Learning in communities – networked collaborative learning

blåsippaOnline learning – What is that really about?

I have been a teacher within higher education for many years now. Working with online learning feels like a gradually transition in different ways during this time, both from a technology and pedagogical perspective. My own Personal Learning Networks (PLN) have developed from just e-mail communication to different social medias (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin) but also to a number of digital tools in my professional work. However, I must admit that I could be more creative. The use of technology can enable networks for learning processes but it is not always easy and there are both benefits and challenges.

I remember my first online teaching project (1990s). Just after the implementation of the computer (at my university), we (me and my colleague), introduced an e-mail project, where our students had an online discussion with students in another country. They worked pair wise with different oral health topics and were then instructed to share their new knowledge and reflections to the other students. Our intension was to learn from each other.  Our biggest challenges that time were; 1) not all student had computers, 2) limitation of the language (English), 3) limitation of knowledge using the computer, and 4) writing e-mail.

Since that time, both technology and online teaching has developed. Our students are also more or less familiar with all those things that were seen as challenges before. However, there are other kind of challenges today and, the transition is still going on for both teachers and students.

The knowledge of digital technology is important in online learning, but the pedagogical aspect must also have a prominent influence choosing digital tools and methods. You can’t just record online lectures for the students, add articles and literature online for them to read, divide the students into groups and then have a final written report at the end of the course. I don’t think I am the only one…..No, it is about learning in a community (the students in a class) working together collaboratively.

Online learning is about participation and interactivity but can varies in quality and quantity of interactivity dramatically from course to course. The students need to be guided.

“I don’t know how to do, then I don’t do anything”.

Thus, we (teachers) need to create an environment for the students that promotes participation and collaborative activities. Here, we can allow us to be creative with the digital technology, but also mixing face- to- face activities. This picture illustrates different tools for collaborative learning activities.

collborative learning

Figure. Collaborative learning (flickr.com, public domain)

Pedagogical benefits of collaborative learning include; development of critical thinking skills, co-creation of knowledge and meaning, reflection and transformative learning. You can read more about this here.

During this ONL201 course, I have taken an important step in my personal learning network development. This include an active participation within my community (my online PBL group), learning from my colleagues’ diverse experiences and contexts, self-reading, webinars, own and others blog, twitter shat, face-to face synchronized discussions etc.  This is also a good example of a collaborative learning experience.

To be a student in an online course about online learning is of great value!

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