#PLENK2010 Personal Learning Networks and Legitimate Peripheral Participation

Is Legitimate Peripheral Participation (LPP) positive or negative?

I read George’s post here on personal learning networks with interest, as George was appealing for more active participation amongst participants in MOOC.

Lurking=taking. The concept of legitimate peripheral participation sounds very nice, but is actually negative.

Jenny responded here in defense of lurking.  Jenny says:

PLN (personal learning network) is by its very name just that – personal.

From my own experience of working as a tutor on international online courses, I know that participants may not be present for a whole host of reasons including access difficulties, technology difficulties, illness, significant family or work disruptions/distractions and so on. The best they can do in these circumstances is to read or observe.

Relating to the post on Community of Practice here:

As they (LPP) become more competent they become more involved in the main processes of the particular community. They move from legitimate peripheral participation to into ‘full participation (Lave and Wenger 1991: 37).

Learning is a process of social participation.  And so the learning with MOOC – PLENK is also a process of social participation.  The question is: What level of social participation is conducive to learning in MOOC-PLENK?

Since my participation in CCK08, I had developed great interest in understanding how LPP (Legitimate Peripheral Participation) would impact on an online course such as MOOC.  In a typical online course the below claim as cited in wikipedia sounds quite reasonable.

If newcomers can directly observe the practices of experts, they understand the broader context into which their own efforts fit. Conversely LPP suggests that newcomers who are separated from the experts have limited access to their tools and community and therefore have limited growth.

George suggests in his post that novice might learn better with another novice based on the following reasons:

A resource (image, blog post) created by someone trying to understand a topic is often more valuable than instructor-provided readings. Why? Well, novices and experts have different approaches to topics and tasks. A novice who is grappling with an idea is likely better able to connect with another novice than an expert who advances a more nuanced, pattern-based assessment of a topic.

Would novices learn better through connection with experts or novices in PLENK?  Would this depend on who those novices were? This may also depend on the availability of experts and other novices in the connections. What were the expectations of those novices?  What were the experiences of the novices in PLENK?  Were these novices LPP in PLENK?

There were many previous CCK, CritLit2010 participants who joined the PLENK2010, and to them, they wouldn’t all be considered as novices, but some may be advanced learners, competent learners, experts or even masters. However, would some of them stayed as LPP rather than active contributors or creators in MOOC, such as CCK08, 09, CritLit2010, or PLENK?  Why did they prefer to lurk or stay as LPP (or just knowledgeable others without much active participation)?

There are complicated reasons, I suppose.  Part of the reasons could be, based on my observation and sharing in blog, forum, Twitter, FB and emails in the past:

(a) lack of time for them to participate or contribute with further artefacts, apart from reading or commenting on the resources, posts, and artefacts, observing or watching and listening to the recordings of Elluminate Sessions,

(b) some knowledgeable others might have found too much repetitions to what they have already learnt or mastered with the previous courses.

But then one would ask – what would be the role of these LPPs in a MOOC – PLENK?  Could they be Helpers? Mentors? Observers? Researchers? Or just LPPs?  How would they establish such roles?

I think this is a question that only the LPPs could answer.  Here was the discussion in Moodle Forum of PLENK2010 relating to LPP.

How about the novices who remained as LPP throughout the course in CCK/CritLit/PLENK2010?

Do “we” really understand what their needs and motives were?  Why did they join the course?  Why didn’t they participate and contribute that much? How far did they learn?

As speculated, the responses to these questions could be: Yes, some of them did learn through observations, reading and research, in their own networks or communities, not necessarily all in the PLENK community, or they might have been involved in MOOC – PLENK at the start, but then left the course for personal reasons. There could be others who didn’t feel comfortable with the massive learning environment, not participating actively due to reasons like

-a lack of confidence in posting or sharing,

– feelings of overwhelming information and an inability to cope with a PLENK,

-too many expert or knowledgeable others’ voices from the community – leading to their apprehension in posting their views,

-lack of skills in creating artefacts,

– a failure to filter information,

– a feeling of disconnection from the PLENK network or community, especially when they didn’t seem sense their voices being heard,

– a failure to made connections as they had originally expected in PLENK.

The above are just some of my observations and impression through numerous conversation with others.

What I think could be important here is that novices often have to undergo a series of stages in the learning, especially in MOOC – PLENK.  As shared here, even very experienced educators participating in PLENK would need to re-adjust themselves in learning.  Why? In our existing education environment, our focus is still on teaching, isn’t it?  And teaching is the core of education.  Most educators are still looking for teaching solutions, though they might equally be interested in learning solutions.

However, in PLENK, we are shifting the focus from teaching to learning through PLENK. This means shifting the learning in education to learning with autonomy in a transformative manner.

Why is autonomy so important in education and learning?

As pointed out by Stephen here on autonomy:

– Autonomy – the system of education and educational resources should be structured so as to maximize autonomy. Wherever possible, learners should be guided, and able to guide themselves, according to their own goals, purposes, objectives or values. It is a recognition that, insofar as a person shares values with other members of a community, and associates with those members, it is a sharing freely undertaken, of their own volition, based on the evidence, reason and beliefs they find appropriate.

We had researched on CCK08 MOOC and our findings did reveal some reasons why participants would prefer to participate in the periphery for some time before they might participate in any learning activities.  Respondents to our past research often appreciated the great tolerance from the facilitators and other participants.  So some of the LPP didn’t actively participate in the course for many varied personal reasons: their apprehension in expressing themselves in English, the language barriers, the lack of time, the inability to participate in synchronous sessions due to time zone difference, etc.  They appreciated the choices offered in the tools, connections, social media for use in MOOC.

In a conversation with Heli here “They sometimes call themselves as parasites – I have named this “copy-paste” expertise.” Do you mean some of the lurkers? Or those legitimate peripheral participants who may live with others’ posts (forum and blog) and just echo with paraphrasing?
It’s quite a challenge for newbies as mentioned by Ian, especially when first exposed to a MOOC. Even now, I don’t think I have developed that thorough understanding about newbies or advanced ones in MOOC, as I don’t have chances of knowing them, at least not much connections.

There is a need to immerse oneself in the networks, to understand the human learning and development through experiencing it, as you mentioned. Would the challenge be? Like minded people are often the most precious ones in the network and most difficult to find? Are such connections sustainable? How?

How about the affective domains – emotions and their effect on learning in a MOOC environment?

As shared here, in this article on Emotions and their effect on Adult Learning or http://www.scribd.com/doc/35059133/Emotions-and-their-effect-on-Adult-Learning-a-Constructivist-perspective.
– Emotions are important in adult learning because they can either impede or motivate learning (Dirkx, 2001. p63)
– Entering the cognitive system, emotions are recognized and as a result alter thought patterns, affecting the experiences of how adults learn (Opengart, 2005).
– Learning becomes of value in relation to a student’s experiences and construction of reality, underscoring the adaptive behaviors of learning.
– If people are anxious, uncomfortable, or fearful, they do not learn.

Would we need to take the emotions, learning experiences and comfort level of those participants (LPP) into consideration in a MOOC?  Participants (LPP) need a safe and comfortable environment so they could develop and grow their learning.

Why would participants prefer to stay in the LPP mode?

I hope I could explore these in the Research into the Design and Delivery of MOOC – PLENK.

My appreciation towards the organisers and facilitators of MOOC

Finally, I appreciate the organisers and facilitators of the MOOC  – CCK08, 09, CritLit 2010, and PLENK who had devoted their time and efforts in offering and delivering these MOOCs for free.

What are the roles of educators and participants

I have kept asking the basic questions: What are the roles of the educators in MOOC?  What are the roles of the participants in MOOC?

Unless both educators (organisers, facilitators and guest speakers) and participants of MOOC have a clear understanding of their respective roles and  expectations on each other, the “issue of LPP” wouldn’t go away.  Legitimate participation may just become a paradox, in that participants would view their participation as legitimate, whereas educators might be expecting a higher level of participation, contribution and commitment from the participants in MOOC.


Is LPP positive or negative?  As discussed above, I don’t think it is helpful to say LPP is positive or negative unless we have developed a better understanding of what might have caused the LPP in a network or community, and how we could suggest better ways of encouraging and supporting participation and contribution in a network or community such as MOOC PLENK.

I think LPP has provided “us” with a great opportunity to understand the network – in particular the “network dynamics and complexities” and its emergent properties, and how actors and agents would interact in networks, with the emergence of complex network pattern as common phenomena in networks and communities.

I also think it is an important area to research in networked and community learning.

What are the possible “negotiated strategies” in response to LPP in networked learning?  In accordance to the Complexity Theory, we couldn’t predict the outcome, but we could surely learn about such patterns of LPP.

Networked learning is still at a “green stage”, especially when it is mediated heavily by tools and technology in this internet and world wide web era.

What to do next?

We might have to resort to a combination of learning theories or a new emergent theory in order to work out some feasible solutions to all these networked learning.

Do you think we could gain more insights through the discourse, reflection of these  theories? Community of Practice, Actor Network Theory , Complexity Theory , Connectivism by George and Connectivism and transculturality by Stephen

Would a hybrid model of learning provide us with better alternative perspectives on networked learning?  I wonder!

May be we are all looking at learning from different angles, perspectives, just that we don’t see them with the same lenses only!


What are your views?


Postscript: Refer to Rita’s post here contrasting institutional learning with personal learning, with more discussion on personal and social learning.

An insightful post on the role of educator by Stephen


6 thoughts on “#PLENK2010 Personal Learning Networks and Legitimate Peripheral Participation

  1. What’s the problem?
    I am a lurker and a LPP too. I love reading and taking knowledge.
    But sharing? what to share? my learning? the PLENK course is educating me? Where is my autonomy?
    I have no much time to participate in discussions, I participated when PLENK week 9 took the PLE/N In-Class Activities because I teach with PLN f2f.
    When I read a book, I can learn, but I must be obliged to share what I read?
    So, learning is a personal process, our culture is based on readings, reflections, thinking, and share is a new key in our globally connected times.
    My passion is reading, taking, reflect, but must I talk? share?
    All whole world must discuss and share? is right?
    When lurkers think they can not contribute to the discussions, they must participate too?
    We see several times lurkers posting something and being ignored by participants in PLENK.
    This does not motivate participations.
    Sorry, about this post. Thank you.

  2. Superb analysis and summary John.

    A quick thought, by it’s very nature A MOOC legitimizes, Legitimate Peripheral Participation 🙂 . A MOOC is commitment less. There is no requirement to do anything.

    Those that have the time and personal commitment can get the most out of it. Legitimate Peripheral Participants as we know can still gain and learn from the process.

    I probably mentioned this before in previous discussions. I think a choice of voluntary group tasks would be a good addition to the MOOC formula to promote connectedness and commitment


  3. Thanks Edgar for your valuable comments.
    Learning is a personal process, and a personal choice too. Your passion is reading, taking, reflect. So is mine. I would share when I feel safe, and when my ideas have grown to a certain level that are matured enough to be included into a conversation or a post. I share when I could find value in it myself, or may be to others, if the ideas and information could benefit each others. This is again a value judgment made on a personal basis.

    Must you talk or share? Isn’t that your learning autonomy?

    When lurkers think they can not contribute to the discussion, must they participate too? Lurkers have choices, and whether to participate or not would depend on their needs and motivations.

    I agree with your point based on the observation: We see several times lurkers posting something and being ignored by participants in PLENK.
    This does not motivate participations.

    I think that is also why motivation is so important in learning in MOOC – PLENK. Why were the voices ignored by participants in PLENK? How to provide that mutual support – especially with such a massive “group”?

    I greatly appreciate your deep insights into this LPP.

  4. @Thanks Steve for your kind words.
    Yes, I agreed with your points. MOOC is a free offer by the organizers and facilitators, a free choice to register or not into the MOOC for the participants. It’s good to have a choice of voluntary group tasks as addition to the MOOC.
    The challenge of working in groups in a Massive Course is that those participants would likely need to overcome some of the barriers and obstacles often arise in the group formation and development – i.e. there are often conflicts and issues arising from the forming, storming, norming and performing stages. Lurkers would hardly find it easy to join the groups as they might not have the time, or the motivation to participate actively in group activities.

    Small groups or networks as you and many others have suggested in FB Connectivism Education and Learning here may stimulate some participants to join in, if the activities designed or emerged suit their interests. Would these require more self-organizing motives amongst participants (both facilitators, knowledgeable others, and LPP)? This is quite a challenge!

  5. Pingback: #PLENK2010 Short reflection on MOOC | Suifaijohnmak's Weblog

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