaps!

What do you want to know about AE as a strategy for professional development?



Hi Jeffrey,

In my case the reason was quite simple: I already worked in a learning networks research program ran by the OUNL. But my focus on forming effective teams in networked learning settings stemmed from an earlier research project into providing students with real-world learning and working conditions, called the Virtual Company. It was from a HRM-perspective that we first addressed the question of how to automate the formation of project teams with members that could be shown to be complementary in e.g., prior knowledge and learning needs. This particular strand of research never came to bear fruit :wink: but stayed in the back of my head.
When I wrote my PhD research proposal I extended these unresolved issues and grafted them onto the learning network support research.



There does seem to be interest in using learning metrics and data to match teams up, though I sometimes wonder if there are so many factors that we do not track that may influence who works well together, how people grow and develop, and the like, that we may still be so imperfect that it is not all just an expense without its own success criteria. I do wonder at how people engage in networked learning within organizations, and it is this extension into practice outside academia where I find valuable options for future study.




This might seem true, a lot of research has been done into effective team formation. However, to form teams one needs data. But what about those circumstances in which the data are not available? I started from the perspective that any support is better than none. And so could focus on the most important factors mentioned in the literature (besides practical issues) Where there is no learner history, you need to gather the data from the learner. Futheremore, the indivudual learner might need convincing that collaboration provides clear benefits. I tried to find convincing arguments in showing that prospective team member have complementary knowledge (and thus will actually be able to contribute) and by looking into personality aspects (mostly conscientiousness) so the learners can be assurred their teammemeber take the collective task seriously. What I basically tried to do is create a team formation expert by proxy.


Hi Howard,

I like your point about using data from the learners in to group work. I have been working on something similar based on our framework on value creation in networks and communities. The question we were struggling with was based on the fact that in practice there are no ‘true’ forms of networks, communities and teams. They exist in mix forms and groups might favour a network approach for certain goals and a team approach for another.
Based on a literature review we formulated a framework highlighting the underpinning aspects and values of social learning in (teacher) groups. The review resulted in four dimensions: (1) practice, (2) domain and value creation, (3) collective identity and (4) organization. Followed by a set of indicators that serve as the foundation for understanding social learning in practice and can help to measure or assess them.
It might be interesting to compare our notes/findings.


Hello Don,

Once our network inhabitants express a learning goal we can assess whether that learning goal is supported by materials available in the network and find out whether there are others that are able and willing to collaborate on the goal. So out of the group of the willing we form a team for a period of time. Once learners start on the task, some guidance for execution might be desired. I primarily looked into problem/project-based learning to provide templates for task structuring as many professionals already have ample experience with such settings from their practices.