Online Networks: New Actors in Higher Education

Special Focus : Solving Latin America’s Education Woes With Technology
Learning Ecosystems and Leadership March 19, 2015

With the expansion of hybrid learning spaces, career opportunities are much more conditioned by the building of networks than before, and the ability to build a digital identity allows better access to key professional networks. Using open licenses of content under Creative Commons; knowing how to create networking platforms; using social media; promoting face-to-face meetings with networks’ members; learning to code. There are countless ways to do so.

Encouraging university students to build a strategy of network design is thus key. Producing and consuming content in physical and digital networks are good strategies to enhance students’ intrinsic motivation to use ICT and understand why it is important for their online networking strategy. Below, I include eight recommendations that teachers could use to encourage students to design their online learning networks. 

1. Join and create digital communities. Networks can help achieve public, playful, pedagogical, and professional goals. Citizens are more valuable, socially speaking, when they build their own networks. Constructing a citizen identity in a digital network like for example, is a way of advocating for local and global causes. Supperbetter enhances the resilience of people through the implementation of small and large goals (as learning activities), with supervision and advice from members of the community. 

2. Be part of a team. Being a gifted professional with limited capacity to be part of a team can be a serious drawback. P2P learning communities as Researchgate, or OpenLivingLabs can be useful ways to empower communities and foster collective actions. The advantages of these networks are: a) its specific objectives straightforwardness and b) its efficiency to promote interaction between members. 

3. Join clusters. Clusters are self-organized physical or digital spaces, focused on building networks for a specific action. They promote a beneficial environment within a specific field to share good practices and unite forces. Donorschoose is an interesting educational crowdfunding cluster that makes it easy for anyone to help students in need across the US. Red Latinoamericana de Portales Educativos ( is a regional platform that enables sharing good practices on how to use technology in education.

4. Gain visibility. “If your goal is to reshape the world, then how the world learns about your plan is every bit as important as the plan itself” (Diamandis and Kotler 2013). It is key to foster the public visibility of school projects conducted by students. enables a transparent and easy-to-read way to build a professional profile.

5. Explore new networks. Professionals who explore networks in environments different from their work field open the door to a full range of possibilities. Putting design tools in the hands of people who have never thought of themselves as designers; prototyping solutions like the Mschool BCN project in public schools in Catalunya, Spain, in which students design apps to address social issues affecting their community. 

6. Promote the social graph in an off-line way. As fish grow according to the size of the tank in which they are cultivated, individual behavior is dictated largely by the shaping of their social environment (Eli Pariser). WikiCity Yopal (Colombia) and Coursera’s Meetups foster the creation of dynamic and organic networks to promote specific networking activities in a closed learning network.

7. Apply Wirearchy. Wirearchy, (term created by Jon Husband) refers to a type of social structure in which people work together to achieve a common goal, disregarding traditional hierarchies. Manifesto15, a pedagogical claim translated into 13 languages, is an example of it, in which educators from around the world united their voices to make the education system evolve. Other examples are KaosPilot (Denmark), Outliers School (Latin America and Spain), (Spain) or Knowmads (Netherlands).

8. Explore Multidisciplinary Groups. Designing or integrating groups with varied profiles, ages, and world views creates an exotic profile that increases the chances of being invited to new networks. The #edutainment concept as Institute of Play (EE.UU) or BuildWithChrome. Institute of Play is a world-class reference in the practice of incorporating an intense recreational logic in education. 

What is not shared is thus as important as what is shared. For this reason, it is essential to develop a visibility strategy in professional networks.