Reflections on Topic 3: Learning in communities – Networked collaborative learning

Have we not always been told the importance of networking? If we connect to people and start cooperating we can create networks that make us successful. A win-win situation for all involved, right? Little did I realise that when looking a little deeper, networks can easily be just loose connections of individuals with very different interests. This is not how a community works. And it can make a big difference for learning.

During this topic I started thinking a lot about two things. First the networks I have myself been involved in (learning networks and other), and second, collaborative learning within groups of learners. Both these issues relates to the difference between loose groups without common interests and groups with more common ground that develop real collaboration.

When looking back, it is now quite easy to see that the successful networks (meaning that the network and myself actually accomplished something) I have been involved in consisted of people with real engagement, commitment, and a genuine common ground. We had created small communities. It also strikes me how other people might have joined and left, but the core group of people remained to a large extent. We got things done, and we learned a lot along the way. In other networks, I was the one who joined, never fully committed enough to become part of the “core” and eventually I left. I did not learn or accomplish much then.

As a learner, I have been involved in all sorts of groups and group work. With hindsight, often such groups got the job done, but it has been very rare with genuine collaboration. I can also highly relate to all the types of frustration listed by Capdeferro & Romero1. I believe most of us can. Still, this has been my view on what group work mainly is. The work done through genuine collaboration has felt like rare cases due to special circumstances and not “normal” group work. Of course, this is not an ideal mind frame for a teacher/instructor!

Building teams that can really collaborate needs investment in time and resources. I think it is important to think through carefully what is realistic to accomplish within different learning situations. During a short course with a lot of facts to learn it might not be ideal to try and create deep collaboration. However, for students in programs running over three-four years, we have the opportunity to let the students develop these skills. This will depend on the collaboration ability among the teachers/instructors on the programme. It is an interesting thought, that the better personal learning networks (PNLs) we as teachers can create for ourselves, the better we may become to allow the students to create effective collaborative learning in groups2.

For me, these reflections make it clear that it is not possible to sustain participation in too many communities, nor networks. We must choose wisely what collaborations we dedicate ourselves to. Since networking without committing is less likely to result in any meaningful learning or other results.

1Capdeferro, N. & Romero, M. (2012). Are online learners frustrated with collaborative learning experiences? The International review of research in open and distance learning, 13(2), 26-44.

2Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M. & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3).

A network is not the same as a community