Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The past two weeks
have certainly been useful for learning more about learning in communities and
networked collaborative learning!

In the two videos PLNs Theory and Practice Part 1 & PLNs Theory and Practice Part 2, Kay Oddone (2019)  states that the learner is at the center of their own Personal/ Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) but part of a much bigger scenario, in which sharing is important. She says that learners become amplifiers, add value to the existing knowledge and reissue it back to the networked to be used again by someone else. This is based on social learning but driven by the autonomous individual. I find it a bit confusing though how in PLNs Theory and Practice Part 2 she differentiates between online learning community and online networked learning. See the screenshot below. According to this definition, I suppose ONL192 is an online learning community with shared goals (task completion in PBL groups) and not an online learning network. Yet, digital fora and online communities are clearly part of Personal/ Professional Networks as already discussed in my previous blog Becoming more open? (Hakala, 2019). I still find that the actual knowledge creation still happens in the same way in both and that there is (the potential for) overwhelming amounts of information in both.

In the past, I have certainly had many occasions with real collaborative
learning, the best of which probably in women’s national emergency preparedness
training. Probably due to the nature of these trainings (safety skills needed
in everyday life and emergency situations as well as tasks related to national defense),
the level of true collaboration (and interdependence) tend to be on another
level compared to the kind of networked collaborative learning we are learning
about in this course.

However, because I find it easier to learn from occasions, which did not go by the book, I will take the liberty of flipping this topic around and analyze an occasion with some challenges in online collaborative learning, which has pushed my thinking forward. Through this, I hope to make more sense of the situation both as a learner and a facilitator. What I write here is in no way against anyone’s doing in this situation, so take no offence! It is only to reflect on what I learned from the given literature on Topic 3 vs. what I experienced. In fact, I want to thank you for this opportunity to reflect on different aspects involved in collaborative learning and how it could be improved, or to use another analogy, to see more of this happening:

“From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (The Bible. Ephesians 4:16)

At the beginning of Topic 3, we discussed again in our PBL group how we
understood the scenario. The way I analyzed it was that perhaps up until now we
had been more or less in the group-work mode from school, in which we had
divided the tasks between us and glued them onto the same board when it came to
presenting our group project. Even though I had very much enjoyed the
individual investigation part and the chance to focus on what interested me
personally, perhaps this time we could collaborate a bit more and synthesize
information for the final product.

One of the things we learned during this topic was that we are supposed to avoid social loafing (Wikipedia, 2019) when participating in or facilitating online collaborative learning. We also learned about connectivism (Siemens, 2005), according to which, learning relies on the connected learning that occurs through interaction with various sources of knowledge (including the Internet and learning management systems) and participation in communities of common interest, social networks, and group tasks. According to this theory, in the online learning environment, seeking and constructing knowledge is most often accomplished through interaction and dialogue.

In addition, we discussed the various benefits of collaborative learning, such as development of critical
thinking skills, co-creation of knowledge and meaning, reflection and
transformative learning (Brindley,
Blaschke and Walti, 2009). Based on the findings by
the previously mentioned authors, instructors should incorporate the following pedagogical
strategies to improve the quality of group collaboration and increase the
likelihood of student participation:

1) Facilitate learner readiness for group work and provide scaffolding to build skills

2) Establish a healthy balance between structure (clarity of task & transparency of expectations) and learner autonomy (flexibility of task)

3) Nurture the establishment of learner relationships and sense of community

4) Monitor group activities actively and closely & provide continuous feedback

5) Choose tasks that are best performed by a group

6) Make the group task relevant for the learner

7) Provide sufficient time for the task

Since ONL is very much an online learning environment, in which we are encouraged to use and learn new online tools to prepare and present out PBL group work, how should the facilitators have been following the above-mentioned guidelines, e.g., in our Topic 3 collaboration?

When it comes to our PBL collaboration, this time we chose to use moovly for our Topic 3 presentation. If I understood it right, only one person had some experience with Powtoon, a somewhat similar tool, from the past. In our Zoom meeting, we all had accounts to moovly, but the video production that was started in the meeting was not shared with the others since we did not know how to do it, so only one person had the editing rights first. Analyzing this from retrospect now, this should be avoided next time and we should have made sure first that everyone can access and edit the work. What happened now was that one member went ahead and used hours to create a movie to share with the rest of us, with two other members creating versions of their own, and with the rest of us only being able to view it but unable to edit. This meant that one person spent much more time on this task than others, am sure with the good intention of saving other participants’ time and effort, but in effect also impeding the development of shared understanding and effort and causing feelings of frustration to some. Since we only had a limited amount of time available again for this topic and the presentation needed to be finished, it was suggested that we would not bother with the technical issues of being able to share the video for editing with everyone but that the rest of us would help the one who had created the video to finish it. In other words, only a few people learned how to use this tool.

Did we, in a way, unwittingly (because of the technical problems) re-enact
the scenario given to us?              

Most people I’ve come across have a rather weak idea of what it really means to learn collaboratively. Mostly, we fall back into the group-work mode from school – we divide tasks between us and glue them onto the same board when it comes to accounting of a group project. When digital tools is inserted into this equation, things tend to get even worse: if one person in the group happens to be familiar with the tool, then work lands in her/his lap. I would like to add an extra dimension to the course I’m leading by introducing collaborative elements, but how can I get people to really recognize the value of becoming part of a learning community and collaborate with their peers in a way that makes use of all the different competencies that group members bring into the work?”

I cannot help but ask what should the role of the facilitators have been in this situation? In light of the above mentioned guidelines suggested by Brindley, Blaschke, and Walti (2009), facilitators should, e.g.,  1) Facilitate learner readiness for group work and provide scaffolding to build skills (“Learners often need help with acquiring information literacy skills, e.g. how to retrieve, evaluate, apply, and source information effectively and with using the technology effectively.”) and 4) Monitor group activities actively and closely & provide continuous feedback (“During the collaborative process, the instructor needs to be available for feedback, general information…”)

Since this ONL course is fast paced and online situations like these happen quickly, it would seem to be even more important that the facilitators be alert to help with technical problems equally quickly or give feedback that perhaps another more accessible tool be used instead to avoid the frustration now caused by the rapid development of this situation (i.e. one person working and others watching). This is suggested also by Capdeferro and Romero (2012), who found that

“Instructor inaction was a frustrating factor that was reported as undermining the collaborative process, especially when an instructor is made aware of a problem but does not take any corrective actions. Participants expected the instructors to be actively engaged with learners, providing them with clear guidance, expectations, and requirements.”

Capdeferro and Romero (2012) in their article Are online learners frustrated with collaborative learning experiences? identified the most important sources to which students attribute their frustration in online learning. The most important source of frustration was found to be the perception of an asymmetric collaboration among the teammates. In other words, most participants in this study reported that their main source of frustration is if they sense an imbalance not just in the level of commitment but also responsibility and effort (one or more students taking more responsibility for completing the work than others). When this happens, frustration, lack of motivation and, even worse, social loafing among other group members ensue even if the intention was all good to begin with. In addition, difficulties related to group organization, the lack of shared goals among the team members, the imbalance in the level of commitment and quality of the individual contributions, the excess time spent on the online tasks, as well as difficulties in communication featured among other factors leading to frustration in this study.

I must say that it was highly beneficial to have a first-hand experience of some of these types of frustrations with the moovly production, so thank you! Now I understand a bit more about the intricacies of collaboration as well as my own shortcomings in collaborative skills when feeling frustrated by some of the reasons described above.

To prevent any of these types of frustrations from reoccurring, how do you think we could improve our collaborative learning in the future? Could we, e.g, aim at a more even sharing of workload in our group work?

To conclude, I find myself all the more eager
to learn to collaborate according to the model so beautifully expressed in the
Bible, 1 Corinthians 12:14-26:

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts,[b] yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.


Brindley, 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) (online) Available at: (Accessed 18 November 2019).

Capdeferro, 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.(online) Available at: (Accessed on 18 November 2019).

Hakala, HL.(2019). Becoming more open? Hanski’sONL192Blog. (online) Available at: (Accessed 18 November 2019).

Oddone, K. (2019). PLNs Theory and Practice by Kay Oddone, part 1., (online) Available at:, (Accessed 17 November 2019)

Oddone, K.
(2019). PLNs Theory
and Practice by Kay Oddone, part 2.
, (online) Available at:
(Accessed 17 November 2019).

G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International
Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning
, 2(1),
3-10.)., (online)
Available at:
(Accessed 17 November 2019).

The Bible:
English Standard Version. (online) Available at:
(Accessed 18 November).

Wikipedia, 2019. (online)
Available at: (Accessed 18

Connected and learning to collaborate