Designing learning in an open world

In one week I will be once again taking on the role of co-faciliator in the online open course Open Networked Learning. I’ve written before about my experiences with this course, and you can read my reflections on my first experience of the course, as a student, and my most recent experience as a first-time co-facilitator.

As I met with the PBL Group facilitator I will be working with in this iteration, Alistair Creelman our discussions turned to the extensive ‘behind the scenes’ work which occurs before every iteration of ONL. Even though the course is designed to enable and encourage self-directed learning, with guidance rather than instruction from the facilitator and co-facilitator, creating the environment in which this might successfully occur takes great pedagogical knowledge and strategic planning. I reflected on this concept upon my completion of ONL161, when I suggested that

We can have great pedagogy in a small classroom, using no technology, which benefits those lucky enough to be physically present. Or we can connect widely using technology, but have no pedagogical plan and create a massive content dump. It is only when the pedagogy and technology are creatively, carefully and thoughtfully brought together that many of us can learn altogether. (Looking back on ONL161 blog post)

Learning design has evolved to support teachers trying to create pedagogically effective learning opportunities that make effective use of new technologies, as options for each proliferate (Conole, 2013). The ONL course is successful due to the significant investment in learning design. However, the planning and design does not prescribe exactly how the students will learn; there are no set tools students are expected to use, and no desired responses to the PBL scenarios. In this way, ONL reminds me of the concept of ‘indirect design’.

Adapted from Goodyear’s indirect or mediated model of design for learning (2002).

Indirect design argues that learning cannot be directly designed, only designed for. Rather than learning designs directing the activity of learning, they are seen as one of many resources which may be employed when required (Jones & de Laat, 2016). Therefore, existing online learning networks may be analysed, so that elements which may engender successful learning might be identified and observations of affordances may be made, but the experience of learning cannot be completely planned. This reflects the shift in thinking described by Downes (2010 para. 20):

We need, first, to take charge of our own learning, and next, help others take charge of their own learning. We need to move beyond the idea that an education is something that is provided for us, and toward the idea that an education is something that we create for ourselves.

If this shift in thinking is truly what is required, then my research into personal learning networks raises an interesting question – are those teachers who are currently successfully negotiating professional learning through PLNs those who have also made the paradigm shift from ‘receiving’ to ‘enacting’ their own education? If this is so, what are the reasons for this transition? Or did these learners always initiate and seek out new knowledge? Of course, this conjecture stimulates many further questions; including the role of the growth mindset in this paradigm shift, the role of ready access to education vs the need to seek out one’s own learning, and whether we will see increasing numbers of professionals turn to PLNs for learning as technology affords increasing opportunities to connect and learn from those who might teach us most effectively. If I have learnt one thing from inquiry learning and research, it is that the more you discover, the more questions you will have, and this is certainly the case here!

The first step in responding to these questions is to begin searching for those teachers who have been engaging in professional learning through an online PLN. In the next month or two, I will be putting out the call to those teachers, and I am so keen to begin learning more!

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