What do we mean by “Networked Learning”?
Networked learning represents a further step in the people centred approach to learning that the NetNZ advocates and a shift away from viewing learning in such binary terms as face to face or online. It is a field of research and practice that has developed over the last 30 years and recently revised to fit our current covid context. However, Networked Learning has always been distinguished by a focus on the interplay of three key areas:
- Human/interpersonal relationships.
- Technology (especially digital communications technologies).
- Collaborative engagement in valued activity.
Importantly, we can’t study any one area without consideration of how it works with the others. Over recent years these areas have developed into a definition which fully captures many of the principles and values historically embraced by the NetNZ.
“Networked learning involves processes of collaborative, co-operative and collective inquiry, knowledge-creation and knowledgeable action, underpinned by trusting relationships, motivated by a sense of shared challenge and enabled by convivial technologies. Networked learning promotes connections: between people, between sites of learning and action, between ideas, resources and solutions, across time, space and media” (Networked Learning Editorial Collective, (NLEC), 2020, p. 320).
In simple terms we view people, relationships, and connection as absolutely fundmanetal to what we do. We advocate for the internet to be used in ways that develops these ideas, while also breaking down the barriers that physical spaces can bring.
How does it work?
NetNZ programmes usually comprise 10-20 learners from between 5-12 schools from across New Zealand. Large courses can be split into independent classes or, as is becoming more common, two or more teachers will work collaboratively with the entire group.
Each class uses an online hub, which acts as the focal point for asynchronous learning and interaction. The teacher develops these community spaces using their platform of choice – commonly Google Classroom, Google+ Communities (now Currents). The hub centralises all learning, encompassing activities, resources, communication, discussion and collaboration. Each school has a learning support person (an eDean) who provides on-site support for learners and acts as a point of contact for the online teacher.
All programmes run a once a week synchronous or real time session of 30-60 minutes where all learners gather with their teacher(s) using tools such as Zoom or Google Meet. This provides an extremely important chance for the group to engage in more immediate, face-to-face type activity which helps build relationships and maintain learner engagement. Teachers increasingly use synchronous technology in more flexible ways, especially in providing one-to-one support or to gather a group of learners together for a specific reason. At other times, learners may organise their own sessions to work with other classmates in real time.
This mix of asynchronous and synchronous technology is vital to maintaining a learner centred environment and ensuring ongoing engagement.