Why do (social) networks matter in teaching & learning?

Alec Couros is keynoting (or unkeynoting) at the Melbourne leg of the Personal Learning Environments conference (pleconf) being held next week. He’s asked for help in crowdsourcing his keynote by asking us why networks matter in teaching and learning?

I’m going to ignore the ‘teaching’ word and just concentrate on the ‘learning’ word because that is far more important and far more enabled by the network. I’m sure there are many reasons but this a short post so I’ll limit it to three:


Apparent serendipity

Maintaining a network of sources of information enables the learner to ‘stumble’ across useful resources for learning. This isn’t really serendipity. It just seems like it. I would contend that quite often, with a sufficiently large numbers in the network, the answers to questions will made available via the network just as the learner needs them or is about to need them. This is inevitable but may seem like coincidence. Whatever it is, it’s very useful.

I suspect for this to work the learner needs to have quite a large network and one that is homogenous enough to share the interests of the learner but also diverse enough to throw up interesting outliers resources from sources that the learner would not normally see. This will give the learner alternative perspectives to the same question. It will also enable them to make connections that they wouldn’t  otherwise see. Again, this is would appear to be serendipitous but really isn’t.


The network provides an opportunity for feedback. It provides a space to ask questions and receive answers. This is one of the most overlooked aspects of the use of open discussion groups in learning management system (LMS) course site. Everywhere I’ve seen that used I have seen students help one another towards a shared understanding. By opening the network outside of the LMS the ability to ask, to share and to provide feedback are increased enormously.

Reliability based on reputation

Maintaining a network of fellow learners enables the student to identify key sources of reliable information based on their previous contributions to the network. This instils confidence in reliability of the resources that an individual node provides.

This might reinforce learning that has occurred through self directed study or experience or through some other mechanism. Conversely it might challenge previous learning. That’s not a bad thing either. Whatever, I would say that the development of skills in discerning reliable sources of information from within a network would be a fundamental part of the development of critical thinking skills.


As I mentioned at the start, I think there are many more reasons. If you’d like to help Alec by adding your own thoughts then visit his blog and post a comment. I’m looking forward to hearing many more at his keynote.

2 Comments On “Why do (social) networks matter in teaching & learning?”

  1. I agree I think that social networking has actually helped me learn quite a bit and actually I’ve used it to help me with assignments at school. For example when I need multiple opinions from different people It’s a quick and easy way to get a survey out there.


  2. This is a very academic summary. I think it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that we are social creatures. We do not learn in a vacuum. Everything we do, see, or feel is in direct relation to all other human beings on the planet.


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