I went into my first MOOC as an adult learner unseasoned in the self-directed approach to learning. The idea that my learning is directed by me and not facilitator-centered is a concept I am gaining comfort with. I am still getting used to the idea that I must take ownership of my learning. Additionally, I was highly reluctant to embrace social media to connect with friends. I prefer to connect with people face-to-face in conversation. While the thought of being a part of a massive open online course was very exciting, connecting with strangers and building my personal learning network was an uncomfortable thought.
MOOCs are a great way to learn due to their open, social nature. They are available to anyone, and students are encouraged to connect and discuss content together in and out of sessions. By their very nature MOOCs are a great way to enhance one’s personal learning network. Due to my guarded, private nature, I was not comfortable connecting with strangers. For this reason I got a limited benefit to my MOOC experience.
How can I improve my ability to connect in the future? In order to get to the solution, I had to first identify the root cause of the problem. Apprehension to connect would be a block to my future learning and one that needed to be overcome. If I understand the nature of the learning block, in the future I can make progress in this area get a greater benefit out of a learning experience. So reflect I did. I concluded that I was unmotivated to connect since I was not particularly interested in much of the subject matter of the MOOC. Due to a lack of interest, I did not feel motivated to search through tweets and blogs to get to “the good stuff.” I also realized that since I am so young in connectivism as a method of learning, I am not yet efficient in sorting through all the connections to find valid, relevant connections to expand my PLN.
Upon further reflection I had a few more realizations. I had made progress in the area of connecting. Some of the new ways I learned to connect include tweeting, blogging, commenting on blogs, replying to comments. I participated in Goggle Hangout sessions with members of my independent study. I had never heard of such a thing prior to the MOOC experience. I thought the only way to connect via laptop was Skype or Go to Meeting! Those methods did not appeal to me, as they seemed laborious and unstable. Additionally, I used an aggregator (Google Reader) to organize my connections.
I found the Blackboard live sessions throughout the MOOC to be very exciting. Seeing people log on from all over the globe and comment in real-time was a new experience for me. The real time, interactive nature of the session kept my attention, even when the subject matter was not of great interest to me.
Prior to this MOOC, my online learning experience had been in the form of reading through and commenting on threads and posts. This process impeded my learning and connecting. Blackboard live sessions are the way to go with an online course. The ability to playback sessions of interest to me was most beneficial. I was able to pause the replay and make notes of pieces of the session I wanted to explore further. I particularly enjoyed the session on Intro to Blogging. I connected with the facilitator since her method of teaching was simple, direct and focused. She one of the people I found to be relevant to my PLN, mostly due to her teaching style. Her session had underlying instructional design framework and therefore highly effective. In the online learning environment, with it’s fast pace and varied learners, it is most important to have solid design behind the instruction.
Another change in behavior post-MOOC was my relationship with Facebook. I am not so much a lurker but participant now. While I am not connecting more with friends, I am much more active in two communities of practice. I am using Facebook to participate as a more active member of my CrossFit and running communities. I am looking at videos, following links and commenting on posts. Again I see the importance of interest in subject matter in providing the necessary motivation needed to make connections. I have already determined the relevance and validity of certain members of these communities. Therefore I am motivated to see what these relevant and qualified participants have to say about the subject matter. Conversely, I do not care in the least that my “over-poster” friend found a good deal on bananas 2 hours ago and 10 minutes ago she saw a story on WCVB that upset her. I will not invest my valuable time in looking at her posts as I know see her as providing irrelevant information to the community. In fact, I hid her posts!
The technology used for the connections in the MOOC and independent study did not impede connection. I did not have to learn an entire process to connect, it was simple and intuitive. I enjoyed these sessions with my fellow learners, discussing the MOOC experience and being able to do so remotely. The MOOC got me interested in StumbleUpon and I have started using it. I find it a very valuable tool. I wish there was a built in StumbleUpon type aggregator built into Blackboard, it is what I needed to make connections as a MOOC participant– an aggregator to go out and bring back things I am interested in. I love this. I told StumbleUpon what interests me and almost everything that comes back to me is of interest. I do not have enough time to explore all the content it brings back to me.
What was the solution to the learning block? To sort through connections, rejecting irrelevance to gain access to pertinent information. One must build the “sort-through” skill by doing it; there is no short cut. I have to crawl before I can walk and walk before I can run! I feel empowered to have figured out a solution to my block so I can benefit more from a future MOOC experiences. I did make progress in this area, if I look at where I came from rather than where everyone else is and where I am going.
I have concluded that I made great strides in my ability to connect as a result of participation in my first MOOC and will take this into my next experience.
To be continued …