Marcel Breuer, Marta Erps-Breuer, Katt Both and Ruth Hollos-Consemüller in 1927.

Our third topic was centered around communal learning and networking. We spent a good amount of time trying to define what does “networked collaborative learning” mean. I don’t think we reached a satisfactory conclusion. I came to feel that there is maybe a problem with the term itself. In the end, most of the things we do or are engaged with are “networked” in one way or another. That’s part of the human condition generally speaking. Learning especially is most of the time networked and based on being part of some community. Perhaps there are some professional and/or academic subjects where learning happens primarily alone, without the support of any network, but those are probably isolated and rare instances. I can think of doing something such as playing piano or developing a new thory in physics at the absolute top level where one might find him or herself rather alone with the subject and without immediate support of his or her peers because most colleagues would not be able to participate at the same level. Neverheless, even at those occasions these lone individuals are probably at least partly or completely supported by their communities. So, in the end, learning is communal in so many ways and solitary in so few and rare occasions that I’ve come to suspect the title suggest something obvious: that we are all dependent on each other. This is both self-evident and rather profound.

While reading the resources for this bi-weekly topic (Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment), I came across this summary:

“The strategies employed to communicate the value of collaborative learning and to increase motivation to participate in the study groups”

Learner Support in Distance Education and Training (OMDE 608)
University of Maryland University College, USA.

  1. Transparency of expectations

    Details of the requirements to participate in a study group are posted in the course syllabus. The purpose (learning objectives) of collaboration and expectations of the learners are made very clear in the main conference. If students communicate reluctance about study group participation, instructors encourage participation and are open about discussing the purpose and process.

  2. Clear instructions

    The group task, timelines, and usability of the desired product are described in detail, giving students the best opportunity to focus on collaborating to share ideas and the workload rather than leaving them to spend a great deal of time trying to clarify the task and develop a common understanding of it.

  3. Appropriateness of task for group work

    Each study group works as a team of consultants to carry out an environmental scan and needs analysis of a particular educational or training provider (develop a case study) in preparation for a second task (done individually). This type of task is easier and a much more rich experience when performed by a group as opposed to an individual.

  4. Meaning-making/relevance

    The group assignment is an opportunity to apply principles and knowledge gained in the course to the analysis of a real life situation, often from a student’s work context. Further, in the last week of the course, the group projects are exchanged and peer reviewed (by the groups), making full use of the learning potential of the project.

  5. Motivation for participation embedded in course design

    Individual success is dependent upon group success. The group product (comprehensive case study) is needed by individual learners in order to complete their final assignment, that is, to design a learner support system for their group’s case study.

  6. Readiness of learners for group work

    The group project takes place during the final third of the course after students demonstrate that they have sufficient mastery of the subject matter to reflect on how to apply their knowledge in particular contexts, including their own work settings (as demonstrated in the conference discussions), and they have had the opportunity to develop a sense of community and hone their collaborative learning skills.

  7. Timing of group formation

    Although the group project is not undertaken until the third section of the course, the study groups are formed during the second unit. This allows time for a sense of collaboration and interdependence to develop among the members before the task is assigned. During the period before the task, group members discuss their shared interests and possible scenarios for the case study.

  8. Respect for the autonomy of learners

    Study group participation is mandatory but learners have the freedom to form their own groups based on shared interests. Instructors provide guidelines for group formation and open a space in the virtual classroom for this purpose.  The choice of educational or training context for the case study is the decision of each group, and groups often have lively discussions and do significant research before consensus is reached, resulting in high ownership of the project.

  9. Monitoring and feedback

    The study group conferences and chats are monitored closely by instructors who provide respectful and timely feedback on process and direction when necessary to prevent groups from getting stalled or going off course. Instructors also provide feedback on draft versions of the case studies, and they provide time for revisions before presentation of the final project.

  10. Sufficient time for the task

    Most of the third and last unit of the course (approximately four weeks) is devoted to the study group project to provide sufficient time for the process and to accommodate varying work schedules and time zone differences of these adult learners.

Learning in communities