The History of NGL – questions and answers?

What insights from this history resonate with your experience?

When you see the year of your birth as the first reference to the use of networked computer conferencing, reality bites!  For it has been within my lifetime that digital technology have gone from the hands of the few, to the hands of the many.  Of course when an article is personalised for you in this way, it is hard to avoid making comparisons to your own life experience.  Overwhelmingly, however, there has been one notable change, the time between ideas moving from possibilities to reality has narrowed dramatically.

Goodyear (2014) spoke of a networked computer conferencing becoming a reality in 1970-71 yet it was not until the early 1980s that computers even began to appear in schools and children around the country began to be introduced to the new language require to operate these technological marvels – binary code!  Let me tell you, here is no greater frustration that of a preteen combing lines and lines of zeros and ones trying to find their mistake!  But as time went on, this gap began to shorten.  By the time I entered ‘Teachers’ College, in the late 1980s it was a requirement that all assignments be word processed, not typed, and I was given my first individual computer log in and email address.  By the time I graduated mobile phones were widely accessible (all be it still quite large) and as I enter my second year of teaching I was given a laptop class to teach and the rest they say is history!  Today, no sooner as new technology been developed than it is in the hands of our children.  Computers are no longer the realm of the few who actually understand binary code, but they have quickly become an indispensable part of daily life.

So what insights from the history of NGL resonate with my experience – everything!  As a child of the seventies, I have watch communication change from handwritten letters and rotary dial telephones, to a device in which can do all that and more, and it fits conveniently in the palm of my hand!  I have seen information move from the sole property of books and libraries to accessible with one touch of a button.  So what resonates with me…how quickly digital technology has change the worldwe live in, the way we interact and communicate with one another and our relationship with information.  As Goodyear (2014) attests in his article:

“It is sobering to realize that more will change in the next 10 years than has changed in the last 10, and that as we move forward in times of accelerating technological change, we know less and less about the future.”

 Which offer suggestions for ways forward?

In considering this question, the ideals of connectivism continue to surface as the most likely candidate to harness the potential of NGL in this every changing digital landscape.

Below is a quote that I found on Education 2020‘s wiki page which I believe explains not only the essence of connectivism but also what I believe are some of the challenges and realities it faces in striving to achieve its ideals;

[E]ducational systems need to move towards becoming a Learning Society. They see the world becoming more interdependent, technology accelerating and education as a mission critical key. They feel there is a new “morality of learning.” “Whereas in the past learning was competitive, coercive and paternalistic, the new ethic of learning is collaborative, global and universal. It is collaborative in that learners need to work with each other. It is global in the sense that every society has a contribution to make and a responsibility to each other. And it is universal because every part of a society must invest in learning and participate.” (The Learning Society) The future is connected and collaborative.  (Education 2020 – Connectivism)

Connectivism speaks to me of an ideal.  I fear the ‘competitive, coercive and paternalistic’ view of learning, is still very much the reality of mainstream education, and in my opinion much of society.

It saddens me, but competitiveness and a need for power and status still sit at the heart of many workplaces around the world, including our schools.  The idealism of being able to create networks and connections that turn away from traditional lego hippyhierarchical structures, and that are build on mutual respect, true collaboration  and a sense of community rather than self seems almost too good to be true.  But perhaps champions of connectivism are idealists,  the new hippies of the digital age! Challenging us to look critically at the world as it is, shift away from  ‘consumption to production, remixing and sharing’ (Goodyear 2014) and striving to find new ways to hardness the best of technology with the best of the human spirit and endeavour.

Who knows, perhaps as this course continues I might discover that I am really a hippie at heart too!

Which ideNtifies what’s causing you problems?

A platform of open, supportive and constructive communication is, in my opinion essential for success in NGL.  yet it is the communication within the network that I find most difficult and challenging.  Network communication is only as good as the willingness of participants to add to and engage in dialogue.  In working through Goodyear’s reading this week, I was therefore intrigued by his idea that ‘trust can be infectious within networks (2014 p.25).

Trust has always been a key component of any form of communication.  Let’s face it, you aren’t going to share your best ideas with people if you don’t trust them not to steal them and pass them off as their own now are you!  And here in lie the problems that I have experience in networked education. People seem happy to draw from the collective, but are decidedly less likely to share. If collaboration is central to NGL, then why have I generally found this to be the case?  Has experience taught people to be wary?  Is the reason embedded somewhere in the concerns I raised previously regarding the challenges to connectivism ideals? Or is it simply an issue of risk-taking? Adding your voice to a forum, expressing your ideas through mediums such as a blog requires an element of risk-taking.  It opens your thoughts and ideas up to the world for validation but the reverse side of that coin means, of course, that they are as equally open to criticism. Both require a tremendous faith and trust in people who comprise the network.   So is it too much to ask for that to be achieved?  I do not believe so, but it is clear that a sense of community must be developed between the participants if the true power and benefits of NGL are to be realised.  Given the social constraints of the NGL environment, this community may need to be intentionally fostered.

How could this course be improved?

As the course stands so far, while all course participants are connected via Diigo, Mendeley and Feedly, communication between participants is still somewhat limited.  While it is still early days and building relationships takes time, I do feel that the course would benefit from activity that strengths the ‘ties’ (Granovetter 1973) between the course participants.  I see the peer review component of Assignment 2 as promising in this regard.  I have also just read David’s updates to Assignment 1, regarding ‘Student co-creation of criteria’ and Using Diigo to given informative feedback and self-reflection’.  While I am still getting my head around ‘what this would look like’, at first glance these also look as though they will help to build a more collaborative sense of community within the course.

How could your approach to this course as student be changed?


In terms of considering what adjustments I might make in my approach to this course, especially in light of this week’s reading and my written responses to it, I need to strive engage more with my fellow students.  Ask questions in an effort to better understand their viewpoints.  That requires me to step outside the comfort zone and take that risk.  I also need to avoid what Goodyear (2014) refers to as homophily.  By not just focus on those blog and people with whom I feel a stronger connection based on experience or perceive personality, so I can gain a wider understanding of the connect, and be challenged to consider differing viewpoints and insights to my own.

What contradictions appear in the history of NGL?

Got to love questions that force you to have to delve deeper and really think!

I was initially surprised and some what puzzled by this question.  Had I read the article wrong?  What contradictions?  In referring back to Goodyear’s (2014) chapter with a newly focused lens…contradictions began to appear everywhere!  Which just goes to show,  never make judgments after a single reading!

Authority and Freedom?

“Learning networks involve complex  interweavings of authority and freedom” (Goodyear 2014, p.25)

I found this sentence and indeed the comparison to be an interesting one.  How can freedom and authority coexisit, let alone be interwoven? In examining Goodyear’s (2014) elaboration, he explains that ‘authority’ is represented by ‘influence and control’ , the ‘lotus of power’ within the group, so to speak.  This then raises the questions; is this position one that the group as a whole assign?  Can networks actually function effectively without the leadership that the ‘lotus of power’ provides?  Is it just human nature to require and seek out structure in when given the freedom to self direct?

Digital and Material?

Alan Kay once said, “Technology is anything that was invented after you were born.”  Was there ever a truer statement!  By this reckon, the refrigerator and television are considered technology to my father’s generation, just as mobile phones, microwave ovens and computers are to mine.  It also might explains why parents and teachers are often baffled by students computer and mobile phone use – but isn’t that just Kay’s point – to them it has always been there.  It isn’t anything special, just an everyday part of life. A tool to be used like any other.

Consider then Goodyear’s (2014 p.23) observation about the  rapid and changing use of  digital technologies which are ‘making it harder to distinguish clearly between what is digital and what is material’.  Can the two not be one and the same?  After a quick Google search, material can be defined as; ‘1. the matter from which a thing is or can be made, 2. information or ideas for use in creating a book or other work.’  Are digital technologies therefore just a new vehicle through which material is constructed?  Is the need to distinguish the two just a generational one?

I beg your indulgence while I consider two final points that are connected to the work of Goodyear (2014) but their contraction is based in my experience rather than data.

Flow of information v Creation and collaboration

In this chapter, Goodyear draws on the work of Podolny and Page (1998, pp. 62-64) in which they describe two kinds of learning that occur in business networks:

One involves the rapid transfer of self-contained pieces of information – network ties are thereby seen as conduits through which useful knowledge can pass. The second form of learning is more transformative, and occurs when new syntheses of information occur – creating something qualitatively different from the knowledge previously residing in any specific node.

It has been largely my experience with workplace networks that they are created to serve one purpose – information distribution.  Rarely, if ever, have I seen the second component of learning utilisied.  Much of the potential for connectivism and true collaboration lies in the parameters of this second form of learning.  Which again brings me back to comment I made earlier in this post – can workplace networks realise their true potential while traditionally hierarchical views still form the foundations of the our schooling system?  The knowledge, expertise and experience of the network could be a great asset to school administrations but I fear they remain under utilised resources around much of the country.  Please do not assume that I think that I am laying blame squarely in the lap of school administration teams, after all they can only do what legislation and governing bodies above them will allow them to do too!

Connected yet disconnected?

Disconnected family

In considering how I might explain my reasons for the inclusion of this contradiction between being connected yet at the same time disconnected, I recalled hearing of this story –

Report: South Korean couple starved child while raising ‘virtual baby’

Jail for couple whose baby died while they raised online child

The world seems to becoming a place where people gauge much of their self worth and perception from their online presence.  Naturally the articles above concern themselves with an extreme but there is growing concern among psychologist as to the effects of social networking, such as ‘smiling depression‘ (Sunstrum 2014).  By extension, should we not then also consider the implications of self perception within workplace and learning networks?  An interesting point for discussion?

How has NGL changed over the years?

There are some deep connections between Twitter streams and clay tablets, and the networks that they hold together. (Goodyear 2014)

I was quite taken with this sentence within Goodyear’s chapter as I believe it summaries well the fact that networks are nothing new.  While the medium through which communicate has changed and evolved, the essence of communication within the network remains the same.

One change that I believe is very significant is the shift from verbal to written communication.  Of course this is not a recent change but I believe it does have important implications for the future, especially in education.  The ability to express oneself in writing is becoming increasingly important as more and more of our communication with others occurs in real time.

Living and learning in an instant world has ramification for written communication.  Too often people send messages without consideration of their choice of words and tone.  If you put ‘LOL’ at the end of the message, does that mean that you can be as rude and insulting as you like in your text, because those words where said ‘in jest’?  I fear in this time of instant messaging, the power of words is sometimes overlooked in the rush.  Dealing remotely with others does not give us the opportunity to interpret tone, facial expression and/or read body language.  Would it therefore not be wise and prudent to give due consider to what we write before hitting send?  Much has changed in the world of communication over the centuries but the power of the written word continues to be as important today as it was 500 years ago. Significant implications for the education of young people…in my opinion!  But then again, it might just be the English teacher in me!

In considering the changes in NGL over the years, one further point I believe is worth of mention – with the development of digital technologies, the opportunities available for NGL have moved from the hands of a select, specialised few, to almost limitless possibilities for the many.  What implications and pressure might this place of organisations who fail to harness the potential of NGL in the future?

What insights/research appear directly related to you as teacher?

As a teacher, I can see the influence of NGL growing and this will have significant implications for my profession.  While I am excited by the possibilities, the harshness of reality soon grounds me.  While government structures, higher learning and business still work in largely traditional models, as teachers we have little choice but to continue to prepare our students to be successful in those models.  I am not saying it is right, but while funding is aligned with policy compliance and student success seems to be solely determined by a number or academic grade, what little hope does creativity, collaborative problem solving and NGL really have within the classroom?

In reflecting upon what I have written here and indeed throughout this post, I am concerned that some of you might consider my words bitter or tainted by experience.  I love what I do, and see great potential in both young people and the people who devote their lives to guiding them towards an ever changing and evolving future.  I guess my passion for my profession makes me feel somewhat frustrated at times by efforts to continually maintain the status quo.  I am not for a minute suggesting that we need to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’ but to continue to do what we have always done, just because it is the way that it has always been done, is naive and short-sighted to say the least.  Personally I believe our kids deserve better!  Whether the answer lies in the ideology of ‘connectivism’ or not I am still unsure but one thing is for certain, the dialogue is important!

What connections do you see with what’s in this reading and what you’ve seen before?

For me, the notion of what constitutes networked and global learning lies in the word ‘networked’.  With this in mind, the answer to ‘What is connectivism?’ certainly becomes clear in terms of how it can be applied to the creation and development of a network of learning, that has the potential to operate on a global scale.  There is an uncertainty about connectivism though that challenges me and, I assume generationally speaking, others in my profession as well.  I am left feeling that schools are quite insular, operating somewhat separately to the real world.  In the real world if you do not adapt and grow, potential markets and income are lost.  In education, what are the incentives for people to innovate and work collaboratively?

More questions to ponder…more answers to seek!


Author Unknown. (2010, March 5).  Report: South Korean couple starved child while raising ‘virtual baby’. CNN. Retrieved from

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.

Salmon, A. (2010, May 28).  Jail for couple whose baby died while they raised online child. CNN. Retrieved from

Sunstrum, K. (2014). How social media affects our self perception. Retrieved August 5, 2014 from /2014/03/14/how-social-media-affects-our-self-perception/


All images used as per their respective Creative Commons licenses.

lego hippy

Creative Commons_by-nc-sa Image by Joachim S. Müller





Creatice Commons_by-saImage by Lars Plougmann


Disconnected family

Creative Commons_byImage by Artotem


5 responses to “The History of NGL – questions and answers?

  1. Hi Anne,

    Your post gave me heaps of food for thought, and really illustrate your engagement with the issues and the subject. That’s great, your passion is definitely shining through!

    I just wanted to highlight a few of your points and give you my “two cents” on them.

    I also feared the “competitive, coercive and paternalistic” environment (i.e. culture) that predominated in the schools I worked in, particularly the primary focus on assessment. I agree that “competitiveness and a need for power and status” is still a major driving ideal and force, and something that I think does not lead to a fulfilling life. That is one of the reasons why I am focusing on the importance of doing things you love, regardless of their financial or status potential.

    I have been enjoying your posts on connectivism and how the framework encourages networking and connecting with others of similar and different backgrounds. I have noticed that although there will always be people who will be “free-riders” and “trolls” who are not wanting to make changes or who can make you feel like crap, my thinking is in line with the connectivists, and if that means I’m idealistic, then call me a “new hippie of the digital age.” I love your expression! I want our learning to be something that not only grows our careers but also grow who we are.

    I am particularly intrigued by your post about making connections with others in this subject. What I think this is happening, and I am just making assumptions here, there is so much to get our heads around, particularly as we are doing other subjects and working, maintaining households and family. Not to mention seeing friends, exercising, and of course, relaxing!

    I think the danger with any type of activity is doing it to “burn-out.” I would love to think that each of us will continue with this once we are no longer doing this degree. I, like you, have been wanting to engage more with others, like yourself, and now is my opportunity. 😀

    Thank you for being such a great role model.

    Annelise 🙂


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