The Need for Network Literacy

Being connected through networks has always been fundamental to the survival and development of humankind: social networks, learning networks, professional networks, trade networks, and communication networks, being some examples. Also, transmission of knowledge and innovation have always been dependent on networks. The knowledge and skills, or literacy, to operate within, and to use these networks, have been crucial to successful participation in society.

Through digital and communication technology we now have the vast network of computers, that we call the internet, which enables us to create and link knowledge artefacts, and to store and distribute vast amounts of information in digital format – instantaneously. Living successfully in the information era will once again, increasingly, depend on being able to proficiently use digital networks.

McClure (1994) defined network literacy in terms of the ability to identify, access, and use electronic information from the network, emphasizing essential knowledge and skills. He argued network literacy central to being personally and professionally productive and effective (p. 115).

Rheingold agreed with McClure on the importance of network literacy, identifying “network awareness” as one of the five literacies needed in the 21st century. He argued that a basic understanding of networks is vital in our connected world, because the structure and dynamics of networks influences political freedom, economic wealth creation, and participation in the creation of culture (Rheingold, 2010, pp.14-16). “The technical networks amplify and extend the fundamental human capability of forming social networks” (Rheingold, 2010).

Pegrum argued that personal, social and professional networks are all linked together technologically by the internet. To maintain balance between personal identity and social connections, and the civic engagement (locally, nationally and globally) through digital networks, require literacy and skills that cannot just be assumed, but must be acquired. We must teach about and through networks (Pegrum, 2010, pp. 349-350).

Siemens constructed a new learning theory for the networked age, called connectivism. He explained that “the amplification of learning, knowledge and understanding through the extension of a personal network is the epitome of collectivism.” Learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity; and teaching, in this networked world, means “guiding, directing, and curating the quality of networks learners are forming” (Siemens & Tittenberger 2009, p. 13).

Pegrum saw personal learning networks (PLNs), trusted networks of peers and experts, tools and technologies, resources and materials, as mirrors of networked knowledge and facilitators of networked learning. Network literacy could be enhanced by early exposure to and regular maintenance of PLNs.

Being connected through networks has always been fundamental to the survival and development of humankind. The knowledge and skills, or literacy, to operate within, and to use these networks, have been crucial to successful participation in society. This is as true of the networks of the information age, as it has been of any networked environment.

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References

McClure, C. R. (1994). Network literacy: A role for libraries? Information Technology and Libraries, 13(2), 115-125.

Pegrum, M. (2010). I link, therefore I am’: Network literacy as a core digital literacy. E-Learning and Digital Media, 7(4).

Rheingold, H. (n.d.). Network literacy: Mini-course. Retrieved from http://rheingold.com/2013/network-literacy-mini-course/

Rheingold, H. (2010). Attention, and other 21st-century social media literacies. EDUCAUSE Review, 45(5), 14-16.

Siemens, G. (2004, December 12). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved July 27, 2017, from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

Siemens, G., & Tittenberger, P. (2009). Handbook of emerging technologies for learning.
Retrieved from http://elearnspace.org/Articles/HETL.pdf

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