Thursday, April 23, 2009

Building an Online Early Learning Professional Development Community

Designing online learning communities remains on the important challenges for educators. In other postings I have written about the roles for learners in communities and tried to describe general ideas for creating online communities.

In this post, I want to develop an outline for how to create a community focused on child care, parenting, and early learning to elaborate my ideas about online learning communities.

At the moment I mostly have questions rather than answers.

1. Can we create a community that includes for parents and professionals?

There are lots of overlap in terms of the types of issues and concerns faced by both parents and child care professionals. They are both interested in healthy development-- helping children grow, learn, eat nutritiously, be safe, etc. There are some differences especially between those professionals who care for children in centers with multiple children versus a parent with only one child. There are fewer differences between a family child care provider and a parent.

2. What advantages or disadvantages might there be to developing a parent-professional learning community?

The biggest advantage would be that parents and professionals could learn from each other and see the issues that they share in common. The disadvantage is that professionals may want to ask questions and raise issues that they would prefer be discussed within the professional community rather than in the presence of parents. Likewise, parents may be interested in hearing from other parents about issues rather than from professionals on some issues.

3. How would learning be organized?

I would create microlearning opportunities such as short audio, text, and video material that address a single issue, problem or idea such that these microlearning experiences could be assembled into larger learning activities such as lessons, courses, and so forth. My best example of microlearning is the FAQ (frequently asked questions) structure in which there are specific questions with short answers. Likewise, in many cases, these answers are also linked to related questions or additional information. I also think that short quizzes and surveys are other tools that can be easily used to create microlearning situations. Brief audio and video material can also be used to illustrate ideas, topics and experiences that can't be easily captured by words.

4. How would the learning community be organized?

In organizing the learning community, I would return to my ideas about "roles of learners." My idea is there are a range of roles that vary by level of knowledge or ability and level of engagement. I have hypothesized five levels from novice to partner. It is worth noting that I assume that expect for the novice level, in all the other roles I assume that the participants function as both teachers and learners. In short, each person is both responsible for teaching those members at the next role below themselves and learning from the members at the next level above them. Being both teacher and learner is one of the hallmarks of what it means to be in a learning community. (See a more extensive discussion of these roles.)

Here you begin to see one of the challenges of having both parents and professionals in the same learning community. How will people feel about both parents and professionals developing learning materials? Can parents (without other credentials) obtain the role of "expert" in the learning community?

What types of technology tools are needed to support this learning community?

There needs to be an easy way to create FAQs (short question and answers), quiz tools, survey tools, audio and video tools (perhaps just the capacity to upload audio and video rather than editing tools), forums for both synchronous and asynchronous discussions, and tools for assembling short microlearning content into longer and richer learning experiences (e.g., courses, how-to segments, etc.). At the most advanced end there may need to be research tools such as data collection, management and analysis.

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