Caroline A. HaythornthwaiteFollow



Document Type

Book Chapter




learning, learning ecology, learning analytics, social network analysis, social networks





Funding ID

Learning Analytics for the Social Media Age


A version of this paper was first presented at the International Seminar on Nuevos contextos, múltiples mecanismos: Ecologías de aprendizaje/New contexts, multiple mechanisms: Learning Ecologies, held at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain, November 2015, organized by Albert Sangrà Morer, UOC and UNESCO Chair of Education and Technology for Social Change.

This work was completed in November 2016 and is to be translated into Spanish for a forthcoming book edited by Albert Sangrà Morer.

The author’s work was supported in part by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada through a grant for the project “Learning Analytics for the Social Media Age” (pLASMA) (PIs Anatoliy Gruzd and Caroline Haythornthwaite), and the GRAND Network of Centres of Excellence; and benefited from collaboration and discussion with members of the pLASMA team: Anatoliy Gruzd, Drew Paulin, Sarah Gilbert, and Marc Esteve del Valle.


Community-Based Learning | Library and Information Science | Online and Distance Education


The ecology metaphor is drawn from the biological sciences and refers to the “scientific study of the distribution, abundance and dynamics of organisms, their interactions with other organisms and with their physical environment” (British Ecological Society, 2016). In recent decades, the metaphor has become useful for tackling the complexity of new information and learning environments, particularly as driven by the increasing quantity of information, the growing number of available media and means of communicating, the extended reach of information technologies, and the new practices arising from these configurations. This paper brings to the discussion of learning ecologies the research and perspectives of social network analysis, where we find synergies in addressing interactions, niches, species and configurations of ecosystems. This perspective opens up some new ways of looking at and understanding learning practices in both online, offline and hybrid settings, and how these create sustainable ecosystems of information exchange and knowledge construction. The ecology and network ideas are highly synergistic, and what has been found from examination of social networks, using methods of social network analysis, can help inform the practice of individual learners, as well the practice of organizing in the service of learning. This paper draws on the literature, and studies by the author to address the network ecology of learning, suggesting ways to organize and anticipate change in order to gain the best advantage from our personal and social learning networks.

Additional Information

This work was completed in November 2016 and is to be translated into Spanish for a forthcoming book on Learning Ecologies edited by Albert Sangrà Morer.