Technology seems to have the most obvious impact or role on distributed learning in an online course. Discourse and collaboration take place through or with technology and the technologies used can shape the discourse and collaboration that occur between course participants. In the overview that Dr. Graham provided from her article with Dr. Jones, it’s clear that technology has influenced or advanced the progression of online teaching and learning. Technology was no longer just the tool, host or storage facility for online courses, but began to play a major role in how online course participants interact with the teacher, the content, and with their peers. Even in the Connectivism theory, technology now participates in discourse and collaboration (Siemens, 2005).
As much impact as technology can have on the online course, I believe the quality or depth of discourse and collaboration is still up to the learners and teachers. I struggled with the idea of Connectivism, as Siemens explains it, that “learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity’ (2005, p.5). However the other principles of Connectivism and the implications on corporations, knowledge sources and management, and online learning design cannot be ignored. Yet, I’m not convinced that Connectivism can effectively describe human learning under the same umbrella with organizational knowledge and even networks. It may be that I just don’t agree with the premise of the argument for Connectivism, that knowledge can be “held” by an organization in the same way that a human “holds” and uses knowledge. For me, the most significant idea in the Connectivism theory, is that the learner’s ability to find, retrieve, and apply information from their network and/or organizations is the key to a new theory of online teaching and learning:
“the learner’s challenge is to recognize the patterns which appear to be hidden. Meaning-making and forming connections between specialized communities are important activities.” (Siemens, p. 3)
It is human to apply personification to the world around us, it helps us to make sense of what we see and how things work, so from skimming the surface of Connectivism in the readings, it feels a bit like personifying the networks and organizations that hold and store knowledge for us. Or it could be that I still do not quite fully understand this theory in application; for sure, I will be interested in reading more about that.
Now let’s go back to discourse and collaboration and their role on distributed learning in an online course; in the Online Collaborative Learning Theory (OCLT), discourse is collaborative, it’s a process of building knowledge as a group of learners. The collaboration aspect of the discourse takes the learner to a deeper more integrated learning experience. Without collaboration, discourse is “two-dimensional” or it is an exchange rather than an integration of learners. Just as there are many forms of communication that shape how we express ourselves and are understood by others, the nature of discourse impacts how the learner builds knowledge but also how others learn from each other. Harasim (2012) describes the phases of collaborative discourse (Idea Generation, Idea Organizing, and Intellectual Convergence) as progressive rather than cyclical. The learners involved drive collaborative discourse in a process to build knowledge that can then be applied to create a product or funneled into another process.
In an online course, the design or course structure are important in creating a collaborative discourse that is active, dynamic, organic, and evolving. In OCLT, the role of the instructor as a representative of the knowledge community that learners want to join, is a significant factor in facilitating and enabling the collaborative discourse to be effective and meaningful. I COULD NOT on my own, take an online distance education course on OLTAK and have the same knowledge building (learning) experience that I am experiencing now. While it may seem that our interactions as learners is not quite “collaborative discourse,” the course design builds to that by laying the theoretical groundwork for us to explore these theories in our own way and through the blog feedback, interact with other learners.
It is challenging sometimes to sit in what you know and wrestle with what you don’t, but absorbing the readings and formulating my thoughts, helps me to better interact with the thoughts of my peers expressed on their blogs. I don’t know if we all sat in a Google Hangout if we’d be able to express our reactions and thoughts as well as we can through our blogs; in this and many other ways, the technology exists to support the collaborative discourse, but the instructor and learners are still a central part of how the knowledge is built, shared, and applied in a distributed learning online course.
Graham, L. and Jones, A. article excerpt on phases of online learning and teaching Retreived from: https://oltakdotorg.wordpress.com/
Harasim, L. (2012). Learning Theory and Online Technology. Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group: New York.
Siemens, G. (2005). A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Retrieved from: http://www.ingedewaard.net/papers/connectivism/2005_siemens_ALearningTheoryForTheDigitalAge.pdf