My recent post on learning communities and networks as an alternative to courses generated some interesting discussion. Two comments in particular present important concepts to consider: 1. The difficulty of evaluating learning that happens in communities (portfolios can be very time consuming to review), 2. The difficulty of structured learning in communities (i.e. communities often do not meet the needs of newer members – see more below). Both of these concerns are important to address in order for communities to play a greater role in education.
Here’s a quick overview of the benefits of communities:
- Live, changing, dynamic
- “Need now” learning that meets the needs of learners in almost real time
- Access to gurus (i.e. gurus and beginners can interact)
- Diversity – both in terms of perspective and skills
- High interaction – the teacher is no longer a hub…but a node on the network. Other learners can teach as well.
- Relationship building
- Serendipity (seeing the value of other occurrences in the organization and using it to creatively solve your own problems)
- Knowledge sharing
- Safe environment. A classroom is typically a short-term construct (3 months). The classroom is torn down and rebuilt with each learning group. Communities last much longer. Trust grows over time.
The main benefits of courses:
- Structure – content is presented in a structured process…allowing learners to grow and scaffold knowledge
- Evaluation against determined skill set is easier (test, paper, observation, etc)
- Focused. Learning communities are wandering trails. Classrooms are linear paths.
These components of classrooms can be embedded in communities. I’ve posted before on the components of effective learning cultures. One of the “spaces” needed is structured exposure to content to allow newer members to grow and learn before they actively engage with the larger community. What we currently call classes can be handled in this “tutorial” section of the community. The evaluation of competence will prove to be more difficult…but as practices are explored, solutions will be found (in addition to portfolios).
It’s perplexing to listen to the discussion of “learner-centered”…and “life-long learning”, and then see learning institutions give learners courses that only last 12 weeks and are delivered using instructor-centric tools. In my opinion, the solution lies in well-designed communities and networks.