A recent week-long trip to spend time with Association for Talent Development (ATD) colleagues and other friends in the Washington, D.C. area provided yet another reminder of how seamlessly interwoven our blended (onsite-online) communities have become. Walls are permeable. Distances become negligible. And connections—and connected learning—are abundant in many parts of the world.
What made “Perfect Blend” work for so many of us was the onsite interactions my colleagues and I had with Samantha, who participated in the session, from her home in the Chicago area, via a Google Hangout. Samantha and I had successfully engaged in this level of interaction with other ATD colleagues several times, so the gist of what she, Larry, and I were attempting to convey was that tools such as Hangouts and Twitter, when used effectively, make it possible for us to feel as if we’re physically in the same space with people who are actually hundreds or thousands of miles away. It’s telepresence without the associated high price tag. And, once again, it worked very well as we quickly jettisoned the formal presentation we had prepared and simply engaged with our colleagues face-to-face, via the Hangout, and via the Twitter stream that Larry so masterfully managed during the hour-long session. As the session came to an end, we knew that we had effectively answered a question I asked at the beginning of the hour (“how big is this room?”) with the obvious answer: our room—our learning space—is as big as our use of technology makes it—700 miles wide if we consider the distance between Chicago (where Samantha was sitting) and the Washington, D.C. area, where most of us were participating. Or a couple of thousand miles wide if we consider some of the interactions we had via Twitter with others during and after the formal session.
And that’s what I saw throughout the week. The conversations during the “Perfect Blend” session were interwoven with face-to-face and online exchanges in the days preceding and following that learning opportunity. Some were with ATD colleagues; others were with my #oclmooc and #ccourses colleagues. They even carried over, via the conference backchannel, into exchanges with training-teaching-learning colleagues who were completely unfamiliar with the ATD Chapter Leaders Conference, but entered the conversations a bit and interacted directly with each other without any previous face-to-face or online contact by retweeting comments from the conference and offering their own observations about the various topics we were discussing. They extended further as I had brief exchanges with learners in the “Rethinking Library Instruction: Libraries as Social Learning Centers” I’m currently facilitating for the American Library Association, and carried some of those learners’ thoughts back to my ATD Chapter Leaders Conference colleagues.
So I return to the expansive question—how big is our room?—and see, as I shared with many of those colleagues, that the room is as big as we and our technology can make it. Cross-country. International. And even above the planet. Which makes our social learning space a wonderfully large and magnificent place to be.
It’s not often that I feel inspired to try live tweeting during a cross-country flight. But then again, I don’t often have the opportunity to explore the extreme edges of connected learning with colleagues while more than 37,000 feet above the surface of our planet. There’s something very satisfying about this sort of learning experience that becomes an ouroboros-like example of itself, and I’m trying to literally go full circle by blogging about it before my WiFi-enabled flight from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco lands.
We can start with this connected-learning ouroboros by noting that many of us in several countries are currently learning about connected learning by participating in at least one of two connectivistmassive open online courses (MOOCs): the Open and Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc) and the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses). We can then follow the curve of this figurative ouroboros by adding the fact that a live Week 3 (“Collaboration and Community”) event within #oclmooc connected us, via Blackboard Collaborate, to a highly interactive session about The Global Read Aloud that connects young learners, teachers, parents, librarians, and others around the world through the reading of a specific book within a well-defined period of time. The #oclmooc interwoven connections circle around further by bringing us together with Global Read Aloud creator Pernille Ripp and with Kelli Holden, an Alberta-based fourth-grade teacher involved in The Global Read Aloud. We see our growing interconnections circling back to their point of origin through online connections fostered by live-tweeting from a few of us who were participating in the session in the United States and Canada. And I find my own connected-learning experience enhanced by trying something new—something inspired by necessity: participating in this session from the air rather than on ground because it is taking place while I’m in transit—something that previously kept me from being part of learning opportunities I had not wanted to miss.
Once we move past the novelty of engaging in this level of air-to-earth connected learning (in this case, learning about the Global Read Aloud with colleagues spread over an enormous geographic range), we realize once again that the technology takes a back seat to the content—and the learning. We hear Pernille talking about how she was inspired by a dream of a world connected by a book when she was creating Project Read Aloud. We visit the project website and read her reminder that “[g]lobal collaboration is necessary to show students that they are part of something bigger than them” and that endeavors such as The Global Read Aloud provide opportunities for them to speak to each other. We learn that more than 300,000 students are currently connecting through the project, and that more than 500,000 from more than 60 countries have participated since Project Read Aloud began in summer 2010. And we wonder what we might be doing to translate that sort of massive open online and onsite labor of love into efforts that would be equally compelling, engaging, and rewarding for adult learners around the world.
Holden then builds upon her own connected-learning efforts in this arena by letting us know that the participants are using many of the same tools we use within our connectivist MOOCs, including Twitter and Google+ communities. She tells us that using a Twitter backchannel can be as rewarding and engaging for the young Global Read Aloud participants as it can be for the adult communities of learning that foster effective backchannels. We see through chat exchanges that the end of this session will not be the end of the connections #oclmooc is inspiring. And the world begins to look even more connected from 37,000 feet than I ever imagined it could be.
We shouldn’t be surprised when we discover that our communities—onsite as well as online—are less safe than we expect them to be. But we are. Because we really do want to believe the best of people even though so many of them/us prove to be less than worthy of that trust. Which is probably why “trust” and “community and collaboration” are among the important aspects of online learning currently receiving attention both in the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) and the Open and Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc) communities of learning.
These two connectivistmassive open online courses (MOOCs) are creating a wonderful sense of what is possible in well-managed and well-supported communities of learning. They are also providing ample opportunities—some of them unanticipated—for us to celebrate the positive side of online interactions and to react and respond to the less savory side of the online world—rather than abandoning online interactions completely.
An experience two online learning colleagues described earlier today reminded me that regardless of how digitally literate we become, we are going to have to ready for and confront online violations within our communities—particularly when we least expect them. It serves us well to be as prepared as possible to react strongly and positively when that moment arrives. My colleagues—both well versed in online interactions via a variety of mainstream platforms including Twitter and Google+ Hangouts—had their moment today when someone posing as a member of one of their learning communities joined a Hangout they were facilitating. Before they knew what was happening, they were exposed to an obviously unwanted sight: a close-up image of the man’s genitals. They quickly shut the session down, and then engaged in a debrief of what we all might learn.
This is where our connected learning efforts provide positive options for us. While recognizing that we’re never going to be able to completely eradicate this unwelcome behavior, we also recognize that the best way to combat it is to shine light on it. Connect with others to share resources and ideas of how to most quickly push it aside so our communities remain as positive and unsoiled as they possible can be (e.g., by publicly disseminating guides like Google’s “Report Abuse in Public Video Hangouts in Google+”). And make sure that, for every individual subjected to this sort of violation, thousands of other people are vigilantly acting together to object to and push away those unwanted acts of aggression.
I hope my colleagues will follow through on their plan to document what happened to them. I hope that all of us find ways to marginalize those who want to make our communities less than they should be. And I hope that we take the time to do what I’m about to do: support our proactive colleagues by drawing more attention to their best work—like the work of Sarah Houghton, who blogs as Librarian in Black.
That’s what we do for Sarah. That’s what we do for our #ccourses colleagues. That’s what we do for our #oclmooc colleagues. And that’s what we do for ourselves. Because we care. Because we trust that connected learning and connectivist MOOCs and the care and cultivation of our online communities matters. And because we must.
It’s difficult to know where to start in describing how the learning connections expanded rapidly and rhizomatically during that one-hour session that was fast-paced and well-facilitated by #oclmooc co-conspiratorVerena Roberts. There’s a temptation to talk about the obvious connections to be made between #oclmooc and the equally fabulous Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) community of learning since at least a few of us are participating in both and extending conversations between the two MOOC communities. There’s also the temptation to talk about how the #oclmooc session and so much of what we’re doing in #ccourses is making us more aware and appreciative of the importance of personal learning networks in learning—particularly since #ccourses just produced an engaging and inspiring session on “Social Capital and PLNs: Discovering, Building, and Cultivating Networks of Learners,” as I documented in a blog article posted yesterday. There is even a temptation to focus on the fact that what was originally designed to be a MOOC to connect educators in Alberta (Canada) quickly morphed into a MOOC open to—and attracting participation from—trainer-teacher-learners around the world (an obviously brazen and much-appreciated attempt by our Alberta colleagues to make the entire world a protectorate of Alberta and its innovative onsite-online learning community!).
But what was most interesting to me at a personal level was how the open conversation taking place within Twitter drew in colleagues not previously connected through either MOOC. This has happened to me in other MOOCs, as I wrote in an earlier article, and I would be surprised if it hasn’t happened to others engaged in connected-learning environments. What was noteworthy and unexpected this time was how quickly everyone naturally and playfully fell into exchanges that suggest the blossoming of new learning—and, more importantly for explorations and documentation of how connected-learning works, the blossoming of new learning relationships, as Verena quipped when it became obvious that one of my New Mexico-based colleagues from the New Media Consortium had seen one of my tweets and retweeted it to her own followers. Not more than a few minutes passed before a Kansas-based colleague from an entirely different community of learning—the American Library Association Learning Round Table—saw my online admission that I hadn’t yet participated in edcamp activities.
“You, of all people, need to crash an edcamp,” she commanded with mock consternation shared openly with other #oclmooc participants. “Get with it.”
And to emphasize yet another element of these connected-learning rhizomatically-expanding interactions—the idea that our online interactions are not and need not all be conducted synchronously—I later realized, while reviewing a record of the #oclmooc tweet chat, that a North Carolina-based colleague that I know well from yet another first-rate community of learning (#lrnchat) had also responded with an edcamp response directed to two #oclmooc members and one other #lrnchat colleague.
The tally of net gains (networked gains?) from the session, then, include a strengthening of the #oclmooc community, which was designed to foster greater communication between teacher-trainer-learners; more cross-pollination between #oclmooc and #ccourses through the tweets and this follow-up blog post; the possible beginning of interactions between various members of my own personal learning network outside of the MOOCs and members of the two connectivist MOOCs—with no need for me to remain anywhere near the center of those interactions; additional interactions between all of us and a group of young connected-learning students we were encouraged to contact through their own group blogging efforts; and the pleasure of encountering new ideas through articles—including Clay Shirky’s essay “Why I Just Asked My Students to Put Away Their Laptops,” and Laura Hilliger’s article “Teach the Web (MOOC)”—mentioned during the live tweet chat. And there clearly is much more to come.
When learning turns in on itself, the results are magnificent—as is the case when we learn about personal learning networks (PLNs) by engaging with members of our personal learning networks, for example.
Social Capital and PLNs, the opening session in a two-week exploration of “Trust and Network Fluency” through the three-month #ccourses MOOC, brought together a dynamic panel of experts (Kira Baker-Doyle as moderator, with Cristina Cantrill, Meenoo Rami, Howard Rheingold, and Shelly Sanchez Terrell as participants). The tips and reminders were wonderful; the interactions with those panelists and with #ccourses learners via Twitter were engaging reminders that this is a community of learning that is quickly connecting numerous personal learning networks around the world. And each individual learner is a node within that ever-growing network of networks.
The session, early on, included a reminder that, for many teachers (and other learning facilitators, I would add), Twitter is a starting point in developing social capital. Just as Twitter can rapidly increase our contacts with valuable colleagues we might otherwise not encounter, our PLNs can serve as “social magnifiers,” Rheingold suggested. Bringing value to our online interactions is essential, he continued: when we give away things of value (e.g., shared resources and links to useful information), we draw upon a “reservoir of reciprocity,” contribute to the value of the PLNs, and strengthen our own positions as valuable members within those interwoven and incredibly extensive personal learning networks—as all of us participating saw time and time again during our hour together.
Acknowledging the reciprocity and uniqueness of social capital helps us better appreciate it, he continued: the more social capital we spend, the more we have.
This was obvious throughout the session. As we provided resources for each other, we gathered even more, including links to a Storify document containing Rheingold’s tweeted tips for developing PLNs at one point, for example, and to the Peeragogy handbook—a “collection of techniques for collaborative learning and collaborative work”—at another.
PLNs, we were reminded, are not just about learning; they provide emotional support and can be important resources that sustain us when we are beginning to feel overwhelmed, Terrell suggested. They also are among the resources we need to help our learners master—by helping those learners acquire the skills to effectively function within and use them; helping them understand that online social networks are not necessarily just for fun; and promoting the idea that good PLNs ask as much of their members as they offer.
Developing PLNs can include relatively simple steps: finding “your hashtag,” for example—the hashtag that brings someone together with other members of his or her learning community.
What helps those communities coalesce is the realization that making and building things together is an essential part of cementing relationships within communities—which suggests that for those of us creating teaching-training-learning opportunities through active participation in #ccourses, #oclmooc, and other first-rate learning opportunities, there is positive result of drawing ever closer to having even stronger learning communities and personal learning networks than we previously believed possible.
I quickly cast aside the onsite-online dichotomy, however, by connecting to the onsite wireless network before the first session began, and spent significant parts of the day carrying the onsite experience online by using Twitter in two ways: to capture learning moments I could return to later as a way of reviewing what I had heard, and to share what I saw as the learning highlights with colleagues who were not present—including my learning partners in #ccourses and #oclmooc.
Attending Mike Ryan’s extremely well-organized and engaging session on m-learning (mobile learning) that afternoon pushed me beyond anything I had expected to pursue in terms of connecting various communities of learning through a completely blended learning opportunity with synchronous and asynchronous elements. It was clear to me immediately that Ryan was providing a tweeter’s dream: a presentation where key points were provided sequentially and concisely enough to provide a narrative flow via a stream of tweets. It was also equally clear to me that combining those tweets into one document would produce a learning object that could be shared with colleagues in a variety of settings—which made me realize I had the perfect impetus to learn how to use Storify, since that free online tool is designed to do exactly what I wanted to do: put the tweets in sequence and add commentary that transformed them into a basic asynchronous lesson online that could be adapted for a variety of situations. I came full circle when I realized I could interweave the Storify narrative with this blog post to help colleagues review some m-learning basics while also learning how to use Storify itself.
It wasn’t, for example, initially obvious to me from the Storify edit screen that I needed to click on the Twitter icon and log into my account to access the tweets I wanted to incorporate into the story; the online document quickly moved me past that challenge. The document also made it obvious that once I had completed a search for tweets that were unified by the hashtag I had used (#ATDsac), I could either move all the tweets into the Storify edit screen or move them one by one to manually put them in sequence. (Tweets appear in reverse chronological order in feeds, so we see the last tweet first; Storify gives us the option of manually carrying them over into the edit screen in correct chronological order to literally tell the story sequentially, and also allows us to click on an edit button that reverses the order of tweets within the screen to create the correct start-to-finish narrative flow if they are in their initial latest-to-earliest sequence.)
This exercise in connected learning became most interesting for me when I realized that the tweets, by themselves, adequately conveyed the basics, but that adding narrative would produce an interesting hybrid between a record of tweets and a more thoughtful lesson-in-a-blog format that could then be interwoven with a formal blog post—the article you’re reading now.
The result is a “package” that includes the stand-alone Storify story and this stand-alone blog post that also work well in tandem—as long as links within each learning object easily lead reader-learners from one to the other. And the added benefit to me as a trainer-teacher-learner is that I’m building upon what I’ve seen colleagues do, extending the onsite learning within that ATD community of learning into my online communities of learning, and providing yet another example for anyone interested in exploring innovative uses of open tools in ways that transform them into ed-tech tools that serve our partners in learning.
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.
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’sfour 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.
But 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.
“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.
As 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.
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.
This is a world where the concept of “failure” is left behind and the idea that learning is documented in positive ways (e.g., badging or points for achievements) changes the way we approach our work, author-educator Cathy Davidson reminded us during the live online panel discussion that formally opened #ccourses earlier this afternoon. Panel moderator Michael Wesch was (virtually) right there beside her with his mention of providing “not-yet” grades so his learners know that they haven’t failed—they “just haven’t gotten there yet!”
It’s a lesson that resonates for me, for I’ve spend considerable time with on-the-job adult learners who enter their learning spaces fearing that their presence in “training” is the precursor to losing their jobs (because they lack essential skills). Reminding them that their employers are paying my colleagues and me to help them gain skills needed so they can continue working is the essential first step in lowering their stress levels and facilitating the learning successes that benefit them, their employers, and the customers and clients they ultimately will continue serving.
Listening to Davidson, Wesch, and their co-panelist Randy Bass address a series of thought-provoking questions that would resonate with any inquisitive trainer-teacher-learner (e.g., what is to be taught, how should something be learned, and why should a particular subject or skill be learned?)—and simultaneously interacting with other learners via Twitter—provided what Davidson cited as one of the many benefits of connected learning: all of us had plenty of time during that stimulating online session to reflect on the “why” behind the learning we facilitate, and we left the session encouraged to engage in additional reflection (via this sort of blog article as well as through online interactions that help us, sooner than later, to use what we are learning).
It was also, for anyone who took time to dive into some of the course readings and videos before attending the live online session, an opportunity to experience the flipped classroom model of learning and also viscerally see how expansive (and potentially overwhelming) learning in a connected-learning environment can be.
Watching Wesch’s 33-minute “Why We Need a ‘Why?’” video lecture just before the live session began this afternoon, for example, nicely teed up the topic for me and prepared me to better use the live (virtual) classroom time to more deeply engage with others during the session. His taped video lecture, in turn, led me to another of the posted class materials—the fabulous “This is Water” video excerpt from writer-educator David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech delivered at Kenyon College in 2005; it includes the poignant and powerful reminder that “the freedom of real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted” is that we “get to consciously decide what has real meaning and what doesn’t.” Davidson’s live-session mention of how her Duke University courses include opportunities for learners to go well beyond the traditional setting of closed/private-classroom discussions to include projects open to online interactions with those not formally enrolled in her courses carries us over to an article she wrote as part of a course project with her learners: “How a Class Becomes a Community: Theory, Method, Examples,” from one group of learners’ course project (a full-length online book, Field Notes for 21st Century Literacies). It makes us wonder why more of us involved in on-the-job adult learning don’t encourage learners to produce learning objects (e.g., simple work samples or more ambitious on-the-job manuals from which others can learn) as part of their learning process. This could be a digital-era variation on an each-one-teach-one approach that brings tremendous rewards for everyone involved.
Bass’s live-session observations round out the picture: they entice us into continuing our connected learning experience by reading his article “Disrupting Ourselves: The Problem of Learning in Higher Education,” from the March/April 2012 issue of EDUCAUSE Review, and learning more about the evolving nature of our basic assumptions about what a course is and how team-based learning (where “…the instructor is no longer at the center. Instead, the course and student learning are at the center, surrounded by all these other players [teaching center staff, technology staff, librarians, and others] at the table”) is creating levels of engagement that might provide additional rewards for everyone involved in the training-teaching-learning process.
It’s enough to make our heads spin. But we’re too deeply immersed and appreciative to overlook some of the key repercussions here. These connectivist MOOCs draw us into learning that meets our current learning needs. They help us understand the value of online communities of learning by making us members of engaged online communities of learning. They offer us as many learning pathways as we care to explore, and they put us virtually face-to-face with learning facilitators, mentors, colleagues, and other learners we would otherwise not have the opportunity to meet.
As those of us who are learners in #ccourses and trainer-teacher-learners in #oclmooc begin (or continue) to interact not only within the formal learning environments of weekly interactive sessions but also through synchronous and asynchronous interactions over a variety of platforms including blogs and Twitter and Google+ communities (as well as between the two MOOCs and other communities of learning), the real connections themselves and the learning itself will continue providing the compelling “why?” that brings us all together in ways that will better serve learners worldwide.
Celebrating Life. Making positive connections and collaborating with people from around the world. Living everyday with positive energy, possibility, passion and peace of mind. Learning from a School Counsellor lens. I'm not a Counsellor because I want to make a living. I am a Counsellor because I want to make a difference. Gratitude for ETMOOC roots.