Networked Learning – It’s how I work now!

This morning I tethered my phone at the Delta hotel intending to write a blog post about Dr. Ross Greene’s presentation about Collaborative Problem Solving with challenging kids, which, by the way…was terrific stuff!  His caring, individual concern for students who are having difficulty and his informed criticism of some of the ineffective ways that we deal with their issues and the environments to which we subject them each day at school means that I will read his books Lost At School and The Explosive Child. I will learn some more from him when I leave today, for sure!

However, what I’ve actually ended up with today is some reflection about the experience I had learning today.  Learning without my network is just not what I’m used to anymore!  I am aware that participation in back channels during large group presentations isn’t always productive for everyone,  and some folks even find it downright impolite, but it was a bit like going back in time and for me, and it just didn’t work so well.  Today the medium really was the message.

There were 200+ educators in the room and no internet code posted or mentioned.  Upon arrival, as per usual,  I positioned myself near an outlet and tried to get connected.   The only computers I saw in the room were my own laptop and the woman beside me with an ipad.  Neither of us could get on the net without a hotel code, so I proceeded to tether my phone so that I could make my notes in a draft blog post.

It was okay with me that Dr. Greene has lots of content on his slides and very few graphics.  That would raise lots of criticism from some folks (every been to an ISTE blogger’s cafe??) but I had no problem looking beyond that to what this guy was actually saying, and it was great stuff.   He was obviously genuine and really experienced working with challenging kids in school settings, a very credible speaker with lots of expertise to share.

I was okay for about the first 20 minutes, and began taking my notes, but then it was really strange.  I found it hard to concentrate.  All I had was my own background information, no connections with my colleagues on twitter, no tinychat running in the background, no links coming in about other experts on the subject, no connecting the information I was hearing to make it stick, no turning and talking to relate with my peers.  The room was filled with administrators and child and youth workers who I know would have a wealth of information and comments to share on this topic…far more than me.  I would have liked to been learning from them as well!

I’ve heard that some students compare their school experiences to getting on an airplane…disconnecting all of their devices for the 6 hour flight and then picking back up when they leave the classroom behind.   Today I learned that I’m glad I’m not a frequent flyer and I will continue to advocate for networked learning for our students!


  1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Brenda. I would like to think that our group of learners in Ontario have become very unselfish about their learning. Rather than sit and get something forced upon them, they listen, synthesize and then relay the learning to others. It’s a very generous sharing of new things and I think you’re just part of a group that really appreciates it and has come to think of it as the way we do things around here. Nobody is as smart as all of us.


  2. Wow. What you describe in the second last paragraph (absence of connection, isolated from other sources of information) is very familiar. I, too, have come to rely on not only collaborative input from other folks, but also the ability to follow-up or bookmark references in real time. While these facilities serve to augment our experience in real-time, I have also reflected on the “disconcertion of disconnection” and how it can perhaps “taint” the potential influence of a single-channel (the speaker) presentation.

    As for the daily, six-hour disconnect, I can definitely confirm that how we go about doing our daily work as educators is significantly hampered by having our devices (personal laptops, iDevices) disconnected during work hours. Thank goodness we have had (albeit, filtered) WiFi in my school for a month or so now, and student use of personal devices is on the horizon. No doubt it will take some time for all to adjust to the augmented model, but I have no doubt in my mind that, once sorted out, the supported, connected learner will be better off.

    Thanks for a great post, Brenda! See you soon!


  3. Awesome post Brenda. For myself I find it such a fine balance between connecting my learning with others and digesting/processing the material. I really liked your airplane comparison. Thanks for sharing!


  4. Interesting huh? We’ve certainly transitioned into a networked learning environment. I know it’s not for all, and not for all times, but for times when it is useful, it’s missed if absent. What’s that say about connectivism and constructivism?


  5. Ok, so here’s a bit of my take on this topic. 🙂

    First of all Brenda, you know how I care about thinking about these issues. And you and I have spoken extensively about it all. I am glad you have written this post because there needs to be a great deal of research, writing and clarification about it all. It is complex. Very complex.

    We have all seen instances where there has been a wide open backchannel and it has been disastrous – for some. We have all seen instances of isolation and boredom without a backchannel.

    Jim Milligan, friend and colleague at the YMCA of Greater Toronto has described sessions he has been at where the audience of senior managers just simply cannot sit and listen to a long presentation. They are distractible and edgy after 15 minutes. We are running a conference on Diversity and Social Inclusion for the senior leadership and he has asked me to help him with this issue.

    So we are going to set up focussed backchannel activities in order to:
    – keep their attention
    – enhance their learning
    – enhance their contributions
    – enhance their ability to apply the learned concepts to their practice in their various domains (Child Care, Employment, the High School, Fitness, etc.)

    We may be talking together more about this. Perhaps I’ll write a post – now that I think about it – because I would appreciate the assistance of Doug, Andrew, Colin, Jaclyn, you and others!

    thank you!


    • Peter,
      I would love to see/hear/read what you mean by “focused backchannel activities”. What type of specific activities?

      I agree with the need for research. How do we use a back channel effectively so it is differentiated enough to reach those whose who prefer to focus on one thing at a time and those who prefer to do a million things at once (not naming any names, Peter) 🙂 And, more importantly how do we ensure people know what is most effective for them and validate all places on the spectrum? One last “also” – how do we ensure that those who focus on one thing at a time, don’t “miss out” on any of the good discussion going on in the background and how do we ensure those who do a million things at once aren’t missing the big ideas?

      Rereading my comment here, the word “ensure” bothers me. I think I mean “support” instead.

      How does this look with different age groups (professionals, post secondary, secondary, primary, junior)? I don’t mean the tools, those will change, but the general structures. Thanks for making me think on a Sunday Peter!


      • I’m grateful to hear from all of you learners who have dabbled (or are strongly convicted) to networked learning experiences.

        Peter, I love that you are getting down to it for your conference by planning the environment carefully – most often you see the backchannel as created and wide open…perhaps this is why it isn’t always as valuable.

        Focus, interest and purpose could definitely enhance that! (as in most educational endeavours)

        When I think about my experience this week and how it would improve these questions come to mind:

        -does a 6-hour lecture style presentation work in the first place?
        -what kind of knowledge were people able to process and/or construct?
        -how could the more expert folks in the room have been used?
        -how could the more expert folks in the room have made their knowledge more explicit to the newbies and therefore have pushed their own learning forward?
        -could there have been opportunities for tables to have discussion that would have enhanced their processing?
        -was the learning I was able to take away from the day enough to launch me forward to actually apply it?
        -if yes…were there opportunities to build smaller learning groups for further learning that were missed?

        I love your ideas of focused activities and you’ve certainly already been considering some things that match up with my questions about my recent experience. You’ll still likely have the common problem of those people not yet fluent with the technology getting a little stuck on the tools, but perhaps you’ll be able to do something about that ahead of time or perhaps that’s just a reflection of where they are with their learning, and if the networks are set up they can get to their desired endpoint when they are ready. Not sure if that is making sense…LOL

        I do hope you will blog about your process…we are all trying to be better at developing best practices for networked learning spaces and perhaps we can all help!



  6. Brenda said, “You’ll still likely have the common problem of those people not yet fluent with the technology getting a little stuck on the tools, but perhaps you’ll be able to do something about that ahead of time or perhaps that’s just a reflection of where they are with their learning, and if the networks are set up they can get to their desired endpoint when they are ready. Not sure if that is making sense…LOL”

    Oh yes. It’s making sense. Naturellement! 😉 It’s actually one of the concerns that Jim expressed. And, yes, I’ll be looking for advice and feedback on some possible strategies. I’ll post about it all and use the considerations you are all mentioning here. I want to make it public in advance for any of those folks who will be in attendance at that conference.

    So Jaclyn, yes, I’ll be posting some possibilities. Back to my ‘professional development’ life – but, with a different crowd. A different professional culture. 🙂


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