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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Webinar Tools

Yesterday evening a threesome of which I was part facilitated a webinar in the frame of the Curriculum Social Media for Learning & Change in which we all participate. Since we had used BigMarker a few times already (as participants, not as facilitators though) we decided to try something else for a change. We came up with a combination of Skype and SynchTube, since we wanted to watch videos together, do two quick polls, have a discussion, share a document and have a chat. With these two tools, all of that was possible.

SynchTube
(please note that SynchTube is now out of use. TogetherTube could be an alternative).

In SynchTubeyou can create a room to watch videos, chat and do polls. You can do this, without having an account! Once you’ve created the room, you can share the link and everyone who gets the link can enter the room. The room looks like this:

SynchTube: overview of a room

SynchTube: overview of a room

On the left hand side you will find the video. On the right hand side there is a space to chat. It is important to first type your name in the box “Enter a name” and then click “Join chat”. Otherwise you will remain “unnamed” as is shown at the top right hand side.

SynchTube: poll

SynchTube: poll

The arrow at the bottom right hand side points to where polls can be added. A poll needs to have at least 2 possible answers. Participants can click on the number in front of the answer of their choice and vote. Everyone can vote only once. The scores are immediately updated. The leader can close the poll and start a new one.

Polls can be created only by the “leader” of the room. Initially, this is the person who created the room, but this person can give others the leaders role by clicking on a name and choosing to make them leader. If you want to remove someone from the room, you can click on their name and choose “kick”.

SynchTube: chat space

SynchTube: chat space

While you’re watching a video or taking a poll, you can share thoughts in the chat space. In the picture you can see that I managed to name myself and joined the chat. Below the chat space there is a small bar to type your chat contributions.

Some tips

  • You need at least 2, preferably 3, facilitators, even if you work with a small group only. The reason is that you need at least one person that will take care of all tech issues – like mishaps with SynchTube, people who have problems with Skype, etc etc – and one person that will do the actual facilitation of the discussion and work. If people are chatting and talking at the same time, it is practical to have a third person who will bring up issues from the chat into the discussion. So while you can save on time and expenses for travelling by working online, you may need more persons for facilitation than if you would have organised a face-to-face event.
  • The tech person should (try to) deal with the tech problems without interfering in the session itself, to the extent this is possible. This means that the tech person may need to set up separate connections (phone, Skype, etc) with people that are experiencing problems, and that way may miss out on some of the content being shared.
  • Be prepared for technical problems messing up your session especially at the start of the webinar. Meaning: allow space in the agenda for delays. And: be cool about it if and when it happens. Don’t panic the participants with your own panic!
  • Try out the tech tools at least twice yourself and check the possibilities of the tools you’ve chosen to work with. For instance in this case we had originally thought to use GoogleHangout (via Google+). We tried it twice – the first time it worked excellently and the second time it did not work nearly as well without us having a clear clue as to the why. Also, we found out in the nick of time that GoogleHangout allows for maximum 10 people to join at any given time. And as we invited more than 10 participants and could not be sure enough of them would cancel to stay within the limit of 10, we decided to look for another tool that would allow for over 10 participants at the same time.
  • Send participants clear instructions beforehand. If you will use a tool that you are not sure they have used before, send them a short guide of the tool. You can make screen shots from your test sessions to visualise certain elements of the tools and insert them in a written text if you cannot find a clear guide online.
  • Let participants do some of the thinking before the webinar. In this case, we sent participants a link to a Prezi highlighting some of the questions to be tackled in the webinar as well as a link to an online survey (via FluidSurveys) through which we collected certain information already. We presented the results of the survey during the webinar and used this as a starting point for further exchange.
  • Be clear on the order of things: we will start in Skype, then we will share a link to a SynchTube room and we will watch videos there, for instance. Let people know what to expect and give clear instructions: “Now we will go to SynchTube. Don’t forget to enter your name for the chat.”
  • Be clear on the rules: once we move to SynchTube, mute your skype to avoid hearing echos. And make sure that everyone does this, too!
  • During a Skype discussion, be sure to address certain questions to a specific person, and use their name. In a face-to-face event it is much easier to look at someone while addressing a question to the group. Obviously, this does not work on Skype.
  • Be sure to check a chat, if you have any, regularly and refer to remarks made there.
  • Create atmosphere in the beginning: do not start rightaway with going from one tool to the next. First establish that everyone is there and make sure that everyone knows what will happen, how and when.

An evaluation was conducted in Wallwisher (now: Padlet) and generated positive feedback:

Wallwisher Evaluation (in NL)

Wallwisher Evaluation (in NL)

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Book: Social Media for Trainers

Book Cover Social Media for Trainers

Book Cover Social Media for Trainers

I recently had the pleasure of reading the book “Social Media for Trainers – Techniques for Enhancing and Extending Learning” by Jane Bozarth (published by Pfeiffer in 2010). It is a wonderfully practical and concrete book that I can warmly recommend to anyone working with groups in the capacity of a trainer, coordinator or leader. The main tools presented in the book are Twitter, Facebook, blogs and wikis. All of these I know by experience, and still the book provided me with new ideas and insights.

 

Structured Content Social Media for Trainers

Structured Content Social Media for Trainers

Bozarth goes through the 4 main tools in a structured way: explaining the basics, paying attention to advantages and disadvantages, and showing when and how it can be used. All chapters contain clear examples of questions and exercises that can be used with the tool, as well as real life examples of use of the tool in a bigger organisation or company. If you’re still not convinced: there are screen shots, too, so you can actually visualise what she is describing even if you do not have any personal experience with the tool.

While I have come to see Twitter definitely as a tool for learning I so far was focused more on how it is a tremendous source of information validated by people whose judgement I trust or whose perspective interests me (the people I am following). Bozarth showed me a new perspective: how to engage learners or a community through Twitter. You can ask them to introduce themselves on Twitter, they can answer start up questions or receive reading or other assignments. But you can also organise role plays, or use Twitter as a back channel for engaging learners or community members in a conversation in parallel to a class or webinar. And you could even schedule tweets asking evaluation questions one or more weeks after an event, and get feedback on how people are using newly gained knowledge and ideas in practice. For all these ideas, Bozarth lists clear sample questions suitable for the Twitter environment.

Similarly, she presents clear examples for use of Facebook (groups or pages), blogs and wikis in learning and community environments. As well as a few ideas concerning a small selection of other social media tools like SlideShare, Youtube, TeacherTube and Delicious.Through this all, she shows keen understanding of needs of learners and community members and shares her experiences with communities of practice and in the (virtual) class room.

In all, a valuable and inspirational resource for all of us interested in engaging people in processes – whether they be for learning or otherwise.  I wish you happy reading!

Find Jane Bozarth

Jane Bozarth on blogspot

Jane Bozarth on Twitter

Jane Bozarth on Facebook

Jane Bozarth on Google+

Short description of Jane Bozarth on Learning Solutions Mag

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Tools for Learning

Jane Hart, C4LPT

Jane Hart, C4LPT

One of the websites that inspired me in 2011 is Top-100 Tools for Learning as developed by Jane Hart, founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies C4LPT. In the last 5 years this list was compiled annually, based on learning professionals’ experiences and input.

The list triggers my curiosity by providing just a short description in the list (Nr 1 – Twitter:  micro-sharing site), and by providing comments from those that recommended the tool if you click on it. From there you can directly link to the tool’s web address. This year, there is a neat summary available via Slideshare (embedded below), in addition to the list in text form.

What makes the list interesting and useful is not just the fact that it is a great resource, but that it makes you consider the tools on it in a different light. For instance, Twitter has been number 1 since 2009. Before I was directed towards the Top-100 in a workshop on Social Media for Learning and Change, I would not have viewed Twitter as a potential learning tool. Like many others, I thought Twitter was just to share how many coffees you’d been drinking that day, where you were and what you might be doing next. Since then, I have discovered I was wrong there and found that indeed there is a lot to be learned through Twitter.

That’s what makes the list a small adventure for me – there is always a small or big discovery to be had. If you are interested in learning and in online tools to facilitate learning, it is a must-check website!

In 2011 I have explored several learning and training tools that were new to me; some of them I found through the Top-100 and some through other channels. I have dedicated a few posts to my experiences with tools that I found to be (potentially) useful for NGOs I work with, like Delicious, Wordle, Yammer and a few TED Talks that I found inspirational. I plan to continue exploring new tools in 2012 and will share exciting finds through my blog of course.

But as I am sure I will not manage all 100 tools (let alone the 50 tools that did not make the list) I would invite you to experience the richness of the list for yourselves as well. I am looking forward to hearing about your adventures!

Resources

Top 100 Tools for Learning 2011

View more presentations from Jane Hart

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Yammer

If you need to collaborate in a closed group with members that are not sharing an office, you might like to try out Yammer. I started experimenting with Yammer recently in the frame of a curriculum on Social Media for Learning & Change in Organisations. In the short time I have been using it I have found it a very useful and easy-to-use tool.

In Yammer you can set up a network within which you can discuss, share information and develop documents.

Selected topic and posts - option to Follow

Selected topic and posts – option to Follow

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