I’ve been thinking a lot about different structures for adult online learning as the result of a couple projects I’m working on right now, including P2PU. My thoughts are along the lines of increasing participant options in their learning.
There is a fairly universal fall-off or drop-out rate after about 3 weeks in most online classes. One possible solution to this is to create a series of much smaller modules (say, 2-3 weeks long) and a flexible entry schedule. In its extreme, this could result in a structure of a half dozen 2-3 week long modules which could be started whenever by anyone who wanted to participate and completed on whatever schedule works for each learner. The modules could be taken individually or in sequence (or out of sequence for that matter). It’s also been suggested to me that in this format, an almost unlimited number of participants could be accommodated.
This kind of structure is being thought about over at P2PU, and I have thought about it for my “Entrepreneurial Marketing” course (with encouragement by some of the participants).
Some challenges for this model include:
- A compromise of the instructional design when there are pre-requisites or content is best covered in a certain sequence
- Lack of participant motivation to finish even a 2-3 week long module if there is no “finish” date
- The facilitator role
I am thinking right now in particular about #3. In most online courses, a strong facilitator role in guiding and encouraging learning is a given. At P2PU, this seems less so, perhaps both because of the peer focus and because of the fact that all the facilitators are volunteers.
In my own P2PU course, I originally worried that I might take too strong of a facilitation role because of my own experience as a more traditional teacher. However, having been through the course now and listening to other facilitators and participants discuss P2PU and various classes, I think that a strong facilitator that provides solid guidance and a strong presence throughout the course is important. They don’t necessarily have to “teach” but rather act as a coach and mentor.
With a series of modules that have a rolling cast of participants though, I think this would be almost impossible. Relationships would be very difficult to form.
And as a facilitator, you’d virtually have to monitor the progress of each participant in each module individually. (In my course, this would be something like 6 modules x 3 weeks each x 40+ participants….probably a lot more with a rolling enrollment.) I’m not sure this would be feasible with a paid teaching job; it is unthinkable as a volunteer (unless of course you have a whole lot of time on your hands and don’t need to earn a living — neither of which apply to me :).
Which then takes you to the place of stepping back as a facilitator…making it more of a “virtual book club” as P2PU suggests, with participants hopefully self-forming into groups and some taking on a facilitator role independently.
While that sounds appealing, my own experience in trying to foster this kind of self-managing learning group atmosphere has not been successful. You end up with a few highly self-motivated and well-organized people learning a lot, but frankly those people could have organized their own learning from a variety of sources; they don’t need a P2PU course.
I’d be interested to know if others have experience in how this can work.
Otherwise, I’m thinking about some kind of hybrid….perhaps modular, but with a limited cadre size, fixed start and end dates for each module, and a continuing facilitator role. Still thinking though….