Immersed in the opening segments of the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) over the past few weeks and diving in as a “co-conspirator” at the formal launch of the Open and Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc) in an online session this evening is leaving me a bit breathless. Dazed. Inspired. And ready for even more after seeing and hearing keynote presenter/facilitator Dave Cormier dazzle participants with an overview of how to learn effectively within connectivist MOOCs.
Part of the thrill of learning from and with Cormier, of course, is knowing that he is the person credited with coining the term MOOC in 2008, as we are reminded in a wonderful and concise overview of the development of MOOCs posted on Canvas. The “What Is a Connectivist MOOC?” page online, with a link to his “What Is a MOOC?” video, has been a magnificent starting point for any of us interested in understanding what MOOCs are and how they work. So spending an hour online with him and more than a dozen other trainer-teacher-learners exploring how MOOCs fit into our learning landscape reminds us –as another MOOCmate observed this week—that “massive” doesn’t need to mean “massive numbers of people”; it can mean “massive potential”—as in potentially transformative.
Members of our #oclmooc community of learning—like the community of learning that is developing in #ccourses—join these sessions to become more conversant in online learning and all that connected learning suggests and offers. And the learning in embedded in the experience of participating in the sessions since we interact in online environments including Blackboard Collaborate and Google Hangouts while carrying the conversation outside the virtual classroom by way of live interactions on Twitter. And we continue the learning, conversations, and collaborations—we can’t have one without the others in the world of connected learning—via postings in our Google+ #oclmooc and #ccourses communities, via blog postings where learners respond to one another and carry conversations across blog sites, and in many other ways.
This extended online connectivist network, Cormier reminded us, is never coherent; it’s always “messy” and “real”—“like life.” But that doesn’t mean it’s incomprehensible or impossible to navigate. In #oclmooc, we have our base camp in a WordPress site that allows us to provide and access updates through a table of contents extending down the right side of that home page; it’s a great resource designed to help learners keep their bearings whether they are completely new to the course or returning days, weeks, months, or even years after its initial offering. In #ccourses, we have a similar base camp that operates at an even more sophisticated level; the table of contents extends from left to right near the top of the home page, and engagement begins directly below that banner in the form of continually updated links to blog postings and tweets that create the rhizomatically-expanding connections between those who are actively participating in the #ccourses connected-learning experience.
If all of this somehow suggests that we are in an era of abundant learning and opportunities to be connected within our communities of learning, we are right where Cormier has tried to lead us. Reviewing centuries of learning methodology in a very brief presentation, he suggested that we are returning to what we once cherished in face-to-face verbal engagement. The twist that connectivist MOOCs provide is that we no longer have to be face-to-face for that level of engagement, he reminded us. The rhizomatic nature of learning within connectivist MOOCs, he continued, makes our learning wild, uncontrollable, difficult to manage—and powerful. And at the heart of the process is the realization that “the community is the curriculum,” he said. (The community, as I noted recently in an article for the New Media Consortium blog, is also immersed in creating the “textbooks” that facilitate our learning, with the MOOCs functioning as multimedia and multifaceted textbooks developed by the communities of learning themselves. Cormier quotes his colleague George Siemens as saying that MOOCs are “the Internet happening to education”; I would add that connectivist MOOCs are communities of learning happening to textbooks, and every active participant is, in a very real sense, a co-conspirator.)
Anyone new to connectivist MOOCs had, by the end of the session, not only been engaged in helping create the learning experience through contributing to content within online whiteboards, but had also heard Cormier recap five learning tips he includes in his online video: take time to become effectively oriented to the learning landscape rather than letting it overwhelm you; “declare” yourself within your learning community by sharing information about yourself with your learning colleagues; network by posting content and responding to content posted by others; “cluster” by working within subgroups of the learning community rather than unrealistically expecting to read and respond to every online contribution; and “focus” in a way that keeps you from burning out and succumbing to the idea that you have better things to do than to stay with the learning community as long as it is continuing to support the learning needs that initially attracted you to the MOOC.
It’s the job of learners to give each other a chance to know each other, he noted, and it’s essential to engage with a broad range of people: “You can’t collaborate alone!”
As if to remind us that we are our own worst critics, Cormier facetiously referred to himself as a “slacker” as the session was reaching its conclusion. When pressed, he attempted a clarification: he’s “lazy,” but “an enthusiast.” Which, in the world of connectivist MOOCs and connected learning, may leave us with a wonderfully apt description that applies to each of us—“lazy enthusiasts”—which keeps our collective sense of humor intact while we navigate those wild, uncontrollable, difficult to manage, and powerful learning moments that are endemic through courses like #oclmooc and #ccourses.