Time and Space for Online Learning: My Reflection

I honestly did not think I could make it to the end of ONL191, but I did and for that I am grateful to my facilitators Elaine and David and my group members, primarily Caroline, and Bengt, who unfortunately had to drop out due to his heavy workload.

It has been a wild ride right from the start but happy that I stayed the course and I have learnt a lot, not just from the materials provided but from the experiences of all my group members. One thing that resonates, is the fact that we may be thousands of miles apart, but we do share some common experiences. And technology has allowed us to connect, and learn from each other. That in itself has made it all worth the effort.

I started the course with a limited understanding of problem based learning, but through the weeks and months of practical experience, I have some appreciation for this approach to learning. For the approach to work well, several key factors need to be present

  • commitment among participants
  • time for discussion and time for reflection
  • flexibility for both synchronous and asynchronous activities to happen
  • good old-fashioned effort

As I reflected on what I have learnt and experienced for Topic 4, I kept thinking of how there is a huge amount of orchestration that needs to happen in an online course. Where every engagement needs to be carefully curated and every activity carefully managed. That got me to thinking about how an orchestra produces wonderful music under the masterful guidance of a conductor. This analogy resonated with my other team member, and we ran with it. Which explains our presentation, which you can view here, if you’re so inclined.

I want to elaborate a little bit about this analogy. A lesson plan is very much like the music score of any piece. While the music score directs the music making, a lesson plan guides the learning. It is only when everyone is completely comfortable with the set piece that they can start improvising.

To create the perfect online course, the facilitator must, first of all, be competent in the technologies used. This can cause some discomfort among some facilitators especially if they are, what David White deems, visitors, to the online environment.

However, beyond just gaining competence in the technologies used, educators must also be cognizant of their role in the digital space, both personal and professional. Social media has, whether we like it or not, blurred boundaries between our multiple roles in our lifetime.

It is far easier to compartmentalise your various roles in real life, but those invisible lines are inadvertently blurred in the digital space. Friends, colleagues, peers, become one big messy ball of human interaction when you’re on Facebook, Instagram or even Twitter. Maintaining safe boundaries can sometimes become a challenge.

And that, is just the beginning for educators who want to be part of the digital revolution, as it were, in education. Some choose to disengage from social media, some treat it with a measure of disdain, while some others embrace it and use it to their advantage. Whichever end of the spectrum you decide to be on, really depends in your comfort level, I reckon.

For me personally, by day, I’m a learning designer/editor/content creator all rolled into one, and by night a mother of two teens, with a passion for cooking and baking. So which of those personas do I project? All of them, or none of them? I’m still in negotiation. Let me get back to you on that.

Getting back to the analogy, I spoke about the level of orchestration that needs to happen for an online learning environment to thrive and flourish, but there is one other important element that needs to be present – improvisation. This can only happen when the facilitator is confident and comfortable with the planned outcome for that module or course.

So there has to be a level of flexibility built into the lesson plan. If Plan A fails, we fall back to Plan B. Flexibility to allow learners extra time when a particular activity is drawing out the best collaborative learning among them. Flexibility also to draw out form your well-stocked arsenal of activities when some other activity fall short of the intended outcome. Flexibility also to recognise that what you had planned for is taking a completely different turn, but with a positive outcome. And responding to situations that arise at any given moment.

This brings me to Dr Martha Cleveland-Innes’ notion of emotional presence as another dimension of the Community of Inquiry. I’m really drawn to that notion, because I do believe that in order to engage with your learners and to encourage engagement among learners, a certain level of emotional presence needs to be, well, present. We are after all emotional beings and social engagement triggers an emotional response, whether we like it or not.

Key to all this is time. Time to properly design the course, be it new, or an existing one. Time to plan the activities for learners, time to get to know your learners, time to create a safe space for all your learners, time for socialisation… you get the drift. It is vitally important that you allow yourself and your learners the time for all of that to happen. It will be hard, it requires effort, but it will be so rewarding to create an ecosystem for your learners to learn and grow together, collaboratively.

In the final analysis, what I take away from this course is that developing online and blended learning isn’t a walk in the park, but with the right frameworks and guidelines, and most importantly the right mind set, magic can happen.

Beyond just a learning network, we can, and we will create a learning ecosystem that will flourish in all the different corners of the world. As I have said in my previous blogs, exciting times ahead!

NOTE: Below is a collection of all the references from ONL19 that I find useful. Feel free to copy them off me if you haven’t had the time to assemble all your materials.



2 thoughts on “Time and Space for Online Learning: My Reflection

  1. So interesting to read all your blog posts! It was really a pleasure to have you as a participant in the group! You worked so ambitiously!
    Good luck with your teaching online in the future!
    All the best /Elaine


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