I want to begin by saying that I think networked learning is largely a good idea. Providing the ability for people to share ideas, knowledge basis, and perspectives is inherently a good premise. Educational materials such as Khan Academy or the blogs identified in in Tim Hitchcook’s piece have had large, tangible, and positive impact on numbers of people and helps to bridge the gaps that sometimes a more conventional educational system fails to do.
However, giving everyone a platform does bring with it some unique problems that need to be addressed both in concept and in the practical application of a networked leaning based system. The reality is, not all ideas are good ideas. Some reinforce ignorance, spread bias, promote hate, and create division which contributes to the erosion of an inclusive society. Though bringing groups of people together and allowing them to interact with other like-minded individuals can be a good thing, it can also promote protected circles that are hard to penetrate with reason or evidence; if you need an example look no further than the anti-vax or flat-earth movements and how, even in the face of insurmountable evidence that disputes their claims, continue to grow and impact our society, not always for the better.
These networks and connections can be used to spread hate, lies, manipulation the same as they can be used to spread knowledge, inclusivity or the like. The reality is that if someone wants to find reinforcement for an idea they have, regardless of how narrow-minded or destructive, these connections can allow it. I remember back to an interaction I had on Facebook a few years ago where someone shared an inappropriate, shopped photo of President Obama fondling Melania Trump. I remember commenting multiple links to the original video showing very much that interaction never occurred and the only reply that came was “I like my version better”, essentially saying that this individual choose to ignore the truth even when it was right in front of them. This interaction highlights one of my only hesitations with the greater idea of networked learning and how social media and the World Wide Web are changing how people interact. It gives everyone a podium, regardless of if their idea or thought or take is based in truth or has merit. Jon Udell acknowledges that everyone should have their own space in the web for themselves to control, and I agree to an extent, but to the average citizen reading something in print (regardless of if it is peer reviewed, supported by fact, or not) carries with it a level of authority that can be leveraged to further a cause – regardless of that cause’s intent.
In the same vein, I admit that the same platform can be used to tear down the walls of ignorance and expose radicalism. I think the key is to recognize networked learning for what it is — a tool. It is not a cure all, and in my opinion shouldn’t always be the correct course of action, but its merits do warrant its implementation into our society, and educational practices. However, much like any tool, its correct application will decide how much value it can add. Recognizing that this type of interaction can be susceptible to manipulation, group-think, and the like brings with it the need to promote the development of critical thinking, (cautious) open mindedness, and the ability to recognize motive/intent throughout our society NOT just in academia. I think the last bit is extremely important, because in my opinion we usually see through the world view that we have and contextualize life in the way that makes sense to us and our experiences, but academia (as Dr. Michael Wesch points out) is not always representative of the ‘real world’ and the overarching implications the connections that networked learning makes possible may manifest themselves very differently in each environment. Not everyone tapping into the World Wide Web has a primary agenda focused on informing the public of their life’s work in a purely enlightening way, some’s motivations might not be as pure.
Twitter and blogs are not just add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion underpinning it.