The course in question was structured around six weekly sessions, with each session made up of 12-15 bite sized ‘chunks’ of information. These chunks consisted of a film or audio file (of no more than 4 minutes’ duration) or, more usually, one or two concise paragraphs. These bite sized pieces of information clearly and concisely introduced concepts or ideas as no more than pedagogic ‘amuse-bouches’, with further, in depth teaching and learning carried out by the students themselves.
The process by which this happened was both very simple and, from an organisation of information perspective, very easy to manage. A single discussion thread was attached to each chunk of information. There was no mandatory requirement for students to comment, or read peers’ comments, yet these threads immediately became the place for further learning. Here, the student community built a number of very specific knowledge bases constructed from shared anecdotal experience and professional knowledge. Questions were asked and responses and opinions given, and all of this happened without the course tutor needing to be involved in any way. Over and above this, students also shared links to relevant web pages, journal articles, film clips and book recommendations with many discussion threads forming self-contained repositories of learning. As Karen Stephenson (1997) states:
“Experience has long been considered the best teacher of knowledge. Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge. ‘I store my knowledge in my friends’ is an axiom for collecting knowledge through collecting people.”
Looking at this MOOC as a whole, it seems apparent that this particular form of peer teaching and learning adheres to many of the principles of Connectivism – namely:
“Learning and knowledge rests in a diversity of opinions (and) is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources. Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning and the ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill.” (Siemens, 2005)
Students connected with and learned from one another, individually self-selecting the amount and depth of information that they felt was suitable. The process was organic, managed easily within each thread and monitored, overseen and, if necessary, directed by the course tutor.
Interested to see whether other participants found this model of online teaching and learning as conducive to learning as I had, at the end of the course I carried out some small-scale, qualitative research by way of an online survey. Results showed that an overwhelming number of students had responded positively to the model of online pedagogy used, and had enjoyed the experiences of learning through a MOOC. As a direct response to this, I would like to introduce this organic, self-managed framework for teaching and learning as a way for practitioners looking to make online learning a less didactic and passive learning experience.
Siemens, G, (2005), Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Located at: http://www.itdl.org/journal/jan_05/article01.htm, date accessed: February 10th, 2015
Stephenson, K, (1997), (Internal Communication no.36) What Knowledge Tears Apart, Networks Make Whole. Located at: http://www.netform.com/html/icf.pdf, date accessed: February 10th 2015