Saturday, 3 November 2012

Asynchronous Collaborative e-Learning

Sorry, been a barren period for Learning Technologies blogging as I've been dealing with family stuff for a week or two, but I'm back, fully engaged and we're cooking with gas, so let's get down to how we can share knowledge and engage learners through some new twists on some old tools.

It's easy to get impressed by the synchronous learning tools that exist these days.  Let's face it the virtual classrooms can have quite an appeal, video links, real-time experts and presentations with live white-boarding.  The problem comes two fold; one they're often heavy on expert resource and secondly they're often costly on resources (both financially and bandwidth in countries like this one!).  What often gets overlooked is the seriously useful asynchronous tools that we have at our fingertips.  Possibly the best of which is the forum.  Forums are all too often underutilised in online learning or simply used as a throw in for a course just in case someone has something to say, but there's a number of great ways you can utilise this resource to enhance learning.
Firstly, try a simple question and answer forum; pose a question (particularly good with a controversial type question) and get the learners to respond, but more than just responding they can respond to other responses.  It's a great way to explore depth of knowledge and understanding and from a trainer perspective you only have to ask a question.  Better still, write a scenario type question as the starting point but rather than having to leave three options to pick from, the learners answer with their own thread, then others can comment on these threads.  As a trainer you can re-engage and take the thread further if you find one that's particularly interesting.

You can use Q&A type forums as well; these are great as the answerer doesn't have to be a trainer or expert.  Sometimes all the trainer has to do is go in and endorse the right answers and leave learners to do the rest.
You can also use forums as assessment types, in Totara LMS I like to use forums with a completion condition that they must post either a discussion or respond to a thread.  You can then set this as a completion condition for the course that makes contribution part of the overall assessment.  You can even go in and have contributions assessed by the trainer on a custom scale.  How about using something like a forum with a voting option (like a Choice in Moodle/Totara) to take further pressure off the trainer and get peer review involved.

One of the most underrated tools in all of collaborative learning is the wiki.  We're all aware of Wikipedia (and most of us use it to look up everyday things, although hopefully accepting that common wisdom doesn't necessarily equate to fact), but as a social learning exercise wikis have real value.  So there's the simple question and answer type similar to forums to get a collective answer, but better still use those scenario based questions to get your collective learners to come out with an answer to a 'what should so-and-so do?  Wiki tools also allow for you to comment on different parts or overall; this is great as a wiki you can't really add to or contribute more to you can at least agree with or put your point across.  Again you can assess wikis and use those voting buttons to see who agrees with the end result and even challenge and feedback on them.  It can certainly make for a great exercise in getting the answers to come from learners themselves rather than the trainer being the single source of wisdom.

My final asynchronous tool that may come as a surprise to you is to use feedback or customs surveys.  Using a simple survey you can get learners to effectively vote, choose and justify on a wide range of topics.  It becomes interactive when you let them see the results of the polls and then combine that with a forum or even a wiki on the responses.  Again from a trainer perspective you just have to set the questions up and leave the tool to do the analysis.  I don't subscribe to the old adage that knowledge is power; it should be more like the sharing of knowledge is empowerment and that will help you unlock the potential in learners.