#PLENK2010 PLEs from a PLP (personal learning perspective)

I’m wondering why the idea of personal learning environments (PLEs) has captured the attention of so many. Surely PLEs have always existed. I have been thinking about my father who died aged 79 and was born in 1914. He helped to install the first computer in his company and as I remember, it was the size of whole room – a large room.  My father did not know computers as we have them today, but nevertheless he had a personal learning environment. I can remember it clearly. It was a roll top desk in a tiny room in the attic of our house, where he did not like to be disturbed. He had a fountain pen and a bottle of ink on the leather top of the desk (which became visible once the wooden lid had been rolled back) and meticulously kept documents in the small wooden pigeon holes that lined the back of the desk. My father also had a public learning environment – a rather grand office in a modern building in a nearby town.  And he had both a personal and public learning network. Networking was very important, even in those days, and for my father consisted of entertaining the right people (my mother achieved this wonderfully well). Those pictures in films of small children looking through the banisters at dinner guests arriving, was more than just fiction for some of us.

So what is the fuss about PLEs and PLNs? It is not that they exist. They have always existed in one form or another, for people of all ages.

We might think from this PLENK2010 that the fuss is about technology. There is no doubt that there are now a wealth of technological tools at our disposal which we can use on a personal private level, i.e. just for ourselves, or on a personal public level, i.e. we can use them for connecting to others, sharing information and resources, discussion and knowledge creation. But perhaps to get too hooked up on the tools we use in today’s PLEs and PLNs is to miss the point –  and that is that the tools change the L in PLE or PLN, i.e. they change the learning or at the very least the approach to learning.

How do they do this? One overwhelming change is in the amount of autonomy they afford us. There are now so many open source tools that we don’t have to wait for an institution to provide them for us – we can go out there, get the tool we want/need and just get on with it. We can also circumvent traditional ways of going about things in education, if we so wish, and can even subvert them if we feel so inclined. We can learn what, where, when, how and with whom we wish. PLE now means something different to what it meant in my father’s day. I suspect I have more choices and more power/control over my learning than he ever did. But I am also probably exposed to far more information than he ever was.

So for today’s learners, a PLE involves using a wide range of tools to connect with a widely dispersed network of people and resources. Navigating this network is a key skill. Managing vast amounts of information is a key skill. Filtering, critical evaluation and selecting information and deciding with whom to connect are all key skills.  Knowing how to aggregate selected information is also a key skill. The autonomy afforded by today’s PLEs and PLNs brings with it many implications for the learner. I think it may be a while before we fully understand what these are.

#PLENK2010 Assessment in distributed networks

I have been struggling to clearly identify the issues associated with assessment in PLEs/PLNs – which are probably similar to those in MOOCs or distributed networks.

There seem to be a number of questions.

  • Is it desirable/possible to assess learners in a course which takes place in a distributed network?
  • Is it possible/desirable to accredit learning in a course which takes place in a distributed network?
  • What assessment strategies would be appropriate?
  • Who should do the assessing?

Whether assessment is desirable in a PLENK/MOOC etc. will depend on the purpose of the course and the learning objectives that the course convenors had in mind when they designed the course. PLENK2010 does not include formal assessment and yet has attracted over 1000 participants, many of whom are still active in Week 5. Presumably these participants are not looking for their learning outcomes to be assessed. CCK08 attracted over 2000 participants and did include assessment for those who wished it – but the numbers were small (24 – I’m not sure if the number who could do the course for credit was limited or only 24 wanted it) – so it was not only possible for the course convenors to assess these participants but also to offer accreditation.

Both assessment and accreditation are possible across distributed networks if the numbers are manageable. It is not the distributed network that is the problem, although this might affect the assessment strategies that are used. It is the numbers. Just as it is not possible for course convenors of a MOOC to interact on an individual level with participants, so it is physically not possible for them to assess such large numbers of individuals, and without this assessment no accreditation can be offered other than perhaps a certificate of attendance – but even this would need to be monitored and would be contrary to the principles of autonomy expected in a MOOC.

So how to assess large numbers. Traditionally this been done through tests and exams which can be easily marked by assessors. Whilst these make the assessment process manageable for the tutors, they offer little more than a mark or grade to the students – since very often there is no feedback-feedforward loop associated with the grade. Also tests and exams are not the best assessment strategy for all situations and purposes.

So what better assessment strategies would work with large numbers? Actually this might be the wrong starting question. The starting point should be what learning objectives do we have, what outcomes do we expect these objective to lead to and what assessment strategy will enable the learner to achieve the learning objective as demonstrable through the outcome. There is a wealth of information now available on assessment strategies, both for formative and summative assessment. Focus in the UK has for many years now (from the time of Paul Black’s article, Inside the Black Box, to Gibbs and Simpson’s article – Conditions Under Which Assessment Supports Students’ Learning, to the REAP project and the work of the JISC) been on formative assessment and providing effective feedback. In Higher Education there has been even more of a push on this recently since students are demanding more and better feedback (National Student Survey) – so effective assessment strategies are there if we are aware of them and know how to use them. These include a whole range of possibilities including audio and video feedback-feedforward between students and tutors, students writing/negotiating their own assessment criteria, peer, group and self-assessment. But how can these strategies be used with MOOC-like numbers whilst maintaining the validity, reliability, authenticity and transparency of assessment?

There appear to be no easy answers to this question. Alec Couros – in his open course – is experimenting with the use of mentors – is this a way forward? We know that there are many trained teachers in PLENK2010. Could they be possible assessors? How would their credentials be checked? Would they work voluntarily?

Peer assessment has been suggested. I have experience of this, but have always found that student peer assessment whether it is based on their own negotiated criteria or criteria written by the tutor – often needs tutor moderation, if a grade which could lead to a degree qualification is involved. Similarly with self-assessment. We don’t know what we don’t know – so we may need someone else to point this out.

The nearest thing I have seen to trying to overcome the question of effectively teaching and assessing large numbers of students is in Michael Wesch’s 2008 video – A Portal to Media Literacy – where he shows how technology can support effective teaching and learning of large groups of students – but he is talking about hundreds, not thousands of students and himself admits that the one thing that didn’t work was asking students to grade themselves. This was two years ago – so I wonder if he has overcome that problem.

So – from these musings it seems to me that

  • Learning in large courses distributed over a range of networks is a worthwhile pursuit. They offer the learner diversity, autonomy and control over their own learning environment and extensive opportunities for open sharing of learning.
  • The purpose of these courses needs to be very clear from the outset – particularly with regard to assessment, i.e. course convenors need to be clear about the learning objectives, how learners might demonstrate that those objectives have been met through the outcomes they produce and whether or not those outcomes need to be assessed.
  • There has been plenty written about what effective assessment entails. The problem in MOOCs is how to apply these effective strategies to large numbers.
  • If we cannot rely on peer assessment and self-assessment (which we may not be able to do for validated/accredited courses), then we need more assessors.

Would a possibility be for an institution/group of institutions to build up a bank/community of trained assessors who could be called upon to voluntarily assess students in a MOOC (as Alec Couros has done with mentors).  Even if this was possible I could see a number of stumbling blocks, e.g. assessor credentials, subject expertise, moderation between assessors, would institutions allow accreditation to be awarded when the assessment has been done by people who don’t work for the institution?  – what else?

#PLENK2010 The relevance of learning theories

I was interested to see what George would come up with re the relationship between learning theories and PLE/PLNs. The Moodle discussion forums have been much quieter – but perhaps this is because it is Week 4 of the course. Dave Cormier has posted somewhere – I think – that this is a hard week in a MOOC – probably made even harder by the subject of learning theories  🙂

I wouldn’t claim to know a lot about learning theories and certainly not all the learning theories that George mentioned, but I do know that they have strongly influenced my life as a teacher. For me, learning theories inform the way I teach. They are perspectives that I take according to the context/situation I find myself in;  I use them to inform my teaching according to my own and my learners’ needs. So for example:

I find myself usually opposed to behaviourism, e.g. I do not want my learners to ‘jump through hoops’. I do not want them to think only about the qualification, but to learn for its own sake. On the other hand I am realistic enough to know that their qualifications are important and that they need them – also I know that whilst I might do everything to encourage intrinsic motivation, they also need extrinsic motivation – particularly young children, who love those gold stars, but also adults who respond to those motivational strokes. With enough ‘rewards’, we can encourage even the most reluctant learners to reach their/our goal and they and we are satisfied and happy.

However, there are many occasions when I not only want my learners to simply achieve a given outcome, but also to think about how they have arrived at the outcome. An example would be to ask children to explain how they arrived at a given answer to a mathematical problem/calculation. I have always found this fascinating – if you ask a number of different children to explain how they each arrived at the solution to a given calculation/problem, they are all likely to have come to the answer differently. This cognitivist approach also helps children who get the answer wrong – as they begin to examine their own thinking.

As a science teacher (in the past) I was always interested in the constructivist approach to teaching and learning. This approach, for me, acknowledged that learners have prior experiences which influence how they think about new learning experiences. In the case of misconceptions, which are extremely prevalent in science education, learners need to deconstruct their misconceptions and reconstruct their thinking in the light of their new learning. In science teaching this usually involves a practical activity in which learners’ misconceptions are physically/mentally challenged by the evidence before them. For example, if a learner sees a metal ball and a polystyrene ball of the same shape and volume, dropped from the same height, reach the ground at the same time, then their misconception that heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects is challenged.

Behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivist approaches can all be used with individual learners. They apply to the individual’s behaviour or individual learning. But in all my teaching there has very often (but not exclusively) been an acknowledgement that people learn from each other. This has involved learners in communities of practice, group activities and collaborative learning and has been context dependent. These social contructivist approaches engage the learner in development of knowledge and personal identity as they grow as much through their relationships with others as they do through engagement with the concepts being taught/learned. As George said today in his presentation – Week 4: George Siemens – Complex Knowledge & PLE/Ns – learning is socially negotiated and developed.

So where does this leave connectivism? Again according to George – in his presentation today, connectivism is driven by network formation – growing and pruning connections. The spectrum of learning from a connectivist view involves resonance, synchronicity, wayfinding, amplification, learning/knowledge symmetry. A while back I wrote another blog post about connectivism as a learning theory – https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2010/07/02/some-notes-on-connectivism/ in preparation for the Networked Learning Conference and in an attempt to understand connectivism as a learning theory and how it be useful from a teaching perspective.

According to George a theory of learning should

  • Explain what’s happening
  • Predict what could happen
  • Be a foundation for action
  • Be a foundation for preparing for future needs

All the theories mentioned above seem to fulfil these requirements, including connectivism. They all seem to be useful for providing differing perspectives according to specific contexts. I definitely wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater,  just because connectivism, PLEs and PLNs have come along.

The Riddle of Online Resonance (third instalment)

Here is the third and final instalment of our paper on e-resonance. You can find the PDF of the full article here – The Riddle of Online Resonance.

Two prior instalments have been posted here and here. We decided to post in three instalments to make reading of the paper online easier and to allow time for reflection and comment, which we welcome, either here in this blog, on Matthias’ blog or elsewhere. Many thanks to those who have already commented.


The Riddle of Online Resonance

Matthias Melcher and Jenny Mackness

6. Factors that affect e-resonance

The authors suggest that there are various factors which affect e-resonance. Consideration of these is important if we are to support and enhance possibilities for e-resonance in online teaching and learning. These factors include the place and location on the communicator’s cognitive and network maps, the interplay between personal and conceptual resonance, the lack of visual and auditory cues and the increased possibility for creating weak ties within an online environment.

The number of connections that people have and how well connected they are will obviously influence the potential for e-resonance. Lilia Efimova (2009) has suggested that frequency of communication, the use of multi-channels of communication, affinity, commitment and attention are all required for establishing and maintaining online communication.  The authors’ experience suggests that multi-channels of communication may not be needed for e-resonance but that at least one second channel is necessary for affinity, commitment and attention. This can be as simple as appreciating the banner on a person’s blog to discovering an unexpected shared interest.

In If a person ‘A’ notices that ‘this thought B4’ of person ‘B’ resonates with me, then there is a selection being made from among say, nine thoughts B1-B9. And when ‘A’ elaborates the similarity of her thinking (or at least puts the resonance into some context), she thereby identifies an idea, say ‘A6’ from her ideas A1-A9 depending on her view of A5-A7 and suggests some connections from concept ‘A6’ to ‘B4’ (not simply from person A to person B). In turn B learns about the selection of A6 from among the A1-A9 that he might already know or discover on A’s site.

This process of selection of a resonating idea, whilst most likely to be unconscious and uncontrolled, is supported by the lack of auditory and visual cues within an online environment, which allows for conceptual connections to be more prominent and less influenced by personal and physical attractiveness, appearance, charisma and personality.

Finally, not only the number, but also the nature of connections within the online environment will affect e-resonance. Much has been written about weak, strong and latent ties and the strength of weak ties, which Haythornthwaite (2002, p. 387) describes as being in …’ their connection to others outside the strong tie network and to the information and to the information and resources circulating in other areas’. This view of the strength of weak ties is supported by Schulmeister (2009) who writes that a discourse analysis of small networks, consisting of strong ties, has shown that they are so emotionally charged that rational discourse rarely occurs. Other authors such as Downes (2006b) and McCrae (2006) have also written of the dangers of group think and echo chambers in constraining free flow of ideas and creativity.  From this it would appear that ties can be at their most valuable when they are at their weakest and just beginning to form, that is, when initial resonance occurs.

7. Conclusions

The authors present this paper for discussion. Whilst much has been written about fostering and developing online communication, little, if anything, has been written about how online connections are made in the very first instance. The authors have suggested that this be termed ‘e-resonance’ and have attempted to describe the mechanism of what happens when an idea or some micro-content strikes a chord or resonates with someone else, and when that other person’s reaction, in turn, influences the first person’s conceptual network.

In seeking the answer to this question we have come to some conclusions which we believe to be significant for teaching, learning and communicating within online environments.

First is that resonance happens indirectly rather than directly, just as children’s learning of words happens by indirect rather than direct effects (Landauer & Dumais, 2010). E-resonance is unconscious, uncontrolled and is most likely to occur in the ‘messy’, ‘vague’ communications between very weak ties.

Second, there are skills that online learners rely on to support the likelihood of e-resonance occurring. These involve being able to filter and select from a wide range of information, even within one post, if resonance is to occur. The parts of a text that do resonate with someone else are a very significant selection of the entire text because this selection does not necessarily indicate just some validity measure, but a conceptual connection within someone else’s cognitive network.

Third, online connectivity is as much about interconceptual connection as interpersonal connectivity. The potential for conceptual connectivity is increased in contexts where e-resonance can flourish, because e-resonance occurs at the level of ‘meeting of minds’ free from the distractions of physical and visual cues. It occurs at a ‘beyond verbal’ level.

Finally, e-resonance is not about ‘sameness’ but about similarity, which can also support dissimilarity.  It is likely to be constrained by strong ties, group think and echo chambers.

The authors therefore suggest that further consideration of e-resonance and how initial connections are made between online learners will be important in furthering our understanding of online connectivity. The riddle of online resonance remains unsolved.


Downes, S. (2006b) Sudden thoughts and second thoughts. Retrieved 29-08-2010 from: http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=35839

Efimova, L. (2009) Blog networking study: establishing and maintaining relations via blogging. Retrieved 29-08-2010 from: http://blog.mathemagenic.com/2009/04/09/blog-networking-study-establishing-and-maintaining-relations-via-blogging/

Haythornthwaite, C. (2002) Strong, weak and latent ties and the impact of new media, 18, 385-401. The information Society.

Landower, T.K. & Dumais, S.T. (2010) A solution to Plato’s problem: The latent semantic analysis theory of acquisition, induction and representation of knowledge. Retrieved 29-08 -2010 from:  http://lsa.colorado.edu/papers/plato/plato.annote.html

McRae, P. (2006). Echoing Voices – Emerging Challenges for Educational Practice on the Internet. In: Reeves, T. & Yamashita, S. (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2006 (pp. 2622-2629). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

Schulmeister, R (2009) Thesen zum einsatz von Web 2.0 in der Lehre. Retrieved 29-08-2010 from: http://www.elearning.zfh.ch/upload/Artikel_Schulmeister.pdf

Creative Commons Licence
The Riddle of Online Resonance by Matthias Melcher and Jenny Mackness is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

# PLENK2010 – Breadth versus depth – an illusion?

This is a response to Dave Ferguson’s and Stephen Downes’ comment’ on my blog post . Well actually more of a reflection than a response.

I understand Dave’s response. I can see that he is coming from the same place as I am in concerns about balancing depth and breadth in online courses, i.e. the practicalities of knowing how to manage the breadth of information we are exposed to on an open online course and knowing where to focus. This is a common concern. For example in her blog post Linn – talks about trying to avoid being ‘overfed’. Others have talked about feeling overwhelmed as George has noted – in his Moodle forum post (Making sense of (in?) abundance – in the General Discussion Forum). These feelings are very common, so is the depth versus breadth problem an illusion as Stephen claims?

To quote Stephen in full – he writes:

It occurs to me that the depth versus breadth problem is an illusion. One person’s breadth is another person’s depth. It’s an artifact of how we divide the world. If we divide it by discipline – computer science, physics, art – depth looks like one thing. But if you divide it by function – saving lives, educating children, building bridges – depth looks like something very different.

My experience with thinking about depth versus breadth has always been in terms of the ‘overload’ problem discussed above and ‘recognised’ by Dave. This is a real problem so in that sense is not an illusion – it is something experienced by many learners and something that many teachers think about in trying to select a curriculum for their learners – and it has become more of a problem now that we have so much ready information and networks at our finger tips. How do we know where to focus? This ability to filter, select and focus is a critical literacy skill that will be important to develop. This was discussed in the Critical Literacies course and Matthias and I have also discussed it in relation to e-resonance.

But Stephen’s point gives us a different perspective which is also very relevant to the networked world. I think my own experience of looking for depth has been in going deeper into a given discipline – but I can now see that the links/connections that you can make as a result of being part of a large learning network can also enable a depth of knowledge and understanding that might not be achievable through a single discipline.

This reminds me that Etienne Wenger often talks of the value of learning that takes place at the boundaries of communities of practice – i.e. where there is overlap between different communities. Paul Lowe has also made reference to Etienne Wenger in his blog post – The PLE as a roadmap of the landscape of practice. I can see links between these ideas and those related to balancing breadth and depth in learning.

I can also see that in this age of PLEs, PLNs and networked learning it will be important to be able to gain depth of knowledge and understanding both through digging deeper into a given discipline and through being able to exploit the diversity and breadth of our networks. But the question still remains of how best to keep this breadth and depth in balance and avoid losing out on both counts through an inability to manage information overload.

The Riddle of Online Resonance (first instalment)

Here is the first instalment of our paper on e-resonance. We will post two further instalments, which will cover sections 4&5 and 6&7 – some of which are referred to in this instalment (so they are coming soon!).  We hope to post the next instalments over the next few days and the entire paper as a PDF with the next instalment. As I mentioned in my last post, we would really welcome some comment/feedback – either here or on Matthias’ blog


The Riddle of Online Resonance

Matthias Melcher and Jenny Mackness


This discussion paper explores the nature of online connectivity and, in particular, seeks to better understand how online connections are made in the very first instance of contact. There has been plenty of research on how to develop online connections once they have been made, but the question of how the initial contact is made has not received much attention. What is it that enables a potentially beneficial connection to be made with a previously unknown online communicator? We propose that the answer lies in online resonance, which we have called ‘e-resonance’. In this paper we consider what the characteristics, affordances and affecting factors of e-resonance might be. What sparks it off? This might not be the content of the post, but rather a secondary topic such as a mutually shared interest. What are the key indicators of e-resonance? Are there any specific skills associated with e-resonance? In response to these questions we discuss the possibility of ‘beyond verbal’ communication and the importance of being able to filter and select information on personal and conceptual levels. We also consider what e-resonance might mean for the author and reader of online messages in terms of stimulating new thinking. E-resonance is a riddle which is relevant to connectivity and knowledge creation in the online environment. However, we conclude that the riddle of online resonance remains, as yet, unsolved.

1. Introduction

This paper/blog has arisen from the mutual interest of the two authors in online connectivity. George Siemens, in the 2008 Connectivism and Connective Knowledge Massive Open Online Course (CCK08 – which both authors attended) has written about the primacy of connection for learning.

Connectivism emphasizes the primacy of the connection and suggests understanding learning is found in understanding how and why connections form. George Siemens (2009)

Learning through connectivity is not a new idea; there is a long history of research into networked learning (Steeple & Jones, 2002; Goodyear et al., 2004) and social learning in communities of practice (Wenger, 1998), but the affordances offered by Web 2.0 technologies and networked online learning for autonomous learning in an increasingly diverse environment (Downes, 2009) have led to many authors (Krebs (2002), Haythornthwaite (2002), Granovetter (1973, 1983), to name but a few) exploring how connections are made and developed in online environments.

However, much of this existing research focuses on understanding connections once they have been made, for example on how to increase connections and exploit the diversity that the web offers (Downes, 2007, 2010), or the types of connections that are made (Haythornthwaite, 2002). There is little research that we can find which explores ‘how’ connections are made in the very first instance of contact.

What is it in an online environment that causes/enables one person to recognise another, in that first instance of ‘meeting’, as a potential learning partner, colleague or friend and to make the connection? Trying to understand this question seems to be increasingly important in a world where learners can easily find themselves in complex open education systems. The freedom these systems afford can lead to messy, chaotic learning environments, which are a far cry from the tidy, goal-directed, message-transfer that is common to traditional learning systems. Learners can easily feel lost, unsupported and unable to find their way in the environment or make appropriate connections (Darken & Sibert,1996; Mackness et al. 2010). A better understanding of how initial connections are made online is needed by both teachers and learners.  We suggest that this might be possible if we consider more closely an intriguing, novel, promising phenomenon that is increasingly encountered in online work and which we want to call ‘online resonance’, or ‘e-resonance’ for short.

What do we mean by e-resonance? When an idea or other element of an online artefact by an online author (A) ‘resonates with’ an online reader (R), and R comments or responds, or at least will subsequently watch more attentively for more work of A, then resonance occurs. This resonance initially occurs on a social (person to person) level, but we will later see (in section 4) that e-resonance also involves the conceptual level and, furthermore, links the two levels in a very singular way.

Outside the online world, patterns of interpersonal exchanges have long been described by acoustic metaphors such as “it resonates with me” or “it strikes a chord” or “we are on the same wavelength“. When encountered in online exchanges, however, these metaphors assume an entirely new frame of reference. What is novel and unique about this is not only the range of promising, powerful affordances of resonance in the online environment (see section 5) such as facilitation of learning connections, stimulation of unexpected ideas and filtering out of essential aspects, to name a few, but also the complex, baffling process of igniting the resonance effect, which can hardly be predicted but can be clearly identified when it has happened. While it is possible to identify some criteria for determining when it might happen (see section 4), for describing some factors that are associated with it (see section 6), and for approximately describing the mechanics of how it works (see section 3), the exact reasons for why it happens, are even more difficult to pin down and might remain a riddle for quite some time in the future.

In writing this paper we have not attempted to solve this riddle, but rather to explore its unique characteristics, with a view to increasing our understanding of online communication and how this might differ from face-to-face (F2F) communication.

2. E-resonance and F2F communication

Much has already been written about the differences between online and F2F communication ( see for example Jonassen & Kwon, 2001; Conole et al. 2006; Creanor et al. 2006; Sharpe et al. 2005), but considering them from the perspective of e-resonance provides an additional/alternative perspective.

A core difference between online and offline communication is that offline we are immersed in a common environment which forces people at both ends of the communication channel into a binding protocol of understanding, asking back, or contradicting. Online, we are asynchronously situated at our own ends of the communication channel, having the freedom to pick distinct aspects to mentally engage with, interpret them individually and independently of others and then decide whether to react (arguing or affirming) or just skip them.

Another difference is that offline any minor misunderstandings in the conversation can be quickly resolved through questioning or reacting. Conversely, major misunderstandings or talking past each other might go unnoticed or be ignored, leaving the illusion of successful communication, which can often be the primary goal. In contrast, online we have more freedom to disregard and ignore elements of communication and engage only with resonating elements. As a result this online communication may be more thorough and reflective, whilst at the same time always offering the potential for replying, but not forcing this.

Perhaps the most significant difference between F2F and online communication is that the online environment offers a unique combination of the affordances of slower literal reflections and faster oral/F2F reactions. While literality, as commonly experienced through reading books, typically offers more opportunities for reflection than orality, it has the shortcoming that reactions are slow or hardly possible, especially in the offline paper world. The technologically enabled online environment, by contrast, simultaneously allows for both quick reactivity and asynchronous slower reflection.

F2F communication therefore tends to aim for agreement through accommodation, tolerance and avoiding confrontation by talking past each other, even in cases of intellectual debate where communicators will agree to disagree. Asynchronous online communication, on the other hand, allows for more reflection and choice and the ‘potential’ to respond is more in the communicator’s control. So trust, empathy, closeness and friendship, all of which affect learning and communication arise differently in the two environments (on and offline).

3. Characteristics of e-resonance

For this paper we consider resonance best explored in terms of one-one connections, as described in section 1 for author A and reader R, rather than one to many or many to one connections, which are often considered when investigating how online communication occurs.

Reflection on how any online connection is initiated, what might spark e-resonance, leads immediately to the realisation that e-resonance is related to common thinking patterns and interests. It does not appear to be related to the age of communicators, although their cultural backgrounds may be influential. These aspects are not surprising.  Perhaps more surprising is that e-resonance does not necessarily involve reciprocity and should not be confused with recognition. It does not require a response to be made for it to occur; it precedes this stage of communication. Neither does it involve acknowledgement, nor the identification of something as having been previously seen, heard or known. All this would imply that e-resonance is under our control, whereas we believe that it relates to ‘out of control’ unconscious communication. This being ‘out of control’ is in line with the complexity of online communication, where learning and connectivity are necessarily unpredictable, surprising and emergent (Snowden, 2007; Morrison, K. 2008).(See section 4 for further discussion of unconscious communication in e-resonance).

Whilst resonance is related to common thinking patterns and interests, this does not mean that it is related to ‘same’ thinking patterns and interests. Resonance is not about ‘sameness’. Rather it is about one or more ‘similarities’, which may be nonverbal or ‘beyond verbal’ (see section 4). To find like-minded people who just share the same interest we could simply search for a suitable forum or other site. E-resonance is more than this.

The idea that resonance is about similarity rather than sameness is supported by the work of Etienne Wenger who writes that, ‘When we engage in a conversation, we somehow recognise in each other something of ourselves, which we address’ (Wenger, 1998, p.56). Wenger is also clear that communication in a community of practice is not always harmonious. What we recognise has to do with our mutual ability to negotiate meaning. This mutuality does not, however, entail equality or respect (p.56). Likewise, the notion that e-resonance is about similarity, does not mean that it is always positive and harmonious. It can equally be disharmonious or negative.

Unpicking the difference between similarity and sameness further, the authors have discussed it in the following terms:

Imagine a world consisting of 995 rectangles and 5 parallelograms. We have ignored the parallelograms because our teachers have focussed on the tidy rectangles. Replacing rectangles with “successful message transfer communication” and parallelograms with “out-of-control communication with the chance of inspiring resonance”, provides a picture for explaining the relationship between out of control communication and e-resonance.

E-resonance will therefore mean different things to different people and will be experienced differently according to the context. At initiation e-resonance might involve unspoken/ beyond-verbal sameness or similarities, about common ground and similar thoughts, but the verbal messages of the exchange itself might lead to difference and dissimilarity if this helps cross-pollination and stimulation of ideas. This mixture of intertwined verbal/ nonverbal and personal/ conceptual ingredients all adds to the riddle of online resonance.

(See also second instalment – posted on 14-09-2010)


Conole, G., deLaat, M., Dillon, T. & Darby, J. (2006). An in-depth case study of students’ experiences of e-learning – how is learning changing? Proceedings of the 23rd annual ascilite conference: Who’s learning? Whose technology?

Creanor, L., Trinder, K., Gowan, G. & Howells, C. (2006) LEX: the learner experience of e-learning final project report, August 2006. Report under the JISC e-pedagogy understanding my learner programme. Glasgow: Glasgow Caledonian University.

Darken, R.P. & Sibert, J.L. (1996). Navigating Large Virtual Spaces. Int. J. of Human-Computer Interaction, 8 (1), 49-72.

Downes, S. (2007) What Connectivism Is. Retrieved 29-08-2010 from: http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html

Downes, S. (2009) Connectivist Dynamics in Communities. Retrieved 29-08-2010 from: http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2009/02/connectivist-dynamics-in-communities.html

Downes, S. (2010) Connectivism and Transculturality. Retrieved 29-08-2010 from: http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2010/05/connectivism-and-transculturality.html

Goodyear , P., Jones, C., Hodgson, v., Asensio, M. & Steeples, C. (2004) Undergraduate students’ experiences of networked learning in UK higher education: a survey-based study. Advances in research on networked learning. (Goodyear, P. ed.) Dordrecht : Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Granovetter, M. S. (1973)  The Strength of Weak Ties. Vol. 78. No.6, p.1360-1380. The American Journal of Sociology. Retrieved 28-08-2010 from: http://www.itu.dk/courses/DDKU/E2007/artikler/Granovetter-%20Weak%20Ties.pdf

Granovetter, M.S. (1983). The strength of weak ties: A network theory revisited. 1, 201-233, Sociological Theory. Retrieved 29-08-2010, from: http://www.tue-tm-soc.nl/iin/Granovetter-1983.pdf

Haythornthwaite, C. (2002) Strong, weak and latent ties and the impact of new media, 18, 385-401. The information Society.

Jonassen, D.H. & Kwon, H. (2001) Communication patterns in computer mediated versus face-to-face group problem solving. Vol.49, No. 1, p.35-51. Educational Technology, research and development.

Krebs, V. & Holley, J. (2002) Building Sustainable Communities through Network Building. Retrieved 28-08-2010 from: http://www.supportingadvancement.com/web_sightings/community_building/community_building.pdf

Mackness, J., Mak, S.F.J. & Williams, R. (2010) The Ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC. Networked Learning Conference 2010. Retrieved 28-08-2010 from: http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fss/organisations/netlc/past/nlc2010/abstracts/Mackness.html

Morrison, K. (2008). Educational Philosophy and the Challenge of Complexity Theory, 40(1), Philosophy.

Sharpe, R., Benfield, G., Lessner, E. & DeCicco, E. (2005). Final report: Scoping study for the pedagogy strand of the JISC learning programme. Retrieved 29-08-2010, from: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/uploaded_documents/scoping%20study%20final%20report%20v4.1.doc

Siemens, G. ( 2009) What is Connectivism? Retrieved 28-08-2010 from : http://docs.google.com/View?docid=anw8wkk6fjc_14gpbqc2dt

Snowden, D.J. & Boone, M.E. (2007) A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making. Harvard Business Review

Steeple, C. & Jones, C. (2002)  Networked Learning: perspectives and issues. London, Springer.

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice. Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Creative Commons Licence
The Riddle of Online Resonance by Matthias Melcher and Jenny Mackness is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The Riddle of Online Resonance

First instalment (Introduction, e-resonance and F2F communication, Characteristics of e-resonance)  – posted 12-09-2010

Second instalment (Indicators of e-resonance, Affordances of e-resonance) – posted 14-09-2010

Third instalment (Factors that affect e-resonance, Conclusions) – posted on 16-09-2010

PDF of full article – The Riddle of Online Resonancehttps://jennymackness.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/the-riddle-of-online-resonance.pdf


The subject of this blog post is the result of a discussion that I have been having with Matthias Melcher – and he with me 🙂 – since the beginning of the year. Matthias and I ‘met’ on the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge Course (CCK08) – and through this discovered that we are both interested in how online connections are made and we have been discussing this off and on ever since.

As a result of these discussions we have now written a discussion paper that we would like to share in the spirit of openness that we learned about on the CCK08 course.

This discussion paper explores the nature of online connectivity and, in particular, seeks to better understand how online connections are made in the very first instance of contact. There has been plenty of research on how to develop online connections once they have been made, but the question of how the initial contact is made has not received much attention. What is it that enables a potentially beneficial connection to be made with a previously unknown online communicator? We propose that the answer lies in online resonance, which we have called ‘e-resonance’. In this paper we consider what the characteristics, affordances and affecting factors of e-resonance might be. What sparks it off? What are the key indicators of e-resonance? In response to these questions we discuss the possibility of ‘beyond verbal’ communication and what this might mean for the author and reader of online messages and whether particular skills are needed to be able to benefit from e-resonance. There is no doubt that e-resonance is a riddle, which remains, as yet, unsolved.

Our intention is to post our paper in three instalments and we would very much welcome comment, positive or negative, and discussion about the ideas that we have incorporated in the paper.

We will also be posting a full PDF of the paper at some stage.


Creative Commons Licence
The Riddle of Online Resonance by Matthias Melcher and Jenny Mackness is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.