It’s no surprise that diving into two new connectivist MOOCs (massive open online courses) would be a richly-rewarding connecting and learning experience. But what is particularly inspiring is how quickly engagement produces results.
Being among the learners in the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) offered by a “collaborative network of faculty in higher education developing online, open courses that embody the principles of connected learning and the values of the open web,” and being a “co-conspirator” in the Open Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc) open to trainer-teacher-learners worldwide only adds support to the research-proven assertion that well-designed online learning can produce positive results at least equal to what well-designed onsite learning produces. An unfortunate corollary is that many learners walk away from online learning after one bad experience—a situation that may change as connected-learning efforts continue to grow.
Connections and connectivity were abundant earlier today during the “Blogside Chat” moderated by Mimi Ito and featuring Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, co-authors of Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses and Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates. Ito, for example, provided a tremendously effective example of how to facilitate online connections: she consistently brought learners and the co-authors together via the Twitter feed during what was an incredibly fast-paced hour of online interactions and learning. Furthermore, several of us participating in the Twitter feed while listening to the presenters’ comments were also able to connect with each other through our tweets, retweets, and exchanges that produced a rudimentary online version of a class discussion. To further strengthen the online connections fostered by this MOOC, at least a few of us will probably continue the discussion via our blog postings (this one, for example) and responses to those blog pieces; through #ccourses Google+ Community postings; through the newly-established Twitter connections we are creating by following each other now that we’ve met through that Blogside Chat session; and through cross-MOOC exchanges between #ccourses, #oclmooc, and others.
(An aside to those skeptical of the sustainability of online communities of learning growing out of interactions within or between MOOCs: the Educational Technology & Media MOOC—#etmooc—community continues to thrive 18 months after the synchronous offering of the course formally ended. Participation in that community, moreover, has led several of us to continue learning together in other MOOCs as if we were part of an open MOOC cohort, and our participation in that sustainable community has inspired us to work together as co-conspirators for #oclmooc—which, in turn, started as an effort to connect educators in Alberta and has now expanded to connect any interested trainer-teacher-learner regardless of geography.)
Participation in the latest #ccourses session, earlier today, inspired interweavings so wonderfully complex (and tremendously rewarding) that it could be days or weeks or months before those interweavings are completely apparent. The authors’ assertion that college graduates are working less/reading less in class than their predecessors and, as a result, are struggling to succeed in their chosen career paths two years after graduating, for example, can be explored for connections to what we frequently see in staff training (e.g., learning opportunities that are not supported or applied when learners return to their workplaces). But we can begin by acknowledging that it’s far from impossible to connect learning to workplace results—we just don’t put enough effort into in assuring that those connections are forged.
The suggestion within the Blogside Chat session that greater challenges to learners in higher education produce greater results after graduation might be explored for parallels with what we see in workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts: if learners are engaged, supported, and encouraged, they are much more likely to apply their learning in ways that provide personal benefits as well as benefits to the businesses and organizations they serve—and to the customers and clients they serve. But if they—like the higher-education students who are the focus of Arum and Roksa’s studies—are unclear on what their learning opportunities are meant to produce, they are going to gain and produce far less than otherwise might be possible.
There’s something to be said for building connections between academic learning and workplace needs, the authors suggested—something that could as easily be said in terms of the need for building connections between what is offered through workplace-learning opportunities and how learners in the workplace are supported. Roksa cited the tremendous success she is providing by having her learners engage in projects within communities (outside of formal classrooms) and then bringing those projects back into the classroom to provide additional learning opportunities; we could easily predict that well-designed workplace learning that is project-based would produce satisfaction for those learners, their employers, and their customers.
What all of this leads to is another call to reenvision how faculty members—and, by extension, others facilitating the training-teaching-learning process—approach learning as much as a call to reenvision how learners learn, we heard again today. Arum, furthermore, sided with our colleagues who believe that those engaged in facilitating learning need to learn to more effectively incorporate educational technology into the learning process. And we need to move far beyond the all-too-common onsite and online learning sessions that end with true-false or multiple-choice testing that inadequately measures learning.
There’s at least one more important connection to be made from this #ccourses connected-learning experience: the connection between our recognition that we can be doing better and our recognition that if we are unsatisfied with the results our learning-facilitation efforts produce, we need to work with our colleagues and our learners to produce more satisfying results for everyone involved—a goal we might draw closer to reaching through our immersion in #ccourses, #oclmooc, and other connected-learning endeavors.