Blog Network literacies

Network literacies past and present: McClure and Rheingold, 2016, 2016


McClure’s (1994) position on network literacy is drawn from the vantage of a futurist predicting how technologies will evolve and impact our education and social practices. McClure describes the evolving definition of literacy from a term that meant being able to read, write, compute and solve problems to include computer literacy, media literacy and information literacy. As new technologies have developed, the notion of literacy has evolved to encapsulate new knowledge and skills needed to engage in a networked society. However, the important point of this paper is the contextualisation of new literacy education in real-world problems. That is, literacy education is meaningful, relevant  and engaging when learners can connect the acquisition of these new skills with real-world contexts. McClure also raises the important question of how the public will participate in decision making about evolving technologies in the future (p.115). Despite viewing the future through a glass darkly, these comments are relevant today as we look at employability skills and graduate outcomes. Network literacies need to be connected to real-world contexts and applications.

Rheingold’ situates his views on network literacy within a 21st century critical view of the importance of engaging mindfully with digital technologies and tools  “…because the ways people use new media in the first years of an emerging communication can influence the way those media end up being used and misused for decades to come (Rheingold, 2012, p.1).” Rheingold takes a human-centred view of five literacies: attention, participation, collaboration, critical consumption of information and network smarts and warns that the free flow of information can only be enriching if we engage and use it properly. Literacy is now a skill that includes social competency, the “ability to use those skills socially” (Rheingold, 2012, p.4). Rheingold highlights the interconnectedness of each of these literacies to support mindful engagement with various technologies.

We need to handle the new flows of knowledge, media, and attention in a healthy, flexible, grounded manner, whether we are older and trying to cope with a world that has changed on us, or just starting out in an era in which the rules are still being written.” (Rheingold, 2012, p.5).

Rheingold reminds us that literacies are part of an architecture of participation developed by those who created the protocols of the original internet. He warns that it is important that we understand this architecture of participation as networks aren’t just about engineering, they are also about freedom and the location of control. These five literacies can help us be empowered or if we don’t master them, manipulated. Specifically, becoming skilled in these five new literacies is not just for our own good, it is “…something powerful we can learn as well as exercise for ourselves and each other.” Each seemingly self-centred act online can contribute to a public good for everyone.

What has changed since McClure and Rheingold

MOOCs have become popular platforms for learning and social participation. Learning is networked and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Padlet have evolved and gained value as tools for teaching and learning not just socialisation. Virtual learning spaces such as Second Life and learning management systems are viable platforms in higher education to meet non-traditional student cohorts demand for greater flexibility and delivery models that facilitate ubiquitous access to learning (Johnson, Adams Becker, Cummins, Estrada, Freeman and Hall, 2016, p.26)

In 2016 futuristic predictions from lay and experts include wireless everything, internet-connection implant, all media on-demand, quantum computers and downloading your brain. I wonder what new literacies will we need to thrive in this new society? What new architectures of participation will we connect with in this future society? (Baer, 2015; Hanson, n.d.)



Baer, D. (2015, November 18). 8 Shocking predictions for life after 202o from Google’s genius futurist [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Hanson, J. (n.d.). Future technology predictions and scenarios [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Estrada, V., Freeman, A., & Hall, C. (2016). NMC Horizon Report: 2016 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

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

Rheingold, H. (2012). Net smart: How to thrive online. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

One comment on “Blog Network literacies
  1. I used Rheingold’s 21st Century Social Media Literacies as the basis of my digital artefact on PLNs for students. I think the emphasis he places on mindful consumption of digital media resonates with our students, who often get lost in an online world of limitless wormholes of things. He moves from the word literacies to competencies which suggests that these are skills that we all need to function effectively in a digital world.

    I’m still not sure about downloading my brain though. It sounds quite uncomfortable.

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