In an era of knowledge abundance – The End No 3:3

5547472957_b9eec4ecec_qMore participatory, collaborative and networked modes of engaging students and learners in teaching and learning have emerged in education. In this blog post I’ll look into participatory culture as the third approach to digital literacies, and I’ll discuss the concept of transmedia literacy and the connected updating of the skills, cultural competences and practices of new media literacies and participatory culture. Seen through the lens of Allan Martin and Jan Grudziecki’s model of digital literacy development, I introduced in The End No 3:1, new media literacies and participatory culture as well as the mapping of transmedia literacy align especially with the levels of digital competence and digital usage.

Participatory culture and new media literacies as digital literacies

The participatory potential of new technologies has given new possibilities in education. Traditionally education has constructed students and learners as readers and synthesizers rather than producers, creators or designers of ideas and knowledge, as both Anna Sfard, Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel and John Hartley note in The End No 3:2. As this is changing, participatory culture has become an emblem of this development, which Lankshear and Knobel have shown in their presentation of new literacies in The End No 3:2, and participatory culture may serve as a concept and ‘framework’ to embrace and understand the more participatory practices that have evolved within digital literacies. So let me introduce the concept, eventually influenced by situated learning theory (Jenkins, Ito, boyd 2016:4-7) and a sociocultural approach, as it has originally been coined by Henry Jenkins:

Henry Jenkins on Participatory Culture (2013)

Jenkins emphasizes in the video that the main issue is to find out how to bring new media literacies and forms of participatory culture practiced in informal settings into the educational process. That is a concern very similar to Lankshear and Knoebel’s idea of new literacies. In the report “Confronting the Challenges of a Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century” (2006/2009) Henry Jenkins, Ravi Purushotma, Margaret Weigel, Katie Clinton and Alice J. Robison gave a definition of participatory culture addressed at educators and emphasizing its pedagogical possibilities. This definition was adopted by Lankshear and Knobel and has already been quoted in The End No 3:2:

“A participatory culture is a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby experienced participants pass along knowledge to novices. In a participatory culture, members also believe their contributions matter and feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least, members care about others’ opinions of what they have created.” (Jenkins et al. 2009:xi)

So the forms of participatory culture include affiliations and memberships in informal and formal online communities focusing on various forms of media, expressions focused on producing new creative forms, collaborative problem solving focused on working together in teams on completing tasks and developing new knowledge, and circulations focused on shaping a flow of media (Jenkins et al. 2009:xi-xii;9):

“We are using participation as a term that cuts across educational processes, community life, and democratic citizenship. Our goals should be to encourage youths to develop the skills, knowledge, ethical frameworks, and self-confidence needed to be full participants in contemporary culture. “(Jenkins et al. 2009:9)

As participatory culture is about being a part of shared practices and culture, participatory culture shifts the focus of literacies from individual expression to community involvement, “…to opportunities for participation and the development of cultural competencies and social skills needed for full involvement.” (Jenkins et al. 2009:xiii). From a new media literacies perspective the report points out that “[t]he new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking. These skills build on the foundation of traditional literacy and research, technical, and critical-analysis skills learned in the classroom.” (Jenkin et al. 2009:xiii). So in the report Jenkins and his team stress that “[n]ew media literacies include the traditional literacy that evolved with print culture as well as the newer forms of literacy within mass media and digital media.” (Jenkins et al. 2009:29). And they point especially to two issues while rethinking media literacies for the 21st century:

1 “As media literacy advocates have claimed during the past several decades, students also must acquire a basic understanding of the ways media representations structure our perceptions of the world, the economic and cultural contexts within which mass media is produced and circulated, the motives and goals that shape the media they consume, and alternative practices that operate outside the commercial mainstream. Such groups have long called for schools to foster a critical understanding of media as one of the most powerful social, economic, political, and cultural institutions of our era.” (Jenkins et al. 2009:31)(my emphasis).

2 “The new media literacies should be seen as social skills…We must push further by talking about how meaning emerges collectively and collaboratively in the new media environment and how creativity operates differently in open-source culture based on sampling, appropriation, transformation, and repurposing.

The social production of meaning is more than individual interpretation multiplied; it represents a qualitative difference in the ways we make sense of cultural experience, and in that sense it represents a profound change in how we understand literacy. In such a world, youths need skills for working within social networks, for pooling knowledge within a collective intelligence, for negotiating across cultural differences that shape the governing assumptions in different communities, and for reconciling conflicting bits of data to form a coherent picture of the world around them.” (Jenkins et al. 2009:32)(my emphasis).

So engaging in participatory culture involves a move towards social learning and includes what Lankshear and Knobel have termed ‘the new technical stuff’/’the new technical dimension’ and ‘the new ethos stuff’/‘the new kind of ethos’. Jenkins and his team have downsized the social skills and cultural competencies, they consider relevant to be fostered in education, into this list of new skills. But each skill and competence on the list has a thorough article attached in the report providing knowledge and examples of how to bring them into teaching and learning:

  • Play The capacity to experiment with the surroundings as a form of problem solving.
  • Performance The ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery.
  • Simulation The ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes.
  • Appropriation The ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content.
  • Multitasking The ability to scan the environment and shift focus onto salient details.
  • Distributed cognition The ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities.
  • Collective intelligence The ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal.
  • Judgment The ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources.
  • Transmedia navigation The ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities.
  • Networking The ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information.
  • Negotiation The ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.(Jenkins et al. 2009:xiv)

Jenkins and his team introduce participatory culture and new media literacies in the context of Cultural Studies and Media Studies which is focused on “…studying ‘real expressive and communicative proces’… not just ‘isolable objects’ such as texts” and thus it is a way of studying “the relations between different practices”, while introducing popular culture and everyday life and making way for the social, economic, political and cultural dimensions of culture. (Hartley 2012a:32). It is exactly the changes in the expressive and communicative processes and everyday literacy practices that have resulted in the “profound change in how we understand literacy”, which Jenkins and his colleagues see as the cause for rethinking media literacy into new media literacies and shifting the focus of literacies from individual expression to community involvement.

Whether the theory behind is new media literacies with a focus on culture, ‘texts’ in use in contexts, ‘textual analysis’ and cultural analysis, or it is new literacies with a focus on Discourse/discourse, the ‘structural’ level of new literacies and social learning processes, there is an overlap in inspiration and references between participatory culture seen in a pedagogical context and new literacies with their explicit appropriation of participatory culture and their focus on ‘the new ethos stuff’/’a new kind of ethos’, affinity spaces and communities of practice. So eventually, they share key words when they are framing and understanding digital literacies and digital media in a Web 2.0 and a Web 3.0 context. But still, Jenkins and his colleagues focus more on skills and competences as part of digital practices and uses, than Lankshear and Knobel do.

A revised definition of participatory culture

In 2016 Henry Jenkins, Mizuko (Mimi) Ito and danah boyd published a dialogue, discussion and revision of their understandings of what participatory culture means in their book “Participatory culture in a networked era”, where Henry Jenkins states that “…while we may live in a more participatory culture, we do not yet live in a fully participatory culture.” (Jenkins, Ito, boyd 2016:188). In the book, Jenkins, Ito and boyd introduce this revised definition of participatory culture:

“As a set of ideals, we can define participatory culture in opposition to various forms of culture that limit access to the means of cultural production and circulation, that fragment and isolate the public rather than providing opportunities to create and share culture, and that construct hierarchies that make it difficult for many to exert any meaningful influence over the core decisions that impact their lives. People participate through and within communities: participatory culture requires us to move beyond a focus on individualized personal expression; it is about an ethos of “doing it together” in addition to “doing it yourself”. (Jenkins, Ito, boyd 2016:181)(my emphasis).

“Participatory culture can be and has been used both as a descriptive model and as an aspirational one: As a descriptive model, it indicates a set of practices that have centered on accessible and communal forms of cultural production and sharing. As an aspirational model it embodies a set of ideals for how these social practices can facilitate learning, empowerment, civic action and capacity-building.” (Jenkins, Ito, boyd 2016:183)(my emphasis).

“All of this is to say that our understanding of participatory culture should not be static. Rather, we should see participatory culture as an evolving concept that always gets read in relation to existing practices and norms. (Jenkins, Ito, boyd 2016:186)(my emphasis).

The situatedness of the concept dominates this definition, and talking about a movement towards a more participatory culture allows Henry Jenkins to identify the participation gaps and their reasons and to acknowledge that many people either don’t have the means and opportunities to participate or are not able to participate meaningfully (Jenkins, Ito, boyd 2016:22-23, 30). In agreement with Jenkins, danah boyd comments that “…”everyone” supposedly has the ability to have their voice heard. I think that this is seriously deceptive. I would argue that true participation requires many qualities: agency, the ability to understand a social situation well enough to engage constructively, the skills to contribute effectively, connections with others to help build an audience, emotional resilience to handle negative feedback, and enough social status to speak without consequence. The barrier to participation is not the technology but the kinds of privilege that are often ignored in meritocratic discourse.” (Jenkins, Ito, boyd 2016:21-22).

In the report “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture” (2006/2009), the participation gap is one of three issues that Jenkins and his team are concerned about:

The participation gap The unequal access to the opportunities, experiences, skills, and knowledge that will prepare youths for full participation in the world of tomorrow.

The transparency problem The challenges young people face in learning to recognize the ways that media shape perceptions of the world.

The ethics challenge The breakdown of traditional forms of professional training and socialization that might prepare young people for their increasingly public roles as media makers and community participants.” (Jenkins et al. 2009:xii).

These three issues are thoroughly discussed in the book “Participatory culture in a networked era” by Henry Jenkins, Mimi Ito and danah boyd, and I would say that the three issues are the reasons why Jenkins talks of a movement towards a more participatory culture: these issues are still very much a concern today. The discussions and pedagogical interventions needed are not so much about the digital divide, which focuses on lack of access to technology – that is, if educational institutions do provide access – but about the participation gap, which is intended to focus much more on questions of knowledge, access to skills, experiences and mentorship and on discussions about how to provide equal opportunities for participation (Jenkins, Ito, boyd 2016:67-69; Jenkins et al. 2009:xiii). It is a much more complex issue than expected, and danah boyd comments on this from the perspective of social networks, as they matter and it matters who you know, as it influences your interests and your possibilities for learning:  “Addressing the participation gap isn’t just about access and skills. Some of the most egregious inequities have a lot to do with people’s structural position within a broader network. One of the challenges for me around participatory culture is that even awareness of the kinds of activities in which one can participate is very much shaped by who you know.“ (Jenkins, Ito, boyd 2016:73).

In this perspective, participatory culture should not be seen only as a descriptive model that provides  a set of social and cultural practices, but also as an aspirational model that expresses an ideal for how new media literacies as social and cultural practices can facilitate learning, empowerment, civic action and capacity-building, as Henry Jenkins has defined it. Or as he asks in the video at the beginning of this blog post: “What does it mean to be as passionate about the future of society as you are about animé, about games, about the sorts of forms of popular culture that young people are involved with?” This focus on democratic values and empowerment also recurs in Lankshear and Knobel’s comment on the report “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture” (2006/2009): “Under current and foreseeable conditions, failure to address the participation, transparency and ethical gaps framed by Jenkins and colleagues (Jenkins et al. 2006) will constitute grave derelictions of commitment to democratic values.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2012:66).

But there is also another level of concern regarding the participation gap which is mentioned by David Buckingham, also from a Cultural Studies and Media Studies perspective, in his article “Do We Really Need Media Education 2.0? Teaching in the Age of Participatory Media” (2010). It is a level of concern closer to teaching and learning, but it is not skipping the questions of inequity and inequality, as Buckingham comments on the report by Jenkins and his team (2006/2009), and actually he is much in line with their definition of new media literacies quoted earlier:

“To this extent, it is possible that the Internet may accentuate existing inequalities rather than help to overcome them. If disaffected and disadvantaged young people are to be enabled to participate, they need to develop relatively traditional skills in locating and evaluating information, constructing arguments, and thinking critically; these activities depend in turn on fairly advanced forms of traditional literacy.

This is not to imply that nothing is changing – the Internet may be fostering new forms and styles of civic engagement that are at least potentially more inclusive. But participation, in this area as in many others, also requires relatively traditional forms of cultural and educational capital. Addressing the “participation gap”, therefore, depends upon addressing inequalities: it will not disappear simply as a result of widening access to technology.” (Buckingham 2010:297-298)

Buckingham’s argument is in accordance with boyd’s comment quoted above, but he doesn’t rest at that and turns to the status of critique in teaching and learning:

“The kinds of learning typically celebrated in discussions of digital technology in education tend to allow little space for critical reflection or the explicit development of critical skills. There seems to be an assumption that participation or creative production is good in itself and that it either stands for, or automatically generates critical understanding in its own right… However, none of this is to imply that audiences are readily capable and critical – that they already know everything they need to know. Nor does it mean that we can throw out the critical tools and perspectives used to analyze media. We can accept that audiences can be active, discriminating, and indeed “critical”, while also recognizing there are ideals they generally do not know about media – and indeed that they need to learn. There is a body of knowledge here – about how the media work, about the media industries, about the history of media, about the uses and effects of media within society. It is a changing and contested body of knowledge, to be sure, but it is, nevertheless, a body of knowledge with shared criteria for determining what counts as truth.” (Buckingham 2010:298)

A broader critical understanding of the economic, social, and cultural dimensions of media does not follow automatically from the experience of creative production according to Buckingham (Buckingham 2010:299). So the ideal of participation and production, acting up to the characteristics of Anna Sfard’s participation metaphor, is here being met by the demands for acquisition in the context of Cultural Studies and Media Studies, as well. To Buckingham this is important issues to integrate into an aspirational model of participatory culture. And in fact Jenkins and his team acknowledge this legacy when they state in the report, that new media literacies include traditional literacy as well as new forms of literacies within mass media and digital media (Jenkins et al. 2009:29).

The power law of participation

Already Ross Mayfield tested the idea of participatory culture as providing equal opportunities for participation and opening up to dialogical communication when he mapped the power law of participation (2006).


The Power Law of Participation – Amber Case on Flickr – CC BY-NC

Mayfield finds that the capacity to make a collective pool of social knowledge and the capacity to collaboratively develop, distribute, share and communicate that knowledge are not necessarily the same: “As users engage in low threshold participation (read, favorite, tag and link) we gain a form of collective intelligence. But it is important to distinguish the value of collective intelligence and collaborative intelligence.” (Mayfield 2006). Collective intelligence is connected to the potential of networked communication and communities as “…everyone knows something, nobody knows everything, and what any one person knows can be tapped by the group as a whole” (Jenkins et al. 2009:72), but to establish a participatory culture it takes participants that are engaging at the high end of the model. They must be able to provide a networked community with collaborative intelligence and make sure that the community grows, evolves and collectively learn through ongoing interaction and negotiations of meaning:

“When users participate in high engagement activities, connecting with one another, a different kind of value is being created. But my core point isn’t just the difference between these forms of group intelligence – but actually how they co-exist in the best communities…Participation in communities plots along a power law with a solid core/periphery model – provided social software supports both low threshold participation and high engagement.” (Mayfield 2006)

The kind of community, Mayfield is describing here, seems synonymous with a community of practice as a networked and dynamic community in accordance with Lankshear and Knobel and with Etienne Wenger-Trayner as mentioned in The End No 3:2. And what Mayfield calls ’a different kind of value’ is as far as I’m concerned the equivalent of what Lankshear and Knobel see as the urge to create a shared space of shared interests. A full participant is someone who understands and follows this urge, and it is the quintessence of what Lankshear and Knobel have termed ‘a participatory configuration of ‘the new ethos’’ in The End No 3:2.

But the potential of democratization and empowerment that is seen as inherent in participatory culture, doesn’t come that easy, as David Buckingham and danah boyd agree on, and it is also commented on by Buckingham in this critique of technological determinism:

“To a large extent, the most active participants in the creative world of Web 2.0 are the “usual suspects”: those who already have an established interest in social/political issues, and the skills and motivation to engage in political debate. Indeed, if online participation is as socially, culturally and politically important as the enthusiasts suggest, it seems likely, far from liquidating social inequality, it might actually accentuate it.” (Buckingham 2010:294)

“…it could be argued that far from precipitating a democratic revolution in communications, these new media are merely part of a much broader move towards individualisation, self-surveillance and self-promotion that are characteristic of how identities are formed and lived out in neo-liberal consumer societies.” (Buckingham 2010:295)

Henry Jenkins could answer back, that the worrying about individualisation is exaggerated, and that as an aspirational model with pedagogical and educational purposes, participatory culture exactly takes participation into the context of communities, or he could comment, as he did earlier, that “…participatory culture requires us to move beyond a focus on individualized personal expression; it is about an ethos of “doing it together” in addition to “doing it yourself”. (Jenkins, Ito, boyd 2016:181). This argument could at the same time meet Ross Mayfield’s requirement for the power law of participation, so the tension between individual practice and collective and collaborative concern is what characterizes the ethics challenge, much along the lines of ‘the new ethos stuff’/’a new kind of ethos’ vital to new literacies as introduced in The End No 3:2.

A question of empowerment?

In his article “Web 2.0 user knowledge and the limits of individual and collective power” (2016) Nicholas Proferes explores and criticizes the claim put forward by Tim O’Reilly that Web 2.0 technologies inherently serve as “architectures of participation” and that Web 2.0 “…provides novel opportunities for the articulation of individual and collective social power by enhancing participation in media production and cultural expression (Zimmer, 2008).” (Proferes 2016):

“Notably, this debate often only tacitly addresses the connection between user knowledge of Web 2.0 technologies – how data, algorithms, protocols, defaults, platform business practices, and information flows are implemented and arranged – and user power. This misses the important role understandings of technology and its antecedents play in shaping user’s relative power.” (Proferes 2016)

As Proferes elaborates in his article:

“The work of van Dijck and Nieborg (2009) suggests user’s difficulty in developing knowledge about information flows of Web 2.0 platforms may be perpetuated not only by the structuring/code politics of a site, but also by the technological discourse surrounding it. In analyzing a number of Web 2.0 business manifestos, the two observe:

“Web 2.0 manifestos…typically do not provide any technological details about how various sites render profitable business models…they focus on the emancipation of consumers into users and co-creators, rather than on the technical details concerning how these sites turn a profit.”” (Proferes 2016)

And as a consequence, Proferes concludes in his article:

“…studies showing that users frequently maintain inaccurate, incomplete or incorrect understandings of Web 2.0 platforms cast a long shadow over deterministic, unbridled, user empowerment narratives, instead revealing the boundaries and limits on the possibilities of user power.

Users with diminished states of informational power will face difficulty in excercising power in relation to the wider ecosystem that the information they create becomes a part of. After all, it is difficult to object, protest, or consciously consent to that which you do not know about or cannot learn about. Without knowledge of how these platforms function, users may have difficulty in produsage, in their political- economic relationship with the Web 2.0 world, and in making informed use decisions. A lack of knowledge about how Web 2.0 platforms function limits understanding how the technical environment shapes individual informational experience, thus impacting information sense-making; it inhibits understanding the context of the environment others experience and how others may interpret information from Web 2.0 platforms; and it limits the expression of forms of power with the social, political, cultural and economic world surrounding the Web 2.0 environment.” (Proferes 2016)

A starting point for engaging in Proferes’ critique could be to understand the complexity of user roles that are hidden beneath the narratives of participation as “the emancipation of consumers into users and co-creators” when they engage with platforms and social media in a Web 2.0 context. Proferes doesn’t state this complexity explicitly, but it is indirectly part of his argument about user power. A visualization of the multiplicity of user roles might look like this when the context is Web 2.0 as a business model:


                                Customer                                            Consumer [& Audience]


                                Producer                                              Community


 (Ole E. Andersen 2016)

The complexity of user roles can be seen in the interactions between platforms, social media and networks and in the modes of participation. In this sense, the differentiation between user roles and participants’ roles matches the differences between the low end and the high end forms of participation in Ross Mayfield’s model of the power law of participation. The user roles co-exist in complex settings, mixing interests, intentions, gains, reliability, validity and manipulation, trust and loyalty, as the “emancipation of users into users and co-creators” easily turns into business and exploitation. So the complexity of user roles is making the communication processes entangled: who is actually the author/sender/producer, who is the consumer/audience/recipient, and what is basically the intention behind any communication? With the idea of participation in a Web 2.0 context, the multiple positions in the communication processes not only cause ambiguity but they also blur the distinctions between users and participants, between producers and consumers, which is also the issue in the two-way dialogical model of communication – author/sender/producer ↔ ’text’/cultural artefact/product ↔ reader & audience/recipient/user & producer  – and in John Hartley’s comment on user productivity introduced in The End No 3:2.

The purposes of participation are being questioned in general, and Anna Sfard’s point that “[t]he vocabulary of participation brings the message of togetherness, solidarity and collaboration” (Sfard 1998:8) is certainly being contested and questioned by issues like data and algorithms, personalization, and the by now debated filter bubbles , as wells as by the hard facts of platform business models, the limits of user power and the loss of personal control over data and privacy to what Shoshana Zuboff has termed surveillance capitalism. In other words, the transparency problem is at stake here.

The participation gap once again

danah boyd and Nicholas Proferes address their concerns about the participation gap from two perspectives. While boyd especially considers the role of social, cultural and educational capital for equity in participation, Proferes unveils the importance of technological understanding and informational power for enhancing true participation.

And no doubt, both perspectives need to come to the front in education in order to challenge the fact that many people – and that is true for many students, too – either don’t have the means and opportunities to participate or are not able to participate meaningfully as Henry Jenkins puts it in “Participatory culture in a networked era”. So it seems that the message of togetherness, solidarity and collaboration that clings to the metaphor of participation according to Sfard has a more shaky side, too: that of potentially accelerating inequity, as both David Buckingham and Nicholas Proferes point out.

But there is also a third perspective on the participation gap that should be mentioned here, and that is the students’ expectations of what it means to produce. It is a perspective that draws on cultural production as a core concern in both new media literacies and participatory culture and in new literacies. In her article “Digital Ghosts in the Modern Classroom” (2018) Ashley Hinck is seeing students’ expectations of what it means to produce and their perceptions of the processes of making and creativity as barriers to full participation when education engages in fostering participatory culture. According to Hinck the barriers are caused partly by the Web 2.0 platforms students are associating with digital media production and partly by students associating teaching and learning with worksheets and an acquisition mindset, not with the exploring, experimenting, iterative and messy processes of making, creativity and not-yet-ness that are inherent in the idea of production. In short, Hinck says, students don’t realize that digital media production is not a quick fix, but takes new knowledge, a bit of coding, time, effort and failure to succeed, and their assumptions about what education is for and what education is about is not tuned in on production, participation and what it takes to participate in a digital age:

“It’s a deeper frustration that their old ways of thinking don’t apply here – that their assumptions about education, digital media, and future careers are turning out not to be true.” (Hinck 2018)

Much like Proferes, Hinck begins with the platforms students use in their everyday practices: “These platforms restrict the choices we make as users, in many ways…” (Hinck 2018). The easy-to-use Web 2.0 platforms and websites reduce the barriers to entry as users get access not only to online media production tools but also to networks and other easy ways of publishing and sharing online. But being based on shortcuts and templates they actually only give you the possibilities that come with the template and the format.

While giving a lot of examples Hinck goes on stating that the role of education is to provide students with alternative practices and alternative models of cultural production, making and creativity that position the students as participants and help them become full participants:

“We have to help students see that they are not limited to using shortcut/template platforms and websites. Nor are they limited to looking to shortcut/template platforms and websites as models of making. They don’t have to settle for half-hearted, structured participation. They can become full, active, empowered participants. That means helping students to see possibilities beyond the “right answers” prescribed by shortcut/template platforms and websites and their corresponding worksheets.

In the future, I look forward to joining students in reflection about our individual and collective positionalities in relation to participatory culture: do we see ourselves as makers/creators/speakers? When? Why? Who ascribes us these identities? How can we claim them for ourselves? Which technologies offer us these identities? How do technologies steer us away from these identities? How might we all re-imagine digital media making and learning?” (Hinck 2018)

In her view on how education may help fostering participation and participatory culture, Ashley Hinck might be said to change her focus from participatory culture as a descriptive model of new media literacies, social practices and cultural production to participatory culture as an aspirational model emphasizing “…a set of ideals for how these social practices can facilitate learning, empowerment, civic actions and capacity-building.” (Jenkins, Ito, boyd 2016:183). Discussing and reflecting on the power law of participation and on user roles as well as developing platform knowledge and technological understanding is part of this reimagining of making, producing, processuality, experimentation and learning.  So although Ashley Hinck’s context is higher education, a lot of the issues in her perspective might be considered and practiced in K-12 schools as well.

Updating the practices of new media literacies and participatory culture

In 2018 the Transmedia Literacy research project released its updated version of the practices, social skills and cultural competences of participatory culture in the e-book “Teens, Media and Collaborative Cultures. Exploiting teen’s transmedia skills in the classroom” edited by Carlos A. Scolari. The project has “…worked on an alternative and complementary conception to ‘(new) media literacies’ based on informal learning environments (Sefton-Green, 2013), bottom-up processes (Livingstone, 2004), and participatory cultures (Jenkins et al., 2006; Jenkins, Ito, and boyd, 2016).” (Scolari 2018a:12-13). So the project is “…continuing the cultural-studies tradition of focusing on ordinary culture, the active audience, and ‘bottom-up’ causation in the meaning systems” as John Hartley has summarized the perspective of Cultural Studies and Media Studies (Hartley 2012a:57).

In the article “Transmedia literacy in the new media ecology. Teen’s transmedia skills and informal learning strategies” (2018), Carlos A. Scolari, Maria-José Masanet, Mar Guerrero-Pico and Maria-José Establés present the theoretical framework and ethnography-based methodological approach behind their research and they elaborate on their perspective this way:

“…something is happening outside the school: social and technological changes have reframed the meaning of lifelong (over time) and life-wide (across locations) learning (Sefton Green, 2003; 2006; 2013), and the emergence of new participatory practices (Jenkins et al., 2006; Lange; Ito 2010) has redefined the ways of learning and even the actual concept of ’media literacy’. In this context the idea of ‘transmedia literacy’ proposes a move from traditional media literacy – understood as teaching critical media skills at school. (Potter, 2004; 2005) – to the analysis of practices of participatory cultures, youth-generated contents and informal learning strategies, and their use inside the formal educational system (Scolari, 2016; 2018).” (Scolari, Masanet, Guerrero-Pico and Establés 2018:802-803)

In their article Scolari and his colleagues conclude:

“The inclusion of the concept of ‘transmedia’ (Jenkins, 2003; 2006; Scolari, 2009; 2013) for defining teen’s skills is a clear sign of centrality that collaborative culture and transmedia production/sharing/consuming practices have in young people’s lives. The same may be said about ‘transmedia literacy’: it is not just a new name for traditional digital or internet skills but a brand new approach that considers the subject as a prosumer (producer + consumer) and not just a passive and alienated-by-media person. If traditional literacy was book-centered or, in the case of media literacy mostly television-centered, then transmedia literacy places digital networks and interactive media experiences at the centre of its analytical and practical experience (Scolari, 2016; 2018)” (Scolari, Masanet, Guerrero-Pico and Establés 2018:810)

Scolari and his colleagues stress the change among users from the traditional media consumer to the prosumer or the participatory creator – the producer and consumer gathered in the very same person and focusing on active production (Toffler), or produsage to use Brun’s related term used by Proferes. It is a change in user roles that matches the move from user to participant in the model of the multiplicity of user roles shown earlier.

The concept of transmedia literacy might not seem to add much to the ideas of new literacies and new media literacies and participatory culture. But it focuses on the developments within communication and literacies, that is on media ecology, and adds a sense of historical dynamic and evolution to the concepts used – ‘literacy’, ‘media literacy’, ‘transmedia literacy’ – and to the purpose of the project. The purpose is to expand the existing list of skills and competences identified by Henry Jenkins and his team in the 2006/2009-report “Confronting the Challenges of a Participatory Culture” through adding new skills and improving their classification (Scolari 2018a:18).The intention is to capture the current point in the evolution of participatory culture, so to speak. So networking, digital networks and interactive experiences through networks have come into focus, although they were already present in the 2006/2009-report. During their work Scolari and his colleagues have identified six transmedia skills and classified them according to present practices of participatory culture, bottom-up processes and informal learning:

  • Production Skills
  • Management Skills
  • Performative Skills
  • Media and Technology Skills
  • Narrative and Aesthetic Skills
  • Risk Preventing, Ideology and Ethics Skills
  • Informal Learning Strategies: learning by doing, problem solving, imitation, playing, evaluating, and teaching

In this video Scolari and his colleagues present the transmedia skills:

Transmedia Skills and Informal Learning Strategies (2018)

As mentioned, transmedia skills are not just skills but involve a set of competences, practices, values, priorities, sensibilities and learning strategies connected to collaborative culture and users as prosumers or participatory creators (Scolari 2018a:15). Like Jenkins and his team, the Transmedia Literacy project provides educators with ideas on how to use the six transmedia skills in teaching and learning. Apart from the e-book, the online resource Teacher’s Kit is providing educators with transmedia literacy activities and practices for each set of skills on the updated list: “With the Teacher’s Kit, we have compromised to democratize and socialize these skills within the classroom. In other words, we try to pass from the informal to the formal environment, recovering and using in schools this knowledge that is developed in a “wild” way within social media and collaborative and digital spaces. It does not mean that we should abandon the traditional focus on media literacy. Transmedia literacy complements and expands with new techniques and conceptions.” (Scolari 2018b:130-131)

The transmedia literacy activities and practices are mainly aimed at secondary school and high school, but they do establish a horizon for developing transmedia skills and competences in higher education, too.

Types of teenage produsers

Following the elaborated definition of prosumers above, a study from the Transmedia Literacy project aims at drawing up “…the degrees of productive, narrative and aesthetic knowledge that teenagers put into practice when they create their media.” (Guerrero-Pico, Masanet and Scolari 2019:336). The result is introduced in the article “Toward a typology of young produsers: Teenagers’ transmedia skills, media production, and narrative and aesthetic appreciation” (2019):

“Ever since Jenkins (2006) put the concept of participatory culture, and its offspring transmedia storytelling, on the map there have been countless accounts of how citizens use digital media technologies to empower themselves and acquire the necessary skills to navigate the often complex scenarios of the public sphere. One of these paramount skills revolve around the ability to critically interact, learn and produce with an array of different media platforms from a young age (Buckingham, 2007; Gee, 2003; Jenkins et al., 2006). The transmedia skills that adolescents are acquiring in informal learning settings among their peers away from school and much closer to their everyday interests in the digital world are at the hub of participatory and collaborative culture (Ito et al., 2013; Scolari 2018a).” (Guerrero-Pico, Masanet and Scolari 2019:336-337)

But what are they doing then when away from school? The study presents three types of teenage produsers:  1) the casual produser, 2) the aspirational produser and 3) the expert produser. The typology focuses on the production practices most used by the teenagers in the study: writing, audiovisual and photography production, graphic design, and drawing. So production means both the processes of production involved and the artefact or ‘text’ being produced in the processes. The three types of produsers exemplify what Mimi Ito and her colleagues have called “hanging out”, “messing around” and “geeking out”:

Produser types: authors’ elaboration

Casual Aspirational Expert
Type of production


Photos and videos Writing, photos, videos, graphic design, and drawing Writing, photos, videos, graphic design, and drawing


Spontaneous and simple Moderately planned Highly planned
Consideration and use of narrative and aesthetic values Not important. Basic techniques and concepts are applied Very important. Eagerness to learn and apply new techniques and concepts Very important. Media encyclopedic knowledge and use of various techniques and concepts


Entertainment and relationship with peers Skill improvement and peer recognition Skill improvement and originality

(Guerrero-Pico, Masanet and Scolari 2019:342)

A minority of the teenagers in the study can be seen as expert produsers – ‘the usual suspects’ as David Buckingham called them earlier – so most are to be categorized as casual produsers or aspirational produsers: “Casual, aspirational and expert produsers reveal different paths in participatory culture that stress the necessity to keep fostering and cultivating other relevant skills for media literacy in addition and simultaneously to media production. Some of these abilities revolve around narrative and aesthetic appreciation, but they can also include abilities related to observing and reflecting on the ideology and values promoted by corporate media products and their own contents. The recurrence of these abilities is uncommon.” (Guerrero-Pico, Masanet and Scolari 2019:350).

In other words, there is a role to play for education in making students and learners progress from casual to aspirational and expert produsers, which might challenge students’ and learners’ more varied practices of participation away from school:

“The fact that there are expert produsers with additional abilities to those of their peers does not prevent those same produsers from sliding toward aspirational, or even casual positions in other scenes of their media usage, or in their daily communcations with peers. This typology is not mutually exclusive and it intends to reflect the richness of environments and learning curves that teenagers may navigate when they interact and produce with media. It should not be understood as fixed “levels” of a “participation pyramid” where the expert produsers are always situated at the top of the construction. On the contrary, we prefer to think of this ideal type as part of a complex and evolving network of engagement and participatory practices.” (Guerrero-Pico, Masanet and Scolari 2019:350).

The network of engagement and participatory practices dependent on context and situation meets the power law of participation and what it means, so to speak. So when production is moved into formal education, students and learners need to learn what it takes to engage in full participation in a community or community of practice. They need to find out that there are varying degrees, kinds and gradations of participation, and that some are more useful in the context of learning and education than others. Participation and collaboration go hand in hand, so they must also learn and be taught how to collaborate and gain a repertoire of ways of collaborating through choice, co-creation and co-production, peer-to-peer feedback, negotiation of meaning, and networking and involvement with experts and other resources. So the informal learning strategies mapped by transmedia literacy are engaged here, too. In other words, learning how to collaborate and learning through collaborating, producing artefacts or ‘texts’ and producing knowledge are interdependent processes, which also should be seen as part of what currently passes for literacy education within transmedia literacy.

I think it is important to remember that participatory culture is not just a descriptive model of practices but also an aspirational model – a set of ideals for how social practices can facilitate learning, empowerment, civic action and capacity-building – and these ideals might actually challenge students’ and learners’ present practices of participation and informal learning when entering education, which the typology of produsers might indicate. And as Ashley Hinck emphasized earlier, students’ and learners’ expectations of what it means to produce might also be barriers to full participation when education engages in fostering participatory culture, just as the lack in platform knowledge and technical understanding is a barrier according to Nicholas Proferes. All three objections may make out challenges to a practice-oriented use of the Teacher’s Kit.

The mapping of narrative and aesthetic skills

My reflections on user productivity and producing knowledge presented in The End No 3:2 apply to new media literacies and participatory culture and to transmedia literacy, too. I stressed, that now literacy/literacies mean reading and writing as interconnected social and cultural activities and practices, but even with an understanding of ‘reading’ and ‘writing’ as participation and production in all kinds of media, modalities and modes, including navigating on the web, it leaves the questions of how ‘texts’ and knowledge are understood in the context of a domain, a discipline or a subject matter. Among other things, this calls for dialogical and reception oriented approaches to ‘texts’, meaning making and interpretation, that are able to embrace hypertexts and the networks growing from them, when the communication turns from one-to-many towards many-to-many.

As an example I’ll look into the mapping of narrative and aesthetic skills from the list of transmedia skills introduced above and elaborate on what ‘texts’ and hypertext might mean. The mapping of narrative and aesthetic skills describe that the specific skills and competences students and learners must acquire and practice are to reconstruct transmedia narrative worlds, and that the goals for these sets of skills are to find and check out the different transmedia expansions (film, book, game etc.) that make a narrative world (Scolari 2018a:66). The background for activities like these is that ‘reading’, ‘writing’ and participating in a digital media culture also means interacting with narrative worlds and engaging in transmedia storytelling – characterized by among others transmediality, seriality and worldbuilding – as both consumers, readers and audience as well as interpreters, participants and producers (Jenkins 2009a, 2009b; Waade and Toft-Nielsen 2015; Toft-Nielsen and Nørgård 2018).

Scolari introduces transmedia storytelling this way: “As Henry Jenkins put it, at the most basic level transmedia stories “are stories told across multiple media”: Transmedia storytelling is not just an adaptation from one media to another: it is a narrative expansion. This textual dispersion is one of the most important sources of complexity in contemporary popular culture. This narrative expansion is one of the basic properties of transmedia storytelling: the second one is the participation of users in that narrative expansion. How? Producing new contents, for example parodies, new stories, trailers, mashups, or recapitulations.” (Eleá and Mikos 2017:125)

So fan culture is a link to transmedia storytelling as the interests behind transmedia storytelling are “…to grasp a significant shift in the underlying logic of commercial entertainment, one which has both commercial and aesthetic potentials we are still trying to understand, one which has to do with the interplay between different media systems and delivery platforms (and of course different media audiences and modes of engagement.)”, as Henry Jenkins emphasizes (Jenkins 2009a). According to Jenkins, the principles of transmedia storytelling point to historical and critical perspectives on present cultural and aesthetic practices (Jenkins 2009a), as in for example science fiction as a genre.

Seriality across media, modalities and modes challenges our understanding of what ‘text’ is, not just in introducing a broader concept of ‘text’ as being multimodal, but also fundamentally with breaking up the sense of closure that is quintessential to print culture according to Walter Ong: “Print encourages a sense of closure, a sense that what is found in a text has been finalized, has reached a state of completion.” (Ong 2012:129). Hypertext and the networks evolving from it are dynamic and potentially open-ended, and hypertext has extended the sense of ‘text’ to involve interactivity, intertextuality and multidimensionality where text seen in a network of contexts becomes crucial for meaning making, understanding and interpretation.

But hypertext also exists outside the World Wide Web which among others, N. Katherine Hayles points to with an interest in literary hypertext: “When Vanavar Bush, widely credited with the invention of hypertext, imagined a hypertextual system, it was not electronic but mechanical. His pioneering article (1945) testifies that it is possible to implement hypertext in a wide variety of ways, not only through the “go to” commands that comprise the hypertext link in digital computers. If we restrict the term hypertext to digital media, we lose the opportunity to understand how a literary genre mutates and transforms when it is instantiated in different media.” (Hayles 2004:69)

Practices of serialization across media, materials and modalities

Claus Toft-Nielsen and Rikke Toft Nørgård suggest in their article “Toy bricks and blockbusters” (2018)(my translation), on the practices of serialization across media, materials and modalities, that defining what a text is becomes more complex when several worlds and media are involved as in transmedia storytelling, and what they describe and conceptualize is a hypertext-like conceptualization of ‘text’. They see texts as engaged in a network of connected texts where the texts are not well-defined and ‘closed’ or set off from other texts but a seriality of interconnected texts and a narrative expansion. They distinguish between three forms of textual connections: 1) ‘intratextual’ relations, 2) ‘intertextual’ connections and 3) ‘paratextuality’.

The ‘intratextual’ relations consist of references connected to a single diegetic universe like “Star Wars”, whereas the ‘intertextual’ connections link up texts through quotations, palimpsests and plotlines as intertextual practices – or as Julia Kristeva has defined intertextuality: every text takes form as a mosaic of quotes, every text absorbs and transforms other texts – and thus intertextuality means creating, understanding and interpreting texts through other texts. Borrowing, adapting and sharing modes and themes is what makes a text, as any text is an absorption and transformation of another text. So intertextuality adds extra meaning through connections to a network of unfinished plotlines in the story world of for example “Star Wars” across media, modalities and modes. In the context of transmedia storytelling, ‘paratextuality’ is used to show how paratexts may change the balance between what we see as primary texts and as paratexts depending on when and in which context they turn up as entry points into the transmedia universe. And it is a universe that is continuously evolving and larger than for example the films, the games, the comic books and the LEGO sets in the example of “Star Wars” (Toft-Nielsen and Nørgård 2018:97-98).

With the idea of transmedia storytelling as serial forms and serial practices, Toft-Nielsen and Nørgård broaden Henry Jenkins’ understanding of transmedia storytelling as fans and users consuming and producing stories and products, when they add a more agency-oriented perspective to users’ interactions with stories and franchise and see seriality at work on both the level of texts and on the level of participation (Toft-Nielsen and Nørgård 2018:99-100). This double perspective of textual analysis and interpretation building on intratext, intertext and paratext and of user productivity building on remix, bricolage or design of new interpretations or products (Toft-Nielsen and Nørgård 2018:98) could more generally help emphasizing the textual dimension that is actually inherent to new media literacies and participatory culture and to transmedia literacy. At the same time Toft-Nielsen and Nørgård’s double perspective lead up to textual analysis and interpretation of hypertext in digital form as well as in other media and materialities as ‘reading’, ‘writing’ and participation in networks.

Claus Toft-Nielsen and Rikke Toft Nørgård have made their bid for how to make ‘reading’ meet ‘writing’, textual analysis and interpretation meet participation and production in the context of transmedia storytelling. They take user’s interactions from more traditional fan culture and fan fiction into co-creation and co-production of stories and franchise aka fan culture seen in the context of Web 2.0, so to speak. So Toft-Nielsen and Nørgård’s double perspective on textual analysis and interpretation and user productivity could add a qualitative stance to the mapping of the narrative and aesthetic skills in transmedia literacy and offer an approach that involves user productivity seen in a participatory context: users participating in the narrative expansion through negotiating meaning and producing new media content like trailers, parodies, new endings, new stories, remixes and recapitulations while engaging in dialogue and modeling as ways of learning characteristic to Learning 2.0. This involves communities of practice as well as networks. Like nodes in a continuously expanding network, or hypertext online and offline, users become produsers of new ideas, plotlines, intertextuality, themes and narratives.

So exploring “Star Wars” and science fiction as narrative and genre in this example of transmedia storytelling makes room for discussing that there is a body of knowledge here, too, as David Buckingham stated earlier, about how the media work, about the media industries, about the uses of media and about the history of media, that students and learners need to know. Subjective understanding need to be connected and related to explicit and validated ‘objective’ knowledge, as John Hartley maintained in The End No 3:2. Participation won’t do without acquisition, as Anna Sfard would say.

Media ecology – a blind spot in transmedia literacy

There is something missing out, a blind spot, when it comes to the concept of transmedia storytelling: a media-specific perspective that implicates the relations between the specific media and the forms of communication involved is lacking. And the blind spot recurs in the concept of transmedia literacy as it is represented in the Transmedia Project. As mentioned earlier, the progressive order of the concepts ‘literacy’, ‘media literacy’ and ‘transmedia literacy’ adds a sense of historical dynamics to the concepts, but the evolution implicated is never elaborated on or connected to the idea of ‘the new media ecology’, although it is part of the title on the main article on the project by Scolari and his colleagues: “Transmedia literacy in the new media ecology”.

One way to start exploring this blind spot is to focus on the concept of transmedia literacy and its bearings. The first step is to uncover what the perspective of media ecology stands for. Media ecology has its focus on the changes and social effects that have occurred in society and culture as a result of the evolution of technology and media throughout history. Walter Ong established in his book “Orality and Literacy” (1982/2002) a way of seeing cultural evolution from ancient times to the present as the impact of communication technologies on how humans think and know: the technologies of speech, writing, print, screen and computer (Hartley 2012b:xiii). His perspective is especially focused on “…the relations between orality and literacy and their dynamics of change or evolutions over the short and long term.” (Hartley 2012c:206). In other words, Ong approaches orality and literacy both synchronically and diachronically (Ong 2012:2).

In his introductory chapter to the 30th Anniversary Edition of “Orality and Literacy” (2012), John Hartley states: “Along with his contemporary, Marshall McLuhan, who coined the slogan “the medium is the massage”, Ong popularized the idea that knowledge is a product of language, and that the medium in which language is communicated – by voice, writing, print – makes us think along certain path-dependent lines.” (Hartley 2012b:xiv). The sense of closure connected to print mentioned earlier is an example of this, another is the concluding remarks in the chapter on narrative and the orality-literacy shift in Ong’s book:

“The present-day phenomenological sense of existence is richer in its conscious and articulate reflection than anything that precedes it. But it is salutary to recognize that this sense depends on the technologies of writing and print, deeply interiorized, made a part of our own psychic resources. The tremendous store of historical, psycholo-gical and other knowledge which can go into sophisti-cated narrative and characterization today could be accumulated only through the use of writing and print (and now electronics). But these technologies of the word do not merely store what we know. They style what we know in ways which made it quite inaccessible and indeed unthinkable in an oral culture.” (Ong 2012:152)

This is a way of thinking Ong carries on into characterizing the post-typographic, the computer as medium, and the arrival of a ‘second’ orality dynamically interacting with the forms of literacy on the internet and in digital media today according to John Hartley:

“In the era of the internet, vastly more people than before can make use of literacy, including print-literacy, by publishing it for themselves. So we are in a time of unprecedented convergence among oral, written and print-literate modes, where oral forms like phatic communication are migrating to the web, the term-taking modes of speech are augmented by links, photos, and file-sharing, private conversations are also global publications, text is literally hyper-inflated, and these multi-modal uses of multimedia literacy extends across much wider sections of the population than heretofore (see Baron 2009; Rettberg 2008; Papacharissi 2011). It is clearly important to rethink the relations between orality and literacy – both written and print – for the new media age.” (Hartley 2012c:208-209)

Thus today, media ecology is a holistic and networked perspective that values media and technological practices and offers contrast and historical perspectives on current transformations in the media systems and in the forms and modes of literacy and communication.

Closing the gap between transmedia literacy and media ecology

Building on among others Walter Ong, Sue Thomas, Chris Joseph, Jess Laccetti, Bruce Mason, Simon Mills, Simon Perril, and Kate Pullinger introduce the concept ‘transliteracy’ to embrace the new ways of thinking about human communication generated by the internet. In the article “Transliteracy: Crossing divides” (2007), Sue Thomas and her colleagues establish  transliteracy as a concept this way: “Transliteracy is the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.” (Thomas et al. 2007). They extend their definition by stating that “…the concept of transliteracy calls for a change of perspective away from the battles over print versus digital, and a move instead towards a unifying ecology not just of media, but of all literacies relevant to reading, writing, interaction and culture, both past and present.” (Thomas et al. 2007)(my emphasis). They see transliteracy not as replacing ‘media literacy’ and ‘digital literacy’ but as containing them because a transliteracy approach implies a wider analysis of reading, writing and interacting across a range of platforms, tools, media and cultures.

Tracing the concept ‘transliteracy’, Thomas and her colleagues introduce the concepts of ‘convergence’ and ‘media ecology’ – ending up with an understanding of transliteracy very close to Hartley’s understanding of convergence quoted above – to establish a context for the idea of transliteracy:

“In 2001 MIT scholar Henry Jenkins wrote: ”Part of the confusion about media convergence stems from the fact that when people talk about it, they’re actually describing at least five processes” (Jenkins, 2001). He lists these types of convergence as technological, economic, social or organic, cultural and global, concluding that “these multiple forms of media convergence are leading us toward a digital renaissance – a period of transition and transformation that will affect all aspects of our lives” (Jenkins, 2001). Transliteracy is, perhaps, the literacy of this process. However, it is important to note that transliteracy is not just about computer-based materials, but about all communication types across time and culture. It does not privilege one above the other but treats all as of equal value and moves between and across them.” (Thomas at al. 2007)(my emphasis).

“In 1964, Marshall McLuhan saw the process Jenkins describes as occurring increasingly via technology, proposing that “in this electric age we see ourselves being translated more and more into the form of information, moving towards the technological extension of consciousness.”…Walter Ong, writing in 1982 about the relationship between literacy and orality, also approached the matter from the point of view of linear progressive change: “The shift from orality to literacy and on to electronic processing engages social, economic, political, religious and other structures.”…The concept of media ecology developed by McLuhan, Ong, Postman and others is certainly closely related to transliteracy. The difference lies in transliteracy’s insistence upon a lateral approach to history, context and culture, its interest in lived experience, and its focus on interpretation via practice and production. It is characteristic of our deliberations that we do not view digital media as part of a linear historical progression, but see them as manifestations of other similar modes of communication. In our view, the ecology of transliteracy is both global and historical.” (Thomas et al. 2007)(my emphasis).

The interest in lived experience and a focus on interpretation via practice and production is matched by an analytic interest in cultural production: “Cultural production is often analyzed from one of two perspectives:

  • the how (practical issues of media and digital literacy, particularly access to and use of the tools and skills of production) or
  • the why (social, economic and cultural determinants).

A transliterate analysis would consider both of these, and more: for example, shift in emphasis from static monologue to dynamic dialogue suggested by participatory narratives; the practices and politics of collaboration particularly when many geographically and linguistically spread authors collaborate simultaneously; and the existence of a “group creativity” or “intelligence”, perhaps as an emergent property of individual creativities of intelligences. (Thomas et al 2007)

The participatory, collaborative, networked and collective aspects and the two-way dialogical model of communication emphasized here are connected to communication in a Web 2.0 context, and as such an analysis of cultural production must be supplemented by a dual perspective on transliteracy inspired by the perspective of media ecology according to Thomas and her colleagues:

“Transliteracy is, of course, inextricable from social practice, and social researchers have an influential part to play by investigating from two directions – transliteracy as a cultural phenomenon, and as a lens through which to examine society and culture. On one hand, it is the kind of literacy we require to be able to simultaneously attend to multiple media and modes of communication: the literacy of ‘trans’. On the other, it also refers to that kind of literacy we use to apply the literacies of one mode or medium to another one: transliteration. This dual nature of transliteracy implies that it can be employed to understand communication both diachronically (over time) and synchronically (at the same time). Diachronically, it helps us understand , for example, how the practice of blogging might draw upon non-digital methods of combining modes in handwritten media or how personal blogs relates to diaries and journals. Synchronically, it can help us see how multiple media and modes of communication are used in relation to each other at the same time. (Thomas et al 2007).

So as an inclusive concept, ‘transliteracy’ bridges and connects the past, the present and potentially the future when it comes to cultural production and cultural evolution involving media, forms and modes of communication and ways of knowing. And as Sue Thomas and her colleagues say: transliteracy is a unifying perspective on what it means to be literate in the 21st century.

Thus, transliteracy seems to be closing the gap between participatory culture and transmedia literacy and the theoretical approach to media ecology, Carlos A. Scolari introduces in his theoretical article “Media Ecology: Exploring the Metaphor to Expand the Theory” (2012). Transliteracy might be said to anticipate the idea of transmedia literacy and can now be seen as one contextual grasp on transmedia literacy. Another is zooming in on Scolari’s theroretical reflections on the potential usefulness of media ecology as an approach to understanding the contemporary mutations of the media system, that is ‘the new media ecology’.

‘The new media ecology’

In his article Scolari is delving into the concept of media ecology and what it implicates. Setting off from the ecological metaphor, he states how media ecology came into being with divergent views in the field: “The rise of the new ecology was a response to the need for greater attention to holism in science and technology. Working in the same direction, after years of thinking about communication processes from a linear perspective based on the Shannon and Weaver (1949) model – in which the information was an arrow flying from the sender to the receiver – the media ecology scholars proposed a new conception of the relationship between media, individuals, and society based on a different metaphor.” (Scolari 2012:207). According to Scolari, “…media ecologists have interpreted the ecological metaphor in two different ways: a) media ecology as an environment and b) media ecology as an intermedia relationship.” (Scolari 2012:218):

“In a few words, the ecological metaphor applied to media accepts at least two complementary interpretations. The environmental conception considers the media to be an environment that surrounds the subjects and models their cognitive and perceptual system. The intermedia version of the metaphor looks at the interactions between media, as if they were species of an ecosystem. Can both interpretations of the metaphor be integrated into a single framework? In this case we should consider media ecology as an environment that includes different media and technologies (i.e., television, radio, the Internet, radio-frequency identification (RFID), mobile devices and transmission control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP), subjects (i.e., content producers, users, readers, and media researchers) and the social/political forces (Hollywood majors, Wikileaks, legal regimes, etc. ).” (Scolari 2012:209-210)

To explore the media ecology metaphor means to Scolari to take the dialogue with the traditions of the ecological perspective (the environmental conception) and the evolutionary perspective (the intermedia version): “…we can also say that ecology thinks in space and evolution thinks in time. Both conceptions – ecology and evolution – are complementary and can be reorganized following the traditional linguistic opposition between diachronic/synchronic levels.” (Scolari 2012.211). So Scolari includes the concepts of evolution as a framework for studying the history of media, interface as a focus on the dialectics between media, subjects and social interactions, and hybridization as a concept for analyzing and understanding the appearance of new media that combine different devices, languages and functions, also known as remediation in Bolter and Grusin’s understanding of new media (Scolari 2012:218-219).

Carlos A. Scolari’s reflections on media ecology provides an approach to understanding the contemporary changes of the media system – ‘the new media ecology’ – which is the implicit context for the idea of transmedia literacy, as far as I can see. As a parallel to new literacies he is intensely concerned about media and technology in the current historical period. At the same time Scolari contributes with a set of concepts and a meta-language to grasp, analyze, reflect and discuss with when engaging with and relating to new media and the new media systems. So what Scolari offers is not a view of technological determinism, he stresses, but “a dialectic and transactional approach to media and culture”. (Scolari 2012:219).

When viewing transmedia literacy as an updated version of new media literacies and participatory culture, it seems meaningful to combine the ideas of transliteracy and Scolari’s media ecological framework as the context for working with the transmedia skills in a domain, a discipline or a subject matter. The focus of transliteracy on practices, cultural production and cultural evolution involving media, forms and modes of communication and knowledge production – building among others on Walter Ong who in many ways standardized the field of media ecology – matches the understanding of participatory forms, the ideal of full participation and the diversity and complexity of user roles connected to participatory culture. And transliteracy also maintains that digital literacies are more than digital skills, that is, they are the multiplicity of literacies that occur when digital literacies are converging and used in practice in a specific context, as I mentioned in The End No 3:1. On the other hand, Scolari’s framework of media ecology is engaged in the evolution and the present changes of media and technology – going beyond the internet and digital media focused on by Sue Thomas, her colleagues and John Hartley – and this opens up to algorithms, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things as part of the contemporary changes of the media system. Web 3.0 and Web 4.0 are on the agenda.

Within the framework of digital literacy development

The ideas of new media literacies and participatory culture propagated by Henry Jenkins and his colleagues are complementary to new literacies, as new media literacies favour social skills and cultural competences developed through collaboration and networking, but also build on traditional literacy and on research, technical and critical-analysis skills. So with cultural production and participation in focus, new media literacies and participatory culture work on both the level of digital competence and on the level of digital usage in Allan Martin and Jan Grudziecki’s model of digital literacy development introduced in The End No 3:1. In fact, the two levels are interdependent to Jenkins and his colleagues as they emphasize in their own way in the 2006/2009-report while placing the level of digital usage in the forefront:

“Participatory culture is emerging as the culture absorbs and responds to the explosion of the new media technologies that make it possible for average consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways. A focus on expanding access to new technologies carries us only so far if we do not also foster the skills and cultural knowledge necessary to develop these tools toward our own ends.” (Jenkins et al. 2009:8).

The focus on developing “these tools toward our own ends” point to participatory culture as not just a descriptive model but also as an aspirational model that has among other things agency and capacity-building, democratic values and democratic citizenship and empowerment as its educational ideal. It is an aspiration that aligns with the level of digital transformation in Martin and Grudziecki’s model, as this level implicates not just innovation and creativity but also intellectual empowerment and evolution and emphasizes the transformation of thinking capacities when new cognitive tools are developed. Together these aspects of the aspirational model contain what education is for and what education is about to Henry Jenkins and his colleagues, and in many ways they correspond to the idea of ‘digital Bildung’ – introduced in The End No 3:2 – that inform the definition of digital literacy by Martin and Grudziecki.

But Jenkins and his colleagues also have their own grasp on the perspective of ‘digital Bildung’. Like new literacies they emphasize ‘the ontological sense of the ‘new’’ – although not without attention towards media evolution – and the idea of collective intelligence play a crucial part in participatory culture. Due to the anthropological understanding of culture in participatory culture, pooling knowledge within a collective intelligence is not necessarily in opposition to the idea of the liberal humanist subject featuring rationality, autonomy, free will and consciousness and supporting the idea of Bildung. But somehow the set of relations between the two changes the constitution and the coordination of personal and collective activities, to paraphrase Felix Stalder’s words, and thus influences the balance of understanding oneself, ‘the other’ and the world when new media and new technology are involved. It makes the liberal humanist subject more relational. And maybe it even contributes to what N. Katherine Hayles has called the break-up of “the liberal humanism in its traditional form”?

Now, participatory culture is also an evolving concept that gets read in relation to present practices and norms. That is the idea behind the updated version of the skills, the social and cultural competences and the practices of participatory culture in the Transmedia Literacy project, too. Although the interest in skills and competences is much more explicit in the mapping of the transmedia skills than in the original list by Jenkins and his colleagues that keeps the collaborative and networked ideal of participatory culture in mind, transmedia literacy also works on both the level of digital competence and the level of digital usage. After all, skills, understanding and knowledge are bound up with each other in action.

With media ecology – including ‘the new media ecology’ – as a perspective, transmedia literacy might also be said to take off from the aspiration of matching new tools, new media and new media systems with cultural production and interpretation via practice and production which develop tools, media and media systems “toward our own ends”: “…such production permits citizens to shape social connections that are fundamental to the development of democratic societies.” (Guerrero-Pico, Masanet and Scolari 2019:349). It is an aspiration that in some aspects corresponds to the idea of ‘digital Bildung’, but seen across the e-book, the Teacher’s Kit and the research articles from the project the focus in the Transmedia Literacy project is on ‘the new media ecology’ in teaching and learning and on the passing from the informal to the formal environment more than on meta-reflections on what education is for and what education is about. And that is needed, too, as complementary to the models and educational ideals of participatory culture.

To be continued…

Further reading:

Buckingham, David (2010): Do We Really Need Media Education 2.0? Teaching Media in the Age of Participatory Culture, Drotner, Kirsten and Schrøder, Kim Christian (Eds.): Digital Content Creation, New York: Peter Lang

Eleá, Ilana and Mikos, Lothar (Eds.)(2017): “Transmedia Storytelling as a Narrative Expansion”. Interview with Carlos Scolari, Young & Creative: Digital Technologies Empowering Children in Everyday Life, Gothenburg: Nordicom

Guerrero-Pico, M., Masanet, M.-J., and Scolari, C.A. (2019): Towards a typology of young produsers: Teenagers’ transmedia skills, media production, and narrative and aesthetic appreciation, New Media and Society, Vol. 21 Issue 2, 336-353

Hartley, John (2012a): Digital Futures for Cultural and Media Studies, Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons

Hartley, John (2012b): Before Ongism, Ong, Walter J. (2012): Orality and Literacy, 30th Anniversary Edition, Oxon: Routledge

Hartley, John (2012c): After Ongism, Ong, Walter J. (2012): Orality and Literacy, 30th Anniversary Edition, Oxon: Routledge

Hayles, N. Katherine (2004): Print Is Flat, Code Is Deep: The Importance of Media-Specific Analysis, Poetics Today, Vol. 25, No. 1, 67-90

Hinck, Ashley (2018): Digital Ghosts in the Modern Classroom , Hybrid Pedagogy, March 29, 2018

Jenkins, Henry with Purushotma, R., Weigel, M., Clinton, K., and Robison, A.J. (2009): Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press

Jenkins,H., Ito, M., boyd, d. (2016): Participatory culture in a networked era: a conversation on youth, learning, commerce and politics, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press

Jenkins, Henry ( 2009a): The Revenge of the Origami Unicorn: Seven Principles of Transmedia Storytelling (Well, Two Actually, Five More on Friday),

Jenkins, Henry ( 2009b): The Revenge of the Origami Unicorn: The Remaining Four Principles of Transmedia Storytelling,

Lankshear, Colin and Knobel, Michele (2012): ’New’ literacies: technologies and values, Revista Teknokultura, (2012), Vol. 9 Núm 1, 45-69

Martin, Allan and Jan Grudziecki (2006): DigEuLit: Concepts and Tools for Digital Literacy Development, Innovation in Teaching and Learning in Information and Computer Sciences, 5:4,249-267, DOI:10.11120/ital.2006.05040249

Mayfield, Ross: The power law of participation

Ong, Walter J. (2012): Orality and Literacy, 30th Anniversary Edition, Oxon: Routledge

Proferes, Nicholas (2016): Web 2.0 user knowledge and the limits of individual and collective power , First Monday, Vol. 21, No. 6

Scolari, C.A., Masanet M.-J., Guerrero-Pico, M. and Estalés, M.-J. (2018): Transmedia literacy in the new media ecology: Teen’s transmedia skills and informal learning strategies, El profesional de la información, vol. 27, no.4, 801-812

Scolari, Carlos A. (Ed.)(2018a): Teens, Media and Collaborative Cultures. Exploiting teen’s transmedia skills in the classroom, TRANSLITERACY H2020 Research and Innovation Actions

Scolari, Carlos A. (2018b): Media ecology, transmedia literacy, and redesign of interfaces, MATRIZes, Vol. 12, No. 3, 129-139

Scolari, Carlos A. (2012): Media Ecology: Exploring the Metaphor to Expand the Theory, Communication Theory 22, 204-225

Sfard, Anna (1998): On Two Metaphors for Learning and the Dangers of Choosing Just One, Educational Researcher, March 1998, 4-13

Thomas, S., Joseph, C., Laccetti, J., Mason, B., Mills, S., Perril, S., and Pullinger, K. (2007): Transliteracy: Crossing divides, First Monday, Vol. 12, No. 12

Toft-Nielsen, Claus and Nørgård, Rikke Toft (2018): Byggeklodser og blockbusters, Passage 79, Sommer 2018, Årgang 33 nr. 1, 89-102

Waade, Anne Marit and Toft-Nielsen, Claus (2015): Harry Potter som transmedia storytelling – franchise, fantasy og fans, Lauridsen, Palle Schanz og Svendsen, Erik (red.): Medieanalyse, København: Samfundslitteratur

Elna Mortensen

Photo by Ruben on Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA



In an era of knowledge abundance – The End No 3:3

In an era of knowledge abundance – The End No 3:2

24717888002_0217cd0455_mThe theory and practices of new literacies and the work of Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel has inspired Allan Martin and Jan Grudziecki’s model of digital literacy development, introduced in The End No 3:1, so new literacies is the second approach to digital literacies, I’ll plunge into. Seen through the lens of Martin and Grudziecki’s model, new literacies align especially with the levels of digital usage and digital transformation.



New literacies as digital literacies

In In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 1 I referred to Bonnie Stewart for seeing digital literacies as new literacies of participation and for framing the legitimacy structures and practices in education, she nails as in a sense literacies. And thus, she quoted Lankshear and Knobel on new literacies (2007):

“The more a literacy practice privileges participation over publishing, distributed expertise over centralized expertise, collective intelligence over individual possessive intelligence, collaboration over individuated authorship, dispersion over scarcity, sharing over ownership, experimentation over “normalization,” innovation and evolution over stability and fixity, creative-innovative rule breaking over generic purity and policing, relationship over information broadcast, and so on, the more we should regard it as a “new” literacy. (p. 21)”

This description is a snapshot in the evolution of new literacies as they are conceived of by Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel. In their book, “New Literacies: Changing Knowledge and Classroom Learning” (2003), they introduce new literacies in the context of New Literacy Studies and a sociocultural approach to literacy:

“In addition, the sociocultural approach to literacy overtly rejects the idea that textual practices are even largely, let alone solely, a matter of processes that ‘go on in the head’, or that essentially involve heads communicating with each other by means of graphic signs. From a sociocultural perspective literacy is a matter of social practices. Literacies are bound up with social, institutional and cultural relationships, and can only be understood when they are situated within their social, cultural and historical contexts (Gee et al. 1996:xii). Moreover, they are always connected to social identities – to being particular kinds of people. Literacies are always embedded in Discourses (Gee 2000). Texts are integral parts of innumerable everyday ‘lived, talked, enacted, value-and-belief-laden practices’ that are ‘carried out in specific places and at specific times.’ (Gee et al. 1996:3). Reading and writing are not the same things within a youth zine culture…, an online chat space, a school classroom, a feminist reading group, or within different kinds of religious ceremonies. People read and write differently out of different social practices, and these different ways with words are part of different ways of being persons and different ways and facets of doing life.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2003:8)

“This has important implications. From a sociocultural perspective, it is impossible to separate out from text-mediated social practices the ‘bits’ concerned with reading and writing (or any other sense of ‘literacy’) and to treat them independently of all the ‘non-print’ bits, like values and gestures, context and meaning, actions and objects, talk and interaction, tools and spaces. They are all non-substractable parts of integrated wholes. ‘Literacy bits’ do not exist apart from the social practices in which they are embedded and within which they are acquired. If, in some trivial sense they can be said to exist (e.g.) as code, they do not mean anything. Hence, they cannot meaningfully be taught and learned separate from the rest of the practice (Gee 1996).” (Lankshear and Knobel 2003:8)

Lankshear and Knobel distinguish New Literacy Studies from new literacies by seeing them using ‘new’ in a paradigmatic respectively an ontological way: “The paradigmatic sense occurs in talk of the New Literacy Studies (Street 1993; Gee 1996,2000) to refer to a specific sociocultural approach to understanding and researching literacy.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2003:16), whereas the ontological sense of ‘new’ is what is the main concern to Lankshear and Knobel :

“What we are calling the ontological sense of ‘new’ refers to the idea that changes have occurred in the character and substance of literacies associated with changes in technology, institutions, media, the economy, and the rapid movement toward global scale in manufacture, finance, communications and so on. These changes have impacted on social practices in all the main areas of everyday life within modern societies: in work, at leisure, in the home, in education, in the community, and in the public sphere.  Established social practices have been transformed, and new forms of social practices have emerged and continue to emerge at the rapid rate. Many of these new and changing social practices involve new and changing ways of producing, distributing, exchanging and receiving texts by electronic means. These have generated new multimodal forms of texts that can arrive via digital code…as sound, text, images, video, animations and any combinations of these.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2003:16)

“In this ontological sense, the category of ‘new literacies’ largely covers what are often referred to as ‘post-typographic’ forms of textual practice. These include using and constructing hyperlinks between documents and /or images, sounds, movies, semiotic languages (such as those used by the characters in the online episodic game Banja, or emoticons (‘smileys’) used in email, online chat space or instant messaging, manipulating a mouse to move around within a text, reading file extensions and identifying what software will ‘read’ each file, producing ‘non-linear’ texts, navigating three-dimensional worlds online and so on.“ (Lankshear and Knobel 2003:16-17; Martin and Grudziecki 2006:253)

Lankshear and Knobel operate with two broad categories of new literacies: 1) the post-typographic literacies just introduced above, and 2) literacies “…that are comparatively new in chronological terms and/or that are (or will be) new to being recognized as literacies – even within the sociocultural perspective. Literacies in this second category may have little or nothing to do with use of (new) digital electronic technologies. In some cases, however, they may well comprise new technologies within their own right.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2003:24-25)(my underlining). I see transmedia storytelling, online communities of practice, personal learning networks and network and networking literacies as examples of this.

Investigating and interpreting new literacies

A major achievement of the studies of new literacies is that they document the ongoing development of digital literacies and other new forms of literacies at the current point in their evolution and reflect on their relevance to school and educational settings. As a result of that, Lankshear and Knobel always give some typical examples of new literacies whenever they report on the state of affairs concerning new literacies, although it also causes some repetition in the quotations and the arguments as the uses of new literacies evolve. They suggest in their book, “…that to be useful, the investigation and interpretation of new literacies should involve descriptive, analytical and critical accounts.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2003:45)

A descriptive account will tell of and uncover practices: “The field needs rich descriptive sociological accounts of new literacies. Ideally these will be produced as much as possible by insiders who can ‘tell it like it is practiced’… (Lankshear and Knobel 2003:45). This priority of informants and an ethnographical approach anchors new literacies within the sociocultural understanding of New Literacy Studies introduced earlier.

An analytic account will expose how meaning making takes place: “Different forms of analytic work are relevant to studying and documenting new literacies…At one level of analysis one might identify and relate the Discourse and discourse aspects of a set of social practices (i.e. the ways of speaking, acting, believing, thinking, etc. that signal one as a member of a particular Discourse, along with the ‘language bits’ of this Discourse; Gee 1996). As a different analytic level, the work might involve a form of sociological imagination (Mills 1959): exploring how subjectivity and identity are related to participation in or membership of Discourses in which new literacies are developed, employed, refined and transformed.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2003:46-47)

Gee distinguishes between 1) Discourse with a capital D, grasping and conceptualizing ways of being in the world that integrates identities, and 2) discourse with a small letter which refers to the ‘language bits’, that is the language use of a specific Discourse (Lankshear and Knobel 2003:22, Note 1). This points to literacies as plural and context-dependent and to meaning making as socially negotiated, so these aspects of literacies are at the same time seen as determinant factors in new literacies as well as being means of doing, making and being in a culture and in the world.

A critical-evaluative account will consider the role and legitimacy of new literacies in formal literacy education: “Two types of critical-evaluative accounts of new literacies seem especially important in relation to literacy education…One type involves taking an ethical perspective toward new literacies, such that we can make sound and fair judgements that have educational relevance about the worth of particular new literacies and the legitimacy of their claims to places within formal literacy programmes.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2003:48)

“The second kind of critique we have in mind involves taking a curriculum and pedagogy perspective based on the criterion of efficacious learning. From a sociocultural perspective,

“the focus of learning and education is not children, nor schools, but human lives seen as trajectories through multiple social practices in various social institutions. If learning is to be efficacious, then what a child or adult does now as a learner must be connected in meaningful and motivated ways with ‘mature’ (insider) versions of related social practices.” (Gee et al. 1996:4)

For literacy education to be soundly based, we must be able to demonstrate the efficacy of any and every literacy that is taught compulsorily. This, of course, immediately questions the basis of much, if not most, of what currently passes for literacy education.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2003:48-49)

These questions of the legitimacy of new literacies within formal literacy education recall Bonnie Stewart’s framing of what she sees as literacies of participation:

“The more a literacy practice privileges participation over publishing, distributed expertise over centralized expertise, collective intelligence over individual possessive intelligence, collaboration over individuated authorship, dispersion over scarcity, sharing over ownership, experimentation over “normalization,” innovation and evolution over stability and fixity, creative-innovative rule breaking over generic purity and policing, relationship over information broadcast, and so on, the more we should regard it as a “new” literacy. (p. 21)”

Both the questions of legitimacy and the question of efficacious learning tell of practices, expose how meaning making is up for change, and inquire into the relevance of social, participatory and collaborative practices in education in general. So new literacies may be said to question and challenge the idea of education, as we associate it with the modern period and the industrial society. And at the second level of critique, it links the perspectives and ideas of Lankshear and Knobel to the debates on traditional and new models of education and teaching and learning taken into consideration by Martin Weller and Caroline Haythornthwaite, as they are summed up in The End No 1.

New literacies in the current historical period: ‘the new ethos stuff’

In other words, the critical-evaluative questions regarding new literacies operate on the continuum between two paradigms, moving away from the modern/industrial paradigm and towards the postmodern/post-industrial/knowledge society paradigm, which Lankshear and Knobel introduce in their article, “’New’ Literacies: technologies and values” (2012), as one of their updates on new literacies capturing the current point in their evolution.

In the article they emphasize this continuum, already mentioned in their book, and stress, that “…new literacies are best understood in terms of an historical period of social, cultural, institutional, economic, and intellectual change that is likely to span many decades – some of which are already behind us…From this perspective we suggest that the kinds of practices we currently identify as new literacies will cease to be ‘new’ once the social ways characterizing the ascending paradigm have become sufficiently established and grounded to be regarded as conventional.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2012:45-46). So Lankshear and Knobel outline the characteristics of the current historical period connected to this ascending new paradigm and the two core concepts concerning new literacies: ‘the new technical stuff’ and ‘the new ethos stuff’. ‘The new ethos stuff’ comes to the front, though:

“We have reached a point where it is necessary to draw some distinctions around the idea of ‘a new ethos’. We began by talking about an ascending paradigm that reflects a different way of thinking about people, social practices and processes, and social phenomena like expertise and intelligence from how such things were thought about under an earlier paradigm. We have talked briefly about how, during recent decades, economic activity – work – has been re-described, understood, and re-structured along lines in which values of participation, collaboration, distributed systems (of expertise, intelligence, team-orientation) have been emphasized. The ‘new’ capitalism pursues new ways of identifying workers and giving them new identities, in association with new ways of organizing their activity (roles, relationships, performances), with a view to enhancing the economic viability of enterprises and bureaucracies (Gee et al. 1996). This is a new angle on an existing game – a new way to create economic value/profit/capital accumulation/efficiency through leverage within a process of coaxing employees to take on new identities as members of a ‘community’ rather than as individuals who just happen to work in this place, for this boss  or this company. The end game remains more or less the same, but is now played under a new kind of ‘ethos’: by affiliates collaborating with each other in a shared mission”. (Lankshear and Knobel 2012:60)

“We have described how this kind of business model and ‘ethos’ was named for the web: as Web 2.0. A new architecture established the web as an interactive platform whereby enterprises could accumulate value by creating conditions and practices – literacies, no less – where uses could generate value that companies/site proprietors could harness. This is Web 2.0 as a business model. At the same time, the architecture supporting this business model represents something of a shift in applied ethos from the more oneway, broadcast-oriented model retrospectively named Web 1.0. We worked our way through a staged sequence of selected examples, seeking to shift the focus from web-mediated collaborations and distributions grounded in leveraging user activity in the interests of the economic viability of an enterprise toward an emphasis on ways in which the impressive affordances of Web 2.0 as an interactive platform enable users to participate in affinities. These are affinities where their participation and collaboration enact relationships to/with others and their shared interests, and contribute collectively to building the affinity and a sense of membership in that affinity.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2012:60-61)

So far, this analytic account has identified the Discourse and discourse aspects of a set of social practices and ways of being in the world: the ‘new’ capitalism and ‘Web 2.0’ coined by Tim O’Reilly as a business model, as well as the architecture of Web 2.0 as “…a specific concrete instance of the tendency toward thinking and acting, and otherwise organizing ways for doing everyday life – and particularly, for doing literacies – around values central to the currently ascending social paradigm…” like collaboration, distributed expertise, collective intelligence, communities of practice, and team orientation. (Lankshear and Knobel 2012:59).

This specific level of analysis points to discourse with a small letter, I would say, and reveals how people are ‘joining’ literacies as ways of doing, making and being in the world in order to learn the language of Discourse, so to speak, like “values and gestures, context and meaning, action and objects, talk and interaction, tools and spaces” (Lankshear and Knobel 2003:8):

“While our interest here is wider than learning per se, many of the key features of affinity spaces that enable learning are nonetheless the very ‘stuff’ of how contemporary literacies are constituted and experienced more generally by people engaging in them. Gee describes affinity spaces as:

“specially designed spaces (physical and virtual) constructed to resource people [who are] tied together…by a shared interest or endeavor…[For example, the] many websites and publications devoted to [the videogame ‘Rise of Nations’] create a social space in which people can, to any degree they wish, small or large, affiliate with others to share knowledge and gain knowledge that is distributed and dispersed across many different people, places, Internet sites and modalities (magazines, chat rooms, guides, recordings)”  (Gee, 2004:9,73)

Affinity spaces instantiate participation, collaboration, distribution and dispersion of expertise, and relatedness (ibid., Ch. 6th). These features are integral to the ‘ethos stuff’ of what we mean by ‘new’ literacies.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2012:58)

New literacies in the current historical period: ‘the new technical stuff’

It is not just the new ethos that needs to be in focus. Equally important is ‘the new technical stuff’ and the two need to be kept together within the frame of new literacies according to Lankshear and Knobel:

“The technical stuff of new literacies is part and parcel of generating, communicating, and negotiating encoded meanings by providing a range of new or more widely accessible resource possibilities (‘affordances’) for making meaning. The technical dimensions of digital technologies greatly enlarge ways of generating encoded meanings available to people in comparison with what we might call conventional literacies.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2012:51)

They give an example of generating a version of the Sad Keanu (Reeves) meme – an encoded multimodal text from 2010, still to be found online in reports on its life cycle but by now followed by other Keanu Reeves memes – that to a great extend imitate ‘the processes of digital literacy’ described by Allan Martin and Jan Grudziecki while performing a range of digital competences to produce a remixed version of the meme: “Someone with access to a family standard computer or other mobile digital device and internet connection, and who has some basic knowledge of standard software applications can create a diverse range of meaningful artifacts using a strictly finite set of physical operations or technologies (keying, clicking, selecting, copying, dragging), in a relatively tiny space, with just one or two (albeit complex) ‘tools’.“(Lankshear and Knobel 2012:51). And at a more general level, this example illustrates that:

“The shift from material inscriptions to digital coding, from analogue to digital representations, has unleashed conditions and possibilities that are massively new. In the case of the shift from print to the post-typographic, Bill Cope (in Cope et al., 2005) describes what this means for the visual rendering of texts. He explains that digital technologies reduce the basic unit of composition from the level of character to a point below character level. In the case of a text on a screen, the unit of composition is reduced to pixels. This means that text and images can be rendered together seamlessly and relatively easily on the same page and, moreover, that text can be layered into images both static and moving – (and viceversa) in ways that were very difficult, and in some respects impossible to do physically with the resources of print.

“…[Moreover] if you go back one layer beyond pixels, the same compositional stuff produces sound as well. So you have got these basic things about human communication – namely language, visuals and sound – which are all being manufactures in the same raw material on the same plane in the same platform (in Cope et al., 2005:200)””  (Lankshear and Knobel 2012:53)

Along the same lines, the kinds of possibilities for ‘enabling’ and ‘sharing’ are new:

“Even the concept of ‘text’ as understood in conventional print terms becomes a hazy concept when considering the array of expressive media now available to everyday folk. Diverse practices of ‘remixing’ – where a range of existing materials are copied, cut, spliced, edited, reworked, and mixed into a new creation – have become highly popular in part because of the quality of product ‘ordinary people’ can achieve.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2012:54-55)

So whether it is about digital remix practices or uploading and distributing user-generated content to a social network site or platform, the new is about enabling:

“This enabling capacity of what essentially is binary code and associated hardware – the new technical ‘stuff’ – is integral to most of the new literacies that will concern us here. A lot of this enabling is by now so commonplace that we take it for granted, such as in everyday templates and interfaces.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2012: 55)

New literacies in the current historical period: participatory forms

With ‘the new technical stuff’ being part of generating, communicating and negotiating encoded meaning, and the ‘new ethos stuff’ emphasizing ways of doing, making and being that instantiate participation, collaboration and distributed expertise, Lankshear and Knobel draw up a participatory configuration of ‘the new ethos’ as an ideal:

Participatory configurations of the new ethos are intimated in the difference between someone who wants to create, say a podcast for some kind of personal purpose or as a personal expression, and those whose podcasting activities arise from motivations like ‘an urge to create a shared space where, for example, fans can discuss their mutual interests in Severus Snape, or where church members can hold prayer circles, or where comic book buffs can interview writers and artists’ (Jenkins, 2010:234). In other words, participation, collaboration, and distributed systems of expertise, knowledge/wisdom/ intelligence and cultural production assume participatory forms within communities and networks of shared interests or affinities that have the kinds of characteristics associated with current conceptions of ‘participation in affinity spaces’ (Gee, 2004), ‘participatory cultures’ (Jenkins et al., 2006), ‘communities of practice’ (Lave and Wenger, 1991), and so on. These terms are widely used to capture the idea of networks and communities of shared interests where people associate, affiliate, and interact in kinds of ‘collective enterprise’ in order to pursue and go as deeply as they wish into their ‘affinities’ or what they are especially interested in.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2012:63)

“Such activity involves collectively building, resourcing, and maintaining interactive spaces, whether face to face, virtual, or mixes of both, where participants can contribute to and draw upon myriad resources and means for building and enacting identities based on interests, in collaboration with others. Participants play diverse roles and learn from each other ‘in the process of working together to achieve shared goals.’ From a new media literacies perspective, Jenkins and colleagues (2006:3) define a participatory culture in terms of environments and social practices where there are

“relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship where what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices. A participatory culture is also one in which members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another (Jenkins et al., 2006:3) “” (Lankshear and Knobel 2012:63-64)

“…members of participatory cultures are involved in building and resourcing entire ‘systems’ and networks for developing and enacting identities (and ways of creative doing and being and making) within the very processes of pursuing and enacting these identities. They are collectively building, and developing the conditions and terrain for their interest-based engagements, as an entire enterprise, as distinct from  participating in ‘an enterprise of others’ (proprietary), or drawing on established enterprises to engage in individual or personal goal-directed pursuits with no entrinsic or necessary investment in furthering the community, networks, or affinity space per se.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2012:64)

So when all the pieces come together – the definitions, the concepts, and the descriptive, analytic and critical-evaluative accounts investigating and interpreting new literacies, their digital contexts and their place within an ascending social paradigm – they reveal an ideal ‘frame’ for understanding the character and role of new literacies:

“…we believe that the closer the ‘new ethos’ dimension approximates to the forms of engagement, collaboration, sharing and distributed expertise and ‘authorship’ that define ‘participatory cultures’ (ibid.), the more we should regard a literacy practice as ‘new’. This involves a values stance based on an ideal of social learning that is actively undermined by existing educational arrangements and the wider social structures and arrangements they support (e.g. credentialing, differential allocation of scarce rewards, consumer commodity production, ownership and property relations, etc.). Paradigm [strongest possible] cases of new literacies confront established social structures and relationships in ways we consider progressive, or ‘better’. They are more inclusive, more egalitarian, more responsive to human needs, interests and satisfactions, and they model the ideal of people working together for collective good and benefit, rather than pitting individuals against one another in the cause of maintaining social arrangements that divide people radically along lines of success, status, wealth, and privilege.” (Lankshear and Knobet 2012:67)

In other words, it is this broad ‘ethos’ of new literacies that differentiates new literacies from being conventional literacies in digital form (Lankshear and Knobel 2014:98).

Skills, knowledge and tools in use within social practices

In their article, “Studying New Literacies” (2014), Lankshear and Knobel follow up on their previous work on new literacies once again. They elaborate on how new literacies research has focused on skills, knowledge and tools in use within social practices, and they gather how researchers are interested in how participants have been producing, distributing, sharing and negotiating meaning in a range of contexts outside school and aim at introducing changing literacy practices in teaching and learning in schools in order to educate for the future (Knobel & Lankshear 2014:97). In the article Lankshear and Knobel offer a list of classroom practices gained from learners, participants and informants from informal practices outside school. The list reveals findings from new literacies research they reckon are worth teachers’ consideration in relation to design, facilitation and teaching in K-12 schools, but, still, they are just as relevant to discussing digital literacies in higher education. I will give a short version here, but do check out the entire list in the article:

  • Not everyone has to know or be good at exactly the same thing; often outcomes are richer when young people bring different bits and pieces of knowledge and know-how to collaborative efforts (Gee & Hayes, 2013). Schools, however, tend to insist on everyone knowing the same thing in the same way.
  • Ongoing cycles of feedback, mentoring, and support from others – novices and experts alike – who share the same interest or goals play a crucial role in learning and practicing new literacies (Black, 2008). Schools usually privilege teacher feedback over peer feedback on work-in-progress; assessment tends to be summative and focus on technical details, with little in-progress advice or mentoring regarding production within a particular specialized space or domain.
  • Doing, contributing, making, and sharing are significant activities (Alverman, 2010; Ito et al., 2010). Schools approach knowledge in terms of consuming information and practicing teacher-taught strategies, often driven by packaged curriculum and textbooks, rather than in terms of production by insiders to a field and novices learning to become insiders.
  • Young people “pull” on available resources – content, materials, people – right at the point of need as they are working on something (Leander & Mills, 2007). This just-in-time approach to learning contrasts with schools and their tendency to “push” a broad range of content at students for abstract, “just-in-case” purposes (Hagel & Brown, 2005).
  • Remixing cultural items to produce new works is valued and central to cultural development within societies (Lankshear & Knobel, 2011). This challenges schools’ assumption about the importance of individualized authorship and the production of “original” work.
  • Distributing effort and the ability to communicate with others across distance, cultures, and languages matters (Curwood, Magnifico, & Lammers, 2013; Lam, 2009). Practical experiences entailing such things are less than common in schools.
  • Playing with and exploring the affordances of a technology or online space balanced with serious work is a key element in learning to “be” someone, like a machinima artist, a games designer, a video editor, etc. (Ito et al., 2010). After the early grades, schools are concerned most with students being “on task” with little room for playful and exploratory experimentation. (Knobel & Lankshear 2014:99-100)

In the article Lankshear and Knobel stress the idea of new literacies and its sociocultural orientation this way:

 “A practice orientation to new literacies examines new literacies in terms of technology, knowledge and skills – where skills are understood as “co-ordinated sets of action”, and practices as “socially developed and patterned ways of using technology and knowledge to accomplish tasks [that are] directed to [realizing] socially recognized goals [or purposes].” (Schreibner & Cole, 1981,p. 236). As practices, literacies – all literacies, “new” or conventional – involve bringing technology, knowledge, and skills together within contexts of social purpose.”  (Knobel & Lankshear 2014:98)

The examples of classroom practices listed above are descriptive and critical-evaluative accounts of this practice orientation, but at the same time they show how new literacies challenge old systems of legitimacy like control and validation, and they exceed the traditional model of education, as mentioned earlier, when they emphasize participation and participatory culture as core values:

“New technical stuff can be, and typically is, introduced into classrooms without challenging the established culture of classroom education one iota (Cuban, 2003; Lankshear and Knobel, 2006: Ch.2; Jenkins, 2010). It is impossible, however, to engage with learning from the standpoint of participatory culture without seeing how its learning model challenges ‘the cultural context that surrounds contemporary education’. (Jenkins 2010:241).”  (Lankshear and Knobel 2012:67)

So altogether new literacies go along with participation as a metaphor of learning and with Learning 2.0 as a more personalized and experiential form of learning that “…involves engaging learners in apprenticeship for different kinds of knowledge practice, new processes of inquiry, dialogue, and connectivity” as Beetham and Sharpe have put it (McLoughlin and Lee 2008:12) as quoted in The End No 2.

‘Learning to be’: text production and meaning making & social learning processes

In a recent article, “Education and ‘new literacies’ in the middle years” (2018), Lankshear and Knobel revisit their mapping of new literacy practices and more explicitly plot the course of learning , although they are still interested in more than learning ‘per se’. Their view on what new literacies might mean now is seconded by what they call a broad ‘philosophy of education’ as their answer to the questions about what education is for and what education is about. Still, the starting point is that new literacies are characterized by two things: 1) the shift from analogue to digital code and literacies being mediated by digital tool which is characterized as ‘a new technological dimension to ‘new literacies’’ – earlier introduced as ‘the new technical stuff’ – and 2) the possibilities of “…participating in collaborative ways in the creation, editing, refinement, etc. of the same text”, which is seen as “…a new kind of ‘ethos’ possible in ways and on a scale not previously imaginable” (Lankshear and Knobel 2018:8)(my underlining) – earlier characterized as ‘the new ethos stuff’.  Lankshear and Knobel are summing up these two dimensions of new literacies much in accordance with their book and earlier articles, but with the difference that ‘texts’ and ‘text production’ in the broadest possible sense are now being coined as a part of the vocabulary within new literacies:

“The technical and ethos dimension of ‘new’ practices of text production is to create, communicate, share and negotiate meanings come together in ways that have been captured in concepts like ‘participatory culture’ (Jenkins et al., 2016; Jenkins, Ito & boyd, 2015) and ‘affinity spaces’ (Gee, 2004). While both concepts are relatively recent coinings, forms of participatory culture and affinity spaces have always existed where people join together to participate and collaborate in forms of shared activity; to build fields of shared interest; to share expertise and resources and so on. The local sports field is as much a space for participating in a shared activity as an app-based service like (a music video generating and sharing network).” (Lankshear and Knobel 2018:8)

“Affinity spaces refer to any kind of physical or virtual space that has been specially designed to resource the activity of people who are ‘tied together by a shared interest or endeavor’ (Gee, 2001, p.9). They are social spaces that enable people, to whatever extent they choose, to ‘affiliate with others to share knowledge and gain knowledge [relevant to engaging in their interest] that is distributed and dispersed across many different people, places, Internet sites, and modalities (magazines, chatrooms, guides, recordings)’ (Gee, 2004, p.73). Of course, what has happened in the age of digital electronic technologies and networks is that online affinity spaces have vastly amplified the possible scope, speed, diversity, scale, and range of affiliation and knowledge sharing and gaining.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2018:8)

In the article Lankshear and Knobel introduce two levels of new literacies to grasp the double processes of new literacies as both text production and meaning making and learning processes inherent to the concepts of participatory culture and affinity spaces: the specific level of new literacies and the level of ‘structure’ of new literacies. This way they add a focus on texts and artefacts, resources, modes and modalities, originating from a socio-semiotic view on literacy (Kabel and Storgaard Brok 2018:230-231), to their ethnographic perspective and their interest in new literacy practices as social and cultural practices. And as usual Lankshear and Knobel give examples of the present paradigm (strongest possible) cases of new literacies focusing on both the new technological dimension and the new ethos dimension including a set of competences, strategies, learning strategies and values nurtured and developed in collaborative cultures:

“At a specific level of ‘new literacies’, participants engage in meaning making, mediated by tools and communicated and negotiated as ‘texts’ (i.e., inscribed cultural artifacts), of the kinds involved in pursuing their particular interests and purposes. At the level of the ‘structure’ of new literacies, however, they encounter a profoundly social approach to learning, driven by shared passions, and steeped in collaboration and companionship. And it is this structure that is most important for reforming education: the ‘lesson’ for educators to take from new literacies. In the context of cultural production, the knowledge and understanding and skill and resourcing needed for mastery, participants (learners at all levels) rub shoulders, share values, and offer insider advice on what makes the work ‘good’. And there is seemingly no limit to where this resourcing could come from. There is usually someone ‘there’ to provide an audience and to mutually share and build enthusiasm within the process of learning to be a fanfiction writer, a photoshopper, a music video or spoof movie trailer creator, game designer, etc. Brown and Adler capture much of the educational significance of such ‘social learning’ when they note (2008, p.19) that:

“Mastering a field…involves not only ‘learning about’ the subject matter but also ‘learning to be’ a full participant in the field. This involves acquiring the practices and the norms of established practitioners, in that field or acculturating into a community of practice [or affinity].”” (Lankshear and Knobel 2018:8-9)

‘Learning to be’: challenging the established culture of education

By introducing these double processes of new literacies, Lankshear and Knobel explain more thoroughly what they mean, when they state that in fact ‘the new technical dimension’ challenges the established culture of classroom education, as quoted above: the engagement with participatory culture and affinity spaces includes a move towards social learning. In “Minds on Fire – Open Education, the Long Tail and Learning 2.0” (2008), the article quoted from above by Lankshear and Knobel, Brown and Adler have pointed out that:

“The most profound impact of the Internet, an impact that has yet to be fully realized, is its ability to support and expand the various aspects of social learning. What do we mean by “social learning”? Perhaps the simplest way to explain this concept is to note that social learning is based on the premise that our understanding of content is socially constructed through conversations about that content and through grounded interactions, especially with others, around problems or actions. The focus is not so much on what we are learning but on how we are learning.” (Brown and Adler 2008:18)

Brown and Adler promote social learning as a contrast to the traditional Cartesian view of knowledge and learning, emphasizing that “…the social view of learning says, “We participate, therefore we are.”(Brown and Adler 2008:18), and adding that “[t]his perspective shifts the focus of our attention from the content of a subject to the learning activities and human interactions around which that content is situated.” (Brown and Adler 2008:18). By placing the Cartesian view of knowledge and learning in contrast to social learning and participation, Brown and Adler align with Anna Sfard’s metaphors for learning as acquisition and as participation, but by contrasting them they seem to deny the complementarity of the two metaphors which is fundamentally important to Sfard, as introduced in The End No 3:1. So somehow Brown and Adler seem to contradict themselves to some extent, as they claimed in the quote above, that mastering a field means both ‘learning about’ a subject matter but also ‘learning to be’ a full participant within a field. And here Lankshear and Knobel follow in Brown and Adler’s footsteps when they promote ‘learning to be’ rather than ‘learning about’ as an essential dimension of new literacies:

“… the ‘structure’ of new literacies provides a basis for moving education away from its traditional form of learning about –  content knowledge absorbed from curriculum subjects – toward a model of learning as collaborating producers of knowledge within processes of learning to become ‘kinds of people’ who take on ‘ways of being in the world’. We will argue that what is important for education is not merely finding ways of getting specific ‘new’ literacies, such as digital storytelling, remixing fiction, or programming 3D printers to produce artefacts to our own designs, into classrooms/education – although this might at least be a step in the right direction. Rather the point is to reconstitute education around ‘learning to be’; reorganizing education along the lines James Paul Gee describes in terms of involving people working together to resolve ‘tough problems’ in ways that produce knowledge within social learning processes that are mediated by affinity spaces (Gee, 2013).” (Lankshear and Knobel 2018:7)

‘Learning to be’ as introduced by Brown and Adler – or “becoming a participant” and “belonging, participating, communicating in community building” in Sfard’s terminology – is compatible to communities of practices which are being connected directly to participatory culture and affinity spaces by Lankshear and Knobel as it was already evident when they encircled the participatory forms of a new kind of ethos earlier:

“This is [educational] work that provides opportunities for collaborative production of knowledge and solutions to material as well as ‘academic’ problems rather than continuing to emphasise individualised consumption and assessment of subject area content. It should reflect Gee’s insight that ‘affinity spaces have been, and will be even more in the future, the source of new ideas, new solutions to hard problems, and skills for jobs not yet in existence’ (2013, p.178). It should leverage young people’s experiences of and commitment to the values and satisfactions, derived from their investments in ‘participatory culture’, defined by Jenkins and colleagues in terms of environments and forms of activity where there are

“relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices…[and where] members believe their contributions matter. And feel some degree of social connection with one another (Jenkins et al., 2006, p. 3)”

It is work that meets Gee’s requirement that education

“focus on giving every member of society a valued life and the ability to contribute, to learn how to learn, and to adapt to changing times. It has to create a sense of equality at the level not of status of jobs per se, but at the level of participation in knowledge, innovation, and national and global citizenship for a smarter, safer and better world (2013, p. 205).””(Lankshear and Knobel 2018:11-12)

With affiliation to Gregory Bateson’s and Zygmunt Bauman’s forms of learning, presented in The End No 2, Gee positions education in the context of both citizenship and globalization and change and uncertainty. In his article, “Affinity Spaces and 21st Century Learning” (2017), also referred to by Lankshear and Knobel, Gee describes and defines affinity spaces today as “…often really squishy. They are fluid and ever changing and hard to strictly demarcate.” (Gee 2017:29). In other words, they exist as networks in flux with clusters and weak connections, ever changing and reflecting the complexity and uncertainty of today. And in that sense, Gee’s idea and concept of affinity spaces is being re-defined in accordance with ideas of communities of practice, networks, rhizomes and assemblages introduced in this series and thus supplement the idea and concept of participatory culture in Lankshear and Knobel’s focus on ‘the level of ‘structure’ of new literacies’: “Attending to the structure of new literacies (e.g., participatory culture, social practices, affinity spaces, appreciative systems) necessarily shifts the structure of schooling away from a concern with learning about stuff and towards learning to collaborate, contribute, share, understand, resource, empathise etc. as new ways of learning to be in the world.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2018:15).

The model of ‘new literacy practicies’

It might seem that there has been a slight change in Lankshear and Knobel’s work from their book in 2003 to the article of 2018, sliding from a focus on the current historical period and on new forms of literacies and literacy practices to zooming in on introducing changing literacy practices in teaching and learning in order to educate for the future. But the ideal of social learning has been present all along, accompanying the questions of what currently passes for literacy education, although the reflections on the educational relevance of new literacies are none the less also taking new directions in the 2018-article, “Education and ‘new literacies’ in the middle years”. As Lankshear and Knobel say: “Schools should focus on enabling knowledge and knowhow that middle years youth need but cannot readily access elsewhere – especially by posing what Gee (ibid.) calls ‘tough problems’ that involve working in and across disciplinary areas and engage students with experts beyond the school who can provide useful and important knowledge and insights into the problem being studied. Many of these tough problems will be – ideally – real world, functional or life enhancing problems; problems to be resolved by knowledge and understanding that develop minds within processes of learning to become the kinds of people who meet an ideal of educated persons.”  (Lankshear and Knobel 2018:12).

As the context of education is now to create a sense of equality when it comes to participation, knowledge production and innovation, and national and global citizenship “for a smarter, safer, and better better world”, Lankshear and Knobel still emphasize their practice orientation to new literacies by maintaining “…the importance  of students producing real knowledge of all kinds by attending to the model of ‘new literacy practices’ rather than simply trying to import new literacies into the classrooms and making them the focal point of learning”, as quoted earlier (Lankshear and Knobel 2018:15). This model of ‘new literacy practices’ can be said to have evolved in time in the shape of a set of concepts and terms that contains the dimensions and the contexts of new literacies, so to speak:

current historical period                            educational relevance and structure of schooling

post-typographic                                         chronologically new

new technical stuff:                                     new ethos stuff:

skills, tools, enabling, sharing                      practices, participatory forms

specific level of new literacies:                  ‘structural’ level of new literacies:

‘texts’, cultural artefacts                                CoP’s, participatory culture, affinity spaces

textual dimension:                                       social dimension:

text production and meaning making         social learning processes

producing knowledge                                    from ‘learn about’ to ‘learning to be’

Like a puzzle picture, new literacies gradually emerge and develop as an approach that includes both a textual and a social dimension, although it is not interested in approaches to textual analysis, interpretation or the like. So although the left column in ‘the model’ above is indispensable, there is no doubt that the right column in ‘the model’ is the heart of the matter. It highlights what is at stake in the model of ‘new literacy practices’: the ideal of social learning and of people working together for collective good and benefit (Lankshear and Knobel 2012:67) in combination with the structure of schooling shifting away “…from a concern with learning about stuff and towards learning to collaborate, contribute, share, understand, resource, empathise etc. as new ways of learning to be in the world.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2018:15).

User productivity and producing knowledge

The practice orientation accentuated by Lankshear and Knobel signals the sociocultural background to their model of ‘new literacy practices’, and as such it is mainly user and production oriented. The perspective regarding texts has moved from the sender to the recipient – but in the sense of seeing the recipient as a user and producer of ‘texts’ within the broader conception of ‘texts’ that new literacies provide. The linear model of communication by Claude Shannon: sender → message → receiver (Hartley 2012:2) is being crossbred with the producer → text/commodity → consumer model (Hartley 2012:9) and transformed into a two-way dialogical model evolved from the altered conditions for communication and participation in digital media and on digital platforms and from the present uses of the internet and digital communication: author/sender/ producer ↔ ‘text’/cultural artefact/product ↔ reader & audience/recipient/user & producer. Now literacy/literacies mean reading and writing as interconnected social and cultural activities and practices, but even with an understanding of reading and writing as production in all kinds of media, modalities and modes, including navigating on the web, as new literacies represent, it leaves the questions of how ‘texts’ and knowledge are understood in the context of a domain, a discipline or a subject matter. Among other things, this calls for dialogical and reception oriented approaches to ‘texts’, meaning making and interpretation, that are able to embrace hypertexts and the networks growing from them, when the communication turns from one-to-many towards many-to-many.

Producing knowledge requires understanding, interpretation, analyzing and seeing the problem or issue concerned in several relevant perspectives, including the historical context of the domain, the discipline or the subject matter, I would suggest. That means knowing its repertoire of ‘texts’ in the broader sense, its practices, and the ways and mechanisms of producing new ’texts’ and actively relate to and take part in the ‘texts’, the repertoire and the knowledge already existing in the domain, the discipline or the subject matter through production, and this way engage in its historicity and in questioning the existing and emerging knowledge. This is crucial and the starting point for participating in and becoming a member of the community of practice and the culture of a domain, a discipline or a subject matter. And it takes social learning, too. In other words, this is what Lankshear and Knobel have called a participatory configuration of ‘the new ethos’.

New literacies have the intention of contributing to the growth of knowledge and learning, and seen in the light of digital media and their present uses, John Hartley mentions in his book, “The uses of digital literacy” (2009), that there is a tendency to self-expression and communication in people’s uses of digital literacy in informal contexts and everyday practices, but also that: “…there is more to language than self-expression and communication: there is also knowledge.” (Hartley 2009:137). Hartley suggests that this tendency has to be acted on and the uses of digital literacy have to be elaborated and developed to meet the requirements for producing knowledge. While discussing digital storytelling he takes up Karl Popper’s levels of language in his argument:

“In fact, the philosopher Karl Popper (1972) has produced a typology of the ‘levels’ of language:

  1. Self-expression
  2. Communication
  3. Description
  4. Argument…

For Popper, the first two levels produce subjective knowledge, the second two can lead to objective knowledge. For us, it is noteworthy that digital storytelling, in common with the media-entertainment complex in general, is obsessively focused on the first level. To take a further step toward the two ‘higher’ levels of language, the question of expertise needs to be expressed: how can everyone in a given community be in a position to contribute to the growth of objective knowledge?” (Hartley 2009:137-138)

So as a precondition for knowledge production, subjective understandings need to be connected and related to explicit and validated ‘objective’ knowledge. On the other hand, Hartley still stresses, that “With the internet and digital communication, mediated communication had been restored to a two-way dialogic model in which everyone is understood as productive.” (Hartley 2012:22). This opens up to questions about what defines knowledge and who defines what kinds of knowledge are needed. And as a kind of counterpart to Bonnie Stewart’s opening quote from Lankshear and Knobel, Hartley comments on the current state of the internet and its affordances:

“Like printing, the internet was invented for instrumental purposes (security, scholarship), but it has rapidly escaped such intentions and is evolving new ‘affordances’ unlooked for a mere decade ago. The most important change is that the structural asymmetry between producers and consumers, experts and amateurs, writers and readers has begun to rebalance. In principle (if not yet in practice), everyone can publish as well as ‘read’ mass media. Users play an important role in making the networks, providing the services, improving the products, forming the communities, and producing the knowledge that characterize digital media. We are entering an era of user productivity, not expert representation. It is now possible to think of consumers as agents, sometimes enterprises, and to see in consumer-created content and user-led innovation not further exploitation by the expert representatives but rather ‘consumer entrepreneurship’ (once a contradiction in terms).

Once again, as was the case for print in early modern Europe, a means of communication has become an agent as well as a carrier of change, extending the capabilities of the publisher across social and geographical boundaries and producing unintended consequences that have hardly begun to be exploited.“ (Hartley 2012:25)

What to think about the question of expertise clashing with the affordances of the internet and digital communication, then? John Hartley’s double perspective on digital media and the internet both meets and challenges the intentions new literacies have to contribute to the growth of knowledge when they focus on changing literacy practices in teaching and learning in schools – challenges where Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel’s ‘philosophy of education’ can be said to frame their view on ‘the stuff’ that knowledge is made of in a digital age – and that includes both self-expression, communication, description and argument after all.

A philosophy of education

Lankshear and Knobel seem to be about to make a move beyond the affordances of Web 2.0 and the architecture of participation, or maybe rather they are in the move to build on top of these affordances, providing their thinking with new layers of ethics and the present horizon of Web 3.0 and so forth, on the grounds of the critical-evaluative accounts provided by Gee. Gee touches on both kinds introduced earlier: the sound and fair judgement of the educational relevance of particular new literacies and a critical evaluation of what is efficacy learning seen from a curriculum and pedagogical perspective, as quoted above: “[Education] has to create a sense of equality at the level not of status of jobs per se, but at the level of participation in knowledge, innovation, and national and global citizenship for a smarter, safer and better world (2013, p. 205).” (Lankshear and Knobel 2018:12).

As their way of answering the questions of what education is for and what education is about in this perspective, Lankshear and Knobel supplement Gee’s requirement for education with four dimensions of human development and wellbeing that make up their ‘philosophy of education’ by now:

  1. Knowledge and building minds:

“By ‘mind’ we mean a combination of cognitive capacity and certain kinds of attitudes, such as a concern for relevance, impartiality, being reasonable, and so on. It is about knowing when information is relevant to a question or issue in ways that mean it counts as valid evidence, and about being willing to weigh evidence on its merits, rather than on the basis of our preferences. It is the willingness to follow arguments where the evidence leads, in order to make the best quality judgements about the matter in question. It is to do with caring enough about our thinking to get it as clear and logical and elegant as we can. It involves appreciating the values and criteria and ways of evaluating and judging within an area of activity and respecting them up to the point where it is reasonable and appropriate to modify them… It involves creating opportunities for learners to develop these values within contexts of acquiring and actively producing knowledge about things, that matter for their lives and the lives of others.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2018:9)

  1. Becoming ethical persons and kind and decent members of our communities:

“The role of formal education institutions is, we believe, different. It is about providing opportunities for young people to understand and experience what it means to develop and act on principles rather than to follow rules and simply obey authority. Acting on principles comprises opportunities to reflect ethically: to move beyond rules and to consider the ‘whys’ that lie behind them, and to develop a strong sense of caring for the principles in question. One way of thinking about this is in terms of coming to understand persons and communities as systems that have their integrity…While schools cannot ensure that learners in fact do come to care about this, and develop respect for all persons, they can and should – as learning institutions – provide social learning opportunities for conceiving ‘bigger pictures’ and grasping ethical concepts through conversation and experiences.” (Lankshear and Knobel 2018:10)

  1. Learning to become ‘stewards of the universe’:

“We believe that a parallel argument holds with respect to our place in the universe, within the ‘larger order’ of things. Our humanity enables us both to grasp the totality of everything that exists as a complex and interconnected system and to appreciate the complexity and interconnectedness of that system and to respect its integrity. There is no argument to prove that we should do this. Rather, we believe, that perhaps the greatest outcome of an education is to be capable of expressing appreciation of and respect for the integrity of ‘wonderful things’ – as something we do for its own sake, not (merely) because doing so maximizes our chances of survival (which, of course, it does)…” (Lankshear and Knobel 2018:10)

  1. Caring for our personal integrity:

“While it is absolutely possible to attain wellbeing on the basis of intuition, habit, and imitation, a good education can enhance awareness and appreciation of the importance of caring for the integrity of our selves as part of a larger dialectic of caring for others and our communities and our world. For us, this is all about providing learners with the wherewithal to help themselves keep body, mind and spirit nurtured and healthy – and developing a very real commitment to their own and others’ wellbeing…The first thing required of formal education in terms of building the disposition to respect and care for personal integrity is to optimize opportunities to experience genuine success in meaningful forms of learning. This is not about ‘passing’ work that is inadequate. Rather, it involves re-organising learning in ways that reflect the ‘structure’ of social practices of new literacies understood as contexts for social learning, collaborative engagement, and membership in participatory culture…” (Lankshear and Knobel 2018:10-11).

This almost manifest-like ‘philosophy of education’ both elaborates on and replaces the ‘ideal’ frame for understanding the character and role of new literacies that is closing Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel’s article “New literacies: technologies and values” (2012:67).

Anna Sfard’s participation metaphor and her point that “[t]he vocabulary of participation brings the message of togetherness, solidarity and collaboration” (Sfard 1998:8) are more or less embedded in this ‘philosophy of education’ and thus in the definition of ‘the new ethos stuff’/‘a new kind of ethos’ combined with the idea of communities of practice, participatory culture and affinity spaces. Ethos is concerned in how people act and interact within a community or culture and in the norms, the values and the attitudes they are socialized into or ought to be involved with due to their personal integrity. Aristoteles coined three aspects of establishing ethos: 1) showing kindness and good-will towards your audience, 2) having a high standard of morality, and 3) being competent and qualified within your domain (Bergstrøm 2015: 311-312). With the terms ‘the new ethos stuff’/‘a new kind of ethos’, new literacies seem to draw on Aristoteles while foregrounding the aspect of showing kindness and good-will towards other connections and participants, although not neglecting the other two, to stress that new literacies are more participatory, collaborative and distributed than conventional literacy. Being focused on social learning, on relationships, connections and networks requires both a high moral standard and being competent and qualified within one’s domain, discipline and subject matter. And that is still worth favouring according to Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel and their ‘philosophy of education’, although they are now also embracing Web 3.0, ‘smart’-concepts and the Internet of Things when they pitch upon the examples of an online global project hub and of youth making ‘smart’ athletic wear in a workshop and makerspace.

Characterizing what they see as the qualities about humans, about things, about the world and about humanity, Lankshear and Knobel value the good, the true and the beautiful in their ‘philosophy of education’. It almost seems like an aspiration for Bildung. They advocate for understanding oneself, ‘the other’ and the world in ways that correspond to the idea of ‘digital Bildung’ (Drotner 2018:9) – a much debated concept – that inform the definition of digital literacy by Martin and Grudziecki in The End No 3:1. Seeing digital tools and facilities as part of a whole life, they build on Morten Søby when they introduce ‘digital Bildung’ as a founding concept for digital literacy:

“”Digital bildung expresses a more holistic understanding of how children and youths learn and develop their identity. In addition, the concept encompasses and combines the way in which skills, qualifications, and knowledge are used. As such, digital bildung suggests an integrated, holistic approach that enables reflection on the effects that ICT has on different aspects of human development: communicative competence, critical thinking skills, and enculturation processes, among others. (Søby, 2003:8)”

Søby uses the german term Bildung to suggest the integrated development of the individual as a whole person. The processes of Bildung goes on throughout life, affects all aspects of the individual’s thought and activity, and affects understandings, interpretations, beliefs, attitudes and emotions as well as actions. It represents the making of the individual both as a unique individual and as a member of a culture.” (Martin and Grudziecki 2006:255)

Within the framework of digital literacy development

Lankshear and Knobel’s model of ‘new literacy practices’ aligns with and works on all three levels of Martin and Grudziecki’s model of digital literacy development introduced in The End No 3:1. ‘Skills’ and ‘practices’ are equivalent to the ideas of ‘the new technical stuff’/the new technical dimension and ‘the new ethos stuff’/a new kind of ethos, and with their definition of a practice orientation to new literacies Lankshear and Knobel turn more directly toward common grounds with the model for digital development: ‘skills’ and ‘practices’ align with the levels of digital competences and digital usage in Martin and Grudziecki’s model. The level of digital competence gets a more modest discussion in Lankshear and Knobel’s writings, though, as the model of ‘new literacy practices’ especially works at the levels of digital usage and digital transformation.

Digital usage involves “…using digital tools to seek, find and process information and then to develop a product or solution addressing the task or problem” in a specific situation and a specific context (Martin and Grudziecki 2006:258), but within the community of practice of a domain, a discipline or a subject matter. And it is with the important addition, that the result of a specific digital usage “…will itself be the trigger for further action in the life context.” (Martin and Gruziecki 2006:258). Knowing is coming to the front in the shape of knowledge processes. This indicates that a community of practice is not just to be seen as a stable ‘entity’ and culture, building solely on trajectories leading from ‘legitimate peripheral participation’ to ‘full participation’, a view McLoughlin and Lee represent as quoted in The End No 2. Instead a community of practice is to be seen as both stable and dynamic and interacting with the world through networks, as both Lankshear and Knobel and Etienne Wenger-Trayner have emphasized, and thus it is representing a dialogical view on learning. Learning through ‘doing’, ‘making’ and ‘being in action’ is being supplemented by learning through ‘productivity’, including ‘producing knowledge’ and ‘knowledge creation’, so  “[d]igital usage becomes embedded within the understandings and actions which evolve within the community and cause the community itself to evolve: the community of practice is thus also a community of learning.” (Martin and Grudziecki 2006: 257-258). To Lankshear and Knobel that applies to participatory culture and affinity spaces, too.

This is not just a link to the level of digital transformation, “…achieved when the digital usages which have been developed enable innovation and creativity, and stimulate significant change within the professional or knowledge domain.” (Martin and Grudziecki 2006:259), but it also makes a link to the model of ‘new literacy practices’. Here social learning, knowledge production and creative innovation merge together and support the ontological sense of ‘new’  and its focus on change that was the starting point for Lankshear and Knobel.

To be continued…

Further reading:

Bergstrøm, Ditte Maria (2015): Online retorik, Christiansen, H-C. og Rose, G. B. (red.): Online kommunikation, København: Hans Reitzels Forlag, 301-329

Brown, John Seely and Adler, Richard P. (2008): Minds on Fire. Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0, Educause Review, January/February, 17-32

Drotner, Kirsten (2018): Hvad er digital dannelse og hvordan fremmer skolen den?, Unge Pædagoger Årg. 79, nr. 2, 6-14

Gee, James Paul (2017): Affinity Spaces and 21st Century Learning, Educational Technology, 57 No 2, 27-31

Hartley, John (2012): Digital Futures for Cultural and Media Studies, Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons

Hartley, John (2009): The uses of digital literacy, St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press

Kabel, Kristine og Storgaard Brok, Lene (2018): Didaktik og kontekst – vi trænger til en teoretisk afklaring af kontekstbegrebet i literacy-didatikken, Christensen, T. S., Elf, N., Hobel, P., Qvortrup, A. og Troelsen, S. (red.): Didaktik i udvikling, Aarhus: Klim

Knobel, Michele and Kalman, Judith (Eds.)(2016): New Literacies and Teacher Learning. Professional Development and the Digital Turn, New York: Peter Lang

Knobel, Michele and Lankshear, Colin (2014): Studying New Literacies, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 58 (2), 97-101, DOI: 10.1002/jaal.314

Lankshear, Colin and Knobel, Michele (2018): Education and ‘new literacies’ in the middle years, Literacy Learning: the Middle Years, Vol. 26 No 2, 7-16

Lankshear, Colin and Knobel, Michele (2012): ’New’ literacies: technologies and values, Revista Teknokultura, (2012), Vol. 9 Núm 1, 45-69

Lankshear, Colin and Knobel, Michele (2003): New Literacies: Changing Knowledge and Classroom Learning, Buckingham: Open University Press

Martin, Allan and Jan Grudziecki (2006): DigEuLit: Concepts and Tools for Digital Literacy Development, Innovation in Teaching and Learning in Information and Computer Sciences, 5:4,249-267, DOI:10.11120/ital.2006.05040249

McLoughlin, Catherine and Lee, Mark J.W. (2008): The Three P’s of Pedagogy for the Networked Society: Personalization, Participation, and Productivity, International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Volume 20, Number 1, 10-27

Sfard, Anna (1998): On Two Metaphors for Learning and the Dangers of Choosing Just One, Educational Researcher, March 1998, 4-13

Stewart, Bonnie (2013): Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation? , MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and teaching Vol. 9, No.2, June 2013, 228-238

Elna Mortensen

Photo by WeMake Milano on Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA

In an era of knowledge abundance – The End No 3:2

In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 4

536068094_69f72b259f_mRhizomatic learning is a variation of ‘open networked learning’, I stated in part one of this series of blog posts while looking into what a pedagogy of abundance might look like. At first sight this might not seem the most likely conclusion to make, but to me the design for learning laid out in Dave Cormier’s conception of rhizomatic learning is in alignment with the definition of networked learning:

Networked learning is learning in which information and communications (ICT) is used to promote connections: between one learner and other learners, between learners and tutors, between a learning community and its lear-ning resources. (Goodyear et al 2004, p.2) (Ryberg, Buus and Georgsen 2012:45)

In their focus on communities, networks, participation and participatory culture, collaboration and negotiation of meaning the four examples of rhizomatic learning and networking across the educational system, presented in part two and part three of this series, show that the educational and pedagogical values in rhizomatic learning as a pedagogical approach overlap the educational and pedagogical values in networked learning as a theory and a pedagogy:

…networked learning can be seen to be derived from critical and humanistic traditions (e.g. those of Dewey, 1916; Freire, 1970; Mead, 1934) and that learning is social, takes place in communities and networks, is a shared practice, involves negotiation and requires colla-borative dialogue (Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld, 2012). (Hodgson, De Laat, McConnell and Ryberg 2014:2)

So while seeing the world, including learning and teaching, from a socio-cultural standpoint, networked learning “offers the theory and practice for a pedagogy that is appropriate or suited to live in a digitally and networked world where sharing and collaborative ways of working are the norm rather than the exception”, as it is defined by Vivien Hodgson, David McConnell, and Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld (Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:292). Hence, my comment on rhizomatic learning as ‘open networked learning’ seems to be an unnecessary doubling, as openness is to be seen as an inherent and implicit characteristic of networked learning today:

Over the years, interest has widened to include the social aspects of networked learning, with a focus on building and cultivating social networks and seeing technology as a part of the phenomenon rather than as an end in itself. Networked learning focuses therefore on the diversity of social relationships that people develop, the strategies that they use to maintain them and the value that the relationships creates for learning. (De Laat 2012:27)

So let me rephrase my statement: rhizomatic learning is a variation of networked learning, as I see it.

The landscape of networked learning

The landscape of networked learning is formed by shared pedagogical values, although the shared values can lead to a variety of learning designs. Nevertheless, Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld estimate that most networked learning practitioners agree in valuing these aspects of networked learning:

  • Cooperation and collaboration in the learning process.
  • Working in groups and in communities.
  • Discussion and dialogue.
  • Self-determination in the learning process.
  • Difference and its place in a central learning process.
  • Trust and relationships: weak and strong ties.
  • Reflexivity and investment of self in the networked learning processes.
  • The role technology plays in connecting and mediating. (Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:295)

And they suggest that the practice of networked learning should be seen from a holistic perspective, where each aspect of networked learning has to be present and integrated in the practice and has to contribute to the educational values underpinning networked learning (Hodgson, McDonnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:295)

Originating as an approach and a theory interested in understanding the developments in technology to support learning and engrossed in exploring socio-cultural designs of learning, networked learning is linked to the traditions of open education and to radical emancipatory and humanistic educational ideas and approaches such as critical pedagogy and democratic and experiental learning, as referred to in the quote earlier. These educational values of dialogue, independence and interdependence become visible in the six areas of pedagogy that David McConnell has emphasized as areas that need to be addressed when designing for networked learning. And of course, the shared pedagogical values mentioned earlier must be contained in these six areas of pedagogy, too:

1 Openness in the educational process.

Openness leads to meaningful learning and can be facilitated by the development of a learning community, where one works for oneself and for others and where development occurs.

2 Self-determined learning.

Self-determined learners take primarily responsibility for identifying their own learning needs, and help others in determining theirs. In these processes, learners become aware of how they learn, and develop deep approaches to learning.

3 A real purpose in the cooperative process.

Much higher education learning is abstract and often unrelated to real situations, and many students struggle to see the purpose of it. If learners have a real purpose in learning, they engage with the learning process in a qualitatively different way.

4 A supportive learning environment.

A supportive learning environment is one where learners encourage and facilitate each other’s efforts. Being supportive does not, however, mean a lack of intellectual challenge.

5 Collaborative assessment of learning.

Collaborative self-peer-tutor-assessment processes are central to networked learning: they are a corollary of cooperative learning and support the cooperative process.

6 Assessment and evaluation of the ongoing learning process.

Assessing and evaluating the networked learning course is also a cooperative tutor-learner process. Learners must feel that there is a real opportunity to change the design of the course; this can be achieved by the tutor and learners working together in regular group processing. (McConnell 2006)”(McConnell, Hodgson and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:8-9)

Accordingly, in order to sum up, collaborative and cooperative learning, learning through dialogue and group work together with online resources and collaborative knowledge construction is the hearth of the matter in networked learning (McConnell, Hodgson and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:10). With Web 2.0 the participatory aspect of networked learning gives possibilities for focusing on the learner as a node in a network while designing for “the relational interdependencies and connections between learners in their mutual meaning construction.” (Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:300). This way learning and knowledge construction happens in a dynamic, ongoing process of connecting knowledge and negotiating meaning:

However, the ideas of relations and connections suggest that learning is not confined to the individual mind or the individual learner. Rather, learning and knowledge con-struction is located in the connections and interactions between learners, teachers and resources, and seen as emerging from  critical dialogues and enquiries. As such, networked learning theory seems to encompass an understanding of learning as a social, relational pheno-menon, and a view of knowledge and identity as con-structed through interactions and dialogue. (Ryberg, Buus and Georgsen 2012:45)

This is what Maarten de Laat terms ‘learning as a social network relationship’ (De Laat 2012:27). And rather, this intersection of networks and community leaves space for rhizomatic learning to fit in: the focus on independence and interdependence underlines my view, I think. But there needs to be some kind of balance to see rhizomatic learning as a variation of networked learning: a balance between the messy and sometime chaotic self-directed learning processes where individuals form and determine their own routes and learning through connecting to people and resources, and the open and mutual engagement in a learning community based on participatory culture and knowledge construction. And in Dave Cormier’s case the motto “The community becomes the curriculum” is the expression of this. With Cormier the community is a community of practice (Wenger 1998), as introduced in part two of this series of blog posts, but networked learning does not privilege a particular pedagogical model, so the kind of community that can be applied in networked learning might just as well be:

  • A learning community with a focus on learning together, sharing and developing relationships.
  • Communities of inquiry with a focus on inquiring about issues of common interest.
  • Knowledge communities with a focus on developing knowledge.(Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:297)

So needless to say, but still, designing for rhizomatic learning must 1) take the structures, principles and attitudes of networks and a community of practice into account, 2) while implementing the six areas of pedagogy in networked learning and creating learning activities that support them, 3) and seeing to that the shared values of networked learning end up being a part of the basis of the rhizomatic learning processes. It almost seems like an act of bricolage itself that must also activate and embody the rhizomatic vision in order to make rhizomatic learning happen:

In the rhizomatic view knowledge can only be negotiated, and the contextual, collaborative learning experience shared by Constructivist and Connectivist pedagogies is a social as well as a personal knowledge-creation process with mutable goals and constantly negotiated premises. (Cormier 2008)


As a model for the construction of knowledge, rhizomatic processes are based on the interconnectedness of ideas, on the boundless exploration across many domains with many different starting points (Innovating Pedagogy 2012:33) and on serendipity and bricolage. While accepting complexity as a condition, the focus on connectivity and networks is making the rhizomatic learning process multi-nodal, multi-directional and multi-perspective: the rhizome is navigating the complexity as Dave Cormier expresses it in his talk in the video “The rhizomatic lense – seeing learning from the perspective of abundance” (2015). Here Dave Cormier challenges the problem of abundance and points out that:

“…a weird historical process has happened: as we have got a more abundant access to knowledge, we have reduced the complexity of the teaching.” (Cormier 2015)

Rhizomatic learning is working on reinstalling the complex domain in disciplines and subject matters and on being an innovating pedagogy in an era of knowledge abundance. Maarten de Laat has characterized this as “New Learning” in his talk on “Networked Learning in Open Practices” (2015):


In the talk De Laat presents the results of research on teachers’ professional deve-lopment that was introduced in his address “Enabling professional development networks: How connected are you?” (2012). The research has been based on a networked learning perspective, and although it focuses on teachers’ professional development, I think quite a few of the insights from the research are relevant and useful to teaching and learning in schools and higher education as well – and especially relevant to understanding rhizomatic learning as a variation of networked learning. De Laat defines networked learning as a perspecitive:

…that aims to understand social learning processes by asking how people develop and maintain a ‘web’ of social relations used for their learning and development (Good-year, Banks, Hodgson & McConnell, 2004; Haythorn-thwaite &  De Laat, 2011; Sleeples & Jones, 2002). (De Laat 2012:26)

De Laat suggests to combine formal and informal learning, and with an emphasis on participation, construction and becoming as metaphors for learning (De Laat 2012:26) he identifies these aspects as important for learning in an informal-formal environment – much in alignment with rhizomatic learning and with Martin Weller’s educational model of abundance introduced in part one of this series on knowledge abundance:


Maarten de Laat: Networked Learning in Open Practices

Networking and communities are inevitable here, and in an interview with Steve Whee-ler after the talk, Maarten de Laat emphasizes the importance of learning networks to education and learning today:

As De Laat puts it:

“Networks are everything. I don’t think you can do anything on your own anymore, so for me networked learning is about creating a social web around you, if you like, so you have access to people who you can talk to, who you can share issues with, who you can do things together with….In terms of educational future I think it is very important to learn and teach those learning and thinking skills in order to participate in the debate and being able to contribute. So for me networking or communities or any social circulation is a very important part of education.” (Maarten de Laat – Interview with Steve Wheeler EDEN Conference 2015)

Apart from being networked, the skills we need to equip learners with in an age of digital abundance are the skills and the competences that are necessary for learning in the 21st century. De Laat refers to the framework of Partnership for 21st Century Skills which is one of the 15 frameworks analysed when establishing the model of the 21st century learning, I presented in the last blog post. And although social networking and technology are not identical, Web 2.0 and Learning 3.0 has placed social networking online as a part of networked learning. And likewise, De Laat explains in his address:

By social networking we mean the configurations of con-nectivity that exist when people interact with each other by communicating, sharing resources, and working, learning or playing together, supported through face-to-face interaction as well as through the use of information and communication technology (Hay-thornthwaite & De Laat, 2011). Each interaction defines a connection between people, known as a social network tie. These ties vary in strength from weak to strong according to the range and types of activities that people engage in. In other words, networked relationships – ties – connect the dots between otherwise isolated people. (De Laat 2012:23)

Here Maarten de Laat refers to Mark Granovetter’s theory of the strength of weak ties (1973/1983):

“In a favorite article on the strength of weak ties, Granovetter (1973) demonstrated that weak ties are important for gaining access to new knowledge, perspectives and alternative conversations. Strong ties with those who are close to you, on the other hand, are needed to deepen and embed knowledge closely related to day-to-day shared practice, as well as commitment to joint activities.” (De Laat 2012:27)

Communities of practice are often based on strong ties as the process of moving towards full participation usually builds on strong relationships, as I mentioned in part two of this series, but as Maarten de Laat defines it in the interview and Wenger–Trayner has said it: “Rather than contrasting a community here and a network there…it is more useful to think of community and network as two types of structuring processes. Community emphasizes identity and network emphasizes connectivity.” (Wenger 2010:10)

This way networking can be seen as both an important aspect of self-directed learning and of developing communities or communities of practice as places/spaces for practicing self-directed learning: the relationships and resources in a personal learning network (PLN) can be put forward as challenging or confirmatory perspectives in the negotiations of meaning with peers and facilitators/educators in a domain and in the community or the community of practice.

Personal learning networks – on the road to collaboration

In their article “Understanding personal learning networks: Their structure, content and the networking skills needed to optimally use them” (2012) Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep engage in defining networks that support individuals’ learning:

In our understanding, the skills at the centre of network-ing involve an ability to identify and understand other peoples’ work in relation to one’s own, and to assess the value of the connectivity with these others for potential future work. The result of networking is a personal professional network, i.e., an egocentric, personally and intentionally created network of people set up by an individual specifically in the context of her professional activities. This network gathers a heterogeneous circle of people, distributed across different groups and places, and connected to the individual with connections of varying degrees of strengths (Granovetter, 1983; Nardi, et al., 2000). (Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep (2012))

For personal networks, Grabher and Ibert (2008) propo-sed a three-layered approach, consisting of a communa-lity layer (strong ties), a sociality layer (weak ties) and a connectivity layer (very weak ties)…By including weak links in their personal networks, learners can create an envi-ronment for learning (Kester and Sloep, 2009). We be-lieve the intentionality of the professional is the strongest at the sociality layer, as contacts in this layer are the most mobile within someones’s personal network. Depen-ding on the intentions of the professional, these ties have the potential to become stronger connections or develop into even weaker ties. An individual can therefore create and orchestrate ties to effectively support learning needs and potentially use technology to support this network, effectively making it a personal learning network (PLN). (Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep (2012))

And so the focus on social networking seen from an individual’s personal perspective offers bridges to collaboration and participation in communities and communities of practice:

“Both strong and weak connections contribute to the individuals’s learning: strong ties allow for active collaboration on knowledge creation, whereas weak ties are sources for new information, knowledge and ideas (Bell, 2010; Gargiulo and Benassi, 2000; Jones, 2008; Jones, et al., 2008; Ryberg and Larsen, 2008; Wenger, 1998).” (Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep (2012))

A personal learning network requires, as mentioned, all three types of ties: strong, weak, and very weak, and while both Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep and Maarten de Laat focus on the importance of weak and strong ties for learning, I think the very weak ties are equally important to rhizomatic learning as they might lead to serendipity and growing networks in a ‘nomadic’ fashion. And this is a real potential for new learning, too.

According to Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep the following factors influence the choises taken in each of the three stages of building, maintaining and activating personal learning networks:

  • Communality
  • Organisation of the contact
  • Network of a contact
  • Reputation
  • Benevolence
  • Like-mindedness
  • Real potential for collaboration
  • Real potential for learning
  • Trends in work environment.

Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep conclude, that ”…networking for networked learning is not only a skill to be developed, but also an attitude towards learning to be cultivated…networking revolves around a complex ability of (i) recognizing and identifying the other’s qualities; and, of (ii) making (valuable) associations of these qualities with the learner’s own qualities that could take place when interacting with a contact or even in the contact’s absence. Learners have different levels of proficiency in this skill, but can also differ in the actual application of the skill, due to the attitude with which they approach learning.”  (Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep (2012))

Networking is crucial to Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep not only as a key skill for individual learners but also as a starting point for learning to learn and for future collaboration. This is also what Maarten de Laat hints at in the interview with Steve Wheeler quoted earlier. I would add, that this is the basics learners need to know about networks and networking, so that they can understand and practice the skills, the strategies and the attitudes required “to adopt a networking style” for their learning as De Laat calls it (De Laat 2012:29), and so that they are able to participate, collaborate, reflect and construct new knowledge – eventually through serendipity, rhizomatic structures and bricolage.

In his talk De Laat mentions the close relationship between networked learning and open practices, while he presents his model of education as “New Learning”. As mentioned earlier it is a model that resembles Martin Weller’s educational models of scarcity and abundance described in part one of this series. But De Laat’s  model of “New Learning” is also a model that includes perspectives and understandings from the theory of communities of practice and maybe from rhizomatic learning, as I see it. I think learners need to know these educational models and their implications on teaching and learning as part of the basics of networks and networking, too, and Maarten de Laat has summed it all up in these slides:



Maarten de Laat: Networked Learning in Open Practices 

But how to get started?

Being a student entering a domain, a discipline or a subject matter, one of the first nodes in the network could be the educator opening up his/her professional network for students to connect to online. In many ways there is nothing new in educators introducing their students to resources, interesting people, stakeholders and different positions in a field, but the accessibility, the spreadability, the searchability and the ease and speed with which connections can be made is new and made possible by social media and participatory environments. Starting this way, the students get to know experts, members of communities, resources, ideas and links while they are getting a grip of networks and networking in the domain or the discipline, and they can begin exploring and networking across domains and disciplines from a diversity of starting points. As in rhizomatic learning. And as Dave Cormier exemplifies in his article “Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum” (2008). And eventually, the student turns into a learner who discovers that there are different kinds of problems and knowledge in education, and that they call for different types of networks to make collaboration emerge in a productive fashion. This must also be practiced and taught as part of digital literacies and networked literacies in the domain or discipline along with foundational knowledge, meta knowledge and humanistic knowledge due to the model of 21st learning presented in the last blog post.

And so, once again I have met the challenge of Martin Weller and have tried to look into to what extend rhizomatic learning can be regarded as a pedagogy of abundance, as Weller suggested in his article “A pedagogy of abundance” (2011):

“Exploring pedagogies of abundance will be essential for educators to meet the challenge and equip their learners with the skills they need in an age of digital abundance.” (Weller 2011:233)

But what then, when Martin Weller also mentions these two characteristics of the fundamental change in education, he is mapping in his educational model of abundance:

  • A change to a more participatory, socially constructed view of knowledge is needed to suit a demand-pull model of education.
  • New technologies are the basis in realizing this new conception of knowledge as networked and socially constructed. (Weller 2011:228)

Well, then there are still issues to return to and to explore while asking: where do different types of network fit in in a pedagogy of abundance, and – apart from what has already been said  – how does rhizomatic learning realize this new conception of knowledge as networked and socially constructed? And is rhizomatic learning really a version of networked learning, as I have been claiming until now?

This blogpost has been edited on 14. June 2016 in order to make the distinction between ‘community’ and ‘community of practice’ clearer in three passages and in order to make my exploratory approach more visible in another two passages.

Further reading:

Dave Cormier (2015): The rhizomatic lense – seeing learning from the perspective of abundance. IATED talks

Cormier, Dave (2008): Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum, Dave’s Educational Blog

De Laat, Maarten (2012): Enabling professional development networks: How connected are you?, Open Universiteit, The Netherlands

Granovetter, Mark (1983): The strength of weak ties: A network theory revisited, Sociological Theory, volume 1, pp. 201-233

Granovetter, Mark (1973): The strength of weak ties, American Journal of Sociology, pp. 1360-1380

Hodgson, Vivien, De Laat, Maarten, McConnell, David, and Ryberg, Thomas (2014): Researching Design, Experience and Practice of Networked Learning: An Overview. In V. Hodgson et al. (eds.), The Design, Experience and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 1-26, Springer New York

Hodgson, Vivien, McConnell, David, and Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Lone (2012): The Theory, Practice and Pedagogy of Networked Learning. In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (eds.), Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 291-305, Springer New York

McConnell, David, Hodgson, Vivien, and Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Lone (2012): Networked Learning: A Brief History and New Trends. In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (eds.), Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 3-24, Springer New York

Networks are Everything – Maarten de Laat – Interview with Steve Wheeler #EDEN15, EDEN Conference 2015

Rajagopal, Kamakshi, Brinke, Desirée Joosten-ten, Van Bruggen, Jan, and Sloep, Peter B. (2012): Understanding personal learning networks: Their structure, content and networking skills needed to optimally use them, First Monday, Volume 17, Number 1-2 January 2012

Ryberg, Thomas, Buus, Lillian, and Georgsen, Marianne (2012): Differences in Understandings of Networked Learning Theory: Connectivity or Collaboration? In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (eds.), Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 43-58, Springer New York

Sharples, M., McAndrew, P., Weller, M., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Hirst, T., Mor, Y., Gaved, M. and Whitelock, D. (2012): Innovating Pedagogy 2012: Open University Innovation Report 1, The Open University

Weller, Martin (2011): A pedagogy of abundance, revista española de pedagogia año LXIX, no 249, mayo-agosto, 223-236

Wenger, Etienne (2010): Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. In Social learning systems and communities of practice, pp. 179-198, Springer London

Wenger, Etienne (1998): Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge University Press

Photo by Kris A on Flickr – CC-BY-NC-ND  Some rights reserved

Networks are Everything – Maarten de Laat Interview by Steve Wheeler #EDEN15 on YouTube – CC-BY-NC-SA

Elna Mortensen


In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 4

In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 1

2061381703_a57d8d4cb4_qWe live in an era of knowledge abundance – but what does that mean and what are the impli-cations for learning and education? In his article “A pedagogy of abundance”, Martin Weller stresses that “We are witnessing a fundamental change in the production of knowledge and our relationship to content. This is producing an abundance of content which is unprecedented.” (Weller 2011:232). Weller strives for mapping and conceptualizing the effect the abundance of lear-ning content and resources has on how we approach learning and education, while he presents the assumptions that any pedagogy of abundance must take into account. This perspective of abundance extends the presen-tation of the Visitors and Residents framework and  the discussions about credibility and what counts for valid knowledge in an age of digital abundance, I wrote about in my most recent blogposts.

As a background for his examinations of how education may shift as a result of abundance, Martin Weller anticipates and describes a shift in education from ‘a pedagogy of scarcity’ to ‘a pedagogy of abundance’.

A traditional model of education is based on that:

  • Expertise is scarce.
  • Learners come to the place where the experts are located.
  • The lecture is the place for students’ physical interaction with the expert.
  • Content – books and journals – are manufactured according to demand.
  • Access to content is scarce and only accessible through libraries. (Weller 2011:226)

and hence a pedagogy of scarcity has developed promoting:

  • A one to many model to make the best use of the scarce resource – that is the expert.
  • The lecture.
  • An instructivist pedagogy as a direct consequence of the demands for scarcity. (Weller 2011:226)

Now facing a necessity for education to be relevant to the digital society, another model of education emerges  where:

  • Expertise is still rare, but access to content associated with it is now much easier – e.g. resources, critical analysis, dialogue, discussion and reflection are abundant.
  • The traditional model of supply-push needs to be replaced with one of demand-pull due to the growing demand for education and lifelong learning.
  • A shift to active participation will characterize students’ interaction with content and expertise.
  • A change to a more participatory, socially constructed view of knowledge is needed to suit a demand-pull model of education.
  • New technologies are the basis in realizing this new conception of knowledge as networked and socially constructed. (Weller 2011:226-228)

This view on new technologies as the cause of a shift from an era of knowledge scarcity to an era of knowledge abundance is elaborated on by Bonnie Stewart:

“Prior to the digital era, scholarly knowledge was traditionally organized around the premise that knowledge is scarce and its artifacts materially vulnerable. Eye’s (1974) seminal article on knowledge abundance asserts, “[M]aterial can be transformed from one state to another but the original state is diminished…materials are exhaustible “ (p. 445). Manuscripts and books as knowledge artifacts are exhaustible, and costly to produce and distribute. Digital content, however, is persistent, replicable, scalable and searchable (boyd, 2011, p. 46); digital knowledge artifacts can be distributed with negligible cost to the originator or user, and without being consumed or diminished in the process. Thus widespread and increasingly mobile access to digital knowledge artifacts in “an abundant and continually changing world of information” (Jenkins, 2006, Netwotking section para. 1)) marks a shift from an era of knowledge scarcity to an era of knowledge abundance, even though access remains inequitably distributed.“ (Stewart 2015)

The shift to an era of knowledge abundance leaves Weller with one key question:

This scale and range of learning related content at least raises the question of whether we have developed the appropriate teaching and learning approaches to make best use of it. In short, what would a pedagogy of abundance look like? (Weller 2011:227).

Assumptions for a pedagogy of abundance

In order to pin down the assumptions for any pedagogy of abundance, Martin Weller provides a list to reflect on when looking for a pedagogy of abundance:

  • Content is free – not all content is free and not yet.
  • Content is abundant.
  • Content is varied – content is no longer predominantly text based.
  • Sharing is easy – through the use of tools like social bookmarking, tagging and linking the ‘cost’ of sharing has largely disappeared.
  • Social based.
  • Connections are ‘light’ – as with sharing, it is easy to make and preserve connections within a network since they do not necessitate one to one maintenance.
  • Organisation is cheap – Clay Shirky (2008, 31) argues that the ‘cost’ of organising people has collapsed, which makes informal groupings more likely to occur and often more successful.
  • Based on a generative system – Zittrain (2008) argues that unpredictability and freedom are essential characteristics of the internet and the reasons why it has generated so many innovative developments.
  • User generated content – related to the above, the ease of content generation will see not only a greater variety of formats for content, but courses being updated and constructed from learner’s own content. (Weller 2011:228-229).

This list might seem obvious to many, but I think it is important to keep it in mind to be able to figure out what abundance in all its complexity means to teaching and learning. Weller points to that we may not be needing new pedagogies to meet the assumptions on his list, although we can’t just continue designing and practicing teaching and learning the traditional scarcity way in an era of knowledge abundance, and to stress this apparent contradiction he quotes  Grainné Conole (2008):

Arguably, then there has never been a better alignment of current thinking in terms of good pedagogy – i.e. emphasizing the social and situated nature of learning, rather than a focus on knowledge recall with current practices in the use of technologies – i.e. user-generated content, user-added value and aggregated network effects. Despite this, the impact of Web 2.0 on education has been less dramatic than its impact on other spheres of society – use for social purposes, supporting niche communities, collective political action, amateur journalism and social commentary. (Weller 2011:227-228)

Weller concludes while pursuing this line of thinking:

Many of our approaches to teaching and learning were developed in a different age, and this basic shift from moderate scarcity to excessive abundance constitutes a challenge to higher education, and to individual information processing abilities. It may well be that our existing theories are sufficient, they just need recasting and reimagining for a world of abundance. (Weller 2011:232)

iIn his article Martin Weller examines some of the pedagogies that emphasize the benefit of social and situated learning and also meet at least some of the assumptions on his list. Problem based learning, Constructivism, Communities of practice and Connectivism end up being the ones that are positively evaluated as pedagogies suited for recasting and reimagining for a world of knowledge abundance. All  of these pedagogies and learning theories are convertible into supporting participatory culture as well as collaborative and situative learning as key ingredients in any pedagogy of abundance, although connectivism has been criticized for not being a theory of learning but rather a theory about education. These theories can be recasted and reimagined towards building learning on connections, on networks, in communities and in communities of practice in order to align with a more participatory and socially constructed view of knowledge. Anyhow, the quest for a pedagogy of abundance resembles the move from Learning 2.0 to Learning 3.0 as Steve Wheeler has described it:

Learning Modes Grid

Steve Wheeler: Next generation learning

And indeed, the shift from moderate scarcity to excessive abundance is a challenge, not only to Higher Education but to the educational system altogether. Martin Weller comments the challenge this way:

The issue for educators is twofold I would suggest: firstly how can they best take advantage of abundance in their own teaching practice, and secondly how do they best equip learners to make use of it? It is the second challenge that is perhaps the most significant. Exploring pedagogies of abundance will be essential for educators to meet the challenge and equip their learners with the skills they need in an age of digital abundance. (Weller 2011:232-233)

This final challenge leaves all the hard work to the educators, so I think it is only fair to give further attention to the double question put to educators by Weller and recast the two questions within the mode of Learning 3.0 dominated by learner-centered learning, networks and communities, and rhizomatic structures.

Rhizomatic learning

Rhizomatic learning is Dave Cormier’s metaphor for ‘chaotic learning’ (Wheeler 2015:42-43), that is learning that takes you across borders when hyperlinks take you to places, content and things you didn’t expect to learn, or connect you with people you have never heard of before:

Rhizomatic learning invokes the biological metaphor of a rhizome where the stem of a plant sends out roots and shoots, each of which can grow into a new plant. Rhizomes resist organizational structure and have no distinct beginning or end; they grow and propagate in a ‘nomadic’ fashion, the only restrictions to growth being those that exist in the surrounding habitat. Seen as a model for the construction of knowledge, rhizomatic processes hint at the interconnectedness of ideas as well as boundless exploration across many fronts from many different starting points. (Innovative Pedagogy 2012:33)

Cormier describes these rhizomatic processes as a way of going beyond the canon of what has traditionally been considered knowledge and the way knowledge traditionally has been validated and verified in an era of scarcity:

“In the rhizomatic view, knowledge can only be negotiated, and the contextual, collaborative learning experience shared by constructivist and connectivist pedagogies is a social as well as a personal knowledge-creation process with mutable goals and constantly negotiated premises. The rhizome metaphor, which represents a critical leap in coping with the loss of a canon against which to compare, judge, and value knowledge, may be particularly apt as a model for disciplines on the bleeding edge where the canon is fluid and knowledge is a moving target.” (Cormier 2008)

And so, rhizomatic learning is Cormier’s theory of learning in a time of abundance. In the video “Rhizomes and Open Learning”, Dave Cormier introduces rhizomatic learning and how he sees it in relation to education:

With the rhizome as his metaphor for learning in an era of abundance, inspired by Deleuze and Guattari, Dave Cormier draws on pedagogies and approaches to learning like connectivism,  paragogy based on peer-to-peer learning and knowledge exchange, and distributed cognition including communities.

Self-directed learning is a keyword in this landscape of pedagogies meant to accommodate and deal with knowledge abundance. How to find, handle, interpret, validate, negotiate, create, improve, apply and share information and knowledge through connecting, communicating  and collaborating with online resources, experts, peers, networks, communities and communities of practice is essential in the processes of knowledge creation. They are also an inherent part of current practices in the use of technologies and emphasize the social and situated nature of learning in a culture of knowledge abundance.

In connectivism learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources (Weller 2011:231), and Dave Cormier takes the idea of connectivism a step further when he introduces rhizomatic learning as a learning theory underlining a non-linear, experimenting, multiperspectivist and participatory approach to learning. In rhizomatic learning serendipity, that is accidental discovery, is an important dimension of networking, and bricolage becomes an aspect of knowledge creation within the context of a community that helps finding, interpreting, validating, negotiating and sharing informations and knowledge while co-creating new, accurate and up-to-date knowledge. As Dave Cormier says it in the video:  “to know what it is to know inside this space” is what you need  to learn, whether it is a subject matter, a problem based task, a case or a theme that is your common purpose and the reason why you got together in the community. This way ‘the community becomes the curriculum’:

In the rhizomatic model of learning, curriculum is not driven by predefined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process. This community acts as the curriculum, spontaneously shaping, constructing, and reconstructing itself and the n subject of its learning in the same way that the rhizome responds to changing environmental conditions… (Cormier 2008)

And so, rhizomatic learning is a variation of open networked learning and a model for the construction of knowledge suited for an era of ever changing knowledge.

I think rhizomatic learning is one way to go, when it comes to finding a pedagogy of abundance that corresponds with the affordances of Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 while predicting and shaping Learning 3.0. But I don’t think rhizomatic learning is an as seamless process to engage in for many people as it might seem. In Bonnie Stewart’s opinion it requires networked or digital literacies to navigate in an open networked  learning environment, and she has nicely put this into words in “Learning in the Open: Networked Student Identities”, a blogpost written some years ago:

“But I believe learning – whether in online social networks or straight from the canon, bound in leather – involves being able to read and make sense of the codes and signals being given off by those you interact with, particularly those you expect to learn from. These are what I refer to when I talk about “legitimacy structures” within academia and networks…” (Stewart 2013a)


Bonnie Stewart: Learning in the Open: Networked Student Identities

These two sets of legitimacy structures and practices are reflected in Cormier’s traditional and rhizomatic models for knowledge validation – and they are both essential to understanding the pedagogies and the two models of education, the traditional scarcity model and the model of abundance and open practices, that are up for discussion in this blogpost.

As Bonnie Stewart says, her legitimacy structures and practices are in a sense literacies, and to me the challenging part for education is to make students  and learners embrace these digital and networked literacies that belong to networked learning while learning how to engage online in a Residents mode as mapped by Alison Le Cornu and David White and presented in my most recent blogposts . Bonnie Stewart talks about these digital and networked literacies as new literacies of participation in relation to learning in MOOCs in her article “Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation?”. As I see it, this also applies to rhizomatic learning:

“The studies in new literacies (Barton, 1994) established the use of the plural “literacies” rather than the singular “literacy” in order to push beyond the binary of “literate” and “illiterate” that still shapes our cultural threshold-based conceptions surrounding literacy (Belshaw, 2012). Lankshear and Knobel (2007) frame new literacies as follows:

The more a literacy practice privileges participation over publishing, distributed expertise over centralized expertise, collective intelligence over individual possessive intelligence, collaboration over individuated authorship, dispersion over scarcity, sharing over ownership, experimentation over “normalization,” innovation and evolution over stability and fixity, creative-innovative rule breaking over generic purity and policing, relationship over information broadcast, and so on, the more we should regard it as a “new” literacy. (p. 21)

… Belshaw (2012) notes that skills are subject to objective thresholds, whereas “literacy is a condition, not a threshold … you cannot become literate merely through skill acquisition – there are meta-level processes also required”…

To be digitally literate is to be able to engage the connections and communications possibilities of digital technologies, in their capacity to generate, remix, repurpose, and share new knowledge as well as simply deliver existing information. Many people have no experience or conception of these types of possibilities: simply being online does not necessarily build social and communicative familiarity with what Lankshear and Knobel (2007) refer to as the “distinctive ethos” of participatory culture (Jenkins, 2006). But interacting within an environment that exposes and encourages meta-level processing as well as knowledge generation, remixing, repurposing, and sharing can help create that condition of literacy.” (Stewart 2013b)

These digital and networked literacies correspond with Le Cornu and Whites definition of the Resident mode and with my own views on digital and learning literacies, and they can be results of rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy of abundance, too, but they are also learning literacies and dimensions of social and situated learning that needs to be deliberately and consciously developed to keep rhizomatic learning a relevant  pedagogy of abundance. I think this focus on digital and networked literacies could be an answer to Martin Wellers second question to educators: how do you best equip learners to make use of abundance?

Rhizomatic learning is a suggestion for a pedagogy of abundance that has been born of open networked learning and Higher Education, but this leaves an extra question for educators, as I see it: Is it possible to introduce rhizomatic learning and the principles behind it as a pedagogical perspective on knowledge abundance across the entire educational system from primary school to Higher Education?

This blogpost has been edited on 5. June 2016 in order to make the distinction between ‘community’ and ‘community of practice’ clearer in three passages.

Further reading:

Conole, Grainné (2008): New Schemas for Mapping Pedagogies and Technologies, Ariadne, 56

Cormier, Dave (2008): Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum

Sharples, M., McAndrew, P., Weller, M., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Hirst, T., Mor, Y., Gaved, M. and Whitelock, D. (2012): Innovating Pedagogy 2012: Open University Innovation Report 1, The Open University

Stewart, Bonnie E (2015): In Abundance: Networked Participatory Practices as Scholarship, The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, Vol 16, No 3

Stewart, Bonnie (2013a): Learning in the Open: Networked Student Identities

Stewart, Bonnie (2013b): Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation?, MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, Vol. 9, No.2

Weller, Martin (2011): A pedagogy of abundance, revista española de pedagogia año LXIX, no 249, mayo-agosto, 223-236

Wheeler, Steve (2015): Learning with ‘e’s. Educational theory and practice in the digital age, Carmarthen

Photo:  AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by . .Jef Safi.  on Flickr

Elna Mortensen

In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 1

True openness and open scholarship

Martin Weller’s book The Battle for Open: How openness won and why it doesn’t feel like victory (2014) was under scrutiny in my last blogpost. In his book Weller discusses two reasons why openness matters in education today:

  • opportunities: as development in technology and media has led to a shift from a pedagogy of scarcity to a pedagogy of openness, from scarcity of knowledge to plenty of knowledge and open pedagogies
  • function: as digital challenges have put the function and role of education and especially of higher education and its relationship to society into question (Weller 2014:9-15).

Weller addresses the impact these two reasons have on higher education today and focuses especially on the institutional level of openness in higher education, but he also turns to the individual level of openness looking at how individual educators and academics are adapting their own scholarly practices by adopting open and digital approaches. And when focusing on open scholarship, Weller sets off with a quote:

Veletsianos and Kimmons (2012) propose that open scholarship takes three forms:

(1) open access and open publishing, (2) open education, including open educational resources and open teaching, and (3) networked participation, concluding that open scholarship is a set of phenomena and practices surrounding scholars’ uses of digital and networked technologies underpinned by certain grounding assumptions regarding openness and democratization of knowledge creation and dissemination. (Weller 2014:136)

Weller narrows this definition down to three issues relating to open scholarship to delve into in his book:

  • networked participation: individual activity across various media and networks
  • online identity and how it relates to traditional academic practice
  • new possibilities in research practice like “Guerilla research.

Is there anything like true openness?

Martin Weller is but one discussing open scholarship these days. And in a blogpost Suzan Koseoglu takes a critical stance at the idea of true openness and opposes to the thought that openness is  only to be understood as the combination of ‘digital’, ‘networked’ and ‘open’.  Koseoglu addresses Steve Wheeler along with Veletsianos and Kimmons and comments that openness is inherent to education: openness and sharing are to be seen as general characteristics of education as such.


George Veletsianos: Open Scholarship: Social Media, Participation, and Online Networks

For me, open scholarship is a state of mind – it is a choise each educator needs to make as to how open they wish to be, along an entire spectrum of scholarly activities. Some educators are closed in the sharing of their content but are open to collaboration with other educators. But true openness is where content is shared freely, all work attributed fairly, and where educators also open themselves up for dialogue, collaboration and constructive criticism. (Steve Wheeler: Open scholarship.)

The quote also appears in Steve Wheeler: “Learning with ‘e’s”  (Wheeler 2015:147).

So the idea of ‘networked participation’ – which Veletsianos and Kimmons, Weller and Wheeler all agree on as a way to promote openness in all aspects of education and thus promoting open scholarship – is being questioned, but maybe not as much as a possibility to engage in dialogue, collaboration and constructive criticism as an idea connected with normative expectations of what it is to be an open educator and scholar today:  “Openness should be a worldview for an educator more than a technological possibility”, says Koseoglu. To her open scholarship doesn’t necessarily require access to technology and basic digital literacies as a prerequisite for practice. To Veletsianos and Kimmons, Weller and Wheeler they are inevitable.

Further reading:

Weller, Martin (2014): The Battle for Open: How openness won and why it doesn’t feel like victory. London: Ubiquity Press

Wheeler, Steve (2015): Learning with ‘e’s. Educational theory and practice in the digital age. Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing Limited

Elna Mortensen

True openness and open scholarship

New modes of learning and teaching – a starter kit with a European perspective

The development in higher education is provoked by technology changes, a networked world, participation culture, changing employer expectations and globalization of the sector, which has been resulting in growing diversity in learner profiles and pathways through higher education. Several of these challenges are challenges across the educational system in a globalized world, and the conception of the need for flexibility and open learning in education now and in the future is as compelling for schools as for secondary education and higher education. But how do you as a policy-maker, an institution, faculty or an educator get a grasp of what would seem as self-evident changes, challenges, contexts and practices when it comes to new modes of learning and teaching?  In this blogpost I will try to give an introduction to a variety of aspects of and views on the need for more flexibility and open learning across the educational system – at first focusing on higher education and next on schools and secondary education – so that you can get a fundamental understanding of what is going on and start making up your own mind.

The need for new modes of learning and teaching in higher education

The term ‘flexible learning’ is “about enabling choises and responsiveness in the pace, place and mode of learning” (Ryan and Tilbury 2013:8). I have touched on flexible learning , flexible pedagogies and the need for a shift to increased flexibility in the modes of learning and teaching in higher education in a previous blogpost, and here flexibility and agility was viewed

…through pedagogical lenses as the ability of people to think, act, live and work differently in complex, uncertain and changeable scenarios. (Ryan and Tilbury 2013:4)

In “Report to the European Commission on New modes of learning and teaching in higher education” flexible learning and flexible pedagogies are aspects of the visions for the development of higher education in Europe. In the report, the European Commission’s High Level Group on the Modernisation in Higher Education states that

…fully-fledged institutional or national strategies for adopting new modes of learning and teaching are few and far between. (Report to the European Commission on New modes of learning and teaching in higher education 2014:4)

The High Level Group  behind the report claims that there is a culture of conservatism within European higher education which needs to change, and apart from engaging policy-makers and institutions in developing comprehensive strategies, there are also rapid needs for organizational and infrastructure change:

Our message is clear. While accepting that higher education institutions and, more particularly, teaching staff are the main actors in delivering these pedagogical changes, it is the responsibility of public authorities to create the environment and the incentives for action.  (Report to the European Commission on New modes of learning and teaching in higher education 2014:11)

While pedagogy and curriculum design are matters for institutions, governments are responsible for defining the policy, legal and funding contexts which impact on the motivation and ability of institutions to integrate new modes across higher education provision. This is why we have sought, where possible, to direct our recommendations to policy-makers, and to urge strategic action to tackle the key challenges we identify: instigating an open culture for change; developing political and institutional leadership; supporting digital skills for teachers and learners; and adapting funding frameworks for targeted investment into new technologies and pedagogies, and quality assurance regimes that apply to onsite and online education. (Report to the European Commission on New modes of learning and teaching in higher education 2014:6-7)

The High Level Group stresses that tackling these key challenges will involve significant changes in how higher education institutions is organized and operate, as well as a change in culture and mindset, and they present three categories within developments in new modes of learning and teaching:

Differentiation of models of the use of new modes of learning and teaching:

a) Conventional higher education providers offering programmes and courses on campus that make use of online technologies and pedagogies within courses and programmes – better known as blended learning. This also applies to conventional distance education providers.

b) Conventional higher educational providers offering full programmes or short courses online. These courses and programmes can be limited to enrolled students or open to non-enrolled students with or without credits. This model has particular potential for lifelong learning and transitional education.

c) Non-university providers offering courses free of charge or fee charging, with or without credits. (Report to the European Commission on New modes of learning and teaching in higher education 2014:15)

A change to more flexibility and open learning in higher education is due to meeting the key challenges mentioned above with the following aims:

  • Quality enhancement as a result of shared, high-quality learning materials and more creative and individualized pedagogical approaches.
  • Creating a more diverse higher education system by widening access and facilitating lifelong learning.
  • Increased global visibility by reaching new target groups in an international context.
  • Greater global and local collaboration and cooperation.
  • More personalized learning informed by better data.

The High Level Group’s recommendations for starting up developing strategies for modernizing higher education can be read in full in “Report to the European Commission on New modes of learning and teaching in higher education”.

The recommendations address challenges on a national and an institutional level, and to enhance the understanding of flexible learning and flexible pedagogies as dimensions of developing higher education they can be supplemented by the recommendations in the report “Flexible Pedagogies: new pedagogical ideas” (Ryan and Tilbury 2013) in the process of framing visions, aims and concrete solutions on how to modernize higher education.  As such they might have implications for relevance, policy, leadership and practices in future education.

The models of the use of new modes of learning and teaching, the challenges and the aims for higher education in Europe mentioned above can partly be mirrored in another recent report, the “NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition”. This report identifies key trends, challenges and technological developments that are described to have potential impact on global higher education:


The NMC Horizon Report operates with three movement-related categories:

 …long-term trends that typically have already been impacting decision-making, and will continue to be important for more than five years; mid-term trends that will likely continue to be a factor in decision-making for the next three to five years; and short-term trends that are driving edtech adoption now, but will likely remain important for only one to two years, becoming commonplace or fading away in that time. (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada and Freeman 2015:6)

The report and the method behind it has been criticized for “fad-hopping” and for “not [being] based on a deep knowledge of significant technology development”. I think, though, that it is still worthwhile to debate the views of the report in your actual context, while building a social and cultural understanding of the need for new modes of learning and teaching in higher education.

Three ideas of education and learning today

One thing is that a starter kit might be useful for policy-makers and institutions in the form of recommendations, but how do faculty and individual educators meet these new models of education and new modes of learning and teaching, if they have not really ever heard much about them and definitely never have thought that it was any concern of theirs? To me, the first step is to get acquainted with some of the ideas, the concepts, the vocabulary and the pedagogies that have gained influence in an era of increased flexibility and open learning in education, in order to examine them, to build contexts for them via social and cultural understanding, to discuss them, and to take a stance towards the relevance and the implications of them on curriculum design and learning design. And in parallel with that you need to get a grip of digital literacies, if you haven’t got it yet. That is my idea of a starter kit for faculty and educators in discussing and evolving educational development, and here are a few suggestions on how to get down to it.

In the area of pedagogy, didactics and curriculum design, the 21st century has brought a change of focus from education towards learning, from consumption of information to participatory learning and from institutions towards networks. On these grounds, I think it is relevant to get acquainted with three ideas of education and learning today that direct and influence discussions on new modes of learning and teaching:

  • the idea of open education
  • the idea of personal learning in a networked world
  • the idea of learning as participation in communities of practice while you are getting the grip of how to modulate your participation in a landscape of communities.

The three ideas are introduced in the three videos below and they all relate to the three concepts mentioned above: learning, participatory culture and networks, although they also differ in their conception of pedagogies and their understanding of what constitutes them:

David Wiley: “Open Education 101” (2014)

Stephen Downes: “New learning, new society” (2015)

Etienne Wenger: “Learning in and across landscapes of practice” (2013)

Wiley, Downes and Wenger all contextualize their ideas in the shift in learning modes from Learning 1.0 to Learning 2.0 and Learning 3.0 – a development I have touched on in a previous blogpost, “The Art and Meaning of Collaborative and Peer Learning”:

Learning Modes Grid

The model is to be found on Steve Wheelers blog “Learning with ‘e’s”.

Besides changes in pedagogies, this shift means changes in definitions of learning spaces, in the roles of educators and students, and in tasks, materials, medias and modes of collaboration and cooperation engaged in studies and learning.  And while in dialogue with the three ideas of education and learning today and in the future, you may also want to consider how to improve your own and your students’ digital literacies. I have introduced digital literacies in an earlier blogpost, but go on examining The Open University’s “Digital and Information Literacy Framework”.  Look at the way they implement digital literacies in their curriculum, check their learning materials, watch their examples from modules. And start practicing.

The state of technology in Scandinavian schools and the new purpose of schooling

While new modes of learning and teaching in higher education are inspired, influenced and inflicted by the movement of opening up education to a degree where the idea of openness has become mainstream and social learning is part of the vocabulary, the situation in schools is more complex. While one trend is calling for creativity and innovation along the lines of the wished for development in higher education, another very strong tendency still seems to move toward a narrowing down the purpose of schooling to testing and standardization. This tendency can be observed in the report “2015 NMC Technology Outlook for Scandinavian Schools” (covering schools and secondary education) where trends, challenges and technologies are examined and chosen for their potential impact on and use in teaching, learning and creative inquiry:


In a webinar by Swedish “Skolverket” the report is presented and commented in Swedish. Watch it here. Skip it, if Swedish isn’t one of your languages, and go on reading below.

The New Media Consortium operates with three movement-related categories just as in the previously mentioned “NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition”. Especially two interrelated challenges are important at the moment, I think, and they are even marked as solvable challenges in the report: Integrating Technology in Teacher Education and Navigating Digital Competence:

Integrating Technology in Teacher Education.…As teachers begin to realize that they are limiting their students by not helping them to develop and use digital competence skills across the curriculum, the lack of formal training is being offset through professional development or informal learning, but we are far from seeing digital competence as a norm. Furthermore, although Danish teachers are performing exceptionally well with IT in student activities, the technologies are still widely used for outdated modes of traditionally type of teaching. (2015 NMC Technology Outlook for Scandinavian Schools 2015:7)

Navigating Digital Competence. The challenge is that learning digital competence is different from applying digital tools in specific subjects, such as language and science. However, in many discussions, these topics are often confused.…The confusion between the two ideas often hinders the creation of cohesive policy and teacher education curriculum. (2015 NMC Technology Outlook for Scandinavian Schools 2015:7)

The comments to both challenges point to, that there doesn’t seem to be an awareness of the differences between skills and tools, which has been a lot in focus in developing IT-activities in at least Denmark, and developing digital literacies and digital citizenship. It seems that the report actually implicitly connects learning digital competences with what I call developing digital literacies and digital citizenship. So I will suggest that you consider and discuss what it might be to develop and use digital competence skills across the curriculum in schools and teacher education. See how the report “Digital literacy across the curriculum” defines digital literacy, look at my discussion of the definition in an earlier blogpost, and get ideas from the report’s examples of working with digital literacies and digital citizenship including networking, creativity, critical thinking and social and cultural understanding. This would be a starting point for me, be it schools or teacher education.

And check out the “DigiLit Leicester” project and their list of resources to get inspired.

So in parallel with getting a grip of digital literacies, if you haven’t got it yet, it seems just as important for to me, that – like educators and policy-makers in higher education – teachers, schools and policy-makers start building contexts for the ideas, the concepts, the vocabulary and the pedagogies that characterize the new modes of learning and teaching. And here I think teachers and schools can gain from the theories, the research, the experiences and the discussions in higher education around the globe to create a social and cultural understanding of the need and creed to change. Discuss with the views of people like Wiley, Downes and Wenger.

That is my idea of a starter kit for teachers and educators in discussing and evolving educational development.

The “DigiLit Leicester” project was brought to my attention by the OER Research Hub on their blog

This blogpost has been edited on 13. November 2015 to replace David Wiley’s well-known TEDTalk “Open Education and the Future” (2010) with a webcast presenting David Wiley’s up-to-date version on what open means in education: “Open Education 101”. – On 4. December 2015 this blogpost has been edited again to remove a dead link to Pasi Sahlberg’s presen-tation on the Open Education Europa 2014 Conference on “Education in the Digital Era”. 

Further reading:

Hague, Cassie and Sarah Payton (2010): Digital literacy across the curriculum, Futurlab

High Level Group (2014): Report to the European Commission on New modes of learning and teaching in higher education, European Commission

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. (2015): NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition, The New Media Consortium

Johnson L., Adams Becker, S., and Hall, C. (2015): 2015 NMC Technology Outlook for Scandinavian Schools: A Horizon Project Regional Report, The New Media Consortium

Ryan, A., & Tilbury, D. (2013): Flexible Pedagogies: new pedagogical ideas, The Higher Education Academy

Wenger, E. (2010): Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. In Social learning systems and communities of practice (pp. 179-198), Springer London

Wheeler, Steve (2012): Next generation learning

Elna Mortensen

New modes of learning and teaching – a starter kit with a European perspective

Flexible learning and flexible pedagogies

We live in a mediatized world, I stated in a previous blogpost. And mediatization is to be understood as an overarching and ongoing process of modernisation like individualisation, globalization and urbanisation. Often these processes intertwine and are labeled processes of ‘networking’ and ‘connectedness’, and from these processes challenges and possibilities arise that can be answered by flexibility in learning and education. Flexible learning and flexible pedagogies are key terms in this discussion.

The Higher Education Academy addresses flexible learning and flexible pedagogies in their report “Flexible Pedagogies: new pedagogical ideas” (Ryan and Tilbury 2013), where “…’new pedagogical ideas’ are explored with a focus on building the capability of learners to anticipate and engage with the future and to navigate through complexity, uncertainty and change.” (Ryan and Tilbury 2013:4). The development in higher education is triggered by technology changes, rising participation, changing employer expectations and globalization of the sector, which has been resulting in growing diversity in learner profiles and pathways through higher education.  Several of these challenges are challenges across the educational system in a globalized world, and the conception of the need for flexibility in education in the future is as compelling for schools as for high schools and higher education.

In the report, flexible learning is defined to be about pace, place and mode of learning, and the term ‘flexible learning’ is introduced to be “about enabling choises and responsiveness in the pace, place and mode of learning.” (Ryan and Tilbury 2013:8)

The opening up of the learning process, extending access and improving inclusivity are core issues to flexible learning, and they implicate changes in pedagogy. So here flexibility of learning and pedagogical needs are connecting with each other:

”What kind of curriculum wil prepare gradudates for an uncertain global future – a future in which their capacity for commitment, agility and boldness will be tested to its limits?” (Ramsden 2008:7)(Ryan and Tilbury 2013:9)

And so the report calls for education to:

“…equip people to operate more flexibly in the societies of the 21st century. This includes the flexibility to work across systems; to think critically and creatively; to engage at multiple levels; to develop inter-cultural competence; to propose alternatives; to adapt to changing circumstances and propose alternatives; to develop skills that will support transition to a ’green’ economy; and to demonstrate ‘moral compass’…” (Ryan and Tilbury 2013:9).

And it puts a demand on the educational system to reflect:

“Exploring the democratic and emancipatory potential of flexibility in HE [Higher Education] requires approaches that both preserve and rethink what is meant by educational value amidst the extensions of choise that often drives the flexible agenda.”(Ryan and Tilbury 2013:9).

And thus, the report “…views flexibility through pedagogical lenses and the ability of people to think, act, live and work differently in complex, uncertain and changeable scenarios.” (Ryan and Tilbury 2013:4).

The following ‘new pedagogical ideas’ were identified “…for the future of an increasingly ‘flexible’ HE [Higher Education] which offer new pathways for graduate attributes and capabilities:

  • learner empowerment – actively involving students in learning development and processes of ‘co-creation’ that challenge learning relationships and the power frames that underpin them, as part of the revitalisation of the academic project itself;
  • future-facing education – refocusing learning towards engagement and change processes that help people to consider prospects and hopes for the future across the globe and to anticipate, rethink and work towards alternative and preferred future scenarios;
  • decolonizing education – deconstructing dominant pedagogical frames that promise only Western worldviews, to create experiences that extend inter-cultural understanding in the HE [Higher Education] system and the ability to think and work using globally-sensitive frames and methods;
  • transformative capabilities – creating an educational focus beyond an emphasis solely on knowledge and understanding, towards agency and competence, using pedagogies guided by engaged, ‘whole-person’ and transformative approaches to learning;
  • crossing boundaries – taking an integrative and systemic approach to pedagogy in HE [Higher Education] , to generate inter-disciplinary, inter-professional and cross-sectorial learning, to maximize collaboration and shared perspective, while tackling bias and differences of perspective;
  • social learning – developing cultures and environments for learning that harness the emancipatory power of spaces and interactions outside the formal curriculum, particularly through the use of new technologies and co-curricular activities.” (Ryan and Tilbury 2013:5)

flexible pedagogies

In the diagram, the idea of learner empowerment is placed at the center to exchange with the other five pedagogical ideas to point out the variable relationships between them and to show that they are implicated in dynamic discussions on flexible learning and flexible pedagogies. Aspects of these six pedagogical ideas are incorporated in the digital literacies, I presented in an earlier blogpost, and these digital literacies are also to be seen as feasible inter-related components that will influence the ideas of flexible pedagogies.

What makes up good online learning?

The opening up of higher education has given new educational structures with online courses, MOOCs, blended learning and Open Educational Resources.  This will place an emphasis on course quality. Among the parameters of course quality in an open educational world are completion rates, and according to Alastair Creelman and Lena Reneland-Forsman the key factor to good completion rates in online courses lies in design: “Courses with the highest completion rates had three things in common; active discussion forums, competing media and collaborative activities”: (Creelman and Reneland-Forsman (2013).

“An alarming issue arising from our study was the significant lack of represented structure and orientation guiding students through a course. There are different ways of addressing the question of making visible a course structure and epistemology. This could be done using visual clues in the interface, such as a study guide or using a question approach as examples. The function however is crucial (cf. Mårald & Westerberg, 2006; Moore, 1993)….The same problems probably occur in traditional distribution forms but are often resolved in physical encounters and activities which provide orientation for students. Programs with higher completion rates than traditional distribution forms all had a long tradition of providing students with structured guidance in good time and a vocational orientation (based on the overall completion rate analysis, see also SCB 2012).” (Creelman and Reneland-Forsman 2013)

“Courses and programs had a strong linear text-orientation. Few other representational modes were used for students’ active content processing. Courses therefore lacked variations in terms of resources that could be used for jointly constructed meaning (cf. Pelletier, 2005). With few exceptions PDF files were piled in virtual learning environments. When film was used these were filmed lectures that can be viewed over again. Summing up, analysis confirms known pitfalls (Jones & Isroff, 2007; Krejins et al., 2003, Pelletier, 2005). The use of technology reinforces a traditional content distribution model of teaching rather than supporting the students’ learning process. A recent Norwegian report on the use of IT in higher education indicates that technology is mostly used to support a traditional content delivery mode rather than developing collaboration and student-driven learning (Norgesuniversitet, 2011; see also Pelletier, 2005)” (Creelman and Reneland-Forsman 2013).

In their analysis of online courses with the lowest completion rates, Creelman and Renland-Forsman find, that these joint features characterize the online courses, as they:

  • have no synchronous meetings;
  • are text-oriented;
  • have no guideline;
  • are static environments;
  • have invisible individual processes;
  • offer no peer feedback.

So it becomes obvious that the connectivity, interactivity, dialogue, feedback and facilitation that seems to be crucial to a successful online course also needs to be taken into account when designing courses. The lacks mentioned in the list above need to be replaced by the reverse characteristics to make a design suitable for flexible learning and for flexible pedagogies, so that an open online course:

  • has integrated synchronous meetings;
  • is not just text-oriented but also includes videos and digital presentations and tools;
  • has a guideline for students to find their way through the course, to know how to start the course and to be helped by rubrics or a Problem Based Learning model as guidelines for each topic;
  • has dynamic learning environments  and creates communities of practice where dialogue, collaborative work, co-creation and sharing can take place;
  • makes students’ individual learning processes visible on blogs and in digital productions;
  • encourages peer feedback.

So the opening up of higher education also implies for a need of change in pedagogical approaches, as I mentioned earlier: an insight and respect for the consequences of online pedagogical practice and its grounds according to Creelman and Reneland-Forsman, as well as thorough reflections on the consequences of flexible pedagogies on subjects and educational structures. Creelman and Reneland-Forsman’s answer is this:

“Let’s call in the HEROEs (Highly Empowered Resourceful Online Educators) which means once and for all abandoning a consumerist approach to education applying a meaning-oriented approach. Acknowledging the design effects of learning environments means using a variety of means to trigger students’ cognitive resources. The focus on students’ active social and knowledge building processes regardless of distribution form also highlight the use of digital media in higher education as opportunities to provide experiences and orientation in a course or program. HEROES would analyze the conditions for knowledge building processes regardless of pedagogical practice. HEROEs would invite students to drag material into a learning environment, thus opening up the oyster – making students co-creators. As Wiley (2007) concurs, for the educator much of the learning, both about the subject and how to teach it, comes from the process of creating the object. Co-creation of knowledge using course wikis or by students collaborating around the creation of user-generated content are examples of such processes. Thus we move from the linear, content-based course to a fundamentally different model; the creation of a learning arena where assessment is based on successful completion of projects and where networking and dialogue are essential success factors. In such a connectivist environment the traditional learning hierarchy is evened out,  and students take more responsibility for their learning.” (Creelman and Reneland-Forsman 2013).

So it seems, we must consciously start designing teaching and learning for both the physical and the virtual learning spaces, and here educators and the institutions of higher education have to reconsider the meaning of educational values from an individual, a didactic and pedagogical as well as an organizational perspective, as Ryan and Tilbury advocate for in “Flexible Pedagogies: new pedagogical ideas” (Ryan and Tilbury 2013:9). And I would add: from a subject didactic perspective, too.

Asynchronous and synchronous e-learning

I will now address especially two aspects that are relevant for creating dynamic online learning environments and help creating communities of practice where dialogue, collaborative work, co-creation and sharing can take place. The first aspect has to do with integrating synchronous meetings in online learning, and concerns the two basic types of online learning: asynchronous and synchronous e-learning. Stefan Hrastinski defines the two types of e-learning in an article presenting his research, while asking why, when and how to use the two modes of delivery:

Asynchronous e-learning, commonly facilitated by media such as e-mail and discussion boards, supports work relations among learners and with teachers, even when participants cannot be online at the same time. It is thus a key component of flexible e-learning…Asynchronous e-learning makes it possible for learners to log on to an e-learning environment any time and download documents or send messages to teachers or peers….

Synchronous e-learning, commonly supported by media such as videoconferencing and chat, has the potential to support e-learners in the development of learning communities. Learners and teachers experience synchronous e-learning as more social and avoid frustration by asking and answering questions in real time. Synchronous e-learning sessions help e-learners feel like participants rather than isolates…” (Hrastinski 2008:51-52)

And Hrastinski concludes:

“The research discussed here demonstrates that asynchronous and synchronous e-learning complement each other. An implication for instructors is to provide several types of asynchronous and synchronous communication so that appropriate means are available for different learning activities. The combination of these two types of e-learning supports several ways for learners and teachers to exchange information, collaborate on work, and get to know each other. As stated earlier, many learners enroll in online courses because of their asynchronous nature, which needs to be taken into account. For the discussion of complex issues, synchronous e-learning, by media such as videoconferencing, instant messaging and chat, and arranging face-to-face meetings as a complement, may be essential as support for students to get to know each other and for planning the tasks at hand. However, when discussing complex issues, in which time for reflection is needed, it seems preferable to switch to asynchronous e-learning and use media such as e-mail, discussion boards, and blogs. Table 3 summarizes when, why and how to use asynchronous versus synchronous e-learning” (Hranstinski 2008:55)


And Hrastinski reflects, that the development in social media match the development of flexible pedagogies:  “The media investigated in this article have been key in transforming the focus on e-learners as individuals to e-learners as social partcipants.” (Hrastinski 2008:55).

Collaborative learning

The second aspect of importance for creating dynamic online learning environment and ccommunities of practice is collaborative learning. Hrastinskis view on learning is complemented by Jane E. Brindley, Christine Walti and Liza M. Blaschke who are concerned about creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment:

“Access to education should not mean merely access to content (which is readily available without formal enrollment with an educational provider); rather, it should mean access to a rich learning environment that provides opportunity for interaction and connectedness. Quality learning environments include opportunities for students to engage in interactive and collaborative activities with their peers; such environments have been shown to contribute to better learning outcomes, including development of higher order thinking skills. Specific pedagogical benefits of collaborative learning include the following:

Development of critical thinking skills,

Co-creation of knowledge and meaning,


Transformative learning. (Palloff & Pratt, 2005)” (Brindley, Walti and Blaschke 2009)

“In a collaborative learning environment, knowledge is shared or transmitted among learners as they work towards common learning goals, for example, a shared understanding of the subject at hand or a solution to a problem. Learners are not passive receptacles but are active in their process of knowledge acquisition as they participate in discussions, search for information, and exchange opinions with their peers. Knowledge is co-created and shared among peers, not owned by one particular learner after obtaining it from the course materials or instructor. The learning process creates a bond between and among learners as their knowledge construction depends on each other’s contribution to the discussion. Hence, collaborative learning processes assist students to develop higher order thinking skills and to achieve richer knowledge generation through shared goals, shared exploration, and a shared process of meaning making …” (Brindley, Walti and Blaschke 2009)

The aspect of collaborative learning as part of flexible learning and flexible pedagogies also address the question of how to teach students and participants to handle collaborative learning in groups and developing ability to act, navigate, select and choose between materials, perspectives and pathways in an environment where learning online is also concerned with fostering rhizonomy. I think you have to scaffold students in how to work with collaborative learning, and when they learn to use digital tools, social skills and processes of working that are useful for collaborative learning, they will gradually take over and be self-governing, participate because it is meaningful to them, and they will collaborate, learn from each other and teach each other, whenever there is a need for that in a group or a problem based learning project.

I have been used to teach students to work collaboratively in problem based projects following  KUBUS, a Danish model  for problem based learning (1).  By following the model, the students learn to exchange expectations to the work they are going to do, to make a contract with their agreements and their critera for success or failure in the collaborative process, to work with two mediators of their group meetings – the one an ordinary mediator and the other with social obligations like ensuring that everybody is heard etc. As an educator, you can then integrate different kinds of guiding and facilitation in the design, and teach the students how and when to use guiding, facilitation and feedback, so they gradually learn to develop critical thinking skills, learn how to co-create knowledge and meaning, learn how to present their work and how to reflect on it. And somewhere along the line you build in goals, that have to do with creating and sharing using digital tools and remix, into your design, too (Mortensen 2002). That would be some of the tools and social skills, I would think lead to self-governance, enhance learner empowerment and eventually can be fostering rhizonomy through working with collaborative learning. And a way of teaching modes of participation and creating awareness of what participatory culture is about.

1) KUBUS is originally developed by Henrik Herlau and Lotte Darsoe.

Further reading:

Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M., & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3)

Creelman and Reneland-Forsman (2013): Completion Rates – A False Trail to Measuring Course Quality? Let’s Call in the HEROEs Instead.European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning

Hrastinski, S. (2008). Asynchronous and Synchronous E-Learning. Educause quarterly, 31(4), 51-55.

Mortensen, Elna (2002): At gribe kompleksiteten. Æstetiske læreprocesser og IKT In: Gramkow, Lindhardt og Lund (red.): Innovation, læring og undervisning, Systime Academic

Ryan and Tilbury (2013): Ryan, A., & Tilbury, D. (2013). Flexible Pedagogies: new pedagogical ideas

Elna Mortensen

Flexible learning and flexible pedagogies