Online Learning and Focus

For almost a year I have taken part in the Curriculum Social Media for Learning & Change. It’s been a wonderful ride and I am sorry to see it end next week with a final face to face workshop and closing presentations of all participants, sharing their lessons learned in applying social media in learning and change processes.

While I think I managed to get in much of the planned learning, I also learned from being a part of the curriculum and observing what happened in the internal learning environment and within the group. What I noticed is that keeping engagement and focus of participants is not easy, even if they are all highly motivated individuals and even if the three facilitators are extremely committed and observant.

Presentation of Group Assignment

Presentation of Group Assignment

It seems that 8 months is a long period to keep hard working professionals engaged, even though

  • This long period was cleverly broken down in 4 learning blocks of two weeks online learning plus one face-to-face workshop and one webinar each;
  • Learning was connected to the participants’ day to day jobs through work and reporting on real life cases in which newly acquired knowledge was applied;
  • Each of the learning blocks consisted of a variety of questions or assignments, ranging from testing a tool to sharing your ideas and experience to analysing different examples;
  • Some tasks were assigned to small sub-groups of participants leading to an online or offline presentation of results and findings.
Online Individual Assignment

Online Individual Assignment

It also seems to me that individual online learning requires a level of focus and discipline that is not easy to steer as educator, even though

  • The course facilitators used different communication tools to check up on and motivate absent participants;
  • Each block provided a variety of assignments, paying attention to different learner types;
  • The course facilitators provided rapid, constructive and positive feedback;
  • All assignments were carefully phrased and well-focused, with clear links to day to day work of different participants.

What struck me was that especially in the two final blocks not all assignments were addressed, not even by one participant. A common feature of these assignments was that they required more reading, thinking and combining of knowledge and skills than the other assignments which focused more on testing a few tools or answering a question related to your own case. In other words, these assignments required more action as well as more reflection, and in the end more time and energy of the learners. Precious time, that may be harder to assign to yourself if no-one else depends on it.

In addition, these assignments may also have been perceived as “more risky”. Learners were asked to make an analysis and propose conclusions or steps to be taken – basically for steps in the process of designing and implementing an online learning or change process. Things most or all of them do regularly, even if subconsciously. It may thus have been perceived that “getting it wrong” would reflect more negatively on the learners in their professional capacity. This perception may subconsciously have reinforced the idea that these assignments would need more thorough attention and thus more time than others.

The conclusion might be that if you want to include such more analytical and design-oriented assignments in your online course you would do well either to allocate them to one or more individual learners who then post their findings and elicit reflections and reactions from other learners, or to assign them to small sub-groups.

In all, observing the structure and implementation of the course has provided me with at least 8 lessons learned (see the bullet points above) that were implemented and one that was not. Not a bad score if you take into consideration that as active participant I learned loads of other stuff, too. Some of these other things I have shared in previous posts, and some I will still share later on this year. However, don’t think that reading my posts will get you there – if there is one lesson I learned most of all it is that you should go out there, try and err, reflect, get yourself back on your feet and continue!

Having 3 marvellous facilitators and a few active other learners around you certainly helps to stay motivated and optimistic and to get the most out of both failure and success. So if you can follow a course, you should take that opportunity. And I warmly recommend the one organised by Joitske Hulsebosch, Simon Koolwijk and Sibrenne Wagenaar of En nu online.

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