Home > Research > Publications & Outputs > Networked Learning in 2021: A Community Definition


Text available via DOI:

View graph of relations

Networked Learning in 2021: A Community Definition

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal article

  • Networked Learning Editorial Collective (NLEC)
  • Lesley Gourlay
  • José Luis Rodríguez-Illera
  • Elena Barberà
  • Maha Bali
  • Daniela Gachago
  • Nicola Pallitt
  • Chris Jones
  • Siân Bayne
  • Stig Børsen Hansen
  • Stefan Hrastinski
  • Jimmy Jaldemark
  • Magda Pischetola
  • Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld
  • Adam Matthews
  • Kalervo N. Gulson
  • Patricia Thibaut
  • Marjan Vermeulen
  • Femke Nijland
  • Emmy Vrieling-Teunter
  • Howard Scott
  • Klaus Thestrup
  • Tom Gislev
  • Marguerite Koole
  • Maria Cutajar
  • Sue Tickner
  • Ninette Rothmüller
  • Aras Bozkurt
  • Tim Fawns
  • Jen Ross
  • Karoline Schnaider
  • Lucila Carvalho
  • Jennifer K. Green
  • Mariana Hadžijusufović
  • Sarah Hayes
  • Laura Czerniewicz
  • Jeremy Knox
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>30/04/2021
<mark>Journal</mark>Postdigital Science and Education
Issue number2
Number of pages44
Pages (from-to)326-369
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date25/03/21
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Since the turn of this century, much of the world has undergone tectonic socio-technological change. Computers have left the isolated basements of research institutes and entered people’s homes. Network connectivity has advanced from slow and unreliable modems to high-speed broadband. Devices have evolved: from stationary desktop computers to ever-present, always-connected smartphones. These developments have been accompanied by new digital practices, and changing expectations, not least in education, where enthusiasm for digital technologies has been kindled by quite contrasting sets of values. For example, some critical pedagogues working in the traditions of Freire and Illich have understood computers as novel tools for political and social emancipation, while opportunistic managers in cash-strapped universities have seen new opportunities for saving money and/or growing revenues. Irrespective of their ideological leanings, many of the early attempts at marrying technology and education had some features in common: instrumentalist understandings of human relationships with technologies, with a strong emphasis on practice and ‘what works’.

It is now clear that, in many countries, managerialist approaches have provided the framing, while local constraints and exigencies have shaped operational details, in fields such as e-learning, Technology Enhanced Learning, and others waving the ‘Digital’ banner. Too many emancipatory educational movements have ignored technology, burying their heads in the sand, or have wished it away, subscribing to a new form of Luddism, even as they sense themselves moving to the margins. But this situation is not set in stone. Our postdigital reality results from a complex interplay between centres and margins. Furthermore, the concepts of centres and margins ‘have morphed into formations that we do not yet understand, and they have created (power) relationships which are still unsettled. The concepts … have not disappeared, but they have become somewhat marginal in their own right.’ (Jandrić and Hayes 2019) Social justice and emancipation are as important as ever, yet they require new theoretical reconfigurations and practices fit for our socio-technological moment.

In the 1990s, networked learning (NL) emerged as a critical response to dominant discourses of the day. NL went against the grain in two main ways. First, it embarked on developing nuanced understandings of relationships between humans and technologies; understandings which reach beyond instrumentalism and various forms of determinism. Second, NL embraced the emancipatory agenda of the critical pedagogy movement and has, in various ways, politically committed to social justice (Beaty et al. 2002; Networked Learning Editorial Collective 2020). Gathered around the biennial Networked Learning Conference,Footnote 1 the Research in Networked Learning book series,Footnote 2 and a series of related projects and activities, the NL community has left a significant trace in educational transformations over the last few decades.

Twenty years ago, founding members of the NL community offered a definition of NL which has strongly influenced the NL community’s theoretical perspectives and research approaches (Goodyear et al. 2004).Footnote 3 Since then, however, the world has radically changed. With this in mind, the Networked Learning Editorial Collective (NLEC) recently published a paper entitled ‘Networked Learning: Inviting Redefinition’ (2020). In line with NL’s critical agenda, a core goal for the paper was to open up a broad discussion about the current meaning and understandings of NL and directions for its further development.

The current collectively authored paper presents the responses to the NLEC’s open call. With 40 contributors coming from six continents and working across many fields of education, the paper reflects the breadth and depth of current understandings of NL. The responses have been collated, classified into main themes, and lightly edited for clarity. One of the responders, Sarah Hayes, was asked to write a conclusion. The final draft paper has undergone double open review. The reviewers, Laura Czerniewicz and Jeremy Knox, are acknowledged as authors.

Our intention, in taking this approach, has been to further stimulate democratic discussion about NL and to prompt some much-needed community-building.