Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The importance of networked learning and teaching in a digital classroom

The development of technology over the past decade has changed how society operates, how people communicate, interact and access information. This digital age has evolved to reflect the high use of mobile technology. Mobile technology and the Internet has made people more contactable and information more accessible. It has also changed how music is distributed and obtained, how photos are shared and how videos are watched. These changes have influenced the change and adapted teaching practices and educational pedagogy (Siemens, 2011) to reflect the 21st century. With information being more easily accessible through smart phones and mobile devices, the focus of lessons has changed from teacher-centred to student-centred and project based learning. This has allowed teachers and students to use technology to connect with various sources of information allowing students to create and build their own knowledge through guided networked sources (Dunaway, 2001 and Siemens, 2005).

Traditional learning theories such as Behaviorism, Cognitivism and Constructivism are broad instructional environments for education, however, they were developed before the digital age where technology was not ingrained within our daily lives (Siemens, 2004).  The increased access to technology created significant trends within teaching and learning. Education is no longer restricted to formal classes; learning can take place at any time or place. People also move through many different fields throughout their lifetime and as a result learning has become a continual and life long process. The increased technological development, most importantly, internet and Wi-Fi has allowed for open access to information which previously was not available and has facilitated learning that was previously impossible (Siemens, 2004).  This lead Downes (2012) and Siemens (2004) to examine the use technology in education and develop the idea that an individual’s ability to source and network information has resulted in far greater successes for students in the 21st century, who are in digital classrooms, thus creating a new principle for learning called Connectivism.  Siemen’s (2004) describes connectivism as combining chaos, self-organising knowledge and theories with the ability to network and make connections. Students initial networks traditionally start with in-person contacts such as family and friends, however they often are not able to provide sufficient academic resources. Students are encouraged to use resources such as their librarian, the internet and reference sites to assist in collecting the data required (Transue, 2013).  Telstra made a comedic television commercial, where a child asks his father, ‘Why did they build the Great Wallof China?’ (  with the famous reply being ‘to keep the rabbits out.’ The idea behind this commercial effectively promoted the need for families to have the Internet to assist with their child’s education which highlights and supports Siemen’s (2004) connectivism theory.

The digital age has seen innovations in social networking sites, increased access to information through openness movements, increased mobile devices, learning through gamification, increased multimedia channels and the blending of virtual and physical worlds (Sienmans, 2011). This ability to connect and pass on information through technology, called the ‘information flow,’ and the importance of it to education and students has been likened to an ‘oil pipe in an industrial economy’ (Siemens, 2004. and Regional Support Centre Scotland, 2012). The principles of connectivism and networked learning are based on the ability to provide options for current information sources, which allows students to connect with the information and encourage them to look for patterns. This successfully allows them to be critical of the sources and information, creating their own discussions and sharing information (Starkey, 2011).

An area not discussed by Starkey (2011) and Siemens (2004) concerning networked learning and a networked society involves tailoring this access to information to fit the students. In the past, students had to conform to the fit the system, regardless of their abilities. Students who didn’t conform often struggled and as a result could not get access to the knowledge, as the teacher was the holder of knowledge. Knowledge and access to information is not confined to schools anymore. A teacher’s role is to tailor the learning to the student. Ericsson (2012), ‘The Future of Learning, Networked Society‘ delivers clear and concise messages teachers, our job is to point students in the direction and teach them to ask the right questions.

(Click it -> Learn it -> Share it: Social Media’s Role in Education. Retrieved from

Knowing and using digital connections places pressure on teachers and educators to become familiar and comfortable using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) within the classroom. Studies have shown that the teacher greatly affects how successful digital technology usage is, and by extension how successful the lesson is. Teachers who are unfamiliar or unprepared to use the digital technology do not achieve an effective learning environment and students become unfocused easily (Starkey, 2011). Nevertheless, our digital native students need teachers with effective ICT training to facilitate a learning environment that is thought and content focused, not technology focused. The technology is a tool to assist the teaching and learning.  By keeping this at the forefront of teaching within a digital classroom permits for explicit literacy and critical thinking skills to be taught and developed (Starkey, 2011 and Rowley and O’Dea, 2014). Studies have shown that allowing teachers and students to connect with quality pedagogical practices while using eLearning technologies has increased student enjoyment as they develop connections with the content during their own learning process (Rowley and O’Dea, 2014). Networked learning promotes interactive engagement not only with the resources and materials but with peer collaboration and review. Therefore Web 2.0 technologies commonly found in digital classrooms are substantially effective in promoting personal learning experiences for students as well as promoting social collaboration for learning in the digital age.

The integration of technology within the classroom and the development of networked learning and connectivism has caused traditional taxonomies which evaluate teaching and learning to come under question. Traditional evaluation and review methods for testing knowledge do not fit the newer methods of educational practices and therefore causes the Blooms Taxonomy to be revised, with the Digital Age Learning Matrix needing to be developed (Starkey, 2011). Starkey (2011) has made clear connections with the stages of Digital Age Learning Matrix to different levels of learning, thought and comprehension level while using digital technology. The aspects of learning within the matrix represent the ability to think, critique and evaluate ideas, as well as create and share knowledge, which consequently shares similarities to the Modified Bloom’s Taxonomy.  By introducing the Digital Age Learning Matrix during teacher ICT professional development (PD) or in-services will aid and highlight the importance of using networking learning within the classroom and will assist with Rowley and O’Dea’s (2014) recommendation for increased teacher instructional training. However, focusing purely on technology and new theories is potentially dangerous. Instead, inspire teachers with an idea that can benefit and help them within the classroom to help their students. This will have a greater chance of winning over technologically hesitant teachers. Use the software or application as a crutch to support the learning, not the focus of the learning (Hosler, 2014).

For networked learning and connectivism to be successful students need to access and analyse the media using developed literacy skills to make connections with the material. Dunaway (2011), Starkey (2011) and Downes (2006) discuss different aspects and criteria that must be followed for students to make connections and develop their learning and knowledge. The focus for connectivism is on the student’s ability to make their own connections within the study area using digital media (Dunaway, 2011), thus students must interact with the material and be engaged with the content. Once this happens students will then progress through the Digital Learning Matrix (Starkey, 2011) to critique, evaluate, create and share their knowledge with others. Downes (2006), outlines four main criteria for educators and learners to follow for successful networked learning; openness to the network; autonomy to the members in the network; diversity of information; and perspectives and tasks and connectedness from the emergence of knowledge formed from the interaction of all members of the group in order to make a reliable and semantic network. Educators need their students to engage and collaborate with the materials across the network to develop their own connections within a digital classroom. It is not sufficient to show students a variety of sources containing information about the given topic. Students need to find and develop their own network by using a range of digital tools, Web 2.0 tools and social collaboration sites to review and question the presented content.

To engage and critique the information presented through Web 2.0 technologies, critical thinking and specific digital literacy skills need to be explicitly taught to students. Dunaway (2011) argues Web 2.0 technologies are disruptive technologies and learning practices in comparison to traditional leaning paradigms; however, traditional methods are no longer relevant to our Google Generation of students. Universities training the next generation of teachers are expected to provide teacher training using the latest teaching pedagogy practices and digital internet tools (Rowley and O’Dea (2014). Using this combination has found greater enjoyment of learning, greater learning gains, connection with the class and teacher and lower failure rates. Rowley and O’Dea (2014) supports Starkey’s (2011) recommendations for continual teacher in-service to reduce teacher anxiety and increase their own digital literacy skills. This is highly successful in allowing more teachers to use a range of eLearning activities to help engage students in their learning and allow students the benefits of collaboration, and creating their own connections within the material being studied. Transue (2013) supports this notion but also compares Siemens (2005) Principles of Connectivism to the Association for College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, proving the cross over between the two and highlights how ACRL literacy needs to evolve to fit the digital age and new literacies.

Dunaway (2011) also discussed the need for new critical perspectives of information literacy and education to be used to fit the digital classroom and reasons with two new literacies, ‘metaliteracy’ and ‘transliteracy,’ which have been built to reflect the change in technology and information fluency. Both contain different concepts but are built on other literacy frameworks for building knowledge but recognize the impact and role of technology within education today. Google has become a supported of American schools and has partnered with many Catholic Schools across Australia, in particular Sydney Catholic Schools. Google Cloud Share Groups and Google Guides are continually training and learning the new features, apps, add-ons and Chrome Extensions available to assist teachers in using more technology within the class room and allowing students to collaborate on shared resource and even create notes into time with a teacher’s YouTube playlist (Vid.eo notes). With this continuing, teachers will be able to focus on developing students’ digital literacy skills, critical and analytical thinking. Flipped classrooms, recorded demonstrations and explanations allowing students to watch the YouTube clips from home allow for more flexibility within the classroom to allow the teacher to fit the system to the students and further fosters different perspectives to be taught.

(A Networked Teacher. Retrieved from )

The digital classroom and networked learning has the ability to engage students allowing them to take ownership of their learning and education. Educators need to continue to build and develop skills and work practices to reflect the continual technological developments within our society, our students’ live and within our classrooms. To have a positive impact on our digital native students, teachers must embrace the Web 2.0 tools, ‘Google’s seamless and integrated services’ (Hayes, 2013, p.23) and move with the mobile and dynamic age of technology. This is crucial to allow students to make their own connections and construct their own knowledge networks to build their own pipeline for further knowledge development.

Words: 1934
Aim 1800 (+/-10%)


Downes, S. (2008). Connectivism and Organizations. Retrieved from

Downes, S. (2012). Connectivism and Connective Knowledge: Essays on meaning and learning networks. Retrieved from

Drexler, W. (2008). Networked Student. Retrieved 25 May 2014, from:

Dunaway, M. (2011). Connectivism: Learning theory and pedagogical practice for networked information landscapes. Reference Services Review. 39(4), 675 -685. Retrieved on 21 May 2014 from
Ericsson. (2012). The Future of Learning, Networked Society – Ericsson. Retrieved from

Hayes, A. (2013). Cyborg Cops, Googlers, and Connectivism. IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, 32(1) 23-24. Retrieved 21 May 2014 from

Hosler, A. (2014). 5 Bad Technology Habits Teachers Can Fall Into. Te@chThought. Retrieved on 28th May, 2014 from

 Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. (Updated 5005). Retrieved from:

Siemens, G. (2011). Special Issue - Connectivism: Design and Delivery of Social Networked Learning.
International review of research in open and distance learning. 12(3). Retrieved from

Starkey, L. (2011). Evaluating learning in the 21st century: a digital age learning matrix. Technology, Pedagogy and Education. 20(1),19-39. DOI: 10.1080/1475939X.2011.554021. Retrieved from:

Telstra. (N.D.). Commercial: ‘Why did they build the Great Wall of China?’. Retrieved from (

Transue, B. (2013) .Connectivism and Information Literacy: Moving From Learning Theory to Pedagogical Practice. Public Services Quarterly, 9(3), 185-195. DOI: 10.1080/15228959.2013.815501

Regional Support Centre Scotland. (2012) Connectivism – An Approach to Learning for the 21st Century. Retrieved on 25 May 2014 from

Rowley, J. & O’Dea, J. (2014) Enjoyments of eLearning Among Teacher Education Students in Australia. International Research in Education, 2(1), 134-144. DOI:10.5296/ire.v 2i1.4794