From the 4th to 17th of November we were working through Topic 3 focusing on networked collaborative learning. These were not easy weeks for me because during the first week dedicated to this topic I was away at a conference and during the second week I was trying to catch up at my regular work and here with the course work too. Given that the subject of collaboration interests me a lot it is somewhat disappointing that the timing of my travels impeded more active engagement in the PBL group meetings and also resulted in me catching up on reading the course materials and the blogs for those two weeks to this very moment . Taking another perspective however I certainly did a lot of networking during the conference with some possible collaborations emerging through which I will surely learn a lot. In addition, prompted by the course I could think of these activities of networking and collaboration in new ways.

Prior to my participation in this course I cannot recall having much collaborative learning experience within the education system (be it school, high school, or university both at undergraduate and graduate level). I went to school in the 90s and high-school in early 00s and the focus was mainly on strong academic performance of each individual rather than on how we could collaboratively learn together. This was similar in my undergraduate program too. Graduate-level education (both MSc and PhD) also ended up having more of solo work rather than team work.

In my professional career there have been instances in which project work turned into a truly collaborative learning experience. Such projects typically were those run by a group of motivated and conscientious individuals who communicated effectively with one another. There were many other features also but these two—conscientious team members and effective communication among them—are those that come first to my mind. As I am reading up on the subject it seems my observations are in line with what has been experienced by others [1, 2].

Thinking of a personal learning network (PLN) I realize that I apparently have had one for a long time without ever knowing that this could be called a personal learning network. Back in 2008 I was introduced to the concept of self-directed learning as I was helping to evaluate a university course that relied heavily on it [3]. Reading a lot on the subject was a necessary prerequisite for me to be able to complete my work (practically this was a self-directed learning on the subject of self-directed learning) and the idea stuck with me and influenced the way I have learned ever since, with a personal learning network organically establishing itself as a key approach to learning.

A personal learning network, according to the Wikipedia link shared on the ONL course webpage, is an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment. My personal learning network is certainly global (as I have lived and worked in a number of countries across three continents), it is fluid with individuals comprising this network continuously entering and leaving, and it also includes individuals who may not even know that they are part of my personal learning network but they are those who put themselves forward so that learners like me can learn from them. I am certain that my personal learning network will continue to evolve. Perhaps it will not be growing in size but rather it will be constantly changing the nature of it.

[1] Brindley J, Blaschke L, Walti C. Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment. Int Rev Res Open Distributed Learn; 10. Epub ahead of print 2009. DOI: 10.19173/irrodl.v10i3.675 .

[2] Capdeferro N, Romero M. Are online learners frustrated with collaborative learning experiences? Int Rev Res Open Distributed Learn 2012; 13: 26–44. 

[3] Garrison D. Self-Directed Learning: Toward a Comprehensive Model. Adult Educ Quart 1997; 48: 18–33. 

Topic 3—Learning in Communities: Networked Collaborative Learning