What does it mean to learn in a cooperative manner in online courses? Part 1 Authority and Pedagogy

Cooperation is the key to learning with others under networked learning, especially if one is to acquire the social learning skills.

Here in her post Towards a Literacy of Cooperation, Jenny shared her learning relating to her participation in a course facilitated by Howard Rheingold.

There are three points that I would like to reflect on:

Linked to this recognition of needing a balance between large loose learning environments and more intimate communities, is a consideration of the balance between cooperation, collaboration and competition.

The intention is that through the use of a variety of media tools and by taking on specific roles (my role is live session note-taker) we will by the end of the course see the world in a different way through having new frameworks and lenses for looking at cooperative behaviours.

Cooperation and competition are two sides of the same coin and seem to be co-drivers of evolution.

1. How to balance between cooperation, collaboration and competition in an open learning environment?

There are research evidences that could reveal its relationship to the following factors: (a) Authority and Pedagogy, (b) Power and Relationship, (c) Autonomy and motivation, and (d) Openness and Connectivity.

I would like to reflect on my experiences below on authority and pedagogy in this post – Part 1.

(a) Authority of the course and course organisers, facilitators etc – To what extent are the organisers and facilitators experts or authority figures of the courses?  If the facilitators are leading figures or experts in the field or in the global business, would the delivery and presentation be more aligned to the connectivist, facilitative, or  instructivist approach?

This is important as each approach would likely allow and enable different degrees of cooperation, collaboration and competition in online education and learning.  This would also be a decision that the course organiser, facilitators, participants and learners would consider in the design and delivery of the course.

Connectivist approach (Connectivism)

For instance, in most of the connectivist courses (CCK08, 09, 11, 12, PLENK2010, CritLiteracy, Change 11, etc.) that I attended, I realised more cooperation, with some collaboration, but not much of competition from the peers or others emerged from the courses.  Here the authority might likely be decentralised, with a loose structure and membership developed throughout the course, where each networker might take up certain tasks or roles that would be expected in an network-group course, based on individual learners’ needs.

I have participated in these forms of networks for years, and found them pretty adaptive and agile in nature.  A learner-centred learning typically emerged from such online courses, as the feedback from participants would likely inform the course organisers how the course could be improved. This seems to be inherent in the design and delivery of most cMOOCs.  Since innovation, creativity and connectivity is encouraged in the course design and delivery, the focus would tend to be cooperation of all parties concerned, when diversity of opinion and openness is practised.  The vision may be to satisfy the learners’ achievement of goals, through the MOOCs.

Photo credit: PLENK2010 course

Open-Online-Courses-as-New-Educative-Practice

Facilitative approach (social constructivism)

However, when it comes to online courses where the facilitators are holding high authority, or are expecting a high respect on authority, then the group learning may be the expectation, either by influence, or to a certain degree of persuasion or coercion to conform to the rules and protocols set up by the group, and its associated group members.

Such way of forming groups are often common in Communities and Community of Practices, where small clusters or groups of educators or learners are focused to work on a particular project – like a wiki, an ebook, or an e-project required for completion in a course.

The authority may be vested from the course organiser or facilitator, but then each of the members may be required to take up certain roles and responsibilities in order to ensure the running of the course.  This seems to be inherent in the design and delivery of a hybrid of c and x MOOCs and a lot of communities of practitioners (education and learning).  The focus would likely be a balance between cooperation and collaboration, though a process based on group work is used for the evaluation of the need to re-design the course, rather than an immediate adaptive response.  The vision may be to satisfy a balance between the learners, educators and course/institution’s achievement of their goals, through the MOOCs.

Instructivist approach (behaviorism/cognitivism)

At the other end of the spectrum is where facilitators are adopting an instructivist approach, then most likely the learning strategies like mastery learning are already pre-determined and presented to learners, so all participants are expected to comply with the course requirements and the way the course is presented.

The authority figures of these courses would likely be holding the central accountability and responsibility and so they are expected to exercise certain levels of controls in the design, delivery and evaluation of the course (xMOOCs in particular).

Due to the requirements to comply with accreditation, assessment and validation of learning, authority figures are required and expected to ensure a high degree of quality in the course design, delivery and review, in order to ensure conformance to the granting of awards.  Standardisation of course structure and content is again based on the authority, where only canonical knowledge with known and reliable authoritative resources are recommended for the study.

This is why cooperation is more likely required in terms of compliance to the course requirements by the participants, rather than the creativity and innovation as is expected in a connectivist approach.  To what extent would creativity and innovation is valued in an xMOOCs is yet unknown, as there aren’t much explicit requirements of such approaches be adopted by the learners or students?

With an instructivist approach, collaboration is highly focused, with a view that the groups should and must contribute to the overall vision and design as set out by the course organiser and the institutions, with priorities set off for learners, stakeholders, community and institutions to follow.  This also explains why most institutions would like to exercise appropriate authority and controls to ensure the courses are aligned to the standards and quality requirements set out under an institutional framework.

In  summary, each of the three approaches outlined here – connectivist, facilitative and instructivist approach would impact on how cooperation, collaboration and competition is achieved.  The learner centered approaches would likely lead to more cooperation and collaboration, whilst the teacher centered approaches would likely lead to collaboration and competition among the learners and the educators.

I will continue to explore power and relationship in Part 2.

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17 thoughts on “What does it mean to learn in a cooperative manner in online courses? Part 1 Authority and Pedagogy

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  6. Thanks to Jenny Mackness on this reference to the paper on technological evolution http://www.santafe.edu/media/workingpapers/12-12-022.pdf I found it fascinating, though I don’t think the mathematical theories would have helped in arriving to the discussion or conclusion. The use of advanced mathematical theories in working on the technological evolution doesn’t add much to the framework upon those changes of technology were based upon. It may be worthy to approach those technological model using Calculus and differential equations and integration formula, though I reckon they might only be useful to prove a certain concept. Besides, there weren’t much mention of the principles of Complexity Theory where different agents have interacted and played a part in the evolution and emergence of new and novel design features, which to me seems to be critical in the discourse in technological evolution. I also think that the concepts presented have relied overly on theoretical modelling with advanced calculus, that might lead to limited readership and application. I am also not sure if that is a PhD paper, or one that was derived from a PhD dissertation. This paper may be useful for those who are proposing a model on technological evolution based on mathematical modelling. Do you think that is the case? John

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  14. Pingback: Cooperation and collaboration in MOOCs | Learner Weblog

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