The Difference Between Networking, Coordinating, Cooperating, and Collaborating

I am participating in a fascinating online course on the Literacy of Cooperation, facilitated by Howard Rheinghold.  We are less than a full week into the course, and it is already a vibrant and “cooperative” learning community.  As we were getting started, I found myself wanting to begin with a working definition of cooperation, especially as it relates to similar words.  Howard directed us to a helpful article entitled, Collaboration for Change, where the authors offer such definitions.  As a tool for thinking about this, I developed a revised version of a table provided in the article (with some good feedback from other participants).  It is still a work in progress, but perhaps you will find it helpful as well.

Of particular interest to me is how each of these require different levels of trust, time and a willingness to share turf with others. I may push for a collaborative effort, but in order to do so, it will require the building of adequate trust among all stakeholders, a willingness to carve out enough time in our already busy schedules, and the vulnerability to share portions of our turf with one another.


The Role of Values in Designing Learning Experiences

Where decisions need to be made, values are present.  Values play a significant role in the design of courses and learning experiences.  As a way to reflect upon this fact, I pulled out a few definitions of instructional design and began to explore the role of values.  Below is one such musing.  I welcome your thoughts and reflections in the comment section as well.

There is no shortage of definitions for and explanations of instructional design, but for the sake of this article, consider the definition provided by Merrill, Drake, Lacy, and Pratt.  “Instructional design is a technology which incorporates known and verified learning strategies into instructional experiences which make the acquisition of knowledge and skill more efficient, effective, and appealing.”  With this perspective of instructional design in mind, allow me to pose a question.  Which of these three aspects do you see as being emphasized in your online learning experiences?

Is the focus upon efficiency?  If so, efficiency toward what end?  Is it to allow students to learn more efficiently, to allow organizations or even informal communities to optimize their resources and scale to serve or reach more students, or a combination of these two?  Efficiency can serve many masters.  It is the organizational values (implicit and explicit) that determine how efficiency will be used.  Some people, communities and organizations may even devalue or dismiss considerations related to efficiency, perceiving them as the enemy of intimacy or relationships.

Is the focus upon effectiveness?  If so, how do you define effectiveness in your organization or community?  Traditionally, instructional designers would measure effectiveness by the extent to which the learners/participants were able to demonstrate pre-established knowledge, skills, and/or dispositions upon completion of the instructional unit. This is not the only possibility.  As people consider constructivist as well as various open learning environments, effectiveness may be measured in many ways.  It might be measured by individual learner goals and aspirations, the extent to which the environment allowed the learner to meet those goals.  Participant satisfaction, the number of participants involved, or some sort of record of activity might also be used a a measure of effectiveness.  It could even be measured by the degree to which the course or environment achieves the goal of open access.  I have participated in a number of massive open online courses where there are no assessments.  In fact, there may not be clearly defined or measurable course goals and objectives. This does not mean that effectiveness is of no concern.  It may instead mean that effectiveness is being measured differently or that effectiveness is of low importance.

Is the focus upon making the learning experience appealing?  This is an interesting word to include in a definition or explanation of instructional design in the first place.  Perhaps the authors use that word to get at considerations like motivation, interest level, engagement, persistence, or positive emotions associated with the experience.  Each of these are often considerations for instructional designs.  To ignore these factors can be the demise of an otherwise excellent design.  These factors take into account individual and collective learners.  It is why an audience or learner analysis is a part of almost any instructional design model that you read.  Whatever the case, it does invite us to consider the extent to which our designs accommodate such factors in the learner(s).  To what extent does our design demonstrate value for the learner’s preferences?  Depending upon the context, one will find designs with a high or low value for learner’s “experience” or interest.

Of course, there are many other values.  I have, for example, seen a number of schools that elevate the value of relationships above all of these other considerations.  Learning is not the priority (although it is still a priority), and individuals in such organizations may take great pride in that fact.

As  I reflect upon these values, it is apparent that this is not a black and white endeavor.  There are always competing values at play, collectively shaping many of the design decisions that go into a course or learning experience.  Over the past year, I reviewed different online courses (open and closed) through the lens of values.  It is easy to find some of these, and yet, upon asking the designers/teachers/leaders, they very often communicate quite different values.  In fact, I am not sure if I have ever seen an instructional design where the stated values fully match the actual course design.  There are just too many factors and considerations at work, especially given that instructional design is fundamentally an art and science focused upon providing learning experiences for diverse individuals with diverse and completing values.

As you have time and interest, please consider sharing your own thoughts and experiences about the relationships between values and the design of learning experiences.

Self-directed Learning, Connected Learning, and the Unimportance of Teachers

As I begin to take part in week two of #etmooc, thinking about connected learning, I find myself reflecting on my own educational convictions and my own “learning history.”

In some ways, my education started when I realized the relative unimportance of teachers. If you follow my blog, then this might seem like a contradiction. After all, one of my most recent posts was a simple Venn diagram illustrating three key ingredients of high impact teaching and learning. Similarly, I’ve posted close to a dozen articles over the last year on the importance of teacher as mentor and facilitator. I continue to believe in the importance and value of the teacher in certain learning contexts. However, I see even more importance in mentors, learning communities, communities of practice, informal learning networks, personal learning networks, experts, peers, and self-directed learning.

For me, this conscious discovery of self-directed learning occurred somewhere around eighth or ninth grade. I’m not entirely sure why or how this took place, but there were a number of experiences that likely led up to it.

I got my first computer when I was twelve (in the early 1980s). This meant hours of personal exploration and experimentation. Initially, all that my first computer (a Timex Sinclair 1000) did was let me create simple programs in Basic and save them to a cassette tape. I started by typing in “recipes” from a book that came with the computer. Later I started to code on my own, and the simplest programs were among the most personally rewarding accomplishments as a kid. Some of these early efforts were also among the most frustrating. I didn’t know anyone else who liked programming. So, either I figured it out on my own, or I never finished.

It was not until a year or two later, when I got my second computer (a Commodore 64) and a modem, that I experienced the BBS world, able to interact with others in a new and exciting way. I was able to remotely interact with complete strangers about our common interest in computing and programming. There were no teachers and learners, although there was a ton of teaching and learning that took place. More than that, there were challenges, encouragements, tips, and boasts of recent technological escapades. It was a virtual pub, rich with fish stories of the technological sort. It felt more like play than school, but it was still about learning new things, even more about accomplishing new things or solving the next problem. It wasn’t about performing for a grade, but about mastering the next challenge, sometimes competing with others, and other times collaborating with them. We didn’t tell each other what to do. We each had to decide that for ourselves. Sometimes it was inspired by our own questions and imagination. Other times it was about replicating an accomplishment (or claimed accomplishment) of another person on the BBS.

Around this time, I moved to a farm. My new dad was (is) a pretty amazing man. He had an eighth grade formal education, but mastery of so many things. He could build just about anything (he built his own house on top of an existing foundation). He could fix almost anything (whether it be a car, tractor, combine, carpentry problem, plumbing, or an electrical issue). He learned from others over the years, but much of what he learned came from having a problem (tractor will not run) and needing to fix it. This wasn’t solitary work, though. I often heard him talking through these sorts of problems with a neighbor over morning coffee, or maybe with someone at the grain elevator. By the time that I got to know him, he was often the person that people came to for suggestions, but it was a two-way street. They didn’t go to a teacher for help. It was collective and collaborative, inspired by real-world challenges, problems, or questions.

These early lessons did not always serve me well in formal schooling. I loved to ask questions, and I was intrigued by the mysterious, the big ideas, and the unresolved problems. I did not, however, always see wisdom in following recipes or studying for tests. This meant missing out on some of the basics that would have helped me explore those big ideas and resolve some of the problems. It meant making things harder for myself in school.

By the time that I reached college, I had almost fully embraced this self-directed learning perspective. Going into my second year at University, I wrote research papers for myself. Each week, I went to the library, gathered books of interest, decided upon research questions, and wrote something up. I visited random professors in their offices, picking their brains and craving informal conversations about ideas. Eventually, I had a good repository of papers that I could usually rework to submit for classes. What was important to me, however, was that my learning was self-directed. Classes became a community to aid in my self-directed learning, but on occasion, this meant having to sacrifice a better grade for the sake of my own projects. These projects also made their way into to countless late night debates and discussions with classmates in the dorms. It was there that I tested and refined my work.

Each of these early experiences gave me a glimpse into a world without teachers, or rather a world full of teacher-learners. It was a world with challenges, problems, questions, interactions with experts, collaboration, networked learning, peer feedback, and real world feedback (Did it work or not?). As I see it, this is connected learning.