Networked Publics: Learning and Creating as Global, Interconnected, Interactive Community Enterprise

“Openly networked” is one of the connected learning principles because learning always has been as much or more of a social than a strictly individual enterprise — and because the age-old human proclivity for operating in social networks has been vastly amplified by digital media and networks. Consider the difference between writing an essay for the teacher and maybe getting a gold star or a good grade, and publishing the same essay online and receiving comments from people around the world. In the old days, student presentations had a critical audience of one.

These days, presentations can have networked publics. An audience can respond with applause or a good grade (or, in the case of a teacher, helpful critical feedback). A public can comment, argue, link to you, join you in collective action. Like it or not, the world is a networked society, people are learning in networks, and our readers are publics as well as audiences.

One of the most powerful amplifications of networked learning is the “PLN” — the personal learning network. Through social media, it is possible to identify knowledgeable people, to follow their publications, to communicate with them, to discover and follow those who they consider knowledgeable, to help them learn and to learn from them. PLNs are for teachers as well as students, and the art of cultivating, feeding, and harvesting knowledge from PLNs is an essential 21st century skill.

Networked publics affect every aspect of our lives — our learning, our sociality, our engagement with the political process. Civic engagement increasingly involves networked media as the vectors of opinion. The health of the public sphere increasingly depends on how well people understand how their online behavior as citizens affects, for good and ill, the quality of the political commons. People increasingly meet their mates and dates not in bars but via social media. Disease patients and caregivers share support and information through networks. Understanding networks, using networks and learning in networks has become an essential aspect of today’s educational institutions and informal learning communities.

Hand in hand with networked publics is collaboration. The era of individual learning in which collaboration was largely treated as cheating has given way to the reality of a networked world where collaboration skills are as important as individual literacies.

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Banner image credit: Alan Levine