Emotion and networked learning

There is a lot of research (from John Dewey onwards and probably even before) about the relationship between emotion and learning. The centrality of emotion to the process of learning is recognised. So it’s not surprising that so much emotion is evident in this course. What is surprising for me is the intensity of the emotion, far higher than I have ever experienced online before, and the amount of negative emotion – again much more than I have experienced before. I think there could be an interesting research study on the role of emotion in relation to learning in this course/network and why such intense emotions have been elicited.

Like some others I have been reading and watching activity in the forums. Keith Lyons has a great post on his blog – swimming with dolphins, sharks and dead people is such a good metaphor for what’s going on. The trouble is that when you’re all in the water together, its the sharks that you keep your eye on, because despite Stephen’s reassurance that blogs provide calmer, safer waters for swimming in, the sharks do make occasional forays into the blogs, where they can do a ‘hit and run’ more easily than in the forums.

To be honest, I haven’t been aware of many dolphins. It all feels very intense, both in the forums and in the blogs. Where are the laughs? I did mention in a previous post that I thought a ‘Help’ forum might be useful for the ‘technologically challenged’. Maybe we also need a ‘Cafe’ – a purely social space or something equivalent. But I suspect that a ‘Cafe’ or even a ‘Help’ forum is more of a course component than a network component.

This thinking about emotion and learning was prompted by Ailsa’s post. One of her sentences brought me up sharp – ‘Staying silent with bullies, condones the activity.’  From my teaching days I know how hard it is to deal with bullies – a veritable minefield. For a start it’s difficult to define ‘bullying’ – but given that I have been thinking a lot about issues such as Netiquette in relation to this course, Ailsa’s post made me think again about the responsibilities we have to each other in a learning network. Do we have any? Can this be overlooked in a network? It is certainly not normally overlooked in a course or in a community, where the role of emotion in learning and the relationship between learning and emotion and how they shape each other is acknowledged and resulting issues addressed.

My feeling is that it’s in these sorts of issues that connectivism differs from other theories of learning, but I need to do much more reading and thinking before I can articulate this clearly.

16 thoughts on “Emotion and networked learning

  1. ailsa September 30, 2008 / 10:51 am

    Hi Jenny, since connectivism is an emergent theory there are areas I see that need further exploring, the impact and force associated with the connections seems more directly relevant to this theory of learning than to many that preceded it. It is a theory of learning that to me at least seems predicated on relationships, but the quality and means of relating may be critical.
    (BTW I linked back via my feedjit widget that sometimes links to where people have visited me from)

  2. jennymackness September 30, 2008 / 11:42 am

    Hi Ailsa – Thanks for your comment which has made me think (like your blog does!).

    I think I have a slightly different view from you about connectivism. My thinking is that the theory of connectivism is about connections between nodes and the distribution of knowledge across the network of connections, but has not taken into account the more affective aspects of learning such as relationships.

    For me, learning is based on more than just connections. As you say, I think it is based on relationships along with a lot of other affective aspects, such as emotion, motivation, feelings of autonomy and so on.

    I agree that the impact and force associated with connections will affect learning, but I don’t think there’s any evidence yet that the theory has taken account of this – unlike social learning theory associated with communities of practice.

    I’m still thinking about all this. I don’t have a clear view yet. I just feel that there’s something missing in this theory, but I can’t put my finger on it!

  3. Sui Fai John Mak October 2, 2008 / 9:57 am

    Hi Jenny,
    Great that you have brought this emotion element up to our attention.
    You’re right in that emotion plays an important part in any communication on-line, and I agree with your observations.
    I am looking connectivism from different angles.
    I think one needs to understand why people is going on-line first. What are their goals? Or do they have a goal at all? For me, I am interested in knowing and learning more about connectivism. For others, some may just be “lurking” and they would remain silent most of the time and prefer reading rather than participation, and may “pop” in on a few occasions. For some others (less than 2%)who are more involved in the forum, that’s where the debate begins. As a result of these divergent goals amongst participants, it is very difficult to understand the group dynamics of the non-participating ones.

    Another issue relating to this connectivism is the use of jargons throughout the session, and the assumption of participants having some pre-requisite knowledge on the different learning theories. I must admit that despite my completion of different education and training courses that I have attended in the past 20 years, I have never been exposed to concepts and knowledge at such an abstract level. I have at times found it difficult to comprehend.those nodes, entities etc. The use of metaphor sometimes may be difficult for the participants to understand, and so it has led to further confusion.

    Also, there is an assumption that people will develop social network and that knowledge would be distributed amongst participants. However, what happens if people are getting too emotional (upset, defensive)? This is especially so when some participant(s) were perceived as a troll or aggressor. And such conversation is not conducive to learning and further constructive conversation.

    As most of us are communicating using “language” (mainly in words) throughout the forum, we could hardly be able to “read” the others’ body language except the tone.
    Further, as people are coming from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds, there are certain “rules” of communication which needs clarification in the first place.

    In summary, a clear sharing and understanding of the goals and the use of clear and concise communication amongst the participants may be a pre-requisite to connectivism. Emotions also play an important part in effective communication and relationship building.
    What do you think?

  4. jennymackness October 2, 2008 / 12:16 pm

    Hi John – Many thanks for your comments. I think I agree with all of them.

    1. Goals of people attending the connectivism course. In my teaching experience, I always worked on the premise that I can’t work with a learner to identify learning needs, unless we know what the learner’s prior experiences have been. So the starting point is nearly always some form of self assessment. In a class of learners, the outcomes of these initial assessments then leads to a differentiated curriculum. On this course, I think it is assumed that we will all be able to identify our own learning needs and our own curriculum. This is a very different way of thinking about ‘courses’, which I’m still pondering over. As well as knowing what people hope to get out of this course (their goals), I think it would also be very interesting to have an overview of people’s backgrounds. For example, I would be interested in knowing how many technologists are on the course.

    2. Differentiation. As mentioned above it seems that people are expected to find their own level in this course, but I suspect you are not alone in finding much of the discussion jargon heavy and very abstract. There’s a lot that I don’t understand in the forums. In fact I have seriously thought of starting a thread with the title ‘ A thread for slow learners’ or ‘Come and join the slow group’ or something similar, but I think the space is a bit ‘public’ for this and I recently read that blogs and forums should be professional rather than confessional – which would probably prevent people from joining a forum like this. 🙂 As well as the jargon and abstract nature of the discussion, we also have huge cultural differences between participants (as you have mentioned) and I’m not sure how much account is taken of this. Again the assumption is that people will form their own groups. I think there is a Spanish speaking group, isn’t there?

    3. Online behaviour. In all my experience of online courses, expectations for behaviour online are clearly articulated at the start of the course and the posts are moderated by the facilitator. I work in higher education and we usually reference Gary Alexander’s netiquette document – http://sustainability.open.ac.uk/gary/netique.htm. This was written in 2000 or before – so may need updating now, but for me the principles outlined still stand. On this course, there were no netiquette guidelines were there (I might have missed them). Maybe it was assumed that we would all know something about this. It also seems that Stephen and George do not see this as their responsibility, which is a different way of viewing course facilitation than I am used to. I’m on the course to see what I can learn about authoring and facilitating online learning experiences, so these are the issues that I am really thinking about. Will I change the way I work in the future? That’s what I’m thinking about at the moment.

    4. In all my experience of working online, emotion has always been very evident in participants’ learning. On this course my feeling is that there has been rather too much negative emotion, although it does seem to be calming down now. I agree completely that good relationships are fundamental to successful social learning. I wonder if enough attention has been paid to this on this course. Again, I think it has been assumed that we can sort this out for ourselves.

    All this is making me think more about what I will expect in the future in terms of student autonomy. I think the week when we talk about the teacher’s role in relation to connectivism will be really interesting. Hope I can hang on in here until then. I’m finding it a bit of a roller-coaster ride on the whole!

    Thanks for your post John. Your visit here is much appreciated.


  5. suifaijohnmak October 3, 2008 / 1:18 am

    Hi Jenny,
    Many thanks for your insights and sharing of experience. I fully agree with your views.

    I have posted some further questions for reflection on my blog.

    You are welcome to visit my blog:


  6. suifaijohnmak October 3, 2008 / 12:47 pm

    Hi Jenny,
    Many thanks for sharing your experience with me. Great insights.

    I have quite a different experience from you in this on-line learning and facilitation.

    I started off with on-line learning in 2000 by attending Teachers and Managers Going Online workshop. I then attended an on-line conference to find out the state of the art application in 2001.

    In 2006, I completed a 12 week Training on Communicating with On-line Technologies. We have the Moodle session as the basic platform. We learnt about Audacity, blogging, Breeze, Elluminate, Adobe Connect, digital stories, podcasting,.. most of the time individually and at times in pairs or small groups (in Breeze and audacity) (I could choose to do it remotely in my office or join the instructor in a computer room). And so it required little assistance from the instructor, except for the introduction. I then learnt about Captivate, eBeam, Wiki etc. in other workshops, with the instructor explaining principles first, following by individual practice.

    For the abovementioned development courses, it is not mandatory for us as teachers to produce any products or projects, because so far we are confident in using them for on-line facilitation, that will be fine. Of course, we still need to demonstrate competency in the use of tools.

    I think the instructor should still play a role in ensuring all participants are supported, by introducing the basics, responding to questions or guiding the starters where necessary. The instructor could direct the learners to FAQ or help or websites where necessary, by showing them how to do it on-line. Individual attention is important. Though the learner will often find the answer from their peers.

    Last year, I started off with a blended learning approach: in that we have face-to-face, and some on-line sessions (with all adult learners in the Blended learning Centre). Since the learners have already acquainted themselves in the face-to-face teaching session, they could fall into groups easily.
    I would suggest that learners be encouraged to choose their group members. As a facilitator, you could advise them to nominate amongst themselves a group leader to take care of the group. Each group member should also be allowed to take turn in managing the posts or activities. Again, there is no single solution, as it depends on the readiness of the learners and maturity and mix of the group or network. It would be worthwhile to observe the group dynamics throughout the forum session. Ask for a summary of their findings. And evaluate the session via a group critique subsequently.
    Learners will find their identify when they are being acknowledged by their fellow learners on their contribution, both in forum and blogs/wikis.
    Just like this blogging itself. The facilitator will just need to encourage the learner to visit each other’s blog and comment.

    I am also interested in learning the following from you:
    1. Do you have to assess your learners on-line? How?
    2. What are the assessment criteria?
    3. Do you find any issues in such on-line assessment?
    4. How do you handle plagiarism?


  7. jennymackness October 4, 2008 / 11:00 am

    Hi John – it ‘s very interesting to read about your experience. Your 12 week training course sounds just what I need. All my learning in new technologies has been through trial and error, which is a much slower process I suspect!

    In the courses I run, we have some whole group activities (as here in the Moodle forums) and some samll group activities (similar to blogs here, but in my courses the small groups also work in forums. I don’t think blogs could really be regarded as groupwork). In my courses, participants self-select to groups and then negotiate roles. In recent courses, participants are not necessarily using the tools provided by the course, for example, they might go off and work in Facebook instead. We always have an expected outcome for the groupwork within a given time frame.

    I think establishing an identity is the key to working well in any networked environment. I suspect that the size of this course has made that more difficult than it might be in a smaller network. A few people managed to establish their identity very quickly, but many if not most are still trying to do this or have given up. I agree that a facilitator can support people in establishing their identity, through the activities they suggest. Gilly Salmon in her 5 stage model calls this the socialisation stage – http://www.atimod.com/e-tivities/5stage.shtml

    Assessment is a big topic 🙂 I have assessed using online tests (multi-choice questions and the like). The virtual learning environments that I work in usually allow for writing such tests. Some of these have inbuilt feedback. We try to avoid situations where students can simply go and look up the answer, by designing questions which make the students think – but it isn’t easy. Usually these tests serve as self-assessments to identify future learning needs, so it is in the students best interests to complete them honestly.

    I have also assessed by asking students to submit assignments to digital drop boxes, writing up feedback and posting back. Assessment criteria depend on what is being assessed. I think the golden rule is to align the assessment criteria with the learning objectives. Its also interesting to ask the students to set their own assessment criteria. Oxford Brookes University does a very good online course about Assessment (not specifically online assessment) – and also one about plagiarism. http://www.brookes.ac.uk/services/ocsld/online/index.html

    I usually provide a link to this Plagiarism site to inform students of our expectations and what we mean by plagiarism http://www.plagiarism.org/learning_center/what_is_plagiarism.html

    and the universities that I work with use Turnitin http://turnitin.com/static/plagiarism.html
    to detect plagiarism.

    Not sure if I have answered your questions properly John. Assessment is such a big topic. I’m sure others would have lots of information too.


  8. suifaijohnmak October 9, 2008 / 8:16 am

    Hi Jenny,

    Thanks for your advice and those helpful links.
    I have posted Connectivism – the Multiple Choice? and What’s new in connectivism? You are welcome to visit and comment on http://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com


  9. roy October 9, 2008 / 1:32 pm

    Jenny, great post. Thanks


  10. Steve Mackenzie October 12, 2008 / 12:28 pm

    Hi Jenny,

    Steve here – when i think of connectivism, in my mind it has always had an emotional element built into it. I’ve always thought of people, not forum postings or links to webpages. Recently i conceived of the notion of nodes in my connective networks having an ’emotional weighting’. Those with a strong ’emotional weighting’ make the connection more valuable. not necessarily people though, films or youtube videos can have an emotional impact. See my latest post


    Couple of other points
    I think there has been some high quality debate in the connectivism moodle forums – in many ways above my level, but i’ve looked upon it as a good opportunity to try and understand and learn more.

    i think it’s ok to have edgy debates and feel slightly uncomfortable at times. This has been a good thing about the course. It is not just a connectivism love-in – the differing opinions have made it interesting and got you thinking. (Although it has made me think i could argue black is white one day and quite easily do the reverse the next day – a certain amount of going around in circles)

    I have some ideas how i can practically use connectivism and would like to build on that – Now i am into the debate i would like to come to a conclusion myself as to whether it is a new learning theory

    bye for now

  11. jennymackness October 13, 2008 / 8:40 pm

    Hi Steve – Thanks for your comment. I think the idea of emotional weighting on nodes is an interesting one and have commented on your blog, which I have now found 😉

    I also think its OK for there to be edgy debates – in fact I would regard a forum as a success if there was mutual challenging of ideas. It’s often very difficult to get students beyond the ‘love-in’ stage and into critical discussion. This course has not had that problem!

    I don’t think personal attacks are useful though, or anything that could be interpreted as humiliating or demeaning. I don’t see how people can learn if their self-esteem is attacked and ‘yes’ some learners are ‘thin-skinned’ but attacking them just makes them more so – and the problem is that online it’s more difficult to guage who is likely to be sensitive to criticism.

    On reading one comment in last week’s forum, I found myself thinking that I wouldn’t even speak to my children like that, never mind to a professional colleague!

  12. jennymackness October 13, 2008 / 8:45 pm

    Hi Roy – I’m not sure whether you will come back to this blog, but I have been looking for your blog. Are you keeping a blog whilst on this course, or are the Moodle forums enough writing for you?
    Thanks for your comment.

  13. seo blog October 24, 2008 / 7:36 pm

    This is a really interesting blog post,I have added your blog to my favourites I really like it,keep up the good work!

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