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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Collaborative Learning Using Web 2.0 Tools - A Summary


Over the past six weeks, I’ve been leading a course:

Collaborative Learning Using Web 2.0 / eLearning 2.0 Approaches

Course Description: The purpose of this course is to give you an opportunity to learn about collaborative learning by participating in collaborative learning. This course is designed to teach how to design and build collaborative learning experiences using Web 2.0 / eLearning 2.0 approaches.

You can find out more about the course itself from the Wiki at:

The basic structure of the course was:

  • Six weeks long, each week had a one-hour virtual classroom session
  • First two weeks were introductions to the tools and to collaborative learning
  • Middle three weeks were the design (as a team) of collaborative learning projects, facilitation/participation in projects.
  • Final week was a summary discussion

The participants in the class were corporate learning professionals from a variety of medium to large organizations.


This has been a great learning experience for me. I thought it might be interesting to provide some of the feedback from course participants and some of the insights from having conducted this course. I’m going to likely have additional posts based on the outcomes of this course. (Note: all quotes below are from participants.)

  • Nuvvo was initially going to be used for the course as a registration system, communications and some content presentation. However, I found little value over using separate tools such as Yahoo Groups and a PBWiki. Through Nuvvo I did receive several registration requests, so it at least offers free advertising.
  • There is significant interest in the topic. I sent out about 10 emails to friends and colleagues and quickly found about 20 people wanting to take the course (I got back 2 or 3 people at several companies). However, the low barrier to entry (free course offered by a friend) created an opportunity for a disconnect between my expectations for participants and their “commitment.”
“In order for the class to be effective I would be charging up front. Make some accountability for the folks to ensure the committment is there.”
  • An introductory survey, conduct using SurveyMonkey – , worked very well! I would highly recommend SurveyMonkey. Using the survey I was quickly able to determine interest areas, when people would be able to participate, level of understanding of different technologies (Survey Results). My only problem was that I didn’t really have a way to change the class design significantly based on the result and I should have. See the next topic. Interestingly, one of the projects within the class (created by the participants) used a survey as well (which was a surprise, but speaks to how easy surveys are to use these days).

“Use a more comprehensive survey to learn more about the participants and why
they are taking the course and how they plan on using the things they learn. This might provide more insight in developing various exercises or homework - pairing people with like needs.”

  • When I originally conceived the course, I assumed that most attendees would know about Blogs, Wikis, etc. generally, but would not have experience using them. This turned out not to be the case. Because of this I could easily have used another two weeks to more gradually introduce the tools.
"introducing 3 new technologies (blogs, BlogLines, wikis) at the same time is a bit much"
“Specific introductory directions would have been helpful.”
"liked to have started the week with more background and knowledge on blogs and wikis ... so my focus could have been on richer information sharing"
“Have a pre-class experience for those unfamiliar with the tools to learn more about
them by having demonstrations or showing examples. Or dedicate the first 2 sessions to learning and applying the tools one at a time in our homework. In this way, those people who are already familiar with them could be given the choice of missing those sessions. "
  • All professionals (including learning professionals) are extremely busy. Even though the attendees in this class were fairly dedicated, it still is hard to find time for 3-5 hours per week. Ideally the course would have required less research time on topics. It is hard to define “assignments” that take relatively short amounts of time yet are interesting and deep enough. Part of this is the natural reluctance to share partial thinking.
"Doing research on the web is time consuming"
"I find that I am hesitant to write anything unless I have really thought it through."
  • Firewalls and restrictive corporate environments caused us considerable grief: Yahoo Groups were restricted in some corporate environments, Elluminate did not work through several firewalls, we had to switch to WebEx and that really goofed up the start of the course; Yahoo Toolbar (for MyWeb) couldn’t be installed on locked desktops.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS) is only way this could have worked. While I came into this believing in SaaS, I’m leaving it believing even more.

  • Limit class size … teams of 4 worked well … 22 individuals acting individually in the early part of the course did not.

  • I think that we achieved a different kind of understanding around Blogs, Wikis, Discussion Groups, etc. by actively using them as part of the class. Most of the participants gained real value from actively working with the tools as part of a learning experience, BUT, there is definite frustration as well given having to simultaneously get up to speed on the tools and learn about using them. Given the widely different levels of experience and propensity for using the tools, it was very difficult to balance learning about the tools and using them as part of learning. In the future, I will separate the two entirely.

"Let’s hear it for failure based learning"

  • Students were given a first-hand experience relative to "control" in collaborative learning both as participants and as leaders. As participants, they were given a lot of autonomy which sometimes worked well and many times did not. As leaders of their individual projects, they had mixed results with the participants actively engaging on the project. Also, I was fairly open on many issues such as assigning roles in teams, establishing norms – but some teams suffer because of this:
"Team collaboration might have been better if we had assigned roles soon after Tuesday's meeting"
"I found that in our collaborative environment, it was much easier to get busy and not participate as much as I would have when forced to face my facilitator or team members in an actual conference call or live meeting encounter. It became apparent that deadlines would need to be set and enforced in a corporate collaborative environment to ensure things kept progressing."
  • You still need to enforce timelines, norms, etc. While it’s nice to try to leave things open, it may be more effective to be somewhat dictatorial.
“Meetings are great to keep things moving because they are a deadline”
  • Each week, students would reflect on what they learned and how the class was working for them through a Plus/Delta assignment. This worked very well and sparked interesting discussions each week. But you need a thick skin. Most of the quotes here comes from the Plus/Deltas. However, there was some question of the format:

"I am not sold on the value of a plus / delta post. I prefer a more free form comment on the learning of the week. The important element of the post from a learning perspective is learner reflection. I think general comments on the week
allows this reflection to be more meaningful, at least to me it is."

  • The tools generally work pretty well for collaboration
"Our new collaboration tools were essential as our team had challenges with time schedules and difficulties coming together."
"signing up on Yahoo 360 and Yahoo My Web went well"
"sharing links with My Web is a lot easier than e-mailing them"
"Yahoo Bookmarks allows you to see your bookmarks from home or office"
"Yahoo groups worked well for exchanging information with team members"
"Signing up for Yahoo 360 and My Web were very quick and easy"
"I was surprised at how easy add-ins were to incorporate"
  • The projects in the course (designed by participants) was a great learning experience. If anything, more of this kind of learning would have been better.

  • Timing is a real challenge. Ideally you would get work into pairs or teams quickly, but with this kind of class you expect to have some level of non-participation and you don’t want people teamed with folks who will drop. So, you start individually, but then move to more team-based. However, most of the participants felt that pairs/teams were more effective.

  • Our teams had mixed results in really collaborating virtually. This was primarily a function of timing. If you could do several cycles in a short amount of time, then you could get good collaboration.

Keywords: eLearning 2.0, Web 2.0, Collaborative Learning


Mark said...

Tony - great insight from the students. I heard and faced the same kind of challenges when we were attempting to introduce Second Life into corporate environments. It sounds like overall the experience was positive and I completely agree on the SaaS argument. The rate at which you can deploy across an organization alone makes it compelling.

Tony Karrer said...

Mark - thanks for visiting. I was definitely interested in your experiences with Second Life (which would have been much more challenging than what I did).

The overall experience was DEFINITELY POSITIVE.