Artefacts and Activities in the Analysis of Learning Networks

  • Peter GoodyearEmail author
  • Lucila Carvalho
  • Nina Bonderup Dohn
Part of the Research in Networked Learning book series (RINL)


This chapter draws on a programme of research into the architecture of learning networks. This research programme has been examining a number of diverse learning networks, to identify reusable design ideas. The analytic work has been structured around a distinction between elements of learning networks that can be designed (partially, or completely) and processes that are emergent. From a learning perspective, the emergent processes are most important: what network participants actually do, including what they think, feel and say, is what matters most. Everything that can be designed and set in place is merely to resource and guide their activity. Thus, activity mediates between outcomes and what can be designed. One cannot assume a direct relationship between (say) a specific digital tool and some desired outcomes. Rather, one needs to understand the kinds of connections that can exist between such tools/devices and participants’ activities. More generally: how is what participants actually do influenced by the qualities of the place in which they are working, and by the tools and other resources that come to hand? Neither networked learning, nor the broader field of educational technology, have well-developed theories or constructs to create analytical connections between activity and its physical setting. Our chapter draws upon our experiences of analysing learning networks to create some framing within which connecting constructs might be articulated. About the only theoretical construct that has become widely used in the field is that of “affordance”. It is a term that is also very widely critiqued and contested, in part because of deep conceptual ambiguities, but also because of lax usage. We draw upon some ideas from metaphysics to help frame the relationships between the physical world and human activity, to redeem the term “affordance” and to add some further terms that help identify other kinds of relations between activity and its physical setting. The point of this is actually quite practical. Without some analytical constructs that provide connections between things that can be designed and valued activities, designers cannot provide a rationale for what they do. They can copy ideas, set things in place, and proceed by trial and error. But they cannot apply principled knowledge to the solution of complex problems. They cannot design.


Design Physical Material and digital contexts Activity Relational epistemology Affordances 



Peter Goodyear and Lucila Carvalho acknowledge the financial support of the Australian Research Council (Laureate Fellowship Grant FL100100203), as well as stimulating ideas and generous feedback from the other members of the Laureate team. Nina Bonderup Dohn acknowledges the financial support of Lundbeckfonden which contributed to making possible her stay as a Visiting Scholar at the University of Sydney in 2013.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Goodyear
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lucila Carvalho
    • 1
  • Nina Bonderup Dohn
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre for Research on Computer Supported Learning and Cognition, Faculty of Education and Social WorkUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Design and CommunicationUniversity of Southern DenmarkCopenhagenDenmark

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