It is a cold autumn evening in southern Sweden, most leaves have already fallen from the trees, and here I am trying to find a good idea for my reflective blog post on “Learning on Communities”. It is a bit of a strange feeling, because for the first two topics in the course I almost didn’t have to think about this, and it was already during our group discussions that I came up with what I wanted to write about.
Nevertheless, as I was looking for inspiration in the ONL course webpage, it occurred to me that if the topic for these two weeks was Collaborative Learning, I could as well just do that! I could read some blog posts from my fellow students, find interesting arguments and develop them further. Then, in order to close the loop, I will leave them a comment on their blog so they can participate on the discussion.
Aliona Yarova in her interesting post “The Learning Potluck” draws a comparison between group and individual learning, and she summarises it as group learning = lots of risks and lots of fun and individual learning = no risks but no fun either. She also discusses some of the advantages and disadvantages of group learning activities and highlights the role of the instructor (or facilitator) in helping the group move forward.
In my opinion, individual learning has in fact some risks that are mitigated in group learning. In individual learning, the student can acquire knowledge that is not correct or biased, especially if it is individual learning in which you don’t have many opportunities to discuss with the teacher, like for example an on-line course in which you follow recorded lectures at your own pace. If the same recorded lectures were followed by a group discussion, the students could have a higher chance to detect incorrect or biased content and therefore, improve their learning.
When it comes to the “having fun” part, I believe it this strongly related to each one’s personality and character. While work group can be exciting and enjoyable for some people – I surely count myself among them – it can also be challenging and stressful for others. Some people find joy in digging deep into a certain subject, studying it on their own until they master it without being disturbed or being forced to share their learning process with someone else – which they may see as an unnecessary loss of time.
In “Face-to-face or online collaborative learning” Chaiwat Prapainainar reflects about his own experience with online collaborative learning during the ONL course, and how he feels he learns more, he can tackle larger and more complex problems and cope with tighter deadlines when working in a group.
While in principle I agree with these statements, I believe they are only applicable in well-established groups that have already developed a working method. In a learning environment, the role of the facilitator (also mentioned by Aliona) is crucial to help the group move forward. In working teams, there might not be a facilitator and it is then up to the members to agree on a set of rules and define a working methodology that makes it possible for the group to work in an effective way. Otherwise, there’s a strong risk that the group doesn’t work efficiently, members become frustrated, they loose track of the project or goes into side-paths. These problems may be even more important and also more difficult to approach in online learning environments compared to face-to-face.
The last post I want to discuss is Kay Oddone’s “The symphonic magic of the PLN“. The analogy that Kay proposes between a PLN (Personal Learning Network) and a symphonic orchestra is a really good one! In this analogy, knowledge is compared to the music produced by the orchestra, only possible if all instruments are playing together, and usually much better than the music played by the individual instruments alone. The learning process is associated with playing the instrument, a process driven by the learner that results in the creation of knowledge. Social software is like the instruments in the orchestra, i.e. the tools needed to create the music / knowledge. Finally, the learner corresponds to the conductor of the orchestra, directing all other musicians (members of the PLN) in the creation of knowledge, driven by his/her own goals.
Is this last association learner – conductor that I don’t really agree with. In an orchestra, the conductor has a certain degree of authority, experience and knowledge above the rest of the musicians. Moreover, the learning process for the conductor won’t be playing an instrument, but rather learning how to coordinate the musicians in the best possible way, how to communicate or interact with them so that they can reach their excellence while playing together. Therefore, I’d like to propose a new musical analogy in which PLN will be like an improvising jazz ensemble. The musicians are the members of the network, each of them being an experienced player on their instrument, combining their playing in order to create something bigger in a “single-level” hierarchy. The learning process is playing their instruments, and their ultimate goal (outcome) is to improve their playing skills (achieved by both playing their instruments alone and with the rest of the musicians) and gain knowledge about music theory (achieved by interacting with the other musicians) .
Well, this ended up being a much larger post than I anticipated! I hope you have enjoyed the reading, and please, don’t hesitate to leave a comment.