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.

Let’s start!

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.




21 thoughts on “Collaborative blogging

  1. Hi Fran
    I love the way you have built on my ideas regarding the PLN and the orchestra analogy. I did struggle with the idea of the learner as the conductor; it didn’t fit perfectly, but I wanted to make clear the autonomy of the learner and the pursuit of individual goals. Your Jazz ensemble idea is terrific- it captures the way learners each draw learning opportunities while also contributing to the learning of others. Awesome! Another way this idea works is through the improvisational element- this relates to the serendipitous learning that often happens through a PLN. Just as a jazz ensemble might improvise, not knowing where the melody will flow, so too learning may happen when you encounter some knowledge or a way of thinking you didn’t even realise existed. That is part of the excitement of learning through a PLN- not knowing where the journey will take you! Thanks so much for a great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kay! Thanks for passing by!
      I’m glad that you liked the comparison… I think I have reflected on lately is the fact that a jazz musician plays in many different constellations, sometimes a different one every time, while an orchestra musician is more “bound” to the same group. I believe in that respect PLNs also resemble more the jazz combo.


  2. Thank you for this nice blog post, Fran. I have some feedback and one question 🙂
    First – I really like your concept of “collaborative blogging”. A good way of creating interaction between the different blogs and an inspiration to build on each others’ thoughts.
    Second – Regarding your analogy with the improvising jazz ensemble: You write: “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) (…)”. This was fascinating to me. When I read you post I expected you to say something like: “The ultimate goal (outcome) is to play well together on the next concert”. Instead you state that “to improve their playing skills” is the ultimate goal, which is a very nice way of thinking. When groups work together, the goal is often to finish a specific task or project, but what you propose is that the development of lifelong skills is the ultimate goal. I really like this 🙂
    Third – You write: “In a learning environment, the role of the facilitator (also mentioned by Aliona) is crucial to help the group move forward”, but I am curious to learn what exactly you believe the facilitator should do? In my blog post regarding this topic I share some thoughts on the facilitator role in online collaboration – how does the facilitator role I describe resonate with your view of the facilitator role? My blog post:


    1. Thanks a lot for your comment Nina!
      The good thing about the analogy with the Jazz ensemble is that usually, jazz musicians don’t play with a fix constellation, they join other musicians and jam together. For that reason, the ultimate goal is to develop your own playing skills further rather than playing better together next time, because you don’t know if there will be a next time at all with the exact same people!
      The role of the facilitator is something very difficult to define, even in jazz ensembles! This is one of the things I am most interested to learn from this course 🙂 I will take a look at your post and leave a comment there with my views.


      1. That actually makes the jazz ensemble analogy even better 🙂 I am really, really looking forward to your comments on my post (especially since I use the collaboration in our group as a starting point for my reflections in the blog post) 🙂


    1. Thanks for your comment Raheel. Definitely cooperative learning is different from collaborative learning. But as a (hobbyist) musician I have a hard time picturing music as a cooperative activity… I believe it is much more of a collaboration, in which everybody is dependent on one another for a successful output!


  3. Hi, Fran

    Thank you for a nice reflection. I believe the difficulty of online collaboration we are experiencing at the moment may be due to that we do not have enough skills to do it efficiently. With increasing number of collaborating online activities, the coming generations may be more used to it because they will get more opportunities to practice from young age.


    1. True! But I believe there’s a part of it that is tightly linked to our personality… that we won’t be able to train. Some people just like to work alone!
      Another interesting side of these is human-machine interaction actually. I’m sure that quite a lot of this learning process could be “automated”, and “customised” learning partners that are just right for you can be programmed. As you point out, the coming generations will definitely be better at human-machine interactions than we are, and maybe they will learn much more efficiently in that way!


  4. Hi Fran,

    Very interesting way of reflecting back on your learning by take others blogs. I must say, that the pot luck concept really hit me when I watched PBL group 5’s presentation as I am a really visual person and also come from the Food & Beverage back ground. Just thinking of that cooking with someone can be lots more fun than doing it alone, but it can also be a lot more frustrating and stressful. I think the learners mind set must be right as well as clear guidelines must be given to have a collaborative learning experience really be effective.


    1. I also like the pot luck comparison a lot 🙂
      The question is whether we can train that mindset so, in an ideal work, everyone should be equally comfortable working alone and in groups?
      I believe a lot of this comes down to psychology and the specific personality of each individual… but I’m always up for a joint cooking night!


  5. I also like you jazz ensemble idea very much. And, especially with adult learners the insight that they all have some instrument and skills in using them is crucial. It is about recognizing the others, that they are important contributors to the team’s contribution.
    But, of course (returning to the collaboration vs individual) I can see that not having enough time will stress the members of any orchestra, even a jazz ensemble like the one you suggest. In this I see myself, every now and then…
    All in all a very nice post Fran.


  6. Cheers Christa! I had this same conversation with my prof this morning… time seems to be a very scarce commodity that, as you grow old, becomes even more scarce and more valuable! However, at the end is a matter of prioritisation and balance between work, personal, social…
    Thanks a lot for the visit to my blog! 🙂


  7. Great idea, to be inspired by other’s blogs and build further. If that’s not collaborating, I don’t know what is!
    I agree with you (regarding something that Aliona Yarova wrote in her original blog post) that there are indeed risks with individual learning. It does happen every now and again that a student of mine express a conclusion from a course that can leave me very surprised (“how on earth..”). Obviously, I have expressed myself and/or the student has interpreted me in a way that wasn’t intended. If all that student has to go by is my non-recorded lectures, and if that student hasn’t had access (or hasn’t made use of the access) to me for follow-up discussions, things can really go wrong. In a group setting, with cooperation between students, it’s much more likely that some other students could have put the first student on the right track.


    1. Thanks for the visit Lotta!
      I think there’s also a critical aspect of all these (that we’ll study further in Topic 4) and that’s the student’s own attitude to learning. Whether (s)he really wants to learn, and therefore is prepared to critically assess the teacher’s message or just wants to pass the exam and forget it all. Perhaps, in a collaborative learning environment the second option is a bit more difficult to get away with…

      Liked by 1 person

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