Connected Learning, MOOCs, and #etmooc

Since the best MOOCs (massive open online courses) appear to be rooted in connected learning, it’s no surprise to me that my current exploration of MOOCs through participation in #etmooc—the Education Technology and Media course organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and several “co-conspirators”—is leading me (and approximately 1,400 other learners) into an engaging exploration of connected learning.

etmoocIn the course of participating in or watching the archived version of Couros’s 100-minute interactive presentation on the topic, we are not only exposed to and inspired by a variety of ideas from Couros-as-instructor but also by the reactions of participants whose comments remain visible in the typed chat that occurs as he is speaking and interacting with learners. And if we follow any of the numerous links posted in that chat, we connect our learning to other online learning opportunities ranging from TED (Technology, Education, Design) talks to articles by other educators, e.g., Dean Shareski’s piece advocating that we document and share our own learning experiences with others so that we develop a community of learning in which each learner’s experiences become part of every other learner’s experiences—much as they do through #etmooc.

Furthermore, if we expand our personal learning environment to include the recently-released Digital Media and Learning Research Hub report Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design posted on the Connected Learning Research Network site, we can’t help but walk away from this multi-media experience with a great appreciation for what MOOCs are already doing to foster first-rate learning experiences.

The Connected Learning report itself should be required reading for all trainer-teacher-learners since it offers an engaging peek at how the world of learning is evolving: “This report investigates how we can use new media to foster the growth and sustenance of environments that support connected learning in a broad-based and equitable way. This report also offers a design and reform agenda, grounded in a rich understanding of child development and learning, to promote and test connected learning theories (p. 3),” the report writers promise—and we’re not just looking at ideas applicable in academic settings; there’s plenty to digest here for anyone involved in workplace learning and performance (staff training).

As is the case with well-designed MOOCs, connected learning “seeks to build communities and collective capacities for learning and opportunity,” the report continues. It “includes the ideas that everyone can participate, learning happens by doing, challenge is constant, and everything is interconnected”—which, when you get right down to it, is at the heart of the sort of MOOC that Couros and his colleagues are facilitating through #etmooc.

Connected_LearningPart 2 of the report takes us to the heart of the possibilities connected learning offers: “The trends we are seeing in today’s new media environment present new risks, but also unprecedented opportunities in making interest-driven, engaging, and meaningful learning accessible to more young people”—and, I would add, to adult learners as well. “[C]onnected learning is defined not by particular technologies, techniques, or institutional context but by a set of values, an orientation to social change, and a philosophy of learning….In many ways, the connected learning approach is part of a longstanding tradition in progressive education and research on informal learning that has stressed the importance of civic engagement, connecting schools with the wider world, and the value of hands-on and social learning (p. 33).”

By the time we reach the end of the report, we have a clear understanding of the challenges and the rewards of adapting connected learning wherever it can be applied: “Online information and social media provide opportunities for radically expanding the entry points and pathways to learning, education, and civic engagement. Further, there is a groundswell of activity in diverse sectors that are taking to these connected learning opportunities, ranging from entrepreneurial young learners, open and online educational initiatives, technology innovations in gaming and other forms of learning media, new forms of activism, and innovative schools and libraries. The connected learning model is an effort at articulating a research and design effort that cuts across the boundaries that have traditionally separated institutions of education, popular culture, home, and community. Connected learning is a work in progress and an invitation to participate in researching, articulating, and building this movement (p. 87).”

We’re also left with 11 pages of resources that could keep us busy for months or years if we wanted to engage in further explorations of the topic. But for now, I’m left deeply appreciative for the rich variety of resources this particular part of #etmooc has provided. While working my way through this first of the five #etmooc topics we’re all exploring, I watched that archived version of Couros’s introduction to the subject; followed links from his presentation to articles in the New York Times, George Siemens’ elearnspace blog and some of his writing on connectivism, and other online resources; watched a TED (Technology, Education, Design) talk delivered by Clay Shirky on “How Cognitive Surplus Will Change the World”; and viewed several graphics that added texture to what Couros was presenting.

All of which raises a very interesting question inspired by a learner’s comment in the session typed chat about how some schools are still blocking access to YouTube because it is not seen as a serious provider of educational opportunities, and also inspired by the still prevalent assertion that Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and other social media platforms are little more than frivolous time-wasters: if your school, university, organization, or business is still blocking access to these resources, how long is it going to take before you realize that you are cheating your learners—and yourself? 

N.B.: This is the second in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.

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