Monday, 18 October 2004

Who owns the Learning Space?

I totally agree with Scot that we should move e-Learning to the paradigm that learners take a

great deal more ownership of their learning activities and to feel safe within the learning group.

However, I don't think that there will be ever a case where the learners will own any learning space in a formal education setting. (This may not be the case for informal learning and life-long learning. But that would be for another post some other time.) In a formal learning setting, the learners are working towards some form of qualification or recognition and will do so within learning space(s) provided by the learning provider. I think the ownership should be about the learning, not necessarily the space in which the learning occurs. However, the parameters that set up the learning space are important!

In the current era of training delivery dominated by the first generation LMS (I call them "learner management system") such as WebCT or BlackBoard or others, one may be excused to think that beside the "library" space (content delivered as online pages), the only other online learning space is discussion forum. As in physical world, besides classrooms, there are other specialist rooms where other types of activities can occur.

A discussion forum is akin to a classroom. What occurs inside this learning space, in a lot of ways, depends on the philosophy and the attitude of the "authority representative" - i.e. the professor. In many eastern cultures, learners have the expectation that the authority representative will take charge and learners are expected to be told what to do. (I came from such a culture.) These learners will be in total loss if leave alone without proper orientation. Having said that, at the hands of skilful online educators, discussion forum can give learners a lot of ownership in their ways of learning. That's why Susan Nash's discussion is important and I am looking forward seeing her survey results.

This is no secret that I actively promote the use of online role play simulation. Role play simulation offers a different learning space, akin to a theatre where players can rehearse and experiment different strategies. The "simulated space" is still owned by the professor who sets up the simulation. One of the role of the moderator of online role play simulation may still be an assessor, trying to give a score to the performance of the learners within that space. However, the "parameters" associated with the content space are quite different from the "classroom" space.

As a matter of exercising the "duty of care", the authority representative will be watching every "move" in their responsible learning space. Learners should be expecting that there is no much privacy within the learning space, as one would be expecting that your behaviour is monitored in any public space or any classroom. The important parameter to build into learning space is the "trust" the learners have towards the authority representative. If somehow this trust is violated, the learning process will be severely compromised. Part of this building of "trust" is implicit in Gilly Salmon's first few stages*, and part of this is related to "expectation management". This is a tough job for professor using discussion forum and cannot be left to chances.

Online role play simulation has its own set of parameters which moderator should be aware of. I hope I will be writing about this in a near future post.

*I do see some cases that "trust" is not a principal issue for the digital natives. See my earlier post: Salmon's 5-stage Model and Digital Natives.

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