Snapshot: Online Collaborative Learning; different approaches

A Snapshot is a  executive summary of a Case Study of a MESHGuide used in practice which highlights their context, outcomes, real and any potential benefits resulting from this collaboration with MESH. This includes connections to other issues and the potential for application by others in schools and other educational settings.

Background information:

The aim of this MESHGuide is to provide knowledge to university and school teachers about methods of learning collaboratively online. The guide brings together research about effective online learning that has been developed since 1992. Some research has been derived from practice based research practices where the teachers themselves have undertaken research in the classroom with their students.These students then decide which of their findings they can feasibly implement.

The context is the exploration of the value of democratic learning at online and face to face conferences and specialist gatherings in which everyone involved is treated as an expert, not just the speaker. In fact, several speakers are asked to contribute to a learning session with just key ideas from their practice, experience and research.

Participants have recognised the power of this phenomenon and said that the notion draws on the impact of Citizens Assemblies and government ‘Nudge’ units and can be described politically as the pursuit of deliberative democracy. Others have simplified this notion as circle time for grownups.

Relevant area(s) of research/education: 

The rhizomes learning metaphor was first coined by the poststructural philosophers Deleuze and Guattari. Cormier’s notion of rhizomatic learning allows educators to explore the process of learning with the rhizomatic lens. Rhizomatic learning posits that learning is a continuous, dynamic process, making connections, using multiple paths, without beginnings and which ends in a nomadic style.

Recognising the power of collaborative learning between participants who have knowledge and expertise in a chosen field. The premise is that learning can occur anywhere, anytime, and anyhow in the universally interconnected world. Technology afforded educators to provide flexible learning experiences whenever learners are ready. Knowledge transfer is no longer a fixed process but somewhat divergent and non-linear (Swe Khine, 2022). 

Before this Rhizomatic Learning metaphor emerged in the international context, research members of all the professional organisations, TPEA, MIrandaNet Fellowship, Naace and MESHGuides have given this learning phenomenon different names: Braided Learning, Communal Constructivism and Liminal Learning are some of the terms we discuss here. However, the term Rhizomatic Learning can be applied to all of these as an overarching metaphor that is now recognised internationally.


Liminal thinking (Cuthell) is a term for informal dynamic knowledge creation in collaborative digital contexts which occurs as participants move from textual communication to blogging, web creation, online video conferencing and other such collaborative environments. Interactive and collaborative technology can be seen as creating a liminal space – a passage through which a person moves from one state of being to another. Participants in this liminal space are transformed by acquiring new knowledge, a new status and a new identity in the community, a change that is of critical importance if learning is to be successful. Cuthell concludes that as participants have expanded and developed the range of technologies and affordances provided by digital technologies, so the concept of social constructivism has accommodated these and expanded into the liminal spaces that are no longer constrained by temporal or physical boundaries, and are therefore truly mobile.

Communal Constructivism (Leask and Younie)


Braided Learning (Preston) MirandaNet Fellows have adopted a metaphor to describe the theory underlying this collaborative knowledge creation that they call Braided Learning the notion of plaiting ideas together. Some of their research focuses on the ways in which community leaders can identify the stages in the life cycle of an online discussion and also to encourage all the participants to contribute online by giving them different roles in the development of ideas.

MirandaMods (DrewBuddy) As the years progressed, MirandaNet Fellows knitted together several different technologies so that members in a physical room could debate with members who were unable to travel. The generic term, ‘unconference’ is one in which the input of all the participants has equal weight. This contrasts with a conventional conference with nominated speakers who take questions at the end of their talk. A ‘Mod’ is a Scottish word for a meeting and one of the members, Drew Buddy, coined the term MirandaMod for MirandaNet debates using a collation of technologies that could be used to capture notes from which to publish articles, papers, and case studies to inform educators globally.


networks, communities, professional development, autonomous learning, technology affordances


    1. sharing is powerfully supported when the teachers, as learners, belong to a Community of Practice (CoP) . If we consider the metaphor of rhizomes learning, then the initial assumptions of connection and heterogeneity, with any point being connected to any other, then the collaborative activities of the professional Communities of Practice detailed above have connected, and continue to connect, with one another and work to develop new ideas and cross-fertilise existing ones.
    2. Members link to other communities across national barriers and time zones.

Direct benefits/How MESHGuides have ‘come alive’ in this project:

  • MESHGuides can be used by anyone, parents, practitioners, volunteers anytime, anywhere in the world
  • Direct impact on people’s lives in beneficial way – putting ownership of learning and education back to teachers and learners
  • Rapid response to an identified need – this has positive implications for individual schools and  networks seeking to find evidence-based solutions to perceived needs

Indirect benefits/Unexpected or connected issues/impact that this project has provoked:

The underlying knowledge of these CoPs is used to generate new ideas and practice, with new shoots emerging in new places. It is an existential state of professional awareness that precludes stasise.

Further  questions to explore:

Which technologies facilitate effective knowledge sharing?

Which pedagogical theories underpin collaborative online learning?

What roles should a CoP adopt in knowledge sharing and theory creation?

How do MOOCS change the online learning landscape?

How can a MESHGuide help teachers grasp significant findings quickly?

Other relevant  MESHGuides:

Technology Enhanced Learning Communities (