Sunday, 25 August 2013

Online Learning: A Reflection

Having just completed an online course  for Theory of Knowledge, I've discovered something about myself as a learner. Although I visit various blogs regularly, subscribe to many newsletters and participate on a number of forums, I am not - strangely - a very comfortable online student.
As the course began, I was excited to meet the participants from all over the world, but as time progressed I found it difficult to distinguish one person from another in the discussions. While this didn't have such a detrimental effect on the conversation itself, it did mean that I experienced a certain disconnect from the group. I missed being able to turn to the person beside me to quickly clarify a term or reference, to catch someone after a group discussion for a bit of one-on-one extension and simply make that human connection. It's a strange realisation for someone as ICT-orientated as myself but one that is worth reflecting on when I consider the experiences I create for my own classes. Online learning allows so much access and more global connections, but it takes careful management to ensure that it does not lead to an isolation impossible when sharing a physical space.
Thinking back to the Flat Classroom experience, I think the 'handshakes' are of utmost importance. To ensure that all involved really feel there is a personality at the other end of the line, we have to know each other more personally than perhaps a standardised profile or 3-line blurb encourages. And more importantly - we have to allow time for interactions to develop based on these profiles.
Another factor is that an online course often becomes something on top of our daily demands, and the distractions are an issue when compared to being in a space where each person is focused on the same thing at the same time. As the course took place (for the most part) over my school break, I thought that would be a bonus but it was far from the case. In the midst of hosting, participating in day trips and generally trying to focus on family time, I found the course rather inconveniently-timed. While I might have decided that 6pm would be a good time to sit down and catch up on the discussions, it did not necessarily follow that there would be anything for me to read or respond to as our asynchronous communication involved people stretched maximally across the world's time zones. Participants did not log in every day - presumably fitting it around their schedules - so there was a fair lag when it came to the pace of talk.
In any case, I did manage to build a decent foundation for launching the course, but I am sure that it will be in the practice of leading it that the real learning will kick in. It's a challenge I look forward to, but I must admit that I am very relieved that we do have a team of teachers in the school so we can collaborate, discuss and plan face-to-face.

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