August 14, 2018

Is networked learning experiential learning?

Image: © Justin Grimes, The Guardian, 2013

Image: © Justin Grimes, The Guardian, 2013

Campbell, G. (2016) Networked learning as experiential learning Educause Review, Vol. 51 No. 1, January 11

This is an interesting if somewhat high level discussion by the Vice-Provost for Learning Innovation at Virginia Commonwealth University, USA, of the importance of networked learning as experiential learning:

the experience of building and participating within a digitally mediated network of discovery and collaboration is an increasingly necessary foundation for all other forms of experiential learning in a digital age. Moreover, the experience of building and participating within a digitally mediated network of discovery is itself a form of experiential learning, indeed a kind of metaexperiential learning that vividly and concretely teaches the experience of networks themselves.

This article might be useful for those who feel a need for a pedagogical or philosophical justification for networked learning. However, I have two reservations about Campbell’s argument which are closely related:

  • Campbell appears in one part of the article to be arguing students need some kind of academic training to understand the underlying nature of digital networking, but he is not too clear in the article about what that entails or indeed what that underlying nature is, beyond the purely technical;
  • second, I struggled to see what the consequences of the argument are for me as a teacher: what should I be doing to ensure that students are using networked learning as experiential learning? Does this happen automatically?

I think Campbell is arguing that instructors should move away from selecting and packaging information for students, and allow them to build knowledge through digital networks both within and outside the academy. I of course agree with this part of the argument, but the hard part is knowing the best ways to do this so that learners achieve the knowledge and skills they will need.

As with all teaching methods, networked learning and/or experiential learning can be done well or badly. I would like to see (a) a more precise description of what networked learning means to Gardner in terms of practice, and (b) some guidelines or principles to support instructors in using networked learning as a form of experiential learning. This needs to go beyond what we know about collaborative learning in online groups, although even the application of what we know about this would be a big step forward for most instructors.

Without a clear analysis of how digital networking results in learning, and how this differs from non-digital networked learning, networked learning runs the risk of being yet another overworked buzzword that really doesn’t help a great deal.

Despite my reservations I encourage you to take a look at this article and see if you can make more sense of it than I have, because I believe that this is a very important development/argument that needs further discussion and critical analysis.

For a more pragmatic take on this topic see:

LaRue, B. and Galindo, S. (2009). ‘Synthesizing Corporate and Higher Education Learning Strategies’. in Rudestam, K. and Schoenholtz-Read, J. (eds.) Handbook of Online Learning: Innovations in  Higher Education and Corporate Training Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.


How higher education policy really works: a Canadian example

Photo Vancouver

Beautiful British Columbia; smelly politics

First of all, apologies for the interruption to normal service over the last month. I was on a tight deadline to finish revisions to the manuscript for my book, which is now with the publishers. However, having met the deadline, with everything in clean electronic format, I now learn the book will not be published until July 2011. Traditional publishing is in DEEP trouble.

Second, I apologize to resume service with a highly critical blog post (so out of character, I know). However, there are things that need to be said.

My former colleague Mark Bullen directed me to a news release from Thompson Rivers University, which announced that

the Open Learning Division of Thompson Rivers University (TRU) is slated to commence operations at its Vancouver office …. on November 3.  Judith Murray, Vice President, TRU-OL, explained that the OL Administration always intended to have a Vancouver presence for Open Learning in order to help fulfill its mandate to provide open and distance education to the province of British Columbia. “The majority of our students and the majority of the Open Learning Faculty reside in the lower mainland,” Murray said. “The presence is important to keep TRU-OL top of mind for prospective students from the lower mainland and to best serve the needs of our Open Learning Faculty Members.”

Now this is very good news. TRU, which is based in Kamloops, a four hour drive from Vancouver, offers the only open access degree program in the province, and a Vancouver centre makes a lot of sense, since nearly two thirds of the population live within an hour’s drive of Vancouver.

The timing though is, if not coincidental, at least symbolic. Because the very same day, the Premier of the Province, Gordon Campbell, shocked the media (but not the public) by announcing his resignation.

Shortly after coming to power in 2001, Campbell’s government closed both Tech BC and the Open Learning Agency (OLA), which operated the Open University of BC, in partnership with the University of British Columbia (UBC), Simon Fraser University (SFU), and the University of Victoria (UVic) (at the time, the three premier research universities in the province.)

The OU of BC allowed students to enter post-secondary education without prior qualifications, take foundation courses (first and second year programs) by distance from the OLA’s Open University program, then finish the degree with distance programs from any or all of the other three universities, getting a degree of the Open University of BC, which was recognized as a full public university degree. At one time, its headquarters was just one block away from TRU’s new Open Learning Centre, although it was originally based in Richmond, then when it was closed, in Burnaby, both suburban cities, next to Vancouver. People came from all over the world to see what OLA was doing; indeed, I emigrated to Canada to work there, although I had left for UBC several years before it was closed.

The decision to close both the OLA and Tech BC was done purely to save money to cut a government operating deficit. (OLA at the time had an annual operating budget of $20 million, which covered the OU program, its Open College program, and an educational television channel, as well as providing other services, including an extremely valuable process for recognising foreign credentials and converting them to credits that could be used in the BC post-secondary system). In its place, the government created BC Campus (with a budget one tenth of the OLA’s) which ended up as a useful organization, but not one that offered any programs itself. In other words, in 2001 Campbell’s government abolished open learning within the province.

However, there was a problem. The OU of BC had 16,000 students and they were mad at the government. It had to find somewhere to dump them. For a period of nearly four years, the OU students were in a kind of limbo, being supported by a skeleton staff still located in Burnaby. In 1995, though, to meet the increasing demand for post-secondary education in the province, the government (with almost no consultation) suddenly converted most of the the unique University Colleges of BC, which offered both technical and vocational programs, and two year university programs, from where students could transfer to traditional universities, into full universities. So the University College of the Caribou suddenly became Thompson Rivers University, giving the city of Kamloops a much prized full university. (Poor Kelowna, though, that voted for the opposition, had its University College of the Okanagan split into a two year college, with the university component swallowed up by UBC, another fours hours drive away).

At this point, someone in the government had a brilliant idea: ‘Let’s transfer the OU of BC to Thompson Rivers University!’ This brilliant idea though did not take into account that TRU nor its predecessors had any experience of open or distance learning. For several years, TRU complained that it didn’t get the same level of funding for its open students as it did for the campus students, and nothing much happened until around 2008, when a new VP for the Open University was appointed. Since then, TRU has been developing its open university program with vigour and conviction, and it is certainly ironic that open learning should suddenly return to Vancouver the same day that the premier quits. So what goes around, comes around – even if it takes 10years.

Now I have to tell you that I did a Ph.D. in educational administration at the Institute of Education in the University of London, and a fine program it was. We covered all sorts of things, such as different models of post-secondary education, funding models, government roles, etc. Another thing you should know is that for four hard years, I was an elected representative, a County Councillor in England, equivalent to a Member of the Legislative assembly (an MLA in Canadian provincial politics). I was in fact the opposition spokesperson on education.

But nowhere in my fine University of London program or in my petty provincial politics in England was there anything close to the sheer brutal nature of politics in British Columbia, where voters who support the government are bought off with a new university, and those without power and influence are sacrificed. (We won’t go into the scandal of the sale of BC Rail and the fall two government employees took for their political masters on this). I do have great respect for most politicians who sacrifice a great deal in the name of public service, but not all politicians are like that. Some are in it for the wrong reasons, or for the right reasons, but are so driven by their self-interest or ideology that they do bad things. Gordon Campbell is one of the latter. I am not sorry to see him go, and good luck to TRU and its Open University.

And, in fairness I have to say, the OLA wasn’t perfect – there were changes needed, but not its abolition. And despite the current government, we do have many excellent institutions of post-secondary education in the province. But British Columbia sure ain’t a textbook case of how to run a higher education system – well, not if you’re looking for best practice.

Learning with Media: Restructuring the Debate

Jonassen, D., Campbell, J. and Davidson, M. (1994) ‘Learning with Media: Restructuring the Debate’, Educational Technology Research and Development, Vol. 42, No. 2, pp. 31-39

Constructivism and Computer-mediated Communication in Distance Education

Jonassen, D., Davidson, M., Collins, M., Campbell, J. and Haag, B. (1995) ‘Constructivism and Computer-mediated Communication in Distance Education’, American Journal of Distance Education, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 7-26