We decided to set up an ad-hoc social learning environment mostly using freely available tools. We decided to outline our curriculum in a skeletal form using a blog, and then set social interactions in the curriculum context. The program, conducted over five weeks, was a great success.
In this post, I summarize what we learned about the ad-hoc social learning environments. Although these observations are based on the leadership development program, they may be applicable to other training types.
1. Blog is the watering hole
A learning blog is so much a happening place! The blog has a personal touch, it is easy to follow, its updates are delivered to participant's RSS reader instantaneously. We used Blogger, the Google blogging tool.
The instructor's blog posts were very short - often less than one hundred words. Blog posts provided a guiding theme and then pointed to a web resource such as a YouTube video, or a podcast or a news story article or a case study. Learners were expected to consume the content and then respond to the questions raised in the blog post.
- For example, a blog post would show a crisis situation, followed by a media interview of the person who was in charge of handling the crisis. That would be the starting point for a discussion on leadership.
- As another example, a New York Times story on a new innovative idea would serve as a springboard for a discussion.
- Or simply a blog would bring up two conflicting viewpoints on an issue and ask the participants to debate on both sides.
- In yet another case, a blog post would provide a framework for various leadership traits, and participants would be asked to reflect and decide how they view themselves.
2. Comments are where the action is
Blog comments, though arguably the most primitive form of interaction, were of great value to the course. Participants had a lot to learn from each other. The blog post set a common context and comments were based on that context. Over time the quality of comments improved, and participants became more responsive to each others' comments.
The opinion was divided on whether comments should be public (open to everyone to read) or moderated (not open until the deadline). In our case we preferred the earlier option, because to us, it was more important that people learn from each other rather than compete for grade.
3. Social interaction pods are best for debate
We used TeemingPod for conducting debates amongst participants on a 40-page business case study. Everyone was online, at their own convenience, adding their points of view to TeemingPod.
The debates were organized in groups of 6 to 8 learners, and each group discussed several aspects of the case. The discussions were asynchronous and mediated. As their instructor, I could challenge certain points of view. When I thought the discussion was going off on a tangent, I could bring the main issue out front and center.It was great fun being part of six different groups debating a case study at the same time - something I could never hope to do in a classroom.
4. Interactivity adds fun
We used Raptivity games to add fun to learning. One interaction, for example, was a fun exercise where you paired related concepts. By the time you had finished the game, it served to re-kindle major takeaways from then entire course. Then, you were supposed to write an essay describing what you learnt. Participants enjoyed that.
5. Twitter creates immediacy
We used a Twitter gadget inside the blog, and that is where we posted deadlines, status updates, how far we were from completing grading and so forth. We also announced class average scores through the Twitter gadget. Soon the whole class started following the Twitter ID, so we removed the gadget and ran our Tweets separately.
6. Asynchronous interaction works great
There may be some value to bringing everyone online at the same time and conducing a class using a web meeting platform. In our case, we discovered that we did not need this. The whole of BaseCamp 2010 was delivered in asynchronous mode, and that did not stop us from interacting in meaningful ways.
7. LMS is fine for the boring stuff
We did use the LMS only to grade lessons and assignments. We also had the mobile quiz results tracked thru the LMS - Moodle, in our case. All the record-keeping and statistics happened there.
Judging from the participant feedback at the end of the program, as well as their work output in strategic planning sessions soon after the program concluded, the program was a great success. We saved major costs and saw growth in employee engagement.
Have you explored social learning enviroments? Are you considering that idea? What are your thoughts? Any suggestions? Concerns?