Material matters for learning in virtual networks: A case study of a professional learning programme hosted in a Google+ online community

Aileen Ackland, Ann Swinney

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In this paper we draw on Actor-Network Theories (ANT) to explore how material components functioned to create gateways and barriers to a virtual learning network in the context of a professional development module in Higher Education. Students were practitioners engaged in Family Learning in different professional roles and contexts. The data comprised postings in the Google + community, e-mail correspondence, meeting notes, feedback submitted at the final workshop and post-module evaluation forms. Our analysis revealed a complex set of interactions, akin to the patchwork metaphor proffered by Law & Mol (1994), and suggests multiple ways human actors story their encounters with non-human components and the effects these have on the learning experience. The aim of this paper is to contribute to a more holistic understanding of the components and dynamics of social learning networks in the virtual world and consider the implications for the design of online learning for continuous professional development (CPD).
Original languageEnglish
Article number26677
Number of pages14
JournalResearch in Learning Technology
Publication statusPublished - 14 Aug 2015



  • professional education and training
  • learning communities
  • higher education
  • actor-network theories

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