Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) and #oclmooc: Assessing Connected Learning Outcomes  

September 22, 2014

Mimi Ito, Vera Michalchik, and Bill Penuel take us into the wonderfully intriguing deep end of the Connected Learning swimming pool in the latest Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) session, as anyone who attended the live version or catches it through the archived recording can confirm. And that’s a great thing since the deep end of any body of water is often where we find the interesting signs of life.

Continuing the massive open online course’s current two-week exploration of what drives the learning process (“Why We Need a Why”), the three educators interact with their online learners by exploring connections between learning (particularly connected learning), learning assessments, and learning outcomes.

This is far from the usual review of how well learners do within the confines of an explicitly defined learning experience—a semester-long course or, by extension, the sort of workplace learning and performance (staff training) offering that so many of us as trainer-teacher-learners provide and then review through a formal assessment process. It’s a connected-learning session that takes us into the outer reaches of models like Donald Kirkpatrick’s four levels of learning, where the gold standard is to ask what impact the learning eventually has not only on the learner, but on the community the learner ultimately serves. And it encourages us to take the learner’s point of view into account rather than focusing solely on the learning facilitator’s or learning organization’s vantage point.

“When you look from the perspective of the learner…the learning ecosystem looks very different than when you’re looking from the perspective of the class,” Ito reminds us during the session; it requires that we are as cognizant of what the learners bring to the learning space as we are of our own approach to facilitating the learning process—thinking about the learners “and how our practices in the classroom connect back out.”

“We want to take a long view of the outcomes,” Penuel suggests. “Do kids get to where they want to go next?…Where did this class lead them?”—questions we should just as firmly be asking within any training-teaching-learning setting.

All three presenters lead us into the deeper, far more significant question: Do we follow up with our learners to see “whether learning made a difference in their lives?”

“We have so few tools and practices that enable us to know what happened to students over time…a lot of these outcomes play out over time…you don’t really know what happens a few years down the line because nobody actually studies that,” Ito says.

ccourses_logoBut the picture is not completely bleak, she adds. A Gallup-Purdue University study released in May 2014 and designed to document post-graduation levels of workplace engagement and overall “well-being” provides some guidance for learning facilitators seeking ways to provide long-term positive benefits through their efforts. Learning that was project-based and that provided meaningful connections between the learners and those facilitating their learning led to significantly higher levels of workplace engagement and overall chances that the learners would thrive “in all areas of well-being.”

“It’s not just what kids got out of the course…but what happens next, “Ito reiterated.

Much of this, of course, leads us back to the goal of better understanding what connected-learning practices (fostering learner-centric approaches, finding ways to “harness the advances and innovations of our connected age to serve learning,” and nurturing deeper learning and understanding) might provide for learners of all ages, in a variety of training-teaching-learning settings.

“Interest is the beginning point, but the idea of cultivating an interest is that you don’t know where it is going to go,” Penuel notes. “Our interests are really a starting point, and we really do need experiences of various kinds that allow us to learn in order to deepen them—so develop knowledge related to our interests, to engage with others in relation to our interests—to find out what others are interested in and to perhaps do something with them. I think interests evolve, and I think new interests emerge from this deep engagement.”

All three presenters, as the session draws to an end, remind us that we are not lacking resources if we want to join them in their explorations. The Connected Learning Research Network, for example, engages in learning research, design, and practice. And the National Survey of Student Engagement is currently looking into how much time and effort students in higher education put into their learning—as well as how our colleagues in higher education are “deploying resources” to foster engagement among learners.

oclmooc_logoAs we reflect upon what #ccourses and another current connectivist MOOC—the Open  and Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc)—offer trainer-teacher-learners in terms of guidance and inspiration, we can’t help but be encouraged. They remind us to reflect upon what our own learning produces. They also consistently and continually serve as examples of how the connections these connected-learning opportunities contribute to our own growth, productivity, and satisfaction within the extended communities of learning we create, nurture, and sustain over a very long period of time.

N.B.: This is the fourth in a series of posts documenting learning through #ccourses and #oclmooc.


Connected Learning, MOOCs, and #etmooc

February 3, 2013

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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