Welcome to the Boundaries and Limits of Networked and Connected Learning Hot Seat discussion!


Boundaries and Limits of Networked and Connected Learning

I have just spent a year working with a class of London 13-14 year olds (Year 9), following their networks at home, school and elsewhere, online and offline. Together with my co-author Julian Sefton-Green, we observed the students’ social interactions in and between lessons, conducting interviews with children, parents, teachers and others in their networks.

Our work was part of the Connected Learning Research Network and inspired by its vision that “connected learning taps the opportunities provided by digital media to more easily link home, school, community and peer contexts of learning; support peer and intergenerational connections based on shared interests; and create more connections with non-dominant youth, drawing from capacities of diverse communities.”

Probably many folk would sign up to this vision – though I take the critiques seriously too. But what was most striking from our fieldwork was the resistance we encountered to the idea of connection from teachers, parents and students themselves. I blogged about this in one of our case studies . As our research uncovered, there are significant interests at stake in maintaining boundaries - here I learned from the anthropologist Marilyn Strathern, writing (in her work on families) about the imperative to ‘cut the network’.

In my own research I try to respect children’s voices and experiences – so when I hear of their concerns about increased connection, and when I see their efforts to manage their networks, I become concerned about educational policies designed to link home and school even more.

I look forward to discussing these and related issues with you during the Hot Seat.

Please take a moment to introduce yourselves and share what experiences you may have had with networked and connected learning in general, and with their boundaries and limits in particular!


Hi Sonia,

Many thanks for taking place in the Hot Seat and leading us into a conversation about the boundaries and limits of networked and connected learning. I am very happy for this conversation to take place. I like how you open up the conversation about the idea of connectivity and the impact of networked learning on people’s lives. How many learning ties can we handle? I guess this week we will find out it’s not just a matter of friending and unfriending people on FB….

Last week we had a very active Hot Seat by Mike Sharples on massive open social learning and we started to explore some issues around scalability. ‘Massive’ has its boundaries not only for the learner, but to all of those involved. I am sure we will continue this conversation in your Hot seat and I welcome all to share and explore each other thoughts, experiences and ideas about this.


Thank you Maarten and Sonia for bringing up this issue to the hot seat discussions. My name is Reuma De-Groot and i work for many years with teachers and students grades 8-10 in Israel with an attempt to use technology and networking with in the school learning environment . One of the things that allways surprised me was the. fact that teachers and their students were reluctunt to net working from home as part of their learning. To some extend using the net for learning together in topics that are related to the school context seem out of place and was not taken as a common perception. I think that one of the reason’s for this phenomena was the fact that within the school context students’ are still used to discuss with their teacher (waiting for a positive reaction accordingly) , and or discuss with their peers, not so much for the sake of learning from one another but in order to gain better and appreciation from their teachers .
network and connected learning are not related only to dialogue I wonder though to what extend dialogue is crucial for the learning that emerges in this context?


@SoniaLivingstone @jennymackness

Thoughtful and thought provoking post, Sonia, thanks.

Just two thoughts. In work that @jennymackness and I (with Simone Gumtau, and more recently with Jutta Pauchenwein) did on structure and agency in designing and using open learning platforms and tools …

  1. We identified both ‘the edge of chaos’ (or too much connectivity?), and too much prescription (or too much predictability?) as un-condusive to learning. We then started to work out factors which the learner could use to describe where their learning did take place, in ‘emergent learning’ (in two ‘flavours’, or zones - sweet emergence and sharp emergence)

  2. And on another track, much to our initial surprise, we kept thinking that there was something fundamental missing in our mapping tool (footprints for emergent learning) - only to realise that it was what we now describe as ‘solitude and contemplation’ - which is inevitably private, and ‘off-grid’ - and it has been a key factor for most people who describe their experience of learning.

So … perhaps not so much a limit, but a place and time to withdraw for a while, perhaps to re-engage with the ‘network’ at a later stage, perhaps not … A ‘boundary’ to cross both ways, if you wish …


My sunday morning meditation on the topic of need of silence and privacy as a boundary to connectivity. https://connectiv.wordpress.com/2015/11/07/connecting-and-stillweb/


Hi Sonia. I have been really looking forward to this discussion and I am sure I will learn a lot. Something that interests me is the assumptions we might be making about connection/dis connection on/off the network. Are we really thinking that more connection is necessarily better? or perhaps disconnection is a part of learning practice to re- discover? I don’t see connection and disconnection as opposites but practices that can work together in learning. As Roy and Jenny have indicated learner autonomy is important.


Hi Sonia and all
Thanks for getting this hotseat started and I am looking forward to see how it develops and if I can keep up. I am Thomas Ryberg and I been working for many years on establishing an alternative space in higher education where students and lecturers can connect in new ways - going back to 2007 where we used the software Elgg.org to create a social network on a semester to initiate learning conversations and most importantly to let students see the benefits of sharing and discussing their own works with each other. More recently - this semester - we (Jacob Davidsen and I) have been working on establishing a google+ community as a place for uploading various small assignments as part of a course and for all kinds of dialogues. The idea again to create transparency and let students see and learn from each other’s contributions. It is a space we imagine falls somewhere inbetween the LMS (Moodle) and then their own facebook groups.

What we are seeing are also very different reactions to this (we just had data in and we are in process of starting to look at it) - but seems some engage, and others don’t which are patterns/motives we need to understand better. This has been the experiences in many years I think that it is difficult to sustain a space that fall a bot between the formal courses and then the informal student communication.

Perhaps sometimes we forget that to some students - perhaps many - school or education is not their primary context (as Nina Bonderup Dohn has described it). Many may not want to engage more than to the exact point of what is expected and anything beyond that is a nuisance - on the other hand we as people in edtech with a higher degree tend perhaps to think of learning in a different way (engaging on Sundays in online discussions, participate in MOOCs etc.).

So sometimes as a designer and teacher I think I/we underestimate that we are not really the center of the students attention and their primary context and have difficulties in understanding their reluctance towards ‘participation’ which to them perhaps feel more like ‘suffocation’.


Thanks all for taking the discussion already in some interesting directions. Perhaps the key idea that has emerged above is that educators recognise the necessity for some kind of balance between connected learning (based on dialogue and collaboration) and individual or independent learning (which needs silence and contemplation). This balance might be struck differently depending on the teacher or the student, the topic or the moment/mood. Is that right? Or is there more to it?

In my research for The Class, I observed some anxiety among teachers about how to control students’ independent learning (e.g. setting constrained work sheets for gathering ready-made online answers). So I wonder what appetite there is among educators to refashion homework to support creative work, whether contemplative or collaborative? I ask this partly because surely homework is the key established means by which both school and home connect learning in practice.


Hi Sonia - many thanks for your interesting and thought-provoking post to kick off this Hot Seat! This concept of an interface or bridge between Informal and Formal learning practices, networks and identities is of great interest to me. I’ve worked with undergraduate students in open online spaces (e.g. SNS, blogs) for several years and am currently engaged in research exploring why and how educators and students use online tools & spaces (both open and closed, and along the continuum) in higher education. One concept which often comes to mind when exploring these ideas is the difference between “who we share with” and “who we share as”. The latter is often the most challenging.

Looking forward to the discussion this week :smile:


I sort of started with the Management Theory at Work conferences in Lancaster a while ago. I worked on quality systems in print so interested in how people learn from them. Somehow the Networked Learning continues some of this. I am now mostly retired but contribute to radio shows on Phonic FM. Gradually sound moves into social media so we argue with the management about resources. They also are unpaid and part time so leadership is very distributed, sorry this sort of thing probably off topic for this conference.

Sonia, when you spoke at TEDx Exeter it seemed to me you were mostly concerned with the downside and dangers of online learning. There was almost some hesitation before getting to the benefits. (Can be found on YouTube) Has you view changed in the last couple of years? Could you say more about the critique of your current project? The link is in the middle of a book so I’m not sure where to look.


Hi there. What I wanted to convey in my Tedx talk was that society’s concern about the risks has been so strong that it has obscured a lively public discussion about the benefits of internet use (beyond the bland - communication, information, entertainment). Why can parents name lots of good books or TV shows but not good websites or computer games for their children, for instance?


I wrote about this here: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/62223/


On the critique of connected learning, I cited a book by Avril Loveless and Ben Williamson. They are essentially concerned that what sounds as if it is in students’ interests (more collaboration, more seamless opportunities to share and learn, better tech tools to engage with others and with knowledge resources online, new opportunities to pursue learning pathways in an interest-driven manner) is more a matter of hype than proven practice. Relatedly, they point to the alignment between the language of connected learning and the interests of the digital and edtech industries who will increase their profits the more that students are encouraged to learn on their services. Last, they worry about the future that we are preparing students for - perhaps not the collaborative and fair future that the language of connected learning endorses but, in reality, a competitive individualised future in which workers must be flexible and adaptable in the face of an insecure and unfair labour market. Julian Sefton-Green and I discuss this as a (fearful) vision that some - but not all - parents share as they try to support their child face a precarious future.


yeah i see but on the other hand we as people are connected and most of what we do is through social relationships - whether they are online, offline, hybrid, continuous, fragmented, individually oriented or collectively driven, etc, etc.
I think it is important for us to understand what these connections mean to us, why and how we use them to explore the world and realise our ambitions and help each other. Understanding connectivity will also help reflect which aspect of connected learning are fruitful, secure and productive.


Thanks for the link, will read this later


Is it proposed to have alternative platforms funded by the EU or education budgets?
Is there any support for getting better content on YouTube? training in editing for example?


Stillweb looks great. When I first explored mediation and haha yoga (in my early twenties) it struck me as bizarre that we all spent 12 years at school learning how to be more and more active mentally and physically (and sport was compulsory), without a thought about how to learn to be still, and enjoy and explore stillness.

Sharing stillness is (for me) an essential and enjoyable part of learning about your (my) own mind, and your (my) self. Its a completely different kind of identity and engagement, although it too has a social, and shared aspect. Engaging and exploring my ‘external’ and ‘internal’ identities is part of the same thing, but I was taught at school only about the external social. What a pity.


Thank you for the feedback on Still Web. It is my ‘baby’ :slight_smile:

We started with the idea of creating a digital monastery. We settled on a ‘digital contemplation studio’ and it is all still very much in the early stages. We now run a Daily Stillness practice as part of the site. At some point we want to develop a simulation room - for users to get feedback on their use of digital tools. So much of our habitual use is not conscious…

It was great that @jaapsoft agreed to contribute and I hope to find more contributors.

Finding stillness in the digital feels an important counterpoint to most of our connected and busy lives. It is a distinction that exercises others currently: Mike Cawfield talks about gardening and stream modes, Guy Claxton talks about the hare and the tortoise mode of thought, in my book Lived Time I talk about the very old idea of Kronos and Kairos…And, of course, Bohmian dialogue is about what you describe as ‘sharing stillness’. He talks about the need to speak from silence.

Sadly, not much to puff up the ego in sharing stillness and so much social media interaction is about image creation. A pity too.


Silence here, because of the rather sudden death of my mother in law. Now my family needs my special attention.


Sorry for your loss, @jaapsoft. May she rest in peace.