Effective Networked Learning Environments for Professional Development
Question 1: How can we design online professional development environments that help participants integrate their prior experiences into networked learning pathways?
As a design entry point to answering this question, I find it helpful to consider Harold Jarche’s networked learning model and his description of learning and personal knowledge mastery (PKM). In his model, Jarche identifies three different types of networks and shows how each contributes to employee PKM in companies and organizations:
Social networks, with a diversity of ideas and opinions, that tend to prompt innovation;
Communities of Practice (CoP) that provide a trusted space for testing new ideas, as well as a pathway for integrating those ideas in the formal workplace;
Work teams that are structured, formal, and deadline-driven, and which are focused on creating tangible value in the workplace.
Jarche points out that in the network era, “Leadership is helping the network make better decisions. It focuses on creating more human organizational structures that enable self-governance. Leadership is an emergent property of a network in balance.”
Question 2: How do we design online learning environments for professional development that facilitate successful networked learning?
I think this model of networked learning is particularly valuable with regards to designing engaged professional development communities in online learning environments. In a similar fashion, the goal of these online environments is to provide opportunities for individual participants to share experiences from their extended professional networks. By sharing these experiences within a controlled course cohort (a Community of Practice or CoP), participants are then able to discuss and test new ideas freely and openly. This controlled CoP, in turn, becomes a natural bridge between professional development and actual professional application.
Designed with purposeful collaboration and sufficient feedback loops, this type of networked learning model for online environments has the potential to produce a powerful continuous innovation loop. Innovative ideas are filtered into the controlled community, refined, and then integrated into actual professional projects. Experiences related to these professional projects are shared back out to external networks, providing new experiences and ideas that can be brought into the CoP.
Question 3: What network or system elements are required to provide a framework for effective collaboration?
Critical to our online learning environment is the creation of a strong framework for effective collaboration. Participants must have significant impetus and opportunity for collaboration as well as consistent feedback and prompting. This means we need to identify specific system content, agent interactions, and conservation pathways that will contribute to both the individual and the network’s growth and evolution.
There are a number of key elements to consider as we design this framework, but a high-level list includes:
Affinity Connections – The framework needs to account for connecting people, conversations, and content with both visible and invisible affinity threads.
Knowledge Contributions – Our system relies on the consistent infusion of new energy. Fresh knowledge or idea contributions are an excellent source for such infusions.
Personal Stories – Personalization and relevance are important for promoting individual learner engagement and can be provided through personal stories, personal experience, or knowledge application.
Personal Feedback – We want to include multiple forms of feedback. Personal feedback increases the degree of network relevance for participants.
Conversation Entry Points – In order to ensure community growth through collaboration, we need to provide a variety of entry points for connecting and conversing. Entry points should be both formal and informal, and should address multiple types of activity.
Conversation Connectors – Meaningful conversations occur organically within the networked learning environment. As these are initiated and evolve, it’s important to have a mechanism for making explicit connections between conversations that have invisible, implicit relationships.
Conversation Responses – Cohort participants must have the ability to view entire conversations and conversation contexts, and must be able to respond to these easily.
Project and Task Models – Projects and tasks provide the necessary conduit for moving innovative ideas and discussions into the arena of practical and personal testing.
Projects and Task Sharing – We want to use projects and tasks as another form of knowledge contribution within the environment. This stimulates new network activity and connections, and provides a greater sense of relevance for participants.
Project and Task Feedback – This is another form of explicit feedback within the learning environment and is important for strengthening trust and personal connections.
Ideally, this learning environment model will deliver a networked learning solution that empowers individual participants, expands their professional knowledge and connections, and provides a source of continuous innovation in their professional practice.
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