Frances Bell

home at last – for all the mes


Connectivism and Twitter snowball threads

This will be a quick post but I wanted to capture a few ideas sparked by a Twitter thread that probably started here.

I started reading at this point

I was on my phone on a car journey and didn’t notice that were already 4 people in the stream. I replied to Sue because I vividly remember my first encounter with the concept ‘legitimate peripheral participation’  (LPP). By this time there were 5 people in the thread. I was interested in what Sue Watling had to say about Jean Lave’s work on Situated Learning and went to look at the Wikipedia page that suggests that Wenger ‘moved on’ from LPP to dualities in his later work. As that work tends to focus on online communities of practice (CoP) it would be interesting to look back at how ideas from Situated Learning fed in to the initial concepts of CoP and LPP.

I then reflected on LPP in the context some work I did with Jenny Mackness and Mariana Funes a couple of years ago (Bell, Mackness & Funes 2016), and mused about how the affordances of algorithmic streams might impact on LPP and vice versa.

I included my co-authors Twitter handles for the purposes of attribution but as the stream grew very fast I slightly regretted it – sorry you two. Mariana and Jenny have written an article ( Funes & Mackness 2018 with open access preprint available here) that seems relevant to my experience on this thread. The discussion moved quickly on to Rhizomatic Learning and Connectivism, like a snowball getting bigger as it rolls. I decided to jump out of posting to the thread at this point, and to be honest that has happened quite a lot since Twitter changed to include all those mentioned in the reply. You can uncheck them one by one and/or mute the thread but I am not keen on the change myself.


From that point on, I lurked on the thread and sighed a little as every like and reply of every post clogged up my notifications. There were posts on Rhizomatic Learning and Connectivism that I might have replied to at a blog or on a forum but for me the thread was too distracting.

One of the beneficial side effects of my experience was that I reread my own work on CCK08 (one of the original MOOCs an Connectivism and Connective Knowledge) and Connectivism (Bell 201o, Bell 2011), a paper that compared blogs and forums on CCK (Mak, Williams & Mackness 2010), and a blog post shared by Stephen Downes on the thread.

“The actual physical descriptions of these theories vary from network to network – in human neurons, it’s a set of electrical-chemical reactions, in social networks, it’s communications between individual people, on computer networks it’s variable values sent to logical objects.” Downes blog post)

This reminded me of the issue that this (for me) conflation of these three sets of network descriptions  within Connectivism and its principles. It seems to me to impoverish experiences  – leaving a lot out. Since that time, I have read Mejias’ work who champions the paranodes, the space beyond the logic of the network, here’s my take.

In reading (Mak, Williams & Mackness 2010), I was reminded of an incident on CCK08 where the facilitors removed the ability of participants to unsubscribe from forum topics and posts to the justifed exasperation of participants,  many of whom left the MOOC in frustration. It occurred to me that this action has something in common with the Twitter thread functionality change – agency of humans and non-humans 🙂


Bell, F. (2011). Connectivism: Its place in theory-informed research and innovation in technology-enabled learning. IRRODL, 12. Retrieved from

Bell, F. (2010). Network theories for technology-enabled learning and social change: Connectivism and Actor Network theory. In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld, V. Hodgson, C. Jones, M. de Laat, D. McConnell, & T. Ryberg (Eds.), Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Networked Learning 2010. Retrieved from

Bell, F., Mackness, J., & Funes, M. (2016). Participant association and emergent curriculum in a MOOC: can the community be the curriculum? Research in Learning Technology, 24.

Funes, M., & Mackness, J. (2018). When Inclusion Excludes: a counter narrative of open online education. Learning, Media & Technology, 43(2), 119–138.

Mak, S., Williams, R., & Mackness, J. (2010). Blogs and Forums as Communication and Learning Tools in a MOOC. In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld, V. Hodgson, & D. McConnell (Eds.). Retrieved from



francesbell • July 16, 2018

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  1. Sue Watling July 16, 2018 - 2:32 pm Reply

    Hello Frances, as promised, I had a rummage around my literature and Jean Lave’s Cognition in Practice (first published in 1988) appears to predate the later collaboration with Etienne Wenger. In this publication, Lave takes the study of maths out of the lab and situates it in social/cultural practices, an innovation which may have gotten a little lost in the later collaboration with Wenger.

    • francesbell July 16, 2018 - 10:07 pm Reply

      Thanks very much Sue. I too have been doing a bit of detective work on Lave’s work prior to and after the 1991 Lave and Wenger book. I found Cognition in Practice on Google Books and the few snippets I was able to see led me to earlier work on Apprenticeship which is probably a context for the ideas on Legitimate Peripheral Participation.
      I found this chapter in Google books but couldn’t see anything much and the snippets I saw led me back to this paper
      Lave, J. (1977). Cognitive consequences of traditional apprenticeship training in West Africa. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 8(August), 177–180.
      that relates to what you say about situated maths in your comment above.

      Lave, J. (2009). The Practice of Learning. In Contemporary theories of learning: learning theorists … in their own words (pp. 200–208). Retrieved from
      Jean Lave’s work seems to be very interesting, as she says a combination of psychology and anthropology, and clearly developing over quite a long time. It seems that her collaboration with Etienne Wenger was fruitful but they went in slightly different directions thereafter. And that’s very interesting for me, as my scholarship and research has been that neither the social nor the technology solely determine outcomes. There are so many rich theories and qualitative research that explore this and we can’t all know all of it. But I think we can do better than just Twitter threads(or Facebook groups) for exploring the complex and hopefully f2f is involved when possible.

  2. Jenny Mackness July 16, 2018 - 6:11 pm Reply

    ‘… I lurked on the thread and sighed a little as every like and reply of every post clogged up my notifications …’

    Hi Frances – I did exactly the same and now I see that you are the culprit, which I hadn’t twigged, so you needn’t have owned up to it 🙂 But it was not a problem for me and many thanks for all the references.

    There were times when I was tempted to jump in, but to be honest, it felt like it would be returning to conversations had many moons ago, and I didn’t really see that anything new was being added or that I could add anything new. I thought it very generous of Stephen to join in and add some links to references. Did anyone thank him for this? I haven’t checked.

    I’m not sure why, but a twitter thread pretty much ensures that I will be a lurker, although I use twitter DM a lot. But I prefer blog commenting if the discussion is to be public and email if the discussion is to be private. Old habits die hard 🙂

    • francesbell July 16, 2018 - 10:34 pm Reply

      I thought I’d better own up 🙂
      Stephen’s contributions were acknowledged warmly I believe. I too am grateful for them as they prompted me to re-read some of his writing and to read this he posted from Christina Hendricks that reported on a perspective of Stephen’s work that had completely passed me by
      One thing that piqued my interest was that a cMOOC would be evaluated as an entity in terms of its emergent rather than individual knowledge generation.
      “To look at the success of a cMOOC from an ‘outcomes’ perspective, you’d try to determine whether new knowledge emerged from the interactions in the community as a whole.” Christina’s blog
      This raises so many issues – ethical, informational, social – for me about the contrasts and synergies between formal and in/non/formal learning.
      In CCK08, I could see many examples of knowledge emerging from the network but also knowledge being deflected and resisted by the network. For example, the subject of CCK08 was Connectivism and Connective Knowledge, and it seemed that participants were sometimes more welcome to disseminate that knowledge than to challenge and add to it.

  3. Jenny Mackness July 17, 2018 - 7:21 am Reply

    Hi Frances
    It has been good to be reminded of Christina’s blog post which I did comment on at the time, since her questions about emergent learning were similar to those that Roy Williams, Simone Gumtau, Regina Karousou and I were exploring and which resulted in our framework – Footprints of Emergence. The framework can be used by individual learners to recognise emergent learning in their own practice, and can also be used to explore whether the design of an open learning environment is likely to lead to emergent learning. In one of our papers we explored how the CCK08 environment changed over time, allowing, at different times, for more or less emergent learning. See if you are interested.

  4. francesbell July 17, 2018 - 9:09 am Reply

    I am very glad that I posted my hasty post – it is becoming a place to collect (along with my Mendeley) some very useful references and has provoked me to do a lot of reading.
    I took another look at your IRRODL article on Footprints of Emergence , and liked the series of footprints for CCK08. Of course, as well the time perspective , there is also the tension identified by Barnett between singularity and universality that you explored in this excellent post It reminds me of the dance between structure and agency from Giddens, and of course increasingly, we think of the agency of (technology) structures. From the point of the ethical dilemmas that you talk about in your post, I have been thinking alot about the ones posed by using proprietary platforms formally or informally in learning design (back to your footprints) and how we can engage with (rather than resolve) those dilemmas. I am interested in resistance and activism – not for everyone I know- but one thing I’m sure of is that ignoring ethical dilemmas because they can’t be completely resolved is a bad idea 🙂

    • Jenny Mackness July 17, 2018 - 5:34 pm Reply

      It sounds like you are doing some interesting reading/research/work Frances. In our work we were interested in the balance between prescription and chaos of the factors which might influence emergent learning in an open learning environment; so, for example, at what point is too much structure restrictive or does too little structure lead to chaos?
      We could think similarly about resistance and activism – at what points between order and chaos do resistance and activism sit for a positive outcome or a negative outcome. What determines the necessary balance?
      And I wonder how much ethical dilemmas are ignored as opposed to simply not being recognised?

      • francesbell July 17, 2018 - 10:58 pm Reply

        Thanks Jenny.
        There’s a bit more information about what I have been up to in this post
        I started to think about a concept of ‘resistance’ as a reaction to what I saw as a ‘shrugging of the shoulders’ by some in edtech when alerted to problems with platforms: assumed rather than informed consent, sloppy sharing of data – maybe this is what you say about ignoring of ethical dilemmas. Platform is often presented as a simple choice of use or not use, when we can be present even if we are no longer or never have been ‘there’, as we are included in photos or our data is never actually deleted when we delete our accounts. I also thought about some staff in formal educational institutions who are obliged to use platforms as part of their jobs. Resistance is no more simple than choice of use but I think of it as a practice that may, in its various forms shape technology, rather as GDPR has, for all its flaws. Technology shaping is a collective action, taking place in complex contexts and it’s outcomes are undecidable.

        • Jenny Mackness July 18, 2018 - 3:20 pm Reply

          My approach to problems with platforms, when working full-time in HE (many years ago now!) when, as you say, we didn’t have the choice of whether or not to use the platform, was not resistance, but subversion. When necessary, we (me and the team I worked with) would try and work under the radar. It wasn’t so much resisting the power that the edtech people clearly had, or even trying to undermine it. We simply tried to go round it. Perhaps that does equate to resistance, but not the open kind. Ultimately we were always trying to do the best for our students by providing the highest quality teaching and learning we could. Our perspective was that sometimes the restrictions place on us, by those centrally managing the platforms, prevented us from achieving the quality we hoped for. As we saw it, subversion was our only option. It’s interesting now to consider whether or not this was also unethical.

          • Jenny Mackness July 18, 2018 - 3:29 pm

            Ah – I have just looked at your link (should have done that first) and see that you are thinking more broadly about this, so ignore the above if not relevant.

          • francesbell July 20, 2018 - 8:25 am

            Thanks for reading the link. I can identify with what you say about subversion and flying under the radar – that was my approach. Things have changed in some ways and I think I need to write another blog post about that, informed by this interesting conversation.

  5. Lurking and platforms: old conversations in changing contexts – Frances Bell
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