Offline networked learning





Each year the Open University UK produces the Innovating Pedagogy report, which highlights the ten things that are most likely to have an impact in the near future. I always look forward to reading the report. This year I am delighted to be involved as an author. I am working with Mark Gaved on the concept of offline networked learning. Here is the draft section. Comments welcome, do you agree with our focus? Is there anything we have missed? We are particularly interested in what people think of whether there are distinct pedagogical characteristics / challenges of ‘offline networked learning’ that we might have missed, and whether we’ve correctly captured the relationship between offline networked learning and slow learning. Plus good examples of offline networked learning in action that they know of.

Networked learning beyond the Internet



Learning has been revolutionised by networked technologies. Learners and teachers benefit from being able to access educational resources, study, and collaboratively create via digital networks. At its core, networked learning promotes connections: between learners; between learners and tutors, and between a learning community and its learning resources.


However, there are circumstances where networked learning via the Internet is not possible: this may be due to lack of access, a desire for autonomy, the need for privacy, or for playful/creative reasons. For example, there are many places where Internet access is unavailable and phone networks are limited or too expensive to use. This includes rural areas, developing countries, and spaces where access to the Internet may be purposely limited, for example in prisons.


In such situations there are learners and teachers who have or can be given access to smartphones, tablets or laptops. Enabling such learners and educators to leverage the power of these devices and take advantage of the affordances of networked learning when beyond the Internet has been made possible by low cost, low power networked hubs like Raspberry Pi’s. We call this approach ‘offline networked learning’. While it might be deployed at a large geographical scale, it is most practical and achievable in its support of hyperlocal networking: enabling people in the same room, or immediate proximity, to enhance their conversations through digital tools. It is important that educators consider not only technical constraints and opportunities, but also pedagogical implications such as the learners’ and teachers’ competencies, capabilities, motivations and support networks which may enable or hinder effective teaching or learning using this approach.

Ensuring good learning



There are a number of facets to good learning. These include the opportunity to reflect on what has been learnt, opportunities to visualise learning, undertaking dialogue with peers and tutors to co-construct understanding, and collaborative activities. Offline networked learning can enhance learning between participants to extend over time, to allow consolidation and conversation enhancing the process of learning as well as the product.


For example, the MAZI project developed a web-based set of tools running on a Raspberry Pi computer, battery powered and portable, that has enabled ‘a webserver in your pocket’. This has been used in rural Zambia to enable teachers to come together from different village schools to access digital teaching resources, share their own materials with their peers during training workshops, and take their selected materials back to their own schools. It has been used to enable indigenous communities in Guyana to upload, share and discuss videos they have created recording their traditional knowledge, creating knowledge repositories that build over time to empower communities and inform policy-making (


The Personal Inquiry project enabled school students to walk together in groups across a town, gathering data about urban pollution and loading into a netbook running a webserver based on an inquiry learning framework. The students could observe readings varying from different places as they were input, and draw down the collected sets later to analyse on their own machines. This has been developed further in collaboration with the UK Field Studies Council to enable species observation in different habitats: students can collect samples along a river, and make sense of the diversity, refocussing efforts in rapid response to live conditions to enable a more agile approach to fieldwork.


The World Bank funded iBox project in Ghana enables up to 100 learners at once to connect via WiFi in schools in underserved areas. Students can access a learning environment that support the science curriculum, providing video lessons, exercises, and content assessment. Digital tools are being developed, including a virtual microscope, 3D artefacts for manipulation, and a fully immersive lab, which provide virtual equivalents to teaching and learning resources not otherwise available in this low-resourced schools.


Brown describes a digital learning ecology consisting of four elements across formal and informal learning contexts, and physical versus virtual. Offline sits on the right hand side of the diagram, but the diagram illustrates the four facets of the digital ecology across which learners can permeate.

Supporting slow learning



I first came across the concept of slow learning via a keynote Peter Goodyear gave; some of his thoughts on the concept are available onlineThere is a relationship between offline networked learning and the concept of slow learning, which is a reaction to the frenzied fast pace of learning generated by the Internet. It is about connection to knowledge, deep and real learning. In this respect the quality of the educational engagement between teacher and learner is more important than judging student ability by standardised tests. Finally, it is about the importance of quality, creative teaching, which enables students to think independently, learning through curiosity, passion and interest rather than through fear of the exam hall. It is important because many within the education sector feel that we have gone too far down the road of standardisation, measured by outcomes. This not only affects their mental health, but prepares them poorly as independent thinkers, able to deal with the challenges of the 21st century society. Slow learning is not focused on teachers spending time on particular teaching strategies. Instead, it focuses on the need to provide space to work together and engage in the complex thinking needed to find more effective ways of educating hard-to-reach learners. Kahneman describes two systems of thinking. System 1 thinking refers to subconscious and automatic processes, as well as emotional responses and those that rely on biases or intuition. System 2 thinking is defined as “slow”, more concerted and conscious thinking.


The Spaces for Knowledge Generation project explored ways in which learning spaces can be Technology-Enhanced. It found that students move in nomadic but purposeful ways across a learning landscape of which the university is only a part. Students are typically already enmeshed in a work/home/study continuum, and the problem for the university is to replicate and indeed advance these open and flexible communities on campus, which is best done by providing multiple, welcoming, aesthetic and reconfigurable spaces.




Adopting offline networked learning brings a number of challenges. Technical issues include the problems associated with synchronising contributions with others: offline means the work carried out and recorded on the local hub isn’t necessarily easy to share more widely. Running an independent, offline networked system may require that greater local technical competency is in place to support and maintain services rather than when using Internet based services. Offline networking can expect students to ‘bring their own devices’. Some students may be excluded if they don’t have their own smartphone or tablet, or there may be resistance by institutions, teachers or families to students using their own devices in schools and learning spaces. Pedagogically, learners may not have the digital literacies needed to engage effectively and can struggle if not provided with enough support. Learning designs for activities have to take into account the different scale and speed of interactions mediated in this hyperlocal manner. Also there is the issue with balancing online and offline networked learning.




Offline networked learning can provide the benefits of networked learning for educators and students who either cannot or choose not to learn online. Collaboration, reflection, and learning over extended timeframes can take be supported using smartphones or other network-capable personal devices, via low-cost hubs like Raspberry Pis, particularly in very localised learning environments. Careful learning design is required to take account of the challenges as well as benefits. Offline networked learning requires ensuring technical and digital skills capacity and competencies are sufficient to enable a successful initiative. Given the barriers to access to the Internet for a large percentage of the global population for the foreseeable future, and the value of enhancing learning via digital networks, it is likely that this approach will flourish and mature over the next decade, and can enhance the concept of slow learning. As we look to the future we can consider how to best design and support both online and offline networked learning, and enable teachers to help students navigate across the four quadrants of the digital ecology. 





Brown, M. (2015), Looking over the horizon: New learning platforms, old technology debates (pp.40-48), In B. Mooney (Ed.), Education matters: Shaping Ireland’s education landscape, Galway, Ireland: Education Matters.


Collins, Trevor (2015). Enhancing outdoor learning through participatory design and development: a case study of embedding mobile learning at a field study centre. International Journal of Mobile Human Computer Interaction (IJMHCI), 7(1) pp. 42–58.


Educational researchers call for ‘slow school’ movement


eTwinning project



Goodyear, P. (2005), Educational design and networked learning: patterns, pattern languages and design practice, AJET 21(1), 82 - 101.


Kahneman, D.  (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-4299-6935-2.


The MAZI project: DIY approaches to offline networking to support education and community challenges:


World Bank funded iBox project in Ghana to bring networked STEM education to underserved schools:


4 Responses to “Offline networked learning”

  1. Mark Says:

    The Commonwealth of Learning has also been exploring this area with its “Aptus” platform :

  2. Gráinne Says:

    Nice thanks for the link!

  3. Chuck Hodges Says:

    Nice post! Much of what you describe was planned to be incorporated into deployments of the OLPC project (One Laptop Per Child) — local wifi networks, free and open materials preloaded onto the laptops, and such. That project and its challenges may be worth noting as part of edtech history.

  4. Josam digital Says:

    I love your article. Its very detailed ansd catchy, I’ll be sure to revisit your website daily.

    And please keep up the good work.

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