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

The art and meaning of collaborative and peer learning

Participatory culture is one way to label and characterize the art and meaning of collaborative and peer learning in a digital age. Participatory culture has a focus on creating and sharing productions with others and by being prosumers – being producers and consumers in one and the same process responding to productions of others and remixing, repurposing or circulating them. As prosumers people find ways of expressing themselves artistically or engaging in civic matters, people become co-creators and part in a participatory culture where problem solving and the ability to meet challenges are key competencies. To learn yourself to write fanfiction, to play a certain massive online computer game or to learn how to make a film very easily involves participatory culture today, as you reach out online to find peers to share and discuss your work with. Both making content, evaluating it, remixing and reusing content and sharing it is part of online life today, and participatory culture is one place to meet collaborative and peer learning at work in shaping participatory culture as a networked online space for learning.

Participatory culture is collaboration through online communities across distances and within “structures of informal mentorship, mostly involving learning by doing and creating within a shared social context.” (Clinton, Jenkins and McWilliams 2013:8). So participatory culture can be seen as communities of practice where people are connecting with each other through technology and social media, creating social knowledge at the same time. This makes it obvious to see participatory culture as informal networked online spaces for learning that could have a positive part to play in formal learning in schools and education, as Henry Jenkins, Wyn Kelley and their collaborators in New Media Literacies point out in their book “Reading in a Participatory Culture. Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom” (2013).

I introduced Jenkins, New Media Literacies and very briefly the book in my last blogpost. The book outlines basic principles of design, implementation and assessment when you want to draw on students’ social knowledge and expertise with communities of practice to develop a “community of readers” in your classroom building on participatory culture. In many ways the real thing is happening online, when it comes to the New Media Literacies’ project on how teachers can change how they teach canonical literature in schools, and the “Teachers’ Strategy Guide” for working with Moby-Dick is to be found on the web alongside with the open educational resources, “Flows of Reading”, developed for the project. This intention to work with participatory culture in school and education is going to be my example for discussing collaborative and peer learning in participatory culture as communities of practice in this blogpost. But first to the concept of communities of practice and learning in a digital environment.

Communities of practice and learning in a digital environment

Participatory culture can be seen as communities of practice where there is a shared interest in a knowledge across the community and in the community. And as such communities of practice are communities of learning and to be realized as “part of a broader conceptual framework for thinking about learning in its social dimensions.” (Wenger 2010:1). In his model of the progression in modes of learning from Learning 1.0 to Learning 3.0 due to the development in society, technology, media formats and platforms and education, Steve Wheeler posits communities of practice as a mode of learning belonging to Learning 2.0 and developing into Learning 3.0:

Learning Modes Grid

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

A community of practice extends good collaborative learning according to Wheeler, in the sense that people situate themselves as learners while moving from a legitimate-peripheral position, observing and learning from their peers, to become full participants who have gained access to all the knowledge the community can offer. To be full participants mean, that people have acquired the skills, competencies, ways of participation and producing resources (words, tools, concepts, methods, stories, documents, links to resources)(Wenger 2010:1) and have obtained insight and understanding of the culture, so that they can take part in negotiating the meaning of personal experience in relation to the social defined competencies. That is the essence of communities of practice, and the platform where collaboration practice is deep and meaningful according to Wheeler. To become an apprentice of tailoring and learn how to make pants in Algeria, to learn to become an east coast rapper in the USA, or to become a self-guided student in school and higher education, all of these learning processes involve situated learning, collaboration practice and the development of skills to become full members of and participants in communities of practice.

These continuing processes of situated learning constitute what communities of practice are to Etienne Wenger in his exploration and evaluation of the concept proposed and elaborated by Jean Lave and himself (Lave and Wenger 1991).:

“Participation and reification represent two intertwined but distinct lines of memory. Over time, their interplay creates a social history of learning, which combines individual and collective aspects. This history gives rise to a community as participants define a ‘regime of competence’, a set of criteria and expectations by which they recognize membership. This competence includes

  • Understanding what matters, what the enterprise of the community is, and how it gives rise to a perspective on the world
  • Being able (and allowed) to engage productively with others in the community
  • Using appropriately the repertoire of resources that the community has accumulated through its history of learning.

Over time, a history of learning becomes an informal and dynamic social structure among the participants, and this is what a community of practice is.” (Wenger 2010:2)

Wenger explores the uses and the critiques of the concept of communities of practice in his article “Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept” (2010), and among the perspectives that make him evaluate the concept is the critique, “…that there is too much emphasis on community for an adequate account of learning in a web-enabled globalizing world.” (Wenger 2010:10). Wenger comments the critique like this:

“Again there is an important insight to this critique. Some of us have probably overemphasized community in our attempt to account for the directionality of learning. But it is a mistake, I believe, to think of communities and networks as distinct structures. I am often asked what the difference is between a community and a network. Rather than contrasting a community here and a network there, I think it is more useful to think of community and network as two types of structuring processes. Community emphasizes identity and network emphasizes connectivity. The two usually co-exist. Certainly communities of practice are networks in the sense that they involve connections among members; but there is also identification with a domain and commitment to a learning partnership, which are not necessarily present in a network.” (Wenger 2010:10)

“More generally, I find it more productive to think of community and network as combined in the same social structures – but with more or less salience. So the question is not whether a given group is a network or a community, but how the two aspects coexist as structuring processes. This is not only a richer way to think about social structures, it also has useful practical implications. Network and community processes have complementary strengths and weaknesses; they are two avenues for enhancing the learning capability of a group. If a community becomes too much of a community, too strongly identified with itself, prone to groupthink, closed or inbred, then fostering connectivity to generate some networking energy is a good way to shake it up and open its boundaries. There is something random and unpredictable about the dynamics of networking processes, which is a good counterpart to community.”(Wenger 2010:10)

Thus, Wenger acknowledges the existence of an approach to learning like Connectivism, with a  concept proposed by George Siemens. Connectivism recognizes the impact of technology on society and ways of knowing, and so connectivism is a theory of or an approach to networked learning where the individual is at the center like a node in a network: “From his viewpoint, learning in the digital age is no longer dependent on individual knowledge acquisition, storage and retrieval; rather it relies on the connected  learning that occurs through interaction with various sources of knowledge (including the Internet and learning management systems) and participation in communities of common interests social networks, and group tasks.” (Brindley, Walti and Blaschke 2009).

The main goal in connectivism is to establish your own personal learning networks, to find current resources and to integrate them in your own learning network. The resources can be other learners, ‘peers’, experts, online resources like documents and other digital services (Krokan 2012:130). Knowledge does not just exist in our head but among us, and if we can connect to others who know something different from us, communities and networks facilitate important information and knowledge sharing and enhance co-creation of knowledge (Brindley, Walti and Blaschke 2009). But the main issue must be a question about the quality of access to distributed knowledge:

“From this perspective, learning consists of retrieving information from self, others, and machines, collaborating to create knowledge, and applying information to current contexts. Hence, Siemens’ (2005) learning theory is about individuals connecting with each other and with technology. Effective learners are those who can cope with complexity, contradictions, and large quantities of information, who seek out various sources of knowledge, and who can create and sustain learning communities and networks. According to Siemens (2005), learning ecologies (communities and networks) facilitate important information sharing and co-construction of knowledge while encouraging life-long learning in the individual as well as the group.” (Brindley, Walti and Blaschke 2009).

A landscape of learning in an online networked world appears, and Wheeler maps the various positions like this (Wheeler 2014):

Connectivism                                                                                                                    Paragogy

Distributed cognition

– among others communities of practice –

All of the three positions have emerged from the mode of Learning 2.0, and there are similarities and overlaps between them, but according to Wheeler all three are suited for developing into Learning 3.0. With Wengers combination of community of practice and network in the article mentioned above, the concept of communities of practice can adapt to the mode of Learning 3.0 dominated by rhizomatic structures (Wheeler 2014). In the line of Deleuze and Guattari, rhizomatic structures go everywhere and mean exponential growth that results in exponential connections in multiple directions in multiple levels.

So communities of practice are still adequate forms for analyzing and understanding collaboration practice and pathways of learning in a digital age, but they are also practical guidelines into establishing learning partnerships:

“The concept of community of practice is a good place to start exploring a social discipline of learning. From an analytical perspective, it is the simplest social learning system. From an instrumental perspective, a community of practice can be viewed as a learning partnership. Its learning capability is anchored in a mutual recognition as potential learning partners. The discipline of such a partnership deepens and builds on this mutual engagement:

The discipline of domain: What is our partnership about? Why should we care? Are we likely to be useful to each other? What is our learning agenda? What specific set of issues does it entail?

The discipline of community: Who should be at the table so the partnership can make progress? What effects will their participation have on the trust and dynamics of the group? How do we manage the boundaries of the community?

The discipline of practice: How can the practice become the curriculum? How can it be made visible and inspectable? What should participants do together to learn and benefit from the partnership?

The discipline of convening: Who will take leadership in holding a social learning space for this partnership? How can we make sure that the partnership sustains a productive inquiry? Who are the external stakeholders and what are their roles? What resources are available to support the process?” (Wenger 2010:12

To Wenger the focus is on “understanding and enhancing learning capability in a social system” (Wenger 2010:11-12), and this is the reason why participatory culture as communities of practice become relevant to schools and higher education: working with participatory culture in education is a way of negotiating what the meaning of network, collaboration and peer-to-peer learning is and can become in the context of school culture and education, and a way of developing digital competencies, curriculum and the design of learning opportunities in school subjects. In other words, working with participatory culture is a way of developing subjects, schools and education as communities of practice and helps developing regimes of competencies in the ongoing social history of learning. And here New Media Literacies take off:

Moby-Dick and reading in a participatory culture

In their project on Moby-Dick, New Media Literacies are taking steps towards reading in a participatory culture by forming communities of practice:

“In this view, the new media literacies could supplement and expand traditional print literacies in ways that enriched our culture and deepened our appreciation of classical stories. New media platforms and practices were giving students much greater opportunities for communication and expression than could have been imagined by any previous generation. But to participate meaningfully, young people needed to be able to read and write; they needed to know how to connect their contemporary experiences to a much older tradition, and the literature classroom represents a particularly rich environment for fusing these different ways of learning.” (Clinton, Jenkins and McWilliams 2013:5)

“Our students need our help in making sense of a period of profound and prolonged media change that has affected every subject we teach. Ideally, each teacher would take ownership of those new media literacy skills that are part of his or her professional and intellectual domain. The literature teacher, thus, has an obligation to help young people think more deeply about what it means to be a reader and an author in a world where more and more of us can create and circulate what we create with others. To do this, though, we need to negotiate a new stance toward both print and digital culture, embracing new opportunities, even as we preserve older practices, texts and values.” (Clinton, Jenkins and McWilliams 2013:9)

“The new media landscape has as much to do with new social structures and cultural practices as it does with new tools and technologies. And as a consequence, we may be able to teach participatory mindsets and skills even in the absence of rich technological environments. Teaching the new media literacies means helping young people to acquire the habits of mind required to fully engage within a networked public.” (Clinton, Jenkins and McWilliams 2013:10)

New Media Literacies lean on collective intelligence as a core concept in their understanding of learning, and state “…that a networked society is one where each participant develops a distinctive  expertise that can contribute to the group’s common ventures. People working together and sharing information are able to address questions far more complex and arrive at answers far more quickly than any single member could do. Such a social structure places great value on diversity: If each member contributes his or her own expertise, the community is strengthened by the diversity of its participants.” (Jenkins 2013:86). And in this passage, Jenkins also implicitly celebrates distributed cognition which he and New Media Literacies also state as a core social skill, as I mentioned in my last blogpost. In their project, New Media Literacies  use collective intelligence as an organizing construct while they change from “…a traditional conceptualization of reading as an individual practice and toward a conception of reading as a collective, and even networked, activity” (Kelley, Jenkins, Clinton and McWilliams 2013: 27)

The project “Reading in a Participatory Culture” intend to form the classroom as a ‘community of readers’ with Moby-Dick as their model text. And at the center of the effort to develop curriculum and participatory practices while fostering traditional reading and writing, too, is the “Teachers’ Strategy Guide” , where a visualized model of The Participatory Model of Reading is to be found at the last page of the Introduction to the Reading Teachers’ Strategy Guide.

In addition to the “Teachers’ Strategy Guide” the open educational resources contain of four units:  1) “Motives for Reading”, 2) “Appropriaton and Remixing”, 3) “Negotiating Cultural Spaces”, and 4) “Continuities and Silences”. Each unit has links to a detailed lesson plan, to a part with related expert voices and background material for the teacher, and to “The Network of Cultural Materials” with videos to integrate in the lessons. The crucial unit to start with is Unit 1: “Motives for Reading” .

Each lesson plan includes descriptions of the design for the unit, background information on core concepts and perspectives on subject didactics and worksheets to the activities in the suggested lessons. The lesson plan is not meant as a normative plan to follow for the teacher, but a suggested plan to develop and discuss with in developing participatory practices and ‘a community of readers’. Some of the videos mentioned in the lesson plan for Unit 1 cannot be found by clicking on the links in the plan but can be found by searching for them online. I add a few links here to make an impression of the lesson plan for Unit 1 more accessible:

New Media Literacies actually manage to design a lesson plan for Unit 1: “Motives for Reading”, that succeed in what it aimed for:

“This expanded conception of reading thus allows students to understand the reading they do in the classroom as a particular reading practice with its own rules and goals. Rather than judging students’ reading practices from the standpoint of a hierarchy, whereby students are taught to devalues the forms of reading that they do in their everyday lives, a participatory understanding of literacy recognizes that there are many ways of making meanings with a text and that all “count” as valid forms of reading.” (Kelley, Jenkins, Clinton and McWilliams 2013: 28)

Connectivity and dialogue are essential to this expanded conception of reading, and the core principles that has guided the design of the “Teachers’ Strategy Guide” set off from them:

Adress the Participation Gap

Access to technology is necessary but not sufficient: all learners must be supported in learning how to contribute, in believing that they can contribute and that what they contribute will be appropriately valued.

Bring New Expertises and Perspectives into the English Language Arts Domain

There are many different forms of literary scholarship, and ‘literary analysis’ is not a monolithic set of practices and skills.

Begin with Core Literary Concepts/Practices and Expand

Traditional literacy practices take on new meaning when extended into participatory cultures.

Media Studies Approach

Comparative perspectives encourage an exploration of the intersection between literature and other media, often deepening an appreciation of the cultural impact of classic texts.

Stance on Popular Culture

Popular culture offers a culturally contested and therefore valuable and necessary avenue for developing new media literacies skills.

Stance on Technology

There are multiple avenues to participatory culture, and many barriers that limit students’ access to these cultures. Our hope is to offer a range of activities, both high- and low-tech, to support as many different kinds of classroom communities as possible. (Clinton, Jenkins and McWilliams 2013:14-20)

When it comes to a question of the ability to building learning partnerships through working with Unit 1: “Motives for Reading”, Wengers four disciplines of partnership mentioned earlier can be used as the analytical lens: 1) the discipline of domain, 2) the discipline of community, 3) the discipline of practice, and 4) the discipline of convening. And it turns out, that Unit 1: “Motives for Reading” works thoroughly on establishing an understanding of these four disciplines of learning partnership with the students. Unfolding participatory culture also implicates building a community of practice and getting aware of its elements while becoming a member. The process of elaborating the meaning of collaborative and peer learning in a digital age has begun.

This leaves the concepts of culture, the intertextual practice, the comparative readings and the building of a historical consciousness with students to be discussed in evaluating the “Teachers’ Strategy Guide”. But that must be some other time.

This blogpost has been edited on 4. December 2015 to remove a link.

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).

Clinton, Katie, Henry Jenkins and Jenna McWilliams (2013): New Literacies in an Age of Participatory Culture In: Jenkins, Henry and Wyn Kelley (eds.): Reading in a Participatory Culture. Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom, Teachers College Press and National Writing Project

Jenkins, Henry (2013): Motives for Reading In: Jenkins, Henry and Wyn Kelley (eds.): Reading in a Participatory Culture. Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom, Teachers College Press and National Writing Project

Kelley, Wyn, Henry Jenkins, Katie Clinton and Jenna McWillams (2013): From Theory to Practice. Building a “Community of Readers” in Your Classroom In: Jenkins, Henry and Wyn Kelley (eds.): Reading in a Participatory Culture. Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom, Teachers College Press and National Writing Project

Krokan, Arne (2012): Smart læring. Hvordan IKT og sosiale medier endrer læring, Fagbokforlaget

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 (2014): Learning with ‘e’s

Elna Mortensen

The art and meaning of collaborative and peer learning

Digital literacy or digital literacies?

We live in a mediatized world. Mediatization means that media is integrated into our private and professional lives in definable ways. In todays mediatized world it is utmost important to be digitally literate to be able to cope, to create and share meaning and to participate as a person and as a citizen. This is a collage of definitions and perspectives on what it means to be digitally literate and on the importance of digital literacies for learning and teaching.

“To be digitally literate is to have access to a broad range of practices and cultural resources that you are able to apply to digital tools”, Hague and Payton say in the report “Digital literacy across the curriculum” (2010:2). And to be digitally literate you must have digital literacy:

“Digital literacy is the skills, knowledge and understanding that enables critical, creative, discerning and safe practices when engaging with digital technologies in all areas of life.” (Hague and Payton 2010:19).

Hague and Payton present a model of digital literacy which is made of a number of inter-related components:


Digital literacy shows up in the space where the components of the model overlap. Hague and Payton stress that digital literacy is not to be seen as a fixed concept but is to be understood as a dynamic set of resources and practices:

“People’s interaction with digital technologies are multiple, rich and complex; there is a wide array of practices involved in digital literacy. One useful definition for digital literacy is “the constantly changing practices through which people make traceable meanings using digital technologies.” The components above refer to different dimensions of digital literacy; they all support the creation and sharing of meaning and are not separate but mutually reinforce one another.”(Hague and Payton 2010:20).


Belshaw builds on this dynamic view of digital literacy in his doctoral thesis “What is ‘digital literacy’? A Pragmatic Investigation” and sets off from the notion of literacy as a social practice that has been advocated by the New Literacies Studies. Belshaw draws the consequences of the debates on how to define digital literacy and pleads for a matrix of literacies in the line of Hague and Payton’s complex definition. And so Belshaw ends up with a matrix of eight essential elements of digital literacies that overlap as layers of complexity: “A semi-fluid, community-accepted matrix of literacies [that] could be flexible enough to be adaptable to various current contexts as well as having the ability to be updated as necessary in future.” (Belshaw 2012:199).


According to Belshaw’s definition and matrix, digital literacies are plural, context-dependent and need to be socially negotiated (Belshaw 2012:218). So altogether, what it means to be literate has changed:

“Recently, with the dawn of first mass media, and then mass participation with the rise of the internet, conceptions of literacy have had to change. This has put a strain on the static, psychological conceptions of implicit in Traditional Literacy. As a result, what ‘literacy’ means (and therefore what it means to be ‘literate’) has changed. As Lanham puts it, literacy ‘has extended its semantic reach from meaning ‘the ability to read and write’ to now meaning ‘the ability to understand information however presented’.” (Belshaw 2012:175)

Hague and Payton and Belshaw adopt sociocultural, sociosemiotic, collaborative and communities of practice perspectives on digital literacy in their understanding of the model and the matrix. There are elements of community, social practices and cultural understanding involved in their narrowing down what digital literacy/literacies are, and both parties see digital literacy in relation to participation and thus participatory culture. And this leads to the introduction of a third approach to digital literacy: reading in a participatory culture.


Participatory culture is a term that is associated with Henry Jenkins and together with New Media Literacies he evolves their understanding of participatory culture and reading in “Reading in a Participatory Culture. Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom”(2013). Here they define a participatory culture as having:

  1. Relatively low barriers to artistic expressions and civic engagement;
  2. Strong support for creating and sharing creations with others;
  3. Some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices;
  4. Members who believe that their contributions matter; and
  5. Members who feel some degree of social connection with one another (they care what other people think about what they have created). (Clinton, Jenkins and McWilliams 2013:8)(Jenkins et al. 2009:5-6)

In their book Henry Jenkins, Wyn Kelley, Katie Clinton, Jenna McWilliams, Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, Erin Reilly and the other writers introduce their view on the importance of participation culture in relation to reading with this statement:

 “Over the past several decades, our culture has undergone a period of profound and prolonged media change, not simply a shift in the technical infrastructure of communication but shifts in the cultural logics and social practices that shape the ways we interact.” (Clinton, Jenkins and McWilliams 2013:7)

These shifts make it necessary to reimagine what literacy is. In the report “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture. Media Education for the 21st Century”, Jenkins and New Media Literacies constituted the understanding of literacy, they go on developing in “Reading in a Participatory Culture. Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom”, and in the report they define their concept of reading like this:

“Participatory culture shifts the forms of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement. The new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking.” (Jenkins et al. 2009:4).

The social skills required for participatory culture are according to Jenkins and New Media Literacies these, and several of them supplement Hague and Payton’s model of digital literacy and Belshaw’s matrix of digital literacies:

Play – the capacity to experiment with one’s 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 one’s environment and shift focus as needed to 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 pool

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. 2009:4)

Appropriation is a core social practice in participatory culture to Jenkins and New Media Literacies, and when Belshaw manifests that remixing and mashup are right at the heart of digital literacies, Belshaw links up with participatory culture. Participation culture is about “opportunities to participate and to develop the cultural competencies and social skills that are needed for full involvement.”(Jenkins et al. 2009:4).

With three apparently different approaches to digital literacy/digital literacies, Hague and Payton, Belshaw and Jenkins and New Media Literacies turn out to have common grounds in sociocultural, sociosemiotic, collaborative and communities of practice perspectives, all of which point at social practices and cultural resources as essential to digital literacies: they must support the creation and sharing of meaning. And so, these perspectives point to what needs to be at stake when digital literacies are taught in schools and higher education:

“This means that an understanding of digital literacy should not begin with technology or digital tools. Understanding cultural and social issues, critical thinking and being creative all make up part of a broad set of practices that students need to wrap around their use of any tool and need to develop in order to participate effectively in any kind of culture.”(Hague and Payton 2010:20)

But at the moment the opposite often seems to be the case in schools and education when digital literacies are presented and involved in teaching and learning: the tools and basic skills tend to have priority to the understanding of the what, when and why of digital literacies. So what can be done? Hague and Payton are stating a starting point for schools:

“An approach to digital literacy needs to start with the knowledge, understanding, skills and learning that teachers already aspire to foster in young people. It is then possible to consider how digital technologies might provide another, sometimes different context for this learning and a way to enhance and support it….In school settings, developing digital literacy means giving students the opportunity to use digital technologies when it is appropriate and useful, and it means encouraging the sorts of active, creative and critical uses of digital technologies which can develop digital literacy whilst at the same time helping students to further their subject knowledge.” (Hague and Payton 2010:20-21).

And Jenkins, Wyn Kelley and New Media Literacies follow up this starting point by adding a more complex understanding of reading to the one in the report presented above. Here they stress that traditional reading is not to be deleted by digital literacies, but that they will point to new ways of reading, writing and understanding information however presented:

“The history of media change throughout the 20th century suggests that one medium does not displace another, but rather, each adds a new cultural layer, supporting more diverse ways of communicating, thinking, feeling, and creating than existed before. But each new medium also disrupts old patterns, requiring us collectively and individually to actively work through what roles different forms of media are going to play in our lives.” (Clinton, Jenkins and McWilliams 2013:11)

Schools have to teach these new diverse ways. Henry Jenkins, Wyn Kelley and New Media Literacies show how. In their book “Reading in a Participatory Culture. Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom”, they cross the divide between digital literacies and traditional print culture and present their ideas on how to work with a canonic novel and literary history in the context of a participatory culture. They take off in known subject knowledge in the middle and high school English classroom as Hague and Payton recommend, and then add up with a broad set of practices and new cultural layers and understandings to develop a new curriculum and an alternative subject didactics. But more about this project in my next blogpost.

Further reading:

Belshaw, Douglas, AJ (2012) What is ‘digital literacy’? A Pragmatic investigation. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

Belshaw, Douglas, AJ (2012) The essential elements of digital literacies: Doug Belshaw at TEDxWarwick.

Clinton, Katie, Henry Jenkins and Jenna McWilliams: New Literacies in an Age of Participatory Culture In: Jenkins, Henry and Wyn Kelley (eds.)(2013): Reading in a Participatory Culture. Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom, Teachers College Press and National Writing Project

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

Jenkins, Henry et al. (2009): Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, MacArthur, The MIT Press

Jenkins, Henry and Wyn Kelley (eds.)(2013): Reading in a Participatory Culture. Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom, Teachers College Press and National Writing Project

 Elna Mortensen

Digital literacy or digital literacies?