Open Thinkering


Tag: connectivism

Introducing ‘Empowered Networked Learning’ (ENL)

AI-created image of a diverse group of people collaborating while sitting around a table

As educators, we are constantly challenged to adapt to a changing digital landscape and meet the evolving needs of today’s learners. Traditional pedagogies don’t always help, as they can struggle to address the impact of rapid technological advancements on education.

So, to help navigate this complex environment, let’s explore the concept of Empowered Networked Learning (ENL), an educational approach I’ve coined that combines Pragmatism, Constructivism, Critical Pedagogy, and Connectivism. In this introductory post, I want to briefly describe what ENL entails and how taking a holistic approach can help educational practices in the digital age.

🧠 Understanding ENL

As digital technologies continue to transform our lives, work, and learning, it’s important for educators to not only embrace them, but to do so with a critical stance and philosophical underpinnings. ENL strategies recognise the power of digital tools and resources to foster creativity, innovation, and critical thinking. This helps educators create learning experiences that better prepare learners to become active agents of change in an increasingly interconnected digital society.

ENL is a holistic approach designed to create dynamic, inclusive, and democratic learning environments. The aim is to empower learners by equipping them with the skills and knowledge required to navigate, engage with, and transform the digital world. By integrating the diverse philosophical perspectives mentioned above, ENL promotes active participation, critical thinking, and collaboration in digital spaces. It fosters a learning experience that is both relevant and transformative.

🏛️ The Four Pillars

As I’ve already said, ENL is built upon four main philosophical foundations:

  1. Pragmatism — a focus on practical solutions and real-world applications, encouraging learners to experiment and solve problems in authentic contexts.
  2. Constructivism — an emphasis on learners actively constructing their own understanding and knowledge through their experiences and interactions with others.
  3. Critical Pedagogy — a commitment to education as a tool for questioning and challenging dominant ideologies, power structures, and social injustices, and fostering critical consciousness.
  4. Connectivism — a recognition of the importance of networks, technology, and social connections in the learning process, highlighting the role of learners as active participants in creating and sharing knowledge.

Surrounding this is a culture of Open Recognition, which I’ve discussed at length in recent posts.

🚀 Implementing ENL

To effectively incorporate ENL into your educational practice, consider the following strategies:

  • Promote active learning through problem-solving, inquiry, and project-based activities that encourage learners to apply their knowledge in real-world situations.
  • Create learner-centred environments that encourage autonomy, self-directed learning, and collaboration among peers.
  • Encourage critical reflection and dialogue around societal issues, power dynamics, and diverse perspectives.
  • Exploit the power of digital tools and resources to facilitate connections and collaborations, both within and beyond the classroom.

I’m hoping that Empowered Networked Learning will offer a fresh and transformative approach to education in the digital age, and I may offer courses on it in future. However, you can start right now by embracing the principles of ENL and integrating them into your educational practice. Read up on the four pillars, as well as Open Recognition, and think about how they would apply in your context!

Change MOOC – #change11

After seeing several MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) come and go over the past couple of years, I’ve decided to play a part in a new one being facilitated by Dave Cormier, George Siemens and Stephen Downes.

What’s a MOOC?

Allow Dave Cormier to enlighten you:


What do you have to do?

Pretty much anything you like. To paraphrase from

This is an unusual course. It does not consist of a body of content you are supposed to remember. Rather, the learning in the course results from the activities you undertake, and will be different for each person.

This type of course is called a ‘connectivist’ course and is based on four major types of activity:

  1. Aggregate
  2. Remix
  3. Repurpose
  4. Feed Forward

When a connectivist course is working really well, we see this greate cycle of content and creativity begin to feed on itself, people in the course reading, collecting, creating and sharing. It’s a wonderful experience you won’t want to stop when the course is done.

And – because you can share anywhere – you won’t have to. This course can last as long as you want it to.

The schedule consists of people who are pretty much who’s-who in my corner of the digitally-connected world; I’m particularly looking forward to:

  • Week 3 – Martin Weller (Digital Scholarship)
  • Week 9 – Dave Cormier (Rhizomatic Learning)
  • Week 17 – Howard Rheingold ([How] can [using] the web [intelligently] make us smarter?)
  • Week 25 – Stephen Downes (Knowledge, Learning and Community)
  • Week 30 – Alec Couros (Facilitating Networked Learners)
  • Week 33 – George Siemens (Sensemaking, wayfinding, networks, and analytics)
  • Week 34 – Bonnie Stewart (Digital Identities & Subjectivities)

That’s because these are people I know will provide interesting stimulus material and sound guidance. However, I’m also looking forward to being surprised by others!

MOOCs have a structure that allows you to dip in and dip out. This course is running (at least) until 20th May 2012 so there’ll be times when I can pay more or less attention. Given that I’m handing in my thesis in the next 14 days I should, on average, have a whole lot more time on my hands to get involved.

Why don’t YOU take part as well? It’s a great way to meet new people and think through new ideas!

Literacy -> Digital Flow: Tetrads & Connectivism.

This follows on from a previous post Literacy -> Digital Flow: digital epistemologies & ontology. References can be found on my wiki.

What we are asking here is, effectively, what changes when a new technology is introduced? How does affect how we interact, how we think and how we communicate? Useful here may be Marshall McLuhan’s idea of ‘tetrads’ (as set out in his posthumously-published Laws of Media).

(image from Wikimedia Commons)

Any medium or human artefact simultaneously enhances, reverses, retrieves and obsolesces – although the effects in each area may take years to manifest themselves. If we take the mobile phone (cellphone) as an example to place in the centre of the tetrad, we observe the following. The mobile phone enhances communication by voice whilst reversing the need to keep people close in order to communicate with them. Public telephone booths become obsolete, but certain behaviours (such as infantile shouting) are retrieved.

McLuhan also believed that technologies have to be understood in their historical context, using the idea of ‘figure and ground’ to underpin his famous phrase ‘the medium is the message’. The figure (or medium) operates through its ground (or context) with both having to be understood together to make either intelligible. McLuhan believed that each technology reflects a way of understanding the world, especially in terms of time and space. Attempting to understand a particular technology or medium without the culture in which it was used would be at best anachronistic and at worst useless and misleading.

This idea of each medium having its own tetradic influence, along with McLuhan’s borrowing of the concept of ‘figure and ground’ from Gestalt psychology would seem to make the idea of a single, monolithic ‘digital literacy’ untenable. Not only does the ‘digital’ refer to devices that cover many cultural niches and time periods, but each obeys McLuhan’s Laws of Media in different ways. We have moved from a psychological view of understanding literacy (as with Traditional Literacy) to a sociological view where ‘[l]iteracies are bound up with social, institutional and cultural relationships, and can only be understood when they are situated within their social, cultural and historical contexts’ (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:12).

As Lankshear and Knobel go on to mention, literacy is always connected to social identity, to being a particular type of person. This is necessarily singular in a world where communication is bounded by physicality, but in a digital world may be multiple. Online I may have as many personas and identities as I have accounts. This has led to what is known as ‘affinity spaces’ – places where informal learning takes place amongst people who have a shared activity, interest or goal (Gee, 2004). This could be a war-game played online through an identity symbolised through a ‘butch’ soldier avatar, involvement of a photo-sharing community where members post comments, ideas and tips on each others’ work, or a fan fiction arena where members share a love of a particular film/TV series/book. It is not difficult to imagine an individual involving themselves in each of these communities simultaneously using a different identity, avatar, and persona each time. These multiple identities are predicated upon ‘the recognition of “difference” and hyperplurality… suggest[ing] that the emerging architecture of world order is moving away from territorially distinct, mutually exclusive, linear orderings of space toward nonlinear, multiperspectival, overlapping layers of political authority. Likewise, modern mass identities centred on the “nation” are being dispersed into multiple, nonterritorial “niche” communities and fragmented identities’ (Deibert, 1996:201 quoted in Hawisher & Selfe, 2000:288)

If communities are defined by communication and creative acts, and if these two activities are based upon some form of literacy, then literacies must be multiple, ever-changing and quickly evolving. In fact, it is difficult to see how such a generalised notion of ‘digital literacy’ would have time to ‘solidify’ and reside within an individual in a pure form. Instead, using theories such as Connectivism to conceive of learning – and therefore literacies – as residing in networks may be more sustainable. Considering education in terms of Discourse(s) rather than as transmission leads to,

thinking of education and learning in terms not of schools and children (place-related and age-specific) but, instead, in terms of human lives as trajectories through diverse social practices and institutions… To learn something is to progress toward a fuller understanding and fluency with doing and being in ways that are recognized as proficient relative to recognized ways of ‘being in the world’ (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:196)

Social practices become both all-important and compartmentalized. Learners as ‘nodes on a network’ can gain identity and status whilst simultaneously helping shape what, for that particular community, is an accepted and recognized way of ‘being in the world’. As Siemens, one of the developers of the theory of Connectivism puts it,

The starting point of connectivism is the individual. Personal knowledge is comprised of a network, which feeds into organizations and institutions, which in turn feed back into the network, and then continue to provide learning to individuals. This cycle of knowledge development (personal to network to organization) allows learners to remain current in their field through the connections they have formed. (Siemens, 2004:no page)

In a world where the ‘half-life’ of knowledge – ‘the time span from when knowledge is gained to when it becomes obsolete’ (Gonzalez, 2004 quoted by Siemens, ibid.) – is shrinking rapidly, such networked learning and associated literacies are essential.