Productive Learning Networks: The Evolution of Research and Practice – Paper Summary

The following is a summary ‘Productive Learning Networks.  The Evolution of Research and Practice’ by Peter Goodyear (2014). Unfortunately this article is only available to those enrolled in this particular course so no link can be provided.

  • The rapid pace at which digital technology is changing now makes it more difficulty ‘to distinguish clearly between what is digital and what is material.’   Resulting in the ‘reweaving’ of some aspects of network learning that ‘have become separated in recent history.’
  • ‘[T]echnological change raises deep questions about learning, understanding, capability, agency and responsibility.’
  • ‘[M]ore will change in the next 10 years than has changed in the last 10.’
  • This ‘accelerating [rate] of technological change [means] we know less and less about the future.’

An introduction to research on networks

  • Nohria’s (1992) description of the field of network research – ‘[a] technological jungle in which any newcomer may plant a tree.’
  • Different field of study perceive and interpret terminology and the organisational structures of networks differently.
  • Research into social and business networks has increased since World War II, gaining further momentum during the 1980-1990s.  Reasons for this include:
  1. Western interest in the success of Japanese organisational structures in industry. (Gerlack, 1992, Lincoln et al, 1996 and Duguid, 2005)
  2. Growth of ‘digital communication technologies…especially the Internet.’ (Castells, 1996)
  3. Move from individual explanations ‘towards more relational, contextual and systemic understandings.’ (Borgatti and Foster, 2003)
  • Growth in business interests suggests that ‘networking is exclusively a modern phenomenon.  This is far from the case.’

‘Learning networks involve complex interweaving of authority and freedom: the exercise of influence and control is not always obvious, and yet it is often possible to identify a locus of power in the information as well as formal educational networks.’

  • ‘Trust can be infectious within networks…Trust and information sharing give networks the advantage of resilience in times of change.’
  • ‘[B]oundaries of network forms of organisation are generally easier to adjust than the boundaries of hierarchies.’
  • Actor’s Network Theory – ‘can be interpreted as a way a measuring [individuals] social capital.
  • Ronald Bury suggested in the 1990s ‘an actor’s social capital is increased by the lack of direct ties between others in the actor’s network. These ‘structural holes’ make the actor more valuable to those others, who would otherwise be less connected.’
  • James Coleman and Robert Putman’s view differs arguing ‘that denser connections amongst other actors in one’s network create possibilities for coordination and shared work that boots one’s own value and benefits’ (Borgatti and Foster 2003)
  • Social cognition and transactive memory – ‘the idea that knowledge is distributed in different minds, so that effective use of knowledge depends upon having easy, reciprocated access to the knowledge of others, as well as a good map of who knows what and ‘who knows who knows what.” (Borgatti and Foster 2003)
  • Homophily – ‘the tendency to prefer to interact with others who are like oneself.’
  • Homophily positives – less conflict between participants and easier to ‘coordinate the sharing of tacit knowledge.’
  • Homophily negatives – not exposed to new ideas/different ways of doing things, can isolate and disconnect those who think a little differently to the rest of the group.
  • Distribution of knowledge – strong and weak ties.
  • Strong ties – ‘people who have close, regular, repeated contact.  They tend to be powerful in influencing the thoughts and action of those involved.’
  • Weak ties – ‘important role in distributing new knowledge.’

“the most useful form of information is rarely that which flows down the formal chain of command in an organisation, of that which can be inferred from price signals.  Rather, it is that which is obtained from someone you have dealt with in the past and found to be reliable.” (Powell 1990)

  • Podolny and Page (1998) two types of learning that occur in business next works
  1. ‘rapid transfer of self-contained pieces of information’.
  2. ‘learning is more transformative, and occurs when new syntheses of information occur’.

Early networks

  • ‘[S]haring of information through networks is a well established feature of human life.’
  • Networks were originally the domain of travellers – evident ‘in the distribution of the artifacts they transported and left. (Knapper 2013)
  • ‘With the development of writing, information cold be passes within networks without either sender of receiver having to move.’
  • Development of technology (telegraph, radio and telephones) ‘it became possible for complex information to travel independently – along wires, and then wirelessly.’ – communication using networked computers.

early experiments with computer conferencing in education

  • Origins of networked computer conference – EMISARI (Emergency Management Information System and Reference Index)
  • EMISARI – ‘included facilities for sharing text and other information items, tagged by topic and person, sending notifications triggered by updates, starting discussion threads attached to any information item and keep track of who…searched for what.’
  • EIED (Electronic Information Exchange System) included – ‘(i) messages (private, one-to-one or one-to-many); (ii) conferencing (providing a transcript of a topic-oriented discussion, keywording and linking of entries, and a voting system); (iii) a notebook (personal online space for composing notes etc.); (iv) a bulletin (an online newsletter).’
  • Systems ran using dial-up service – ’30 characters per second’.
  • ‘The first live use of computer conferencing was…seen in 1982 at Western Behavioral Sciences Institute (WSBI) in California.  This was the precursor to ‘the virtual seminar’ which enabled people to meet and discuss ideas ‘in a text-based mode entirely free of any time or place constraints’ (Kaye 1992).
  • 1980s – ‘experimental work with the use of digital communications technologies – email and/or computer conferencing – to substitute for in-class discussion in undergraduate teaching.’
  • Interactions of this sort lead to; ‘multiple threads of discourse.’; ‘a higher proportion of students’ response to teachers’ initiations’; and ‘few teacher evaluations’ (of students).
  • 1980s also saw projects developing in which schools began to interact via email both nationally and internationally.

Professional Learning networks

Sharp Learning Cycle

mobile Devices, Web 2.0 and the ubiquitous Nature of networked learning

  • Until late 1990s – ‘networked learning was largely a stationary affair.  One needed a desktop computer and Ethernet connection to work efficiently.’
  • Changes with portable devices – ‘Network access is now at least as likely to happen ‘on the move”.
  • Resulting ‘in a complication of the sense of what is digital and what is not: the digital and non-digital become quite thoroughly entangled.’
  • Two trends that illustrate the increasing entanglement:
  1. ‘Use of mobile…devices to extend and enhance (Physically) place-based experiences’ – ‘mobile networked learning.’
  2. Taking of ‘aspects of the physical world into the digital, as with the creation of shared virtual worlds such as Second Life.’
  • Learning experiences are increasingly making use of mobile and digital technologies to enhance delivery and interaction within the learning process. eg: museum.  In essence the digital is brought into a previously non-digital space.
  • Reverse is true in shared virtual worlds.  These worlds while reflecting the physical world to some degree, enable to participants to engage in ‘behaviors and constructed forms that are impossible in the physical world.’
  • Web 2.0 – ‘shift from consumption to production, remixing and sharing.’
  • ‘Web 2.0 is concerned with the creation and furnishing of media-rich online places.  As well as production of new material, the curation of content has become a salient activities, as people create and manage galleries of experiences and know-how.’

 Massive open online course (moocs)

  • ‘The term MOOC was invented by David Coriner in 2008 to descride a course being run that year by George Seimens and Stephen Downs on ‘Connectivism and Connected Knowledge.  The course had over 2,000 online students who participated without fee or credit.  The course was both about connectivism and informed by connectivist pedagogy’ (Mackness et al 2010).
  • Education and business interest in MOOCS began in 2012.
  • Siemens wanted to distinguish his courses from the mainstream labeling his ‘cMOOCs’ believing their model ’emphasizes creativity, autonomy and social networked learning.’  As opposed to ‘xMOOCx’ which ’emphasizes a more traditional learning approach through video presentations and short quizzes and testing.’

“cMOOCs focus on knowledge creation and generation whereas xMOOCs focus on knowledge duplication.’ (Siemens 2012)

  • Through collaborative knowledge constructions ‘rich network structures emerge as participants engage with each other in fluid configurations, as tasks, time and interests suggest.’
  • Interesting fact – xMOOCs generally have a high non-completion rate – ‘rare for completion rates to exceed 10%.
  • Distinction between xMOOCs and ‘a collection of open online educational resources – ‘being a course’.

Concluding point

  • ‘There are some deep connections between Twitter streams and clay tablets, and the networks that they hold together.’


Goodyear, P. (2014), Productive Learning Networks.  The Evolution of Research and Practice. In Carvalho, L. & Goodyear, P. (Eds.), The Architecture of Productive Learning Networks. (pp. 23-47). New York: Routledge.




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