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:

Efimova, L. (2009) Blog networking study: establishing and maintaining relations via blogging. Retrieved 29-08-2010 from:

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:

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:

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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 Immediate thoughts

It is interesting that this course has attracted so many people (over 1000?), but the Critical Literacies course attracted far fewer – and I’m wondering why, since a critical literacy must surely be to be able to manage a personal learning environment/network. Is it because the management of a personal learning environment/network is more practically focussed, but consideration of critical literacies is more conceptual/academic?

I have had a quick look at all the readings for this week. I was intrigued by Scott Leslie’s Mother of All PLE Diagram Compilation and thought I had better try and construct my own diagram – which I started to do and even considered using Prezi, until I realised that all this is terribly time consuming and I didn’t see that I would gain a lot. In my head I know which tools I use, why, when and with whom – I use most of them every day. I also know who I am networked with, which communities I follow and which tools I use to meet up with different groups/individuals. Having said that, looking at the diagrams was a spur to activating my Twitter account which has lain dormant since I created it ages ago. Now seems like a good time to test out whether it should be part of my PLE/PLN.

But more interesting for me is Dave Cormier’s blog post – Five points about PLEs and PLNs – Dave Cormier (Blog post) because he is talking about the related issues and why we should think about this at all. Like him I have always been concerned about the confusion between e-portfolios and PLEs (he didn’t express it like this – but this is the issue that his post raised for me). A lot of universities in the UK have introduced e-portfolio systems which are tied into the University’s platform. (Is this because of assessment requirements or am I just being cynical?). When the students graduate and leave the University they have to buy their own portfolio. It all seems very inflexible to me and ties the students to a system which ultimately may not suit their needs, when they move out into the world of work.

But an alternative perspective on e-portfolios is that at least everything is in one place in what is presumably a secure environment.  The disadvantages of open source distributed environments are not too difficult to identify; for example, you may lose your environment, as when Ning suddenly decided that users would have to pay for their previously free site.

There is also a concern lurking in the back of my mind about the effect of distributed environments on the quality of learning – i.e. the old breadth versus depth concerns. I personally find it very difficult to balance these. I have been very fortunate that my experience with distributed networks such as those promoted by the open courses I have attended, CCK08 and Critical Literacies (I only attended part of this one) has enabled me to experience more depth than breadth, in that I have ‘met’ research partners in these courses and have been able to collaborate in research projects which, as an independent consultant, not affiliated to any institution, would have been difficult to organise without these networks.

For me the  personal/conceptual interactions between small groups are more stimulating/interesting/fulfilling than a wide network of connections, but paradoxically I need a distributed network in order to find the resonating connections to lead to the conceptual and personal connections that I value. Resonating connections is very much at the forefront of my mind at the moment since Matthias Melcher and I have just completed writing a paper on this very topic after months of discussion. See The Riddle of Online Resonance – and yes – now that I have realised that there obviously is a link between the issues surrounding PLE/Ns and e-resonance – this is a shameless plug of our paper 🙂