There is a particularly sweet moment for us as learners. It’s that dazzling, paradigm-shifting, unanticipated moment in which we realize we have learned far more than we set out to learn, that our learning has created a new world of possibilities for us, and that we are part of something much larger than we ever could have imagined.
One of those moments nearly passed me by recently. I was writing a series of reflections inspired by my participation in an hour-long session within a connectivist MOOC (massive open online course) about connected learning. As I thought about what I had gained from that online session of the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses), I realized how many connections the session had produced — connections to ideas I had previously absorbed, connections to other learners who were participating in the session via Twitter, connections to a first-rate session moderator and two excellent panelists, connections to content I was developing for another connectivist MOOC, and a reminder that I wouldn’t have been in that session if I hadn’t connected to other online learners in other connectivist MOOCs.
That’s when it all came together for me. I realized that I’m part of an informal, open, continually-evolving community of learning unlike any I have seen or heard about anywhere else. It’s a type of learning cohort that appears to be so new and so innovative that even those of us who are central participants have not recognized it or attempted to define it — until now.
This type of learning community is far from closed; it acquires new members through online learning interactions in a variety of settings and courses. It includes people who were present at its inception and people who have joined through interactions with participants in other connectivist MOOCs. It is learner-driven: members interact by choice on a fairly regular basis because our engagement produces positive, concrete results (e.g., exposure to new ideas and resources that can immediately be applied and openly shared within our own workplaces). And it offers all of us, as trainer-teacher-learners, the opportunity to shift seamlessly between roles — serving as learners in connectivist MOOCs at times, and serving as designer-facilitators of connectivist MOOCs in others.
What we have here is a cohort with a specific date of inception, a shared interest, a commitment to lifelong learning, and, most importantly, no sense that there will ever be a “graduation” day marking the end of our learning — something that differentiates it from every other learning cohort I’ve ever encountered.
This new type of open and evolving cohort — an educational technology “MOOChort” — began when more than 1,600 people were drawn together by an interest in exploring educational technology and media via a connectivist MOOC (#etmooc). The MOOChort developed, unnoticed, as we came to know each other via numerous online sessions within Blackboard Collaborate and through conversations that moved beyond the Blackboard sessions into blog posts, tweets, Google+ Community posts, and a number of other loosely-aggregated resources. It continued to take shape when the synchronous offering of the original MOOC ended and dozens of us agreed, on our own, to extend our learning through monthly online sessions no longer requiring the facilitation skills of the MOOC’s original team of instructors (playfully referred to as “conspirators” rather than “teachers” by Alec Couros and the others who developed #etmooc).
If the interactions had remained at that level, we would have had something well worth discussing. We can see, however, that it truly began to function as a cohort when an #etmooc participant worked with a colleague to develop a second connectivist MOOC — one that helped learners develop personal learning networks by engaging in a MOOC about exploring personal learning networks (#xplrpln). The personal learning networks that grew within #etmooc became even larger through our collaborations within #xplrpln.
In retrospect, it’s easy to see that online learners collaborating with each other as an informal, flexible group that reconvenes when new learning opportunities arise is simply an evolution of the way cohorts form and interact in onsite and online academic settings.
It’s also easy to see that this learning cohort took another quantum leap in its development in summer 2014 when several members reunited to learn by creating a new connectivist MOOC—the Open and Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc). While working together to develop #oclmooc, a few of us further expanded our learning by joining the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses). Because content in both courses is completely open through Creative Commons licensing, all of us benefit from sharing and drawing upon content developed by the teams that are building each of those thematically-related courses. All of us also foster the heretofore-unacknowledged reality of being partners in the creation and maintenance of a new type of learning cohort that may last much longer than any previous learning cohort has existed. And we have the pleasure of knowing that we might benefit our fellow learners in unanticipated ways.
That, I suspect, is an innovation well worth watching.
--Paul Signorelli is a writer-trainer-instructional designer-consultant who has served on Horizon Project advisory boards since 2010; he can be reached at email@example.com.
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