The Work Literacy online learning event is over and many of the participants are now at DevLearn08 and I might surmise that they’re connecting with some folks they met during the course.
Our learning community event spanned six weeks and had 766 registered users at the end. When Michele, Tony and I initially discussed the program, we expected perhaps sixty participants. However, the large size did not detract from the learning and was not a burden for the facilitators. First of all, we developed all activities for three levels of participation: Spectator, Joiner, and Creator. The majority fell into the first category and the Creators took on the role of facilitating where necessary. For me, a highlight was Paul Lowe’s live web presentation on his use of blogs for a Photo Journalism Master’s programme. It was good to see some early initiatives taken by the members, such as French language forum started by Stéphane Wattier. The Creators made it easier for all of us.
We decided to use Ning as the main course site because it gave us several tools in one application and it’s free, which fit in with our non-existent budget. The only missing application was a wiki, but we were able to add in a link on one of the main Tabs and connect with PBWiki. Interestingly, the wiki, which was supposed to be used to synthesize the previous weeks, was taken up by only a few people.
Participation ebbed and flowed, with 198 discussions on the Introduction forum. The first three weeks (Social Networks; Social Bookmarks; Blogs) also saw more activity on the Forums. A drop in participation may have been due to the length of the course. In my own case, I was much busier with work demands in the later weeks of the course.
So what did I learn or what was reinforced?
- A loose-knit online learning community can scale to many participants and remain effective.
- Only a small percentage ~10% of members will be active.
- Wikis need to be extremely focused on real tasks/projects in order to be adopted.
- If facilitators can seed good questions and provide feedback, then conversations can flourish.
- Use a very gentle hand in controlling the learners and some will become highly participative.
- Design for after the course, using tools like social bookmarks, so that artifacts can be used for reference or performance support.
- Create the role of “synthesizer”. I found it quite helpful when Tony and Michele summarized the previous week’s activities.
- Keep the structure loose enough so that it can grow or change according to the needs of the community.
To find out what others thought about the course, read the comments on, Was this course successful. How do we know? [Dead link, as we didn’t take up Ning on their paid service option. See more post course notes here: Tools – Social Networking – Social Media & Learning]