Week 1: Managing Change in Community Development MOOC

I have been lurking in this MOOC for the last couple of weeks just checking out other posts on Google + and viewing the webinars when I can get some time and I thought I’d contribute to last week’s question which was:

Learning takes place in an ever shifting landscape, this is particularly true of online learning. To what extent do you think that an online learning environment is similar to learning in a community learning and development context?

This is going to be the topic or key message of my presentation at EduTech in Brisbane on Monday.  Basically, as someone who has been knitting most of her life and attending social knitting groups (and also a member of many online), little did I realise all these years that they were my communities of practice.  Without them, I could not have learned as much as I have about the craft and shared the joy of it with others.

I have written about this connection to community learning many times in my blog, with the most recent one that explained a ‘Knit Camp’ I attended with a group of ladies.  You can read about it here.

In my experience, I have yet to experience an online learning community that doesn’t use some additional face-to-face time whether it is through Skype, Google Hangouts, webcams or meeting face to face (whether they are organised by the organisers or the participants). Certainly using the additional forms to meet and work online only adds and enriches the learning experience because it personalises the people within your community.

A couple of years ago, I was looking to leave my Rotary Club which met once a week at a local restaurant.  There was talk that an e-club was going to be set up and this sounded appealing to me as someone who had limited time.

Since then, the eClub was established and a group of about 22 people – the foundation members were inducted.  It was an exciting time for the Rotary District as we were the first e-club in our district.  In the early days, we got together face-to-face twice to determine how we were going to administer the club and ensure that we had a network of people to support community projects.  However, the online community was also new to many people who had never used an online discussion forum or chat.  Everyone was on  a learning curve.  Despite weekly online real time text chats, the forum failed to appeal to me as I felt that the online environment was also as restrictive as a physical club. That’s not to say that other club members were not open to this tool – they were but everyone was still learning how to make the online community work.  For me, it took me a while but I realised that I still needed the physical connection – the actual meeting – whether it is in person or online through webcam or to ensure my interest was maintained. 

I simply couldn’t connect with people through discussion forums or impersonal text chats if I didn’t “know who was on the other side”.

In the end, I thought long and hard about my Rotary involvement (I had been a Rotarian for some years and had made many friends) but I couldn’t continue with my involvement in this club because the ‘physical’ face-to-face contact was missing so I resigned – a decision that I didn’t take lightly.

Reflecting on this with learning, it poses an interesting question.  Is the online learning environment the same as community learning?

I think it can be as it can be replicated but we still need some form of social or peer learning to occur.  Whether it is face-to-face in person or through a technology medium, it personalises the experience, networks are made, information and experiences are shared – and it makes it a whole lot easier to be motivated to do the learning!

Recently I did the cMOOC, Educational Technology MOOC (or #ETMOOC) and I think that this was one of the better MOOC communities I had participated in because there seemed to be connections happening around the world.  The lip sync dubbing that was crowdsourced was also another example of what can happen when people around the world are connected with a passion and the medium to learn.  It was one of the MOOCs where I participated, contributed, shared and learned from others – as I hope they from me.

The down side is now that I use this as a benchmark for all future courses because I recall the excitement, anticipation and inspiration from logging on every morning and seeing what the Google community of ETMOOC was up to.

I miss that…

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About Activate Learning Solutions

Helen Blunden is the founder of Activate Learning Solutions and Third Place. She has over 20 years of experience within learning and development across private, public and not-for-profit organisations. With a specialty in performance consulting and networked learning, Helen believes that workplace learning is integral to business success. She has a passion for enabling people to learn beyond the classroom and believes in the power of networks and communities to drive collaboration and meaning within the organisation. From facilitator-led instruction, online and blended, Helen deploys social and informal learning such as enterprise social networking, collaboration tools and emerging technologies that have been proven successful and embedded workplace change.
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