Reflecting on a learning experience: Open Networked Learning 162

Earlier this year I had the privilege of completing the online open course, Open Networked Learning 2016, iteration 1 (ONL161). As I reflected on my learning way back in April, I thought that my connections with this particular learning experience had ended. However…I was contacted by the lovely Lotta Åbjörnsson, who works as an Educational developer at Lund University, and who is one of the course team of ONL, and she asked me if I wished to continue my journey with Open Networked Learning in the second iteration of 2016, this time as a co-facilitator of a PBL (problem based learning) group. As a committed learner and one who is always open to new educational experiences, I leapt at this opportunity!

Now, at the end of the year, ONL162 has had its final meeting, and I have been honoured to be a part of PBL5, an amazing group of tertiary educators, each dedicated in their own fields, but drawn together by a common desire to learn more about open, online, networked pedagogy and learning. Our group has demonstrated the power of global connection, and the capacity of technology to now truly connect learners from all over the world. With participants from Sweden, South Africa, Poland, Pakistan and myself in Australia, we met about twice a week, via Zoom video conferencing during the ten week course, to learn and collaborate together. What an amazing experience!

Group members from all over the world came together for PBL5.
Group members from all over the world came together for PBL5.

What did we learn in ONL162?

The overview of ONL162 was as follows:

1. Connecting – online participation and digital literacies


2. Open Learning – sharing and openness


3. Learning in communities – networked collaborative learning


4. Design for online and blended learning


5. Lessons learnt – future practice


As you can see, we were dealing with not only a rich array of content, but more than this, the course provided contextualised opportunities for participants to develop their skills and understandings in how this content might be creatively implemented. My role, as co-facilitator, was to act as a sounding board; as a past participant, I was there to support, suggest, commend and create with the group. For me, this role might have been challenging, however the members of the group worked so well together, and formed such a strong commitment to democratically constructing responses to each of the topic scenarios, that little guidance was needed!

The power of the collaborative group

Why did this group work so well together, when so many groups struggle? What was the ‘special sauce’ that these individuals had? As an observer, and co-facilitator, I have given this quite a bit of thought, and have come to the following conclusions:

1. The group was dedicated to a shared purpose – each of the members was committed to successful participation in the course, and was willing (and able) to spend the time needed to not only meet regularly, but also to work on the tasks that were decided upon in order to collaboratively construct learning artefacts in response to the scenarios.
2. The group was highly respectful of each other, and recognised the unique and valuable contributions each individual made: our group consisted of tertiary educators, who shared a common interest (educating University students) but who also came from very different disciplines (we had teachers of computer science, Swedish literature, law, teacher education and social sciences (geography)). This meant that while there was a shared educational language, there were also distinct differences in strengths. The group members recognised this, and worked to enable each participant to take advantage of these different backgrounds, while working together to enrich their knowledge in the focus area.

3. The group was flexible and their eyes were on the bigger picture: during each meeting, decisions were made about what digital tools might be used, what pedagogical strategies might be focused upon, and what topic areas were most meaningful for the majority. In almost all cases decisions were made democratically through voting, however there were some instances where one member of the group felt strongly about going in a particular direction. When this happened, sometimes the whole group listened to the arguments being made and altered their choices, while other times the individual who was initiating the idea sacrificed their argument to align with the greater group. It is difficult to put into words how this happened, but basically, no one was precious about their own ideas. Suggestions were made, considered, and usually the majority ruled. The bigger picture, being the learning that would occur regardless of which direction was chosen, was put first, and this enabled the group to overcome potential obstacles and impasses. Of course there is always a time when it is important to fight for what is right – but when a decision is being made between two opposing pedagogical frameworks for the sake of exploration, the greater purpose, being learning, was always what guided the final choice.

This is what PBL5 created at the conclusion of the course: an infographic, sharing not only what they had created and achieved, but also a reflection on their learning experience:

1 2

There are many ways in which this course, which is carefully designed to support effective networked learning, aligns strongly with connected learning. In the following days I plan to share a second post, drawing these connections. In the meantime, I would encourage anyone who is looking for a challenge in 2017 to consider joining in ONL171. The course is 10 weeks long, provides a certificate of participation if certain requirements are met, and is a powerful and enjoyable way to learn about open and networked learning. I hope to continue my connection with the course and with the wonderful people I have met along the way. Here’s just a taste of what you will experience:

2 thoughts on “Reflecting on a learning experience: Open Networked Learning 162”

  1. Thanks for sharing! Each unique group is its own universe and groups never cease to interest and intrigue! Facilitating or participating in a group is a bit like baking bread – you take the right ingredients, bring the fluid to the right temperature, mix the ingredients, knead the dough, let it rest, knead again and shape it, let it rest, heat the oven, brush the surface, put it in the oven, set a timer, watch over it… And it comes out different every time (well not really, but it differs). This time around, the ‘ingredients’ happened to be just right and the interplay between all parts of this was favourable. The ‘special sauce’ that you mention here, in three portions, rings so true for this group – oh how I wish we could bottle it and keep it handy in the pantry… And for this specific group – the work that has been done, the willingness to share, the joy, the humour – wow! I think that not all of us ever get the opportunity to be part of this sort of experience, for which I am truly grateful!

    1. Thanks Lotta for such an interesting reflection on group facilitation! It is so true that it is similar to baking bread – particularly as in my experience, it seems as though the same process can create the most amazing loaf one time and an abject failure another (but maybe that is just my baking ability!). Every group is so different, and that is what makes participating enjoyable and challenging. I also agree that our most recent PBL group was truly amazing, and know that now I have seen how it can work, I have greater confidence in the model as a whole. Looking forward to working with you again in 2017!

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