My uninformed understanding of networked learning paints a picture in which the learner acquires knowledge by way of linking interconnected nodes wherein presences the tiny bits of the building blocks of knowledge.
Interestingly, not very far from this layman’s viewpoint, Gardner Campbell in his ‘Networked Learning as Experiential Learning’, notes that networked learning is of the kind that seeks to go beyond the satisfaction of career pursuits and the attainment of competencies, rather, being inherently imbued with an additional aspiration towards reaching for the self-actualization of the learner. Being this multidimensional, networked learning, thus, transcends the narrow realm of contemporary assessment as founded on easily observable outcomes.
Campbell further defines this concept by delving into a thinly veiled methodology towards the attainment of networked learning. He points out four key aspects that, presumably, ought to be characteristic of learning if at all it is to be networked.
Networked learning ought to be learner oriented wherein the process is built by the learner and merely facilitated by instructor, all this, within the context of the digital web. A vital component of networked learning is introduced here, the digital web. Tim Hitchcock in his ‘Twitter and blogs are not just add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion underpinning it’, adds reverence to the role of the digital web in the academia. He notes that the web is so important that it forms the very gist of academic research. He argues, the digital media can be used for reaching out to the wider audience and enhancing one’s research impact in the process. The anticipation of reaching out to the wider audience can also passively enhance the quality of one’s academic work, he contends. Doug Bershaw in his ‘Working openly on the web: a manifesto’, breaks down some tips on making the best of the digital world namely; having an own web portal, working openly and, finally, using optimized language that is easily readable by both machines and humans.
Further, networked learning must embrace both curricular and co-curricular activities. This duality must provide a deliberate opportunity for the learner to experience and solve real life problems.
In addition, networked learning must be seen to be desirous of developing the individual learning within the wider context of the societal picture.
It is clear, at this point, that networked learning seeks to produce a multi-dimensional, well-rounded individual complete with the skills set needed for a career and knowledge of oneself and indeed the wider context in which existence occurs. It is a very beautiful concept.
Notwithstanding the beauty of this concept, it would seem that there lurks a danger of it coming off as being more of an abstract concept with unlimited definitions.
If networked learning must transcend the narrow realm of easily observable outcomes, then it presents itself as being beyond the scope of many contemporary learning progress assessment mechanisms. This would portray it as being widely abstract, immeasurable and subject to chance. From this viewpoint, the ontological challenges of understanding this concept would be mundane.
In the current environment, the concept may be seen to be contradictory of a widely held truth whereby many a learner primarily embark on formal learning with the motivation to acquire a set of skills that would enable them to earn a living. In this environment, it would seem that the primary purpose of learning is to satisfy career needs. The self-actualization and the wider picture appear to be secondary aspirations. Formal learning contracts, in predominant use today, prioritize the career-oriented learning. The non-curricular aspirations are left out to chance, whenever that arises. However, knowing that networked learning is a totality of both curricular and co-curricula activities, where the former precedes the latter, it becomes interesting how the totality may be attained.