Reflections on the value of MOOCs

A few weeks ago, Con Sotidis (@LearnKotch) asked me to contribute my perspective to a piece he was writing on MOOCs for a new L&D magazine (“LEO”). Aside from it being a fun thing to do – write a few words, record a short video intro – it prompted me to think a lot about my MOOC experiences, and how they’ve contributed to my professional practice.

I’ve since come across some more perspectives and online conversations on corporate MOOCs, which have further helped flesh out my initial reflections. Conversations on MOOCs definitely seem to be creeping from the domain of higher ed and into the corporate sphere. Some of the items on Corporate MOOCs that caught my interest lately were:

Whilst the IMC report includes some interesting ideas on using MOOCs as part of an organisation’s recruitment strategy, much of the current conversation on the use of MOOCs for learning and development within the corporate context centres on application of the (x)MOOC model for:

  • employee professional development
  • ‘off the shelf’ alternatives to complement existing training offerings and/or
  • incorporating as part of a broader formal learning program.

All of these are certainly promising, and potentially viable for immediate application within a corporate context. And where you have well defined learning objectives or aim to support the development of ‘foundational’ knowledge, highly structured, content driven (x)MOOCs may well be a good option. The (x)MOOC format is also very much aligned to the way formal learning / training is both used and designed in the corporate environment (i.e. specific, well defined learning objectives, structured, linear content-focused course with defined start & end points).

And if we’re talking about introducing MOOCs into (conventionally conservative) corporate environments, starting with MOOC models which don’t dramatically diverge from existing pedagogical frameworks is a sensible approach (or at least an easier pitch to the execs).

However: I am most excited about the possibility of what might happen if we took a (c)MOOC framework and adapted it for a corporate context – how & what it might look like, and what could be achieved. As Michelle mentioned in her post, the social and project aspect of the MOOC is usually the most engaging. But this is often peripheral (if present at all) in the xMOOC format. In contrast, cMOOCs have connection (with other participants, with ideas & concepts) at the core – pedagogy and structure is explicitly designed to support this: it’s primarily about connection rather than just content access and individual knowledge acquisition.

My MOOC experiences

I’ve actively participated in 3 MOOCs:

Whilst the Gamification MOOC via Coursera wasn’t bad – I found the content interesting, the assignments were designed to support real world application of concepts, I  completed all requirements as stated, and even applied some of the concepts in my work. But: I never felt deeply moved, challenged, or inspired. Nor did I connect with anyone in the course. Yes there were discussion forums, and I did visit them once or twice but found the sheer number of disparate conversations overwhelming and hard to follow.

cMOOCs as vehicle for inspiration, behaviour change & community building

In contrast, #xplrpln and #rhizo14 – both ‘c’ (‘Connectivist’) style MOOC experiences have primarily provided the opportunity to meet, engage with and be inspired by a bunch of unique individuals from a range of diverse contexts and backgrounds (higher ed, k-12 ed, academia, not for profit, corporate and more); people who are driven to continually question, challenge, disrupt, explore, change, and improve themselves, others and the status quo.

cMOOCs are usually smaller (not massive – 100s rather than 1000s) – so conversations tend to be more constructive, meaningful and stimulating rather than chaotic, disorganised and inaccessible as they are in the more massive xMOOCs. This combined with a generally low structure, connectivist approach, focused on exploring and reflecting on complex, ill structured problems, or issues with no single or clear answer (thus necessarily requiring collaboration and in depth discussion with others to make meaning of the ambiguity); and conducted out in the open web (rather than on closed, private platforms) – all helps to both attract people who thrive in these environments, and to support the rapport building that results in close PLN relationships which persist long after the ‘course’ ends (> since the MOOC is conducted on social platforms participants already use, conversations simply continue on those platforms after the course ‘ends’).

Although I’ve only participated in two cMOOCs, they may be two of the most impactful personal and professional development experiences I’ve had – not simply because they exposed me to a whole range of new perspectives – and changed my perspective, thinking & mindset on a whole load of things (which has had a flow-on effect on the way I approach what I do at work). But what has been absolutely critical has been the people I have met, conversations I’ve had, collaborations I have engaged in, and stuff I’ve made . Many of these connections have become close members of my PLN and led to number of ongoing collaborations after the event which have contributed far greater to personal and professional development than any conventional course. Many of these collaborations are focused on building networks and communities, bringing people and ideas together:

cMOOC_Collaborations

My cMOOC collaborations – click on the image for the interactive version via ThingLink with more info on connections and collaborations > http://www.thinglink.com/scene/536820231192969218

What I get out of the cMOOC experience is not necessarily practical strategies, ideas or actions that I can apply directly to my workplace (which I might get from say, an industry event, workshop, conference targeted to the field of corporate L&D that I work – or indeed, an xMOOC targeted to a domain of knowledge or skill I have a need to develop). Yet it’s something that actually has greater value than practical application: it’s the shift in mindset that results from engaging with people who are driven to continually question, experiment, explore and improve -> it’s that you start to adopt this mindset yourself too. Start to see challenges as opportunities to explore possibilities, become a little braver, make the leap from thinking about experimenting to actually doing it. No longer (as) afraid of being challenged, but open to it – inviting challenge rather than being defensive. It’s more than just being inspired. It’s inspiration + action to = change. Change in the way you think, learn and act – about life, work, learning, and yourself. It is the personal, human connections and inspiration that Clarissa speaks eloquently of in her posts on #CLMOOC and #Rhizo14.

It’s the type of engagement that most conventional courses and programs dream of achieving, and it’s the reason why I get so frustrated with the continual focus on ‘completion’ as a means to evaluate the effectiveness or value of MOOCs. It’s not about completion; it’s about engagement. And thought-provoking, behaviour-changing engagement can be triggered even through one conversation or experience – as long as it’s with the right people, at the right time, and at the right level.

cMOOCs as a framework to support workplace goals?

So: how might cMOOCs be adapted to add value in a corporate context?

I’m wondering if the MOOC framework could be set up such that it directly supports the workplace goals: by using a connectivist, problem based learning approach, where participants collectively work on a relevant, ill defined problem; where objectives aren’t always clear from the outset (or defined by participants rather than the instructor) – and where there certainly isn’t any single ‘correct’ answer to the problem >> much like in the real world. This was the approach used in the ‘Exploring PLNs’ cMooc and it was very effective. And if the experiences ARE actually open, there is the potential to support global, cross-organisational / cross-context, (as well as intra-organisational) collaboration and knowledge/experience sharing – which could be the most exciting of all > not just breaking silos within organisations but across organisations and contexts (e.g. institutional: where you might possibly have say ppl from higher ed, teachers etc collaborating with corporate). We know that innovation comes from taking ideas and applying them in novel ways or contexts – it commonly happens at the boundaries of CoPs or in open, diverse networks – thus this *could* be a way of pitching it to corporates who are generally pretty guarded about ‘sharing’ organisational knowledge. Sure we might be a little way from this and yes there may be barriers to getting there, but as Maha reminds us in her email signature:

“We must do and think the impossible. If only the possible happened, nothing more would happen. If I only did what I can do, I wouldn’t do anything.” –
Derrida

Emergent collaboration in the rhizome

This is a post which seems to have been permanently & erratically ‘in progress’ over the last couple of months. It is essentially a sequel to the previous post, and charts the wave of spontaneous, rapid, emergent collaborative creation that emerged unexpectedly from that post.  I wanted to do it justice by attempting to chart its course and along the way, attempt to make some sense of the experience.  It was one of many highlights for me in the #rhizo14 experience, which spawned a multitude of creative, intellectual, and academic collaborations, playful re-imaginings, remixes and experimentation with ideas.

Indeed, one of the best things about rhizo14 were the collaborations that seemed to sprout purely from mutually spontaneous excitement and energy. These include some really fascinating research collaborations (described by Frances Bell  here), and numerous creative collaborations – many of which I probably don’t even know about (although Maureen Crawford has linked out to many of the poetry collaborations <‘internet poempathy’>  here). What I think is most interesting is that these collaborations are emergent, spontaneous, unscripted, unplanned – not part of any premeditated curriculum, but instead evolved from participants sharing, experimenting ideas and creating something tangible from their shared ideas.

I haven’t been directly involved in the research collaborations (though have contributed as a participant) but I’m finding the emergent creative collaboration from #rhizo14 fascinating: the use of art as a form of inquiry (not simply artistic expression),  how the collaborations emerge – and how quickly they occur, how others are pulled in /invited / inspired to participate, and the continual, fluid morphing and evolution of the remix and its outputs, across multiple platforms and time.

Maureen Crawford (@jmc3alberta) in her post ‘Internet Poempathy’,  refers to this type of activity as ‘Internet Lingo’,  eloquently describing the experience:

Inevitably there are numerous layers (and leaps) that become more accessible after multiple readings. Sometimes there is no going back, only pushing or dancing forward with the traces of what you were able to connect with. ….This is a 3D, nonlinear, encompassing everchanging ecology. In its multiplicity Internet Lingo shuns duality. Right and wrong become more and more relative. There is a sense of play, of allusion, an infinite number possible connections and sequences….

What you will find is “written by far more than two people and consists of multi-media mash-ups of tweets, Storifies, blogs, and links too complex, convoluted and dynamic for any one reader to ever fully absorb. [It] is constantly evolving, thus forcing the reader to become a participant in a linguistic sense-making journey” (Crawford & Jones, 2013. unpublished). The dogtrax cross, the scent is lost, picked up and relocated, re-established across continents. . . and timezones.

This post is a postscript of sorts to the previous post, and a homage to the spontaneous remix,  creative collaboration & play that has emerged from it. Typical of the rhizome (or, perhaps – the Internet Lingo), this has unfolded across a multitude of platforms: in the comments on the previous blog post, twitter, soundcloud, YouTube, Zeega…and continues on, spreading and branching out into ever unpredictable places.

I decided to do chart the journey as a storify, since it was relatively easy to pull media from multiple platforms and most of the communication around the collaboration occurred through twitter. But then, only after I’d created it realised I couldn’t embed the storify into wordpress.com.

So here’s the link >  https://storify.com/tanyalau/the-spreading-rhizome

Agree//disagree: a poem and its inspirations.

..or hidden musings on conversation, community & making stuff up.

On Saturday morning, I was sitting with my 3 year old at a cafe having breakfast, and a few moments of silence passed between us.  As my mind wandered vaguely to some of the things I’d read the previous night, these lines came into my head:

Agree, disagree
Debate
Abate…

I looked  for a pen. I didn’t have one. So as a small child ate raisin toast, I typed the lines into Evernote on my phone and some more came tumbling out. I paused a little in between, thinking about discrete things I’d mulled over, mostly during the previous evening. This is the poem (which I later put into notegraphy – thanks Mariana), and some of the thoughts and influences behind it.

agree-disagree, a poem

Agree//Disagree
Debate.
Abate.
The norms we
Storm
Thru
Conversation

The seeds of inspiration for these lines – and much of this poem – came from Mariana’s Storify ‘The interpersonal contract in cMoocs’ , which I’d actually come across from Jeff Merrell’s post ‘Teaching Uncertainly #rhizo14’. Here, Jeff talks about an open blogging assignment/experiment he’s running – and how one of his student’s blog posts (Andee Weinfurner @andeew38) was picked up and woven into this storify ^ by Mariana. I was intrigued (and actually a bit surprised) that he and Mariana hadn’t known of each other prior to this, and touched by the depth and thoughtfulness of their exchange in the comments on Jeff’s post. It reminded me, again, what catalysts blog posts can be in developing deeper connections with people – when you take the time to listen, reflect and respond thoughtfully. I love that I found both Jeff and Mariana in precisely this way – and I guess it’s no coincidence that they found each other this way too. Perhaps this is something of the human connection that Jeff’s student blogger Andee asks about in her post.

I was intrigued enough to click on the link to Mariana’s storify and was blown away by all that it said. It’s about the way we’re relating to each other in #rhizo14 (and cMOOCs generally) and the impact that the lack of explicit norms might have in shaping the rhizo14 dialogue and experience. Mariana’s storify was what I was thinking about on that Saturday morning. In particular, this:

As I read this again some days after, I’m struck by how much of this passage I internalised – its influence unmistakably present in those first few lines that came into my head that Saturday morning. So once again, Mariana has challenged me to think and reflect about my own behaviour (‘Is this something I do?’ ‘What impact might it have on the tenor of the dialogue?’). We tend to be brought up to value debate, logic, to take a strong position on something and defend it – argue to the death. Conceding to another is often perceived as a sign of mental weakness. What impact does this have on our ability to see the grey, the nuances in complexity? How does this impact our willingness to listen – really listen – to what someone else is saying? How often are we already thinking about how we’ll respond – and cutting in – before the other person has even had a chance to speak? I guess that is what this is about:

Communication?
Or
Obsfucation
Sublimation

As I wrote this that morning, I was also thinking about Nick Kearney (@nickkearney)’s post ‘Marram Grass’, and Mariana’s comment on that, which I’d also seen the previous evening. Is conversation the community in #rhizo14? (the precise thought I’d had a couple of weeks ago). If so, where are these conversations occurring? And what do we even mean when we talk of ‘conversation’ online? It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot throughout rhizo14, and also as a result of concurrently helping coordinate a new L&D twitter chat (#OzLearn), plus the Sydney Third Place social/networking meetups – how is conversation taking place within these various spaces, what does it look like, what does it ‘feel’ like, similarities? differences? Is there ‘conversation’? Is there (emergent) ‘community’? It’s something I’ll be writing a more focused post on but this was all in my subconscious as I wrote these lines.

When trying to define something unknown online, you inevitably try to relate it to what’s familiar offline, in real life. And so it was on that Saturday morning. Thoughts of community conjured up visuals of church > nationalism > patriotism.

Congregation
Of a nation
Community
And unity – ?

Then, of course, there’s contrast:

Or distribution
And divergence
Individuals
Do
Convergence.
On their blogs

This ^ is actually a reference to divergent vs convergent thinking, raised by Maureen Crawford in a comment on my previous post, as well as in her own post ‘Networks are expanding our ignorance’. I recall distinctly this having a big impact on me as the realisation dawned that both ‘divergent browsing’ (e.g. rampant blog hopping…?!) and ‘convergent thinking’ (e.g. thoughtful reflection) are important and necessary, essential parts of the creative process.

And, as I started thinking about the process of blogging, what it feels like when you write a post (well, to me, anyway):

Moments of clarity

…simultaneously littered with uncertainty and self doubt, comparisons with others…the wondering of whether what you’re writing even makes sense, the feeling that you’re just  making it up as you go – and hoping that nobody notices (or that at least they don’t call you out too badly for it…)

Parity
Sparity
Sparcity
and farcity

(And yes, I made up those words…cos there aren’t that many words that rhyme with ‘clarity’  or ‘parity’, and once I started, it was hard to stop. Too much fun. And it kinda fits with the theme.)

Embryonic thoughts put out to sea
Posting letters
up in a tree
planting rhizomes
weeds that spread
messages in bottles
we set them free

The sea references ^ are again Maureen-Crawford-inspired, with a little bit of Ryan Tracey serendipity added into the mix. Here’s the story: a few days ago, Maureen tweeted me this:

@jmca3ualberta_machado

Initially I was just going to respond a simple (normal) reply of thanks…but decided that would be boring and responded by poem instead (harder in 140 chars than you might imagine! But it was Friday, I was feeling playful):

@jmca3ualberta_machado_reply

Just after I sent that I went and had a look at a link which Ryan Tracey (@ryantracey) had posted on my previous post…and was amazed to find it led to this:

Wow. How’s that for serendipty?! (We both agreed it was a little creepy….but as it turned out there were more serendipitous moments to be had….).

The bit about trees and rhizomes was, I’m sure, my mind casting itself back to this bit of Mariana’s Storify:

***

Postscript:

And then, later that night, well after I’d written it, I also took at look at another of Mariana’s storifies ‘Help stamp out nouns’, the ending of which communicates exactly the feeling  I was trying to convey with those made up words in the poem.

None of us really know what we’re on about: we’re just all fumbling around in the dark together. And maybe that’s (at least in part) what ‘community as curriculum’ really means. Making sense of what we’re making up. Together.

Reflections on digital landfills and echoing content

I comment a fair bit on other people’s blogs, discussion forums etc. Somehow I find it much easier to comment on someone else’s blog  – I think it’s about being part of a conversation, the focus on joint contribution, rather than solely just my words. I’ve never particularly enjoyed being the centre of attention.

I’ve contemplated posting comments as blog posts. But I kind of like the idea of keeping my comments, in their place of origin, embedded in its original context. I feel something of their history might be lost by  uprooting them – by dismembering them from the dialogue. So I’ve resisted. Until now.

I’m posting my comment in response to this post ‘Digital landfills and creativity’ by Mariana Funes (aka DS106 shrink) to remember its message. It’s about the possible consequences of our ever-increasing – and often mindless – consumption, sharing and creation of digital content. It really, truly made me question my own assumptions about the value of sharing and content creation, to critically assess the depth of my engagement, and reflect on my experiences of open online learning –  in particular rhizo14, where I’ve often felt distracted by the abundance, almost too distracted to engage. Mariana’s post was inspired by ‘Echoes of content’ by Alastair Creelman – an equally excellent post on this theme of thoughtless sharing and creation. Would definitely encourage the reading – and consideration – of both posts. As I thought about Mariana’s post the following morning,  lines of poem came to me, which I scrawled (in pink texta – 1st thing within reach) on scraps of paper . I typed out the poem with this comment (written after the poem >and I think writing the poem actually enabled me to articulate some semi-coherent thoughts). I’ve repackaged the poem against the backdrop of my scrawled notes – a remix, of sorts.

wow, what an incredibly thought provoking post. I started writing a response last night, but then abandoned it as I wasn’t quite sure what to say or whether it would be coherent.

This is a hard one. Because I recognise the personal value in regular practice of creativity, writing, reflection, narration, blogging – even ‘half baked’ thoughts for others to play with and explore, remix and remake.

However, your post has highlighted the flipside of creating a culture that values creation and sharing above all else, that equates posting evidence of thinking *with* the existence of thought itself. No longer is it enough to reflect privately, we must share and declare our reflections. The culture it creates is one of constant distraction, constant pressure to post and to advertise your postings, to demonstrate your engagement. There is an underlying sense of competition about it, of jostling to get the most comments and most likes. It creates a constant pressure to create, but also to consume and to comment, we’re flying through posts leaving our breadcrumbs of thought. But how deeply are we reflecting and thinking? How meaningful is our engagement?

I’ve been struggling with this a bit in rhizo14 – the abundance, the pressure to create and consume. I’ve got about 20 tabs open, 4 half finished blog posts, and pages and scraps of notes and half finished thoughts. All of which I haven’t shared (yet). Though I feel the pressure to. And I will (eventually).

Yet I don’t know that the answer is to actually or completely stop what we’re doing. I’ve definitely got value out of others’ ‘half baked’ thoughts – and as Alan points out, even when there is no direct comment, or explicit evidence that someone has visited or read or thought about what you’ve posted, chances are someone has – or will.

So in the end, I have rambled and rumbled through this reply…not proposing any real ‘answer’ or solution. But I guess that’s part of the point – it’s a complex question without a definitive answer. Embracing uncertainty.

I’ve found myself spontaneously thinking in poem a lot through this rhizo14 experience. When I’ve written down the poetic threads of thought I’ve realised why: often the poem is a much more succinct expression of my thoughts. Thoughts that are too complex to make into a coherent post or response.

I was thinking about this post you wrote when I got up this morning, and amongst the threads of thought were some lines of poem that came into my head. I sat down and wrote them out. Here is what came out:

Rabbitholes1Rabbitholes2

Excellent conversations have emerged across both blogs – and in the context of this week’s topic about books making us stupid,  I say maybe: because no book enables to anyone to engage directly in conversation with the author immediately after publishing. The only downside? A digital landfill.

Why rhizo14

So, we’re now in week 2 of Dave Cormier’s Rhizomatic Learning ‘course’ (I use that term in the loosest possible way) and I’m only just now sitting down to write some posts about it. I’ve been exploring the various spaces (P2PU, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, participants’ blogs …), reading, commenting. I initially contemplated limiting my participation to just that. But, I feel I’ve got to (steal?) some  time now to block out the chatter, reflect, consolidate and try to make sense of the chaos. It’s a challenge because the conversations are so compelling, and the exploration so much fun it can be difficult to tear yourself away.

So: why rhizo14?

It all started when I saw this post from Vanessa Vaile in the G+ Learning and Change community. I’d previously seen Vahid Masrour post about it too, and I just had to take a look…

. G+_rhizopost_VV

As soon as I read Dave Cormier’s ‘Unguided tour of Rhizo14’ (a ‘course intro’ of sorts…), I was hooked.

What got me hooked

  • I love that Dave acknowledges right up that it’s going to be chaotic and that you may find yourself lost (& possibly thinking things like: “this is the biggest time waster ever”, “that Dave guy has no idea what he’s talking about…”). My experience with xplrpln taught me that messy learning can lead to big breakthroughs in thinking – and that the process entails periods of feeling very perplexed and lost. So the promise of chaos actually appealed immediately.
  • I love that he presents this as an experiment and says “I mostly don’t know what I’m doing”. Clearly tongue in cheek but what he’s really saying is that his MO is to try new things. I love this attitude. And this notion of the course ‘convener’/ ‘instructor’/ ‘teacher’ (again, all terms used in the loosest of ways) not having all (or even any) of the answers and learning along with everyone else again reflected Jeff Merrell and Kimberley Scott’s approach to their role in xplrpln (as “scholar-practitioners”). I love this type of learning. It democratises the experience and  –  I think, is probably an essential position to take when delving into complex topics. Because in complexity, there actually ARE no ‘correct’ answers. (So let’s not pretend there are). And much of what you gain from  learning this way is how to navigate uncertainty, the courage to share ‘half baked ideas’ (trademark Jeff Merrell) for others to explore, comment and build on, and the ability to analyse, think critically about, build, adapt and remix the half baked ideas that others put out.
  • I was  intrigued by the multi-platform setup (P2PUFacebook TwitterGoogle+, participants’ blogs, and anywhere else you want). Multiple access points and multiple ways to engage provides options for participants, lowers the barriers for engaging (participants don’t have to ‘learn’ or get used to a new and unfamiliar platform), and provides an opportunity for people to dip in and out of different groups. It’s also a potential source of complexity and I’m intrigued by how this will impact the learning experience. I’ve also never used Facebook seriously as a learning tool (very much exclusively social – and not much at that; I’m not often on it, and really, if I am it’s invariably to comment or ‘like’ a post about friends’ babies or children….) , so interested to see if and how my perspective changes on it.
  • I love that he depicts it not as a ‘course’ –  more like a party or going on camp. Pitching it this way immediately changes the ‘feel’ of this experience, from something potentially esoteric or onerous, to something totally social, fun, and doable: “You might just like to chat with people.” (Yeah, I can do that! And I like doing that!). “You might try to make one really good friend.” (xplrpln showed me it is entirely possible to make more than one good friend through interaction in an online course. An opportunity to do that again is hard to resist). “You might have gone to camp to challenge yourself or to just kinda hang out a little.” (I’d like to aim for the former, but I’ll still get something out of it if I only manage the latter. And the decision of what and how much is left entirely up to me. I like that.). “Don’t know where to start. Write something somewhere and tell us why you joined.” (Ok. Here you go. Bit late, but clearly that’s irrelevant in a course with no explicit objectives – other than those you impose on yourself).
  • I loved the sense of excitement I felt at reading his intro – the sense that this was something that would explore the edges of what’s possible in open online learning. And who could resist being part of something like that?

So – despite the fact that I’m feeling somewhat over committed already (what with a Masters to finish, helping get the new #ozlearn Twitter chat up and running, organising a Sydney Third Place meetup, working full time, with a 3 year old and family I don’t really want to neglect….), I’m here.

What are my objectives?

So seeing as the one of the key things of rhizo learning is about finding your own path (there are no ‘course’ objectives…), here are some of mine. I’m sure more will emerge as time goes on….

  • explore and engage with people on the full range of platforms – including ones I’m not used to. Observe what differences or  similarities there might be:  in people, types of conversations, tone, and  interaction across different platforms….
  • discover and develop meaningful relationships with new people with interests that intersect mine
  • reflect on the ‘course’ design – and implications & experience of rhizomatic learning. Consider what and how various components  of the design and this type of learning might be applied or adapted to support better learning in a corporate workplace environment

Next up: my week 1 post – in poem form.

Reflections on xplrpln

Well, it’s been over two weeks since xplrpln (Exploring Personal Learning Networks open online seminar) finished, and I finally feel ‘ready’ to sit down and write some final reflections.  I’ve been considering how to approach this for a while. There’s much I could say about it – hard to know where and how to start. I’ve also been enjoying getting into other people’s artifacts, and continuing some of the conversations.

But here are some of the Big Things I learnt from xplrpln.

About PLNs and organisations

Although I ended up doing a ‘cautiously optimistic’ pitch to the CEO in my final artifact, I still wasn’t entirely comfortable about the idea. The problem I had/have wasn’t with the idea of PLNs in organisations, or individuals utilising their PLNs to meet their workplace learning needs. This is something that is already happening now. Per tweet I posted in the final xplrpln twitter chat:

PLN_Org_wk5tweet

And I think this sums up my (current) position: I’m comfortable with PLNs in organisations – but on individuals’ own terms. The discomfort I had was with the idea of pitching PLNs in orgs to the CEO. Because the likelihood is that the CEO or other leaders / managers in the organisation will want individuals to ‘use’ their PLNs exclusively to meet the organisation’s needs and goals. This is in conflict with the fundamental tenet of PLNs: that they are Personal, developed and maintained by the individual. So it’s the individual who gets to decide how they use their network, and who they include in it. Not the organisation.

Sure, you can try to put measures in place for mitigating this risk (and I made some recommendations in my artifact around this) but ultimately, the problem is the existing structures within organisations  (incl leader / management attitudes, power issues, performance management processes, hierarchies, closed networks….) simply aren’t set up to support wide scale, networked learning and working in this way. Kristen Corpolongo’s tweet in one of the final twitter chats really brought this home for me:

@KirstenCorpo_PLN_reflectionstweet

It goes back to what Maureen Crawford said early on about society’s move towards networks as a paradigm shift:

MaureenCrawford_PLNs_paradigmshift

And unless an organisation has made that shift, it’s doubtful whether a pitch for PLNs to a CEO will actually ‘work’.

That said, I still believe that individuals can and should continue to develop and draw on their own PLNs to support their workplace learning needs – and encourage others to develop their own. And perhaps, once the groundswell of bottom-up action on PLNs reaches critical mass, leaders within organisations will start actually taking some notice and realise that this is something they need to do themselves too – and support – within their organisation. Because until leaders know the true value of PLNs (and they can only realise this by developing, maintaining and using their own), pitching to them on the benefits of PLNs is likely to lead to ‘exploitation’ of an individual’s PLN – as described by Helen Blunden in her final reflections:

HelenBlunden_PLNreflections

I’ve really appreciated Helen’s sharing of her personal experiences throughout xplrpln (e.g. in her blog post above, plus G+ discussions). It provided unique (and timely) insight into the very real tensions between the individual and the organisation regarding PLNs. It’s been big in helping me  see how much work there still is to do before we get to the paradigm shift that Maureen refers to.

About cMOOCs, connection & conversation

Open attitude + mutual engagement
I’m starting to think that an open attitude to learning / sharing, and mutual cognitive engagement is what drives learning in connectivist online learning environments. It was without doubt, the in-depth conversations that made this so interesting. But this couldn’t have happened without participants being equally interested, passionate and engaged enough in the topic to participate.

Meaningful and authentic conversation
I’m amazed at the depth of conversation we were able to achieve in this space, and all without ever meeting face to face. I think contributing factors included: open attitude +  mutual engagement, the presence of complexity and ambiguity (providing much scope for exploration) and a certain level of comfort with online tools and social sharing.

Diversity of learners
A diverse pool of participants led me to learning things I otherwise would never have known about. I loved how the xplrpln community included those from corporate, higher ed, not-for-profits, freelancers and more. Through Kay Assant’s brilliant ‘PLN House of Horrors’, I learnt that university management have the same control issues as corporates, and Karen Jeanette and Stephen Judd schooled me on Cooperative Extension organisations.

Twitter and G+ as conversation spaces
I’ve been introduced to new experiences with Twitter: as a space for thought provoking, even perspective-changing conversation (which I wrote about previously), and using Hootsuite (thanks to Keeley Sorotki’s excellent post) to follow streams and check in on what’s happening in other MOOCs, chats, conferences etc has improved my Twitter experience a lot. I’ve also discovered G+ as a place where interesting and in depth conversation seems to happen. As a largely open space (but with the option for privacy), it seems to offer a good balance to support online communities. It’ll be interesting to see what our G+ xplrpln community evolves into.

cMoocs & open online learning experiences
Finally, I’ve been thinking a fair bit about cMoocs and what makes them work – and particularly, how much of the experience can be ‘designed’. I do think there needs to be the right balance of structure vs freedom, and I think Jeff and Kimberley achieved this balance. Parts of the ‘design’ that I think were critical to its success (at least for me) included:
  • Overarching structure: this helped to maintain focus, and provided a framework for moving forward (if left to our own devices we might still be in the throes of week 2, debating the differences between PLN, PLE, CoP, NoP, OLN, PKM, and the multitude of other complementary concepts out there!).
  • Artifact assignment: although I thought at one point I might not even submit one, the process of thinking through how I’d communicate my current position and thinking WAS helpful.
  • Encouraging ‘half baked ideas’: pitching the course as an ‘exploration into ambiguity’ was a brilliant strategy. It acknowledged up front that nobody knew any of the answers, that coming up with ‘answers’ was going to be complex and challenging – and that there might be more questions than answers by the end. And that this was ok. Moreover, this exploration was something we would be doing together. And that actually, this was kind of the point of the seminar. This was a master stroke because what it did was open up the conversation from the outset, by making it ok (in fact, desirable!) to put forward ‘half baked ideas’, and to ask lots of questions of each other without feeling stupid.  In the same vein, Jeff’s positioning of the artifact as a representation of thinking….for now – was what encouraged me to actually create one. Thinking about it as something that could evolve took the pressure off: it didn’t have to be perfect, just an articulation of my current thinking.
  • Intentional recruitment of awesome people: I’m aware that (at least) Jeff was quite intentional in scouting out people for this seminar, and I think this had a significant impact on the quality and depth of conversation. There was an energy and level of engagement that you only get when you bring together group of people who are equally interested, enthusiastic, and open to exploring and sharing ideas on a common topic of interest. And whilst this isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this level of engagement and depth of conversation in an online space (it has been reminiscent of collaborative learning experiences from my Masters in Learning Science & Technology), I think the big difference with an open online experience like this, is that these people become part of your PLN. And this opens up potential opportunities to continue developing relationships beyond the learning experience.  This has already started to happen (thanks to a somewhat timely opportunity to meet Helen Blunden at the Learning@Work conference last week!), and there are others who I’ll definitely be following, and finding opportunities to continue conversations with.

Inspired by Kimberly Scott’s opening blog post I was actually going to construct a haiku out of a brilliant tweet from Helen Crump defining PLNs to close this post…however I can’t seem to find the tweet now and it’s Very Late – so might have to wait until next post (tomorrow!).

Emergent thinking through conversation: week 2 #xplrpln

What has stood out for me so far in #xplrpln has been the power of participation and conversation.

Coming into this event, I’d already discovered the potential of blogs as a means of connecting with people and exploring ideas – in fact I originally came across Jeff Merrell (one of the event coordinators) through commenting on one of his blog posts. That comment led to our discovering we were interested many similar topics, which eventually led to Jeff tweeting me about this event.

As  result, I’ve been quite intentional about commenting on other people’s blogs, and participating in Google+ and twitter conversations, with the mindset of putting forward, and exploring ‘half baked ideas’ (as inspired by Jeff).

Some of the conversations that have led to new and emergent thinking for me in weeks 1-2 included:

The nature of PLN connections – transience and the impact of f2f connections: Matt Guyan’s O week blog post

Matt's O Week post

Matt’s post and comments on it raised questions around the transience of some PLN connections and how existing personal and face to face relationships might impact interactions your PLN. Emerging threads and questions I found interesting included:

  • What are the factors that influence how PLN relationships develop or evolve? (weak > strong ties and vice versa)
  • Are connections that originate through face to face relationships (or that later involve face to face meetings) qualitatively different to those that originate (and only ever exist) online?

Ownership of PLNs: Maureen Crawford

Maureen Crawford - Ownership of PLNs

The question of ownership of PLNs was another major thread that emerged from Matt’s post, leading to Maureen Crawford (@jmc3ualberta) to question the notion of ownership in networks. The subsequent thoughts on Maureen’s blog changed the way I viewed PLNs – and I’m inclined to agree with Maureen that whilst an individual creates, develops and maintains their PLN, the concept of ‘ownership’ is actually (semantically) irrelevant when we’re talking about a series of relationships.

(….although I’d add that this doesn’t necessarily stop organisations perceiving ownership, or individuals feeling a sense of ownership of PLNs they develop and maintain > and this is where the tensions between individuals and the organisation may emerge in the irritatingly illogical Real World in which we live).

The tension between individual and the organisation (+ the impact of personal connection): Helen Blunden G+ conversation

Helen Blunden G+ convo

I had a really interesting and personally engaging conversation with Helen Blunden in the #xplrpln G+ community off the back of her week 1 #xplrpln post. It started with a comment from Helen on the importance of PLNs a seamless part of an employee’s workflow. This is a thread I picked up on as I also recognise it as critical (but also one of the biggest challenges). In the conversation that ensued, we covered broad ranging themes including organisational openess, trust & transparency, organisational restructure, management support and barriers, the impact of organisational culture and systems on org change, and fear. But – perhaps the best part – in the process, Helen also related some of her personal experiences of open sharing, and the tensions it created between herself and her organisation. Parts of her story did have an emotional impact on me, and perhaps this element of personal connection may have spurred the conversation further than it otherwise might have.

So, (again) from this, I’m considering questions like:

  • How does personal connection impact reciprocity in PLNs?
  • Is personal connection a critical factor for strengthening ties within PLNs?

Reciprocity in PLNs & what motivates people to reciprocate: Ess Garland @essigna twitter convo

EssGarland_twitter

This is perhaps my favourite #xplrpln conversation so far – not just because it was one of the most thought provoking conversations I’ve had on twitter, but because it was spontaneous, incidental, serendipitous. It was a Friday evening, and I was going through the #xplrpln twitter chat that had occurred earlier, picking out threads and thoughts that I found interesting, and responding to them. I wasn’t expecting a response – but to my suprise, got one. From @essigna – who hadn’t even been part of the original conversation I’d responded to.

But she picked up on a theme that had been buzzing in the #xplrpln community all week, and one which I was also wrestling to come to a position on: whether reciprocity was a necessary and defining feature of PLNs (e.g. could former authors / influencers be considered part of your PLN? > as suggested by this excellently articulated post by Bruno Winck).

And so Ess and I actually had a thought provoking conversation. Spontaneously. Serendipitously. On twitter. This is pretty significant for me, because although I think twitter is an amazing tool for discovering content and people, I’d never really had more than what I’d describe as simple exchanges.  I don’t really count tweet chats, as these feel more like broadcasting thoughts and reactions. A conversation, for me, is a one-one focused interaction.

I also love that this was pure serendipity; we were simply both in the same (virtual) place at the same time, and the same headspace. Seriously, what are the chances? It certainly doesn’t happen often (as far as I can tell).

And, what’s more, she raised some really interesting points and questions, that are still influencing my thinking, and promoting the emergence of related questions:

  • What motivates people to reciprocate in a PLN?
  • What is the impact of online experiences like MOOCs in developing PLN relationships?
  • Do events like MOOCs act as catalysing events for developing stronger, long term PLN ties?

Disclaimer:

There are actually many other conversations and interactions that I’ve participated, and blog posts I’ve read in over the first two weeks which have influenced my thinking and had an impact on me.  But in the interests of brevity, these are probably the four that have had the biggest.

Now week three is just about over…it’s actually been a little quieter compared with the first 2 weeks, but certainly no shortage of interesting thoughts emerging. Might save for the next post though…Really gotta get to bed!

Emergent thinking in #xplrpln

One of the most interesting things about participating in #xplrpln is observing how our current thinking evolves and new thinking emerges as a result of engaging with others’ ideas – either through reading and/or commenting on blogs, participating in a discussion forum, chat session, or reading and responding to tweets.

It’s fascinating, this process of wading through the threads of thought, picking and teasing out the threads that you identify with, playing with them,  to work out how they fit in with your own, and – as has happened more often than not over the past 3 weeks – integrating new thought-threads to evolve and tweak your own thinking.

I’m as interested in the process of how learning occurs through participatory open online education experiences like #xplrpln, as I am in the content being covered. One of the things I’d like to do is to observe and describe the interactions and experiences that have the most impact on my learning and thinking as we progress, to try to better understand the open online learning process (more to come on that….)

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Post script: Inspiration

This rather short post was inspired by Maureen Crawford’s awesomely poetic suggestion (challenge?) to wite more regularly in order to get out of being too precious about your writing.  Her own thoughts-in-progress style reminded me of the reason I started this blog in the first place: to explore, experiment and reflect on ideas. Narrating thoughts in short regular bursts seem like a perfect way to do this.

So there’s my “try something new” for this week. Thanks Maureen!