In March, WebJunction sponsored a “Learn Together” project to build a social learning environment around a self-paced course. We’re building as we go, trying to find the right pieces to fall in to the right places to complete the puzzle.
Self-paced learning is a solo experience. Learners struggle with feelings of isolation and lack of motivation.
What if a group all took the same course at the same time? We would have a cohort, but there are still several key elements to put together to create the kind of social learning experience that happens naturally in on-the-ground classes and to get the cohort members to learn together.
In the all-virtual environment of WebJunction’s learning community, we are able to assemble some key pieces of the social puzzle: Course Classroom Classmates Course materials Conversation
For the course, we aligned our choice with the March focus on customer service, selecting The Customer’s Voice course from the WebJunction catalog. We intentionally chose a course that addresses a general business audience, rather than a library-specific audience. We wanted to test the cohort’s ability to add the library context to the course.
WebJunction’s groups have great “classroom” potential. Groups bring people together around a topic of interest to share knowledge through online forums and collections of related materials, all in a central location. We created the Customer Voice group as the location for our virtual knowledge collaboration, as well as a resource that would continue to inform visitors to the site who seek to improve their customer service. For this project, two WJ staff members provided active facilitation in setting up the group and guiding the activities.
As people joined the group, the congregation of their photos/avatars in the Group Members window enlivened the cohort with a peek at profiles and personalities. Most profiles include email contact, which enabled the facilitators to send email notices and reminders about key cohort events. A total of 22 WJ members joined the group.
The course materials were posted in the documents section of the group. The starting lineup of documents included: Syllabus with a suggested four-week timeline based on the four chapters of the course Learn Together Guide Instructions for joining live Wimba meet-ups Door hanger and tent card for e-learners
Conversation occurred in the discussions section of the group. In addition to the “introduce yourself” and course logistics threads, 11 more topic threads were introduced to discuss the implications of what we were learning for the library field.
More conversation The facilitators scheduled three live, synchronous sessions in Wimba with the intention of enhancing the personal connections in real time. kick-off meeting to get better acquainted and discuss our objectives for the course and the learning experience mid-course check-in to continue putting the library lens on the course matters wrap-up to talk about what we learned, to announce awards, and to reflect on what worked and didn’t work about the cohort
The big question: how well did all the pieces fit together? In many ways, the pieces started to form a whole social learning experience; in other ways, we have plenty of room for improvement. Let’s look at some of the numbers: Conversation: The 13 discussion threads that accumulated during the project generated a total of 60 posts, with some very thought-provoking and insightful comments from group members. That’s an average of 4.6 posts/topic. There were 778 views of the discussion posts, or an average of 59.8 views/topic. The first live session—the kick-off meeting— garnered 9 attendees, but attendance dropped to 4 for the mid-course and wrap-up meetings. For those who did make it to the synchronous sessions, the conversation was lively and rewarding. Course completion: 9 people completed the self-paced course (received a certificate).
A post-cohort survey was completed by 11 course participants. Here are some of the findings: 10 of 11 had taken 6 or fewer s-p courses; 9 had not had a cohort experience Syllabus: helped a little or greatly (9 of 10) CV group: made all the diff for 4; helped greatly (4) Member profiles: helped a little or greatly (9 of 10) Live sessions: made all the diff for 2; helped greatly (6) Discussions: made all the diff for 1; helped greatly (8) Email: helped greatly (8) Barriers Lack of time (7) Lack of mgt support (2) Not required, so time not made Other (4): “ deprioritized” Had to take at home Difficulty navigating the WJ site No extra time to explore other resources
Did we attain social learning paradise? It’s a fantasy to think that just layering on some social tools with e-learning will solve all challenges of andragogy. We were under no such illusions. For those who actively participated in the experiment, learning was definitely augmented and the experience enriched. However, there is still a long way to go to get everyone on board and enthused with the virtual environment.
Social Learning Cohort
Putting the pieces together: Lessons from the March Learn Together Project The Social Learning Puzzle
Self-paced learning is a solo experience Just you and your monitor