Reflection #2

Online participation and digital literacies

I am fascinated about the mystery of participation. What draws people to participate
in events and communities? How do we create a match between offered activities and what
people are interested in, or would like to learn. Can we understand how participation works? Recently we studied ourselves a large amount of participation in conferences over time, and found a “law of participation” [1]. This new participation law essential says that more you participate, more likely you will participate in the future that same conference. See figure below for an illustration of the associate nature of conference participation:


Storytelling via an example to illustrate the associative nature of conference participation

But now what is the role of learning in participation? Examples range from learning for hobbies (think of examples like tennis, squash, yoga, swimming, reading or movies) or for formal education (ranging from certificates provided by businesses to academic degrees and beyond to courses like open networked learning). Surely motivations for people to participate are multitude, where expected results can be meeting new and old people, keeping one fit, getting experiences, learning skills, or essentially getting a job. Further on, these are accompanied with expectations from the  society and parents of a learner, all together forming a rich network weaved with decisions and simple luck to determine how people participate. From my experiences within open networked learning, the start has indeed been crucial in getting to know each other – and most essentially to get the feeling of belonging to our PBL group seven.

When it comes to online participation there are many things missing that we intuitively, and with evidence, know to draw people together. An event with good food and servings is surely able to better draw people to listen to talks compared to a seminar without them. How do we ensure to have good servings online to draw people to participate? Once I spent six months out of my home town and university, and agreed to meet with my colleagues once per week online when they had lunch – and when I had my brown bag – to continue our nice tradition of international Friday lunches. This was surely a way to ensure participation online.

Now reflecting my experiences within open networked learning I realise that the concept of meetings with servings can really be transferred to online settings, but best when
realizing that all online activities anyway happen in some place & time.

Naturally digital literacy plays a crucial role here. When people can easily enough move from physical settings to online settings, by having different backup plans in place (for instance having many different tools available for online communication), communication
online can start being as efficient as communication in our physical world. Now how to support teachers and learners to improve their digital literacy? I argue that this happens via building a community in which it is fully allowed and well supported to explore and test different tools, and where ideas and practices are shared via workshop-style sessions for relevant themes, ranging all the way from augmented reality to online textbooks, and from video production to generic blended learning settings [2].

Last but not least: what if we would take all words of this reflection, and make a simple word cloud visualisation. How would it look like? What words are most prominently there? Well, let us look at the result: clearly words like participation, online, learning and people but also communication, together, experiences, time and many others. In digital world we can help literacy to happen by providing overviews of information, and in different ways filter, organise and compare information to be easier to interpret.


Tomi Kauppinen reflects and analyses open networked learning. You can follow him on Twitter: @LinkedScience or TomiKauppinen.

[1] Jelena Smiljanić, Arnab Chatterjee, Tomi Kauppinen, Marija Mitrović Dankulov (2016). A Theoretical Model for the Associative Nature of Conference Participation. PLoS ONE 11(2): e0148528. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0148528.
[2] Tomi Kauppinen and Lauri Malmi. Aalto Online Learning – a pathway to reforming education at the Aalto University. In Proceedings of EUNIS 2017 – Shaping the future of universities, 2017.


6 thoughts on “Reflection #2

  1. Oriol

    Thanks for a very interesting and thorough blog post, Tomi! I agree with you that new media and technology offer new possibilities for participation and communication. I think though we need to be aware of its limitations and downsides, too. In her influential book, Alone Together, Sherry Turkle explored how the illusion of companionship afforded by new media can hide a deeper form of solitude. In any case, participation and civic life are important challenges for modern societies, particularly as membership in all kinds of organizations from trade unions, to political parties, to churches drops (Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam comes to mind here). If Turkle is right, though, we should not overly rely on online environments to revert that trend.

  2. Karin

    Hi Tomi! Interesting thoughts about participation! I was thinking, maybe there is a threshold for most learning and once you climb over it and have started participating it is easy to continue. The real effort is to do something that’s new and challenging. About good food making people to participate – can not be underestimated! An important factor is probably that it saves time if you for example can combine lunch and a lecture!

  3. ninahauglandandersen

    Thank you for a nice post with interesting reflections, Tomi. I would also like to highlight the use of graphics in the blog post. To me it was intriguing to an example of an animation that complemented the content of the text. I think it worked well; made the blog post more interesting to read and explained your findings in an easy way. I have one question – what tool have you used to make the animation?

    I also like the word cloud – very creative!

    1. Tomi Post author

      Nina, thanks for your nice comments! I made the animation some time ago with illustrator (shapes and text) and photoshop (animation).


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