The networked student and the learning landscape

Connectivism and networked learning have emerged as new learning paradigms that reflect the ability of today’s learner to access endless sources of information, build relationships with others, and collaborate and develop knowledge, all often done outside the formal education environment, on a scale not seen before (Siemens, 2005; Blackall, 2007; as cited in Kligyte, 2009, p. 540).

Networked learning supported by information and communication technology (ICT) is changing the learning landscape for governments, business, schools and tertiary institutions worldwide. ICT in today’s very social online environment is providing unprecedented opportunities for inquiry, contribution, collaboration and support. A new understanding of the term ‘learning’ is the option of networking different forms of learning, such as non-formal, informal and formal learning activities, each complementing the other organically (Illeris, 2009). Networked students have streams of information coming at them 24/7 (Prensky, 2010). Learning avenues are no longer necessarily bound by conventional curriculum delivery structures and nineteenth-century physical learning environments. Also, learning is no longer necessarily an individual process that has a start and end point. The concept of lifelong learning has become a focus for 21st century education and has been sharpened strategically and functionally (Illeris, 2009). The majority of our secondary students are deeply immersed in and proficient with technology, and connected to their peers and the world in ways no generation has ever been before (Prensky, 2010). Peer learning communities are no longer situated only in the classroom environment—they can now be global.

The majority of today’s learning institutions incorporate some forms of ‘connectivism’ (Siemens, 2005). Siemens’ connectivism theory of learning takes into account trends in learning, 21st century learning needs, global connectedness and learning through online networked communities, also referred to as ‘networked learning’. For universities competing in the global market place, networked learning opens up as many new avenues in the economics of education as it does in pedagogy (Greener and Perriton, 2005). In the post-secondary sector, online networked learning for distance education is now common practice across the globe. De Laat, Lally, Lipponen and Simons (2006) describe networked learning (NL) as:

the use of internet-based information and communication technologies to promote collaborative and co-operative connections: between one learner and other learners; between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources, so that participants can extend and develop their understanding and capabilities in ways that are important to them, and over which they have significant control. (Banks et al. 2003, p. 1 as cited in De Laat et al, 2006).

Today’s networked learners are immersed in a plethora of ICT platforms that provide online collaboration in learning. Networked learners commonly share learning through the ‘read-write-web’ Web 2.0 arena using tools such as weblogs, wikis, RSS, social bookmarking and audio/video-casting to actively participate in communities of practice. The notion of communities of practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991) has changed the way teachers and learners experience education (De Laat et al, 2006). To further compound this social paradigm of 21st century learning possibility is the notion that educational institutions already have to move beyond the considered current 1:1 ICT model toward a more flexible and hybrid on and off-campus mobile learning model. Two-thirds of the world’s population own a cell phone (Prensky, 2010) and most of today’s entry level phones include connectivity for networked learning, including video, audio and voice record and a calculator. Mobile devices offer the benefits of networked learning but with a focus on ownership, immediacy, continuous media capacity, communications and situatedness (Anderson, 2009). Peter Williams, partner and CEO of Deloitte Digital, recommends corporations and governments need to be engaging with the mobile web as it is likely to become the dominant mode of access over the next decade (Williams, 2010). Our Faculty has begun a trial on blogging software that transfers and adjusts how information is viewed across mobile platforms. Mobile learning through the iPhone and iPad are already taking shape in secondary and tertiary learning. As educational vision begins to transcend 19th century practice, mobile technology in learning will become standard practice.

The Technology Studies Faculty’s newly restructured senior technology systems work program incorporates unique Web 2.0 design and development practice-based learning activities. The Web 2.0 practice-based learning activities epitomise the teacher-facilitated, student-centred learning model. The learning activities incorporate collaborative development, authentic client scenarios, and international forums for networked learning together with genuine industry support desks.

While networked learning is not new to our Faculty, the Web 2.0 activities incorporate leading international developers’ problem solving common complications and glitches in a fast moving ‘read-write-web’ development arena. Rather than our teachers researching latest trends then delivering the most recent developments, our students and teachers are working in a collaborative partnership of common practice by participating in the most recent open source Web 2.0 technology movements; the same way our industry partners do daily. Our students and teachers are considered learners of a community, with shared enterprise, rather than individual experts. This change in pedagogical delivery is helping empower our students to make their own decisions and lead their learning based on a support network much broader than just their teachers. Our community learning focus is not designed to be a transitory process but instead the start to an organic learning journey (Fox, Haddock and Smith, 2007). The essential components to initiate this new learning activity in our classroom setting include a willingness to take risks, persistence, awareness, reflection and partnership with industry professionals and their practice. Our strategy is to develop a technology curriculum that enables students to become fluent in technology systems to enable innovative connections: something that is required for a contemporary entrepreneurial mindset, transferring learning as they weave through multiple career paths.

Brisbane Girls Grammar School staff and students are fortunate to have world-class facilities and physical and human resources available for secondary education in Australia. We are one of the first Australian private education bodies to undertake a roll-out of the Windows 7, Office 2010, Exchange 2010 and Hyper-V packages across a whole organisation (Pitcher, 2010). Our community of networked learners are privileged to have access to a constantly evolving range of technology tools and products to help facilitate and engage the new learning landscape.


Anderson, T. (2009). Interactive mobile and Computer-Aided Learning 2009, Amman, Jordan – Conference Keynote.

De Laat, M., Lally, V., Lipponen, L. and Simons, R.-J. (2007) ‘Online teaching in networked learning communities’, Instructional Science, 35, 257-286

Fox, A., Haddock, J. and Smith, T. (2007). A network biography: Reflecting on a journey from birth to maturity of a networked learning community, The Curriculum Journal, 18 (3), 213-229

Greener, I. & Perriton, L. (2005). The political economy of networked learning communities in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 30(1), 67-79. Retrieved from

Illeris, K. (2009). Contemporary Theories of Learning. London and New York: Routledge

Kligyte, G. (2009). Threshold concept: A lens for examining networked learning. Retrieved from

Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Pitcher, J. (2010). Brisbane Girls Grammar orders Windows 7 & the lot. Retrieved from

Prensky, M. (2010). Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for real learning. Corwin Press

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved from

Williams, P. (2010). Australian Innovation Festival; May 26 – 30. Magazine publication. Australian Innovation: Publisher: Peter Westfield

Read reflective commentary from Director of Technologies, Mr Brendon Thomas, on his article, ‘The networked student and the learning landscape’.

Since 2009, the number of mobile users has increased from approximately 30 per cent to 70 per cent globally (Clement, 2019). Predictions about mobiles as the dominant web platform have since been proven true, with 67 per cent of users accessing the internet via their mobile devices rather than desktop platforms (Hootsuite, 2019).

While the population of mobile users continues to rise, so too do the concerns for children using such devices. Earlier this year, the Victoria State Government placed a ban on mobile phones during school hours in state primary and secondary schools, which will be implemented in Term 1 2020.

For some educators, myself included, this is a contentious issue. From a parenting perspective I struggle, like most parents, with disconnecting my four children from their digital umbilical. However, I do concur with Australian Catholic University’s Dean, Associate Professor Miriam Tanti, who suggests banning mobile phones does not work. Tanti suggests that rather than restricting mobile phones, schools need to foster meaningful use of technology that mirrors real-world ubiquitous use of technology.

Core studies for digital literacy in most primary and secondary schooling in Australia is still evolving. For our specialised elective technologies at Brisbane Girls Grammar School we utilise student mobile devices to build authentic business web apps, program drones, drive robots and develop interactive games.

I still note Siemens’ theoretical framework of Connectivism for understanding learning in the digital age (2005). As an applications developer, I utilise web browsers, blogs, forums and wikis most days to solve problems and create new concepts, as do our students. They also create their own online social networks and forums to form their own learning communities to leverage the most out of their learning and courses being studied. It’s important our girls educationally benefit from and adapt to today’s technology while their relationship with such platforms remains meaningful and healthy.