Here are some thoughts on the course and the implications for design of similar kinds of online learning courses.
Social Network as Course Platform
Like social networks generally, Ning, unfortunately feels a bit scattered. There are lots of places to wander around and see things. It's not always easy to feel like you've seen "everything" or even the important stuff. Students likely will feel "Am I done?" "Is this where I should be looking?" At the same time, I think that it worked extremely well to allow discussion with fellow professionals to be the basis for the course. And you can't control discussion, it will go where it goes based on interests. To me this is often the best kind of learning. However, it does feel quite different for participants.
I believe that many learning experiences designed to reside in a social network will inherently feel more scattered. In discussing Facebook Learning, certainly if you look at the types of things involved, it will be scattered.
But - if you consider that part of the goal of the course was to have an experience of learning in this way, I actually think this was exactly right. Participants certainly experienced what it was like. And, if I were designing something for new hires or another group of learners, I think it gave a pretty good idea of what the experience would be like.
Spectator / Joiner / Creator Levels of Participation
One of the best decisions we made early in the design of the course was to define different levels of participation in the course. Here's how we defined it:
Each week we will share new activities that will allow you to explore each of these tools. We recognize that there will be differences in interest, experience and time available for exploration, so these activities will be designed to give you meaningful experiences at different levels:By doing this, we allowed people to particpate in different ways. A person who wanted to more actively explore something could do so and add value to the rest of the group. They would more actively engage with other highly active participants. But people who wanted to be a spectator were given permission to participate in other ways. And people who only wanted to comment or discuss were allowed to do that. This works out extremely well, but requires a fairly large audience to be successful.
* The Spectator--These will be exercises or activities that should take approximately 15 minutes to complete. The Spectator level is for people who want just a quick exploration of the tools and minimal interaction.
* The Joiner/Collector--For those who want to delve more deeply into a particular Web 2.0 tool, the Joiner/Collector level will consist of activities that take approximately 30 minutes to complete.
* The Creator--These activities are for people who want to really spend some time exploring and trying out a particular tool or set of tools. The activities will take approximately 75 minutes to complete and will allow you to immerse yourself in the Web 2. 0 experience.
Length / Duration of Course
We saw a drop-off in participation, especially active participation, as the weeks progressed. We still had lots of visitors, but the number of posts decreased. To me, this suggests that it would be better to do this over a relatively shorter period of time - possibly two weeks. But that's hard as well. There's a certain amount of learning curve to get into and going on the social platform. The amount of content would need to be small. I'm still not sure we have the right balance. I wonder if an on-going course that would have one week a month might not be an interesting model. One of the advantages of doing things online is that we could (and should) experiment with other schedules.
Harold, Michele and I all suffered from trying to fit in facilitation among other work. Sometimes we were more active. Other times less so. It made it hard to ensure that each of us were helping to keeping things interesting, moving, etc. For me, it was sheer volume of discussion, comments, etc. that would take time to review, comment on, etc. that made it difficult. I also found it hard to get on each day and spend that kind of time. Michele and Harold did a much better job of it than I did.
To be more active facilitators would have taken much more time. On the other hand, it had a somewhat good effect to allow conversation to be driven by the audience.
When I took at look at Feedback from Participants, I was struck that through the opportunity there were quite a few people who received quite a bit of value from the course. I really think that it achieved its basic purpose. Trying to provide exposure to these tools and their implications for personal and formal learning.