Book Chapter

Here is my latest research findings as presented at the Networked Learning Conference 2020, and subsequently developed as a book chapter for the Springer publication ‘Conceptualising and Innovating Education and Work with Networked Learning‘ (eds. Nina Bonderup Dohn, Jens Jørgen Hansen, Stig Børsen Hansen, Thomas Ryberg, Maarten de Laat, 2021) in the chapter ‘A Framework for the Analysis of Personal Learning Networks’:

The combined Personal Learning Network (PLN) for all participants

You can explore the network map HERE using password 3563636. Firstly you will see an individual PLN, then by clicking on ‘Combined’ (followed by the ‘select all’ option) you’ll see the map above. After that you can filter the combined map by any of the external factors which can shape the size, usage and preferences within a Personal Learning Network (PLN) that you see listed on the right-hand side.

Network Size can be seen by the number of nodes in the network map. Network Usage is visible as a percentage of total interactions (percentages are displayed as tool tips on-screen with mouse-over hover). Network Preferences are observable as thicker/thinner edges (connections) between network nodes representing a higher/lower amount of activity along that path. The thicker the edge connecting the nodes, the more frequently that network path has been activated.

Please feel free to explore the maps and re-use the findings under Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC 4.0

The interdisciplinary range of concepts and approaches that underpin the Framework for the Analysis of PLNs

Drawing from the various domains, concepts and ideas represented in the above graphic, the Framework was developed (see below).

The Framework for the Analysis of Personal Learning Networks

The conceptual underpinnings of the Framework lead to an understanding that a PLN consists of an Ego (a single person), who interacts via a mode (either a digital device or non-digital means e.g. face-to-face), for a particular interaction purpose, with a specific human or nonhuman endpoint. With this conceptualisation comes the concomitant questions of:

  • How big are these networks? (network size)
  • How are these networks used? (network usage)
  • What interaction preferences are visible in these networks? (interaction preference)
  • Are any of these factors significantly different for different types of people?

The Framework was then deployed via a quantitative survey which was embedded as a learning activity in the ‘Learning in the Network Age’ MOOC available on FutureLearn (written and created by me as part of this research programme). This innovative data collection methodology enabled a large and diverse sample of PLNs to be captured and analysed, consisting of 842 respondents resident in 92 different countries and 20 different ethnicities. Participants ranged in age from under 18 to over 75, were positioned across the full Digital Resident – Digital Visitor spectrum (White & Le Cornu, 2011), and engaged in the full range of activities (work, study, caring, leisure) on the day of reporting. It is worth noting that the MOOC-based data collection method will have led to a degree of sample bias alongside its clear benefits in reaching a large number of diverse global individuals.

The descriptive results for the whole sample indicates that regardless of who we are, where we live, and our contexts, attitudes and activities (external shaping factors) the average PLN will have a Network Size of 62 nodes (from a maximum possible network size of 335 nodes), a Network Usage of 296 interactions every day, and a strong Interaction Preference for digital devices – 77% of all daily interactions – with mobile-/smartphones constituting 34% of all interactions. We also interact almost equally with human and non-human endpoints (e.g. search engines, websites, social media and other platforms, forums/groups/blogs….etc). (See below)

Interaction Mode
Interaction Purpose
Top-level Interaction Endpoints

To find more detailed descriptive results, please explore the book chapter in full below:

In addition, differences observable between sample subsets from the descriptive analysis were then statistically tested for significance in SPSS using a univariate (1-way) ANOVA test for network size and a multivariate, repeated measures Mixed ANOVA test (2-way) featuring within-subject variables (the mean number of interactions with Mode, Purpose and Endpoint) and between-subject variables (the six external shaping factors) to compare means between different sample subsets in network usage and preferences. The tests returned significance values (at a confidence level of 95%, p <0.05) for the main effect of the within-subject variable under test, the main effect of the between-subject variable under test and the interaction effect of the within- and between-subject variables.

Analysis indicated that the size of a PLN is significantly impacted by where we live, what we are doing and what we think and feel about technology, but not by our gender, stage of life or ethnic group (but not in all sample subsets). Equally, PLN usage is significantly influenced by our gender, life stage, main activity and attitude to technology, but much less so by our ethnicity and where we live (but again not in all sample subsets). The external shaping factors, in most cases, impact the number of interactions we choose to make with different devices (inc. face-to-face). They also affect the number of interactions we make for different purposes, as well as the number of interactions we choose to have with people and things.

In contrast, the interaction preferences we express through our PLNs are considerably less impacted by the six external shaping factors. Regardless of gender, life stage, ethnicity, region of residence, main activity or attitude to technology, we tend to prefer to use devices in roughly the same ways to undertake interactions for similar purposes by interacting with similar human and non-human endpoints.

In short, how diverse people from across the world build and use their PLNs shows some variation in size, considerable variation in usage, but interesting homogeneity in interaction preferences and there is considerable nuance within sample subsets too.

(Again, much more depth can be found in the book chapter:)

My deepest thanks go to the Networked Learning community, to the conference organisers, and to the very patient and hard-working book editors for considering my work interesting enough for inclusion.

57% of students learn more from MOOCs than from lectures! – DRAFT of forthcoming book chapter

Here is a preview of the DRAFT version of the chapter to be published in Trends and Good Practices in Research and Teaching: A Spanish-English Collaboration, due for publication this year.

Responding to the Networked Student – the integration of MOOCs into on-campus HE modules-DRAFT

It reports on research conducted into two MOOC integration models. The research aimed to explore student attitudes towards MOOC integration for their learning and the impact MOOC integration has on student achievement.

Summary of Findings

The findings suggest that regardless of the integration model, students value the MOOC as a convenient, flexible and accessible way to study where and when they choose.

More importantly, the students report that the primary value of an integrated MOOC is that it helps them to understand the module content more deeply. This is due to a combination of the use of multimedia resources, the increased global and local opportunities to interact with a community of interested others, and the fact that it is not a lecture (57% of students reported learning more from MOOCs than from lectures – raising some interesting questions for HE teaching & learning!).

However, there remains a small number of students who, despite programmes of support, do not respond positively to MOOC integration, instead considering it to have little or no benefit to their learning or to be a waste of time.

The findings also indicate that while the Revision integration model led to a three percent increase in the module grade average (from 59% to 62%) and a doubling in the number of firsts awarded, the same was not the case for the Full Integration model.

This may have been due to the fact that inadequate account had been taken of the specific context of that module and insufficient MOOC and digital literacies support was provided. Equally, it may indicate that the integration model matters, with MOOCs being used to reinforce the learning gained during traditional face-to-face lectures being the most effective integration model.


As always – any comments, criticisms or collaborations welcome.

‘Simply Better’ Conference – Researching Assessment Practices – Professor Carol Evans

Innovative Assessment and Feedback: Responding to the Networked Student

Looking forward to presenting at this great conference at the University of Southampton designed to engage the wider audience with the findings of Professor Carol Evans’ HEFCE funded RAP research programme.

I’m on at 12.30pm in Strand D to present our contribution to the research project.

Hopefully rumbling bellies won’t distract from focussed minds…..! 🙂

The slides I’ll be using are here, and as usual, all comments about them are welcome.

FLAN meeting, University of Exeter, Feb 2018

Thanks for an excellent day at Exeter, hosted by Dr Lisa Harris, and featuring many interesting presentations! Here are the slides we presented on The Impact of Integrating MOOCs into University Modules. We present three different integration models and examine the effect on grade averages and module grade profiles.

Augmented Reality in HE teaching & learning

Feel free to check out this short video giving an overview of the potential for Augmented Reality to be used in future higher education teaching and learning.

When an interactive hotspot appears just click on it for extra information.

There’s a chance to express you opinion at the end too!

(non-interactive video is also viewable on my youtube channel)

The video was produced using the excellent Animoto (free trial version) with interactivity added using the brilliant H5P.

Any thoughts, as always, very welcome…

ICEM17 Conference, Naples

A wonderful visit to Naples in September 2017 for this excellent conference hosted by University Federica III saw us housed in a fabulous waterfront building brimming with classic Italian style and history.

Co-presenting with Dr Lisa Harris and Manuel Leon-Urrutia, we discussed some of our very early results from our investigations into the effectiveness of integrating MOOCs into on-campus modules. Here are the slides from that presentation:

Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below….

FutureLearn Academic Network event Exeter University Feb 2018

The latest FLAN event, hosted brilliantly by Exeter University and Dr Lisa Harris, on the 28th Feb 2018 featured many fascinating talks focused on the integration of MOOCs into mainstream HE teaching & learning.

Along with my colleague Manuel Leon-Urrutia, we presented some of the early findings of my research into the impact on teaching, learning and achievement of integrating MOOCs into on-campus modules. We presented three different models of integration, and concluded that students report that this blended approach allows for deeper understanding of the subject, more and better interaction opportunities and more flexible learning. The impact on teaching & learning appeared to be mainly positive.

However, the impact on achievement was more mixed, with module grade averages and the percentage of top grades being most positively affected when MOOCs were used to support face-to-face lectures as a revision tool.

You can view our slides here:

As always, feel free to share your thoughts on this in the comments below…

Reflections on Cabinet Office Open Innovation Team secondment

Having spent three months on secondment with the Cabinet Office’s Open Innovation Team (OIT) during 2017, tasked with helping to establish the team and develop the Digital Government Partnership (as announced in the UK Digital Strategy), I can safely say that it was a fantastic learning experience.

The Office – 1 Horse Guards Road

My eyes were opened to the complexities of the Civil Service and the processes of getting quality advice to senior civil servants and ministers. During my time in Whitehall, I experienced:

  • how the Civil Service works (or doesn’t so much during purdah, elections and ministerial changes!);
  • some of the challenges facing innovative teams within a highly structured environment;
  • how to position my research much more effectively within a policy context;
  • how to communicate effectively with time-poor, information-hungry policymakers;
  • much more about the wider digital landscape than I had explored during my PhD research;
  • and how many police officers and vehicles it takes to move a Prime Minister three hundred metres down the road!

Better still, I met a lot of good people, including a wide range of civil servants from the Treasury, HMRC, Home Office, GDS, DEFRA and DCMS, as well as other academics and PhDs from different departments and universities across the UK. I had many interesting conversations and was able to attend a number of fascinating events, from Damian Green’s first speech to the Cabinet Office after being appointed (and before being removed!), through a workshop on the Future of Work in the face of automation and artificial intelligence, to a lovely trip to Swindon to visit the UK Research Councils.

I should also say that I enjoyed the heady feeling of being near the centre of power, and the sense of being somewhere which mattered and being involved at the start of something exciting. As a result of all these experiences and learning, I found myself genuinely missing Chris and his great Open Innovation Team on leaving and would strongly advise anyone who is interested in politics, digital matters and/or power to take maximum advantage of future placement opportunities there.

Learning in the Network Age – FutureLearn and University of Southampton MOOC

This coming Monday (April 24th 2017) sees the start of a new Massive Open Online Course which I have produced in conjunction with many brilliant students, staff, production experts and programmers at the University of Southampton.

Learning in the Network Age

This course is all about learning in the network age. The way we learn is changing, it is much more than just attending lectures and classes.

It involves interacting with a powerful online and offline network of

  • people
  • technology
  • information

in ways, places and times of our choosing.

However, just as we are subject to social inequalities offline, so too are the networks we create online. These differences impact what our learning networks look like and how we use them.

This short course aims to understand how we learn, to know more about digital inequalities and their effect on our learning networks, and to develop the skills and literacies needed to help understand, grow, manage and activate your Personal Learning Network (PLN) effectively.

This course features a bespoke network mapping tool which will provide all participants with a visualisation of their learning network as well as providing me with my PhD research data. It is a teaching tool and a research method at the same time.

Really looking forward to seeing it finally come into being after the many months of hard work and preparation! Thank you to all those who have been involved, especially Dr. Lisa Harris without whom it would never have happened.

IFNTF World Summit 2017 – presentation slides

I’m delighted and honoured, as well as somewhat nervous, to be addressing the International federation of National Teaching Fellows World Summit 2017 in Birmingham this Friday (17th Feb).

This link will take you to the slides I’ll be presenting, or you can view them bellow, where you’ll also find my accompanying notes:


Slide 2:

Originating from the 1950’s, but really developing from Science & Technology Studies during the 1970’s and 80’s, and with roots in Actor Network Theory, socio-technical theory recognises the EQUAL importance and INSEPARABILITY of:

-material artefacts -knowledge -people -institutions -socio-cultural, political and economic norms and -standards & regulations

in the mutual development of societies and their technologies.

Take as a simple example the socio-cultural and economic need to transport goods efficiently form A to B – witness the invention of the wheel. The wheel then enabled societies to develop in particular ways that would not have been possible without it. In turn that affected the generation of further technological inventions. And so on…

In other words, socio-technical theory suggests that societies and technologies mutually co-evolve and the development of one can not be separated from the development of the other.

Slide 3:

However, this co-evolution and mutual development of technology and society does not occur at a uniform pace. Rather, there is a dynamic interplay between the macro, meso and micro levels of society.

Individuals at the Niche level tend to introduce new technologies into their personal practices rapidly and dynamically,  and in a way which suits them specifically.

However, communities, institutions and societies tend to suffer from SYSTEMIC INERTIA as wider or deeper reconfigurations of norms, practices and regulations are required at the Regime and Landscape levels.

Socio-technical theory argues that this can create significant tensions between the actions and practices of individuals and their experiences of interacting with wider society.

In summary, people, societies and technologies develop hand-in-glove, inseparably – they co-evolve. However, this development is not uniform, but happens at different speeds for different people, different societies, different levels and different technologies.

Tensions or disconnects between and among individuals, communities and societies can result, although as a catalyst for change this may not always be a bad thing.

This is all well and good, BUT you may be wondering what all this means for HE teaching & Learning?  I will now explore the answer to this in 5 specific HE areas.

Slide 4 – STHEP 1:

The first application of socio-technical theory to HE is in the realisation that, just as society and technology can not be separated, so too the learner and the technologies they use for learning are inseparable – we can not consider one without the inclusion of the other.

Many students, from highly-digitised societies at least, have seamlessly integrated technology into their learning practices (at the Niche level).

With specific and generally exceptional instances, and accepting that there are different practices, pressures and requirements in different disciplines, on the whole, at the Regime level, mainstream university teaching and learning has not integrated technology to the same degree and remains largely Instructionist.

Furthermore, and again with exceptions, within the wider educational Landscape, particularly rules and regulations, technology has also not been fully integrated – for example limitations imposed by module and programme design frameworks and assessment requirements which can often default to lectures and written paper-based exams. Carol’s current research into Assessment Practices may be of help here.

Importantly, socio-technical theory also warns us that a failure to properly understand and integrate this co-dependency between student and technology into HE teaching, learning and assessment is likely to result in tensions between the individual learner experience and the normal university learning experience.

Is it a surprise then that we may already be seeing those tensions playing out in NSS results and issues around student engagement and student satisfaction – which in the UK at least have lead to potentially misguided attempts to address these concerns through the introduction of the TEF.

Slide 5 – STHEP 2:

The second area in which a socio-technical perspective is informative is that technologies – specifically the Web, the Internet and mobile smart devices – are no longer just a ‘tool’ to be picked up and put down for learning purposes.

Rather, they have become a ‘space’ in which individuals create and express aspects of their identity and build social and digital capital.

Technologies have become an extension of the self, to the extent that the modern HE student may best be characterised as a Networked Individual living, learning, socialising and working in a Network Society.

In practice this means that a typical HE student sits at the heart of their own Personal Learning Network and can not be separated from it.

This PLN consists of online AND offline connections to people, institutions, devices, services and information sources which individuals have autonomously created as a result of seamlessly integrating new technologies into their everyday lives in both formal and informal contexts.

Understanding what these PLNs look like and how and why they are used may provide one route to reducing the tensions we have previously explored and enable HEIs to more easily integrate technologies into the university experience. This is the focus of my current research and I’d be happy to discuss this more over lunch or dinner!

Slide 6 – STHEP 3:

The third aspect of HE impacted by a socio-technical and PLN focus concerns Learning Theory.

As I understand it, although viewing learning as a network resonates with Connectivism, which Downes (2007) has suggested “consists of the ability to construct and traverse” networks of distributed knowledge and which Seimens sees as a new Learning Theory for the digital age, there remains questions over whether Connectivism is actually a new Learning Theory or, along with (for example) Situated Learning, Activity Theory and Communities of Practice, an extension of Vygotskian Social Constructivism. Connectivism also needs more extensive testing.

Nevertheless, there is a growing theoretical acceptance that humans, technologies, actions, activities and social relationships intertwine and coalesce into learning networks which, as Fenwick et al (2015) state, “continuously act upon each other to bring forth and distribute knowledge”.

Rather than creating new learning theories, under a socio-technical lens, the co-creation of knowledge may be said to consist of meaningful interactions, situated in the context of Personal Learning Networks, between both people AND technology.

Socio-technical Constructivism, as an extension of Social Constructivism for the digital age, if you like.

This is an area which I am still exploring and would therefore greatly value any input you might choose to give me.

Slide 7 – STHEP 4:

The fourth impact of a socio-technical perspective is that – assuming we accept the inseparability of the learner from their learning network, and the mediating role of PLNs in Socio-technical Constructivism – it becomes apparent that there are certain features of a PLN which lend themselves nicely to current HE pedagogical approaches.

Firstly, PLNs are autonomously created according to individual’s preferences…which clearly links to Learner Autonomy

They also provide an outlet for identity and social capital creation…which provides an outlet for Creativity

By definition, they consist of networks of people, institutions and services…which can empower Peer Learning and Collaboration

Furthermore, PLNs are self-maintained and configured by individuals to fit their lifestyle and learning preferences…which links to ideas around the Self-regulating Student

And finally, PLNs are activated at times and in places and ways, that the individual chooses…which can facilitate Self-directed Learning

As an additional benefit, PLNs can also have a role to play beyond university as a valuable resource for Lifelong Learning and Employability – an increasingly important consideration in this rapidly changing world typified by the need for flexibility and adaptability.

Slide 8 – STHEP 5:

Finally, having just sung the praises of PLNs, it is crucial to remember that a socio-technical perspective also tells us that differences in the adoption, integration and use of technologies occur between individuals as well as between Niche, Regime and Landscape levels.

For example, research by Huw Davies found that A-level students at a public FE college in the UK were significantly MORE digitally literate than counterparts at a private secondary school when it came to using their PLN for their personal and social lives, but noticeably LESS so when it came to using it for formal academic purposes.

This indicates that learners make active decisions about how to create and interact with their PLN based on social, cultural, educational, economic, and personal contexts.

Therefore, in no way can all HE students be considered as having an equally well developed PLN.

These differences manifest themselves in a range of big issues, including Digital Access, Digital Inclusion, and Digital Inequalities.

But also in individual differences in digital behaviours and attitudes to technology –  for example, different HE students will fall at different points on the Resident – Visitor spectrum proposed by White & Le Cornu.

It therefore becomes incumbent upon HEIs to mitigate against these digital differences by embedding the development of digital literacies and networking skills at all stages of the educational journey.

Slide 9:

So, to summarise, a socio-technical higher education perspective suggests that for teaching & learning purposes the learner and their learning technologies are equally important and can not be separated.

This is expressed through the learner’s position at the centre of their autonomously created Personal Learning Network – the online AND offline network of people, devices, services and information they use for formal and informal learning purposes.

PLNs are the medium through which meaningful interactions with people AND technologies occur for the purposes of the co-creation of knowledge.

And PLNs themselves also have pedagogical advantages directly related to their inherent features.

However, all PLNs are unique and their users differently skilled and literate, therefore digital, as well as traditional, literacies, and online, as well as offline, networking skills need to be embedded in all aspects of HE teaching & learning.

For these reasons, the study of PLNs and their role in HE may be an important undertaking as one possible route to effectively address tensions between individual student experience and the university learning journey.



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