Open Networked Learning – Length, depth, outreach… and everything in between

4 September 2023

The lemony experience of living our lives in the virtual world during 2020-2021 came with some silver linings, such as the massive opportunity to develop my career in a direction I hadn’t thought about before: online educator.

With this realization came many doubts: Do I have the necessary skills to do this? How might we enhance learning and knowledge exchange in spaces saturated with information and other things to do? How might we engage people who already spend their days in front of the computer? In what ways can the online educational experience be something worth everyone’s while? One thing was having designed MOOCs for employee engagement programs ten years ago, and another is to design learning journeys for people who may only have their interest in a specific topic as a common ground.

Of course, drawing the learning from my personal experience, reading about the topic, and trying to be as objective as possible is one way to go about it; however, it is a very flawed, not to say boring approach. Thus, I started looking for guided, participatory, and, most importantly, interdisciplinary, learning opportunities to hone my skills as an online educator.

Length – When I saw the Open Networked Learning (ONL) announcement in the uni’s newsletter, my first thought was “I have so much on my plate right now…” but curiosity won over, and I opened the website to learn more about the program and what it offered. Despite the overlap with some of my activities, I decided to give it a go. In the beginning, when I realised that we’d need to meet several times a week, develop content in between, and do additional research on top of my activities, I thought about putting the course on hold and trying again later when my workload decreased. Then I realized that keeping up with the course and my other obligations was the exact experience needed for creating online learning programs for people like me. Besides, the rapport with my learning group was really good, and somehow, I felt I’d be letting them down by quitting, particularly as the course progressed. We met twice a week in the evenings – we literally covered 5 time zones – so, it was always interesting to see how some of us were heading off to bed while the others had to jump out to a morning meeting.

Depth – While at the beginning of the course, one of the topics that I was more curious about was related to how to deal with privacy and our digital lives, I found the discussions about the tools we explored for working together and presenting our results, as enriching as the papers we read, or the webinars attended. A particularly defining (aha!) moment was when on the second week our brainstorming took us to the “playground” and from thereon, we always found amazing analogies for our learning process, such as the “seesaw” – a delicate balance between what we learn, give back, and the opportunities and perils of doing so online.

Looking back, when I read my individual reflection posts and the comments others made there, the “aha!” moments were plenty, from the first activity mapping our presence online to the final project adopting a consulting role for an organization. Moreover, reading what others wrote helped to have a wider picture of how we all went through the same experience and got so many different things out of it.

Outreach – When our group merged with the other group that met in the evenings, it was a very funky social experiment of sorts. That group had some idiosyncrasies that initially felt strange to our already well-greased engine. Yet, everyone took the challenge in a stride, and we ended up with a group that, instead of having a multiple personality disorder, became an amalgamation of the learning from the previous months and the expectation of getting the best out of the experience together.

Content-wise, it is great to have experienced speakers sharing their views and encouraging further learning. However, at times, it was a big loss that some of these sessions were not recorded. Though the explanation given was that no recording happened “to encourage the participation of people who feel shy to speak up”, for some of us in different time zones, it was a big loss. Luckily, this wasn’t the case with all the webinars, and those that were recorded were excellent, so nobody was left out of the discussion. The team members played a crucial role in not missing out – those who managed to attend the session would brief the others, an experience that served them as a practice of sorts.

Everything in between – I wish we had more time to build the team after the merger, yet the results were great. Needless to say, the facilitators and course organizers’ openness was a great incentive to speak up and share one’s doubts, ideas, and feedback.

I am pretty sure that as the program evolves and the network grows, it will be possible to make learning collaboration happen among the alumni outside of the “classroom” too.

ONL is very time-demanding if you want to get the best out of this opportunity, yet it’s worth every minute.

Georgina Guillen Mandujano, Doctoral Researcher, Tampere University

The next iteration of the Open Networked Learning course will run from September 18 to December 10, 2023. The staff of Tampere Universities can join as open learners just like any reader interested in joining. See more on the ONL website.