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Category: Learning Design

A Community of Inquiry: initial inquiry (from the business end)

This blog post is simply a review of what I’ve been reading as I race to catch up and get my head around all that’s been going on in Exploring Innovations in Networked Work and Learning #MSLOC430 in Weeks 1 and 2.

From one of the following: networked learning, personal learning networks, MOOCs and communities of inquiry, the idea is to investigate a model that’s new to you, then write a post or start a discussion about what you see as the defining features of that model. If only it was that easy: time constraints, playing catch up and choosing to investigate the concept of a Community of Inquiry (CoI), which sounds straight forward and like it ought be highly relevant to today’s world of learning and work but turns out to be a bit of a dark horse, an unsung hero, full of unrequited potential in a world that’s racing headlong towards destination social/network, or wherever.

So what is a Community of Inquiry and how does it fit in to the evolving learning landscape?

Wikipedia has a it, broadly defined, as “any group of individuals involved in a process of empirical or conceptual inquiry into problematic situations”. A model that emphasizes knowledge embedded in a social context and represents “a process by which to create a deep and meaningful (collaborative-constructivist) learning experience through the development of three interdependent elements – social, cognitive and teaching presence”. This is starting to ring bells. Turns out I’m familiar with the concept after all. CoI is a model designed to promote effective online teaching, especially in terms of discussion.

Community of Inquiry (CoI)
Community of Inquiry (CoI)


But it’s with the mention of the word ‘teacher’ that things got interesting. You have to realize that one of the features of this open course is to bring together ideas and innovations in networked learning from both education and from business organizations. Whilst I’d been wondering if, or how, a CoI can function with no identified teacher, Helen Blunden, in a cracking post entitled ‘cMOOC, Social Learning Guided Design or Community of Inquiry – All The Same?‘, really ignited discussion (see Google+ discussion 1 and discussion 2) when she asked “who can act as the “teacher” in a Community of Inquiry?” Is it someone from L&D, a SME or a professional community manager? But, as Cedric Borzee noted, whoever it is, it’s an interesting challenge to find the right person with the right mix of skills and kudos for this role (paraphrased). It was in this vein that I was introduced to the work of Sahana Chattopadhyay, and I really enjoyed reading her recent article, ‘L&D’s New Hatrack‘. It called out all the new skills required by learning professionals in business organizations, with community management and facilitation of virtual collaboration high on the list. Perhaps the Community of Inquiry Model can be appropriated to a business setting and utilized within Enterprise Social Network platforms (ESNs).

Community of Inquiry - for Promoting Change and Problem Solving ?
Community of Inquiry – for Promoting Change and Problem Solving ?

Further perhaps, in an organizational setting, as Jennifer Rainey makes the case, Communities of Inquiry might be used to promote change. After all,

the CoI has a purpose – help the organization lead and navigate change more effectively.  A structure – the framework comprised of roles & responsibilities, expectations, and guiding principles.  An education component – leveraging virtual collaboration tools, change management concepts and tools.  And a “teacher” […].  But the purpose of the CoI is not solely focused on learning.  It’s about applying that learning to help facilitate organizational change

or, again like Helen Blunden asks, “solve business performance problems?”

On my own musings, as to whether or how a CoI can function with no identified teacher, I didn’t get very far. I was thinking of how learning might occur when there is no recognized ‘expert’ to scaffold learning. That’s people learning from each other, with each other. But deeper exploration of that will have to wait for another day and another context. I enjoyed investigating this learning topic and its application in a business context. I’m looking forward to the next couple of weeks where we’ll investigate an innovative topic from a business or organizational context (I think ). So, we’ll see what’s to be learnt there.

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My footprint of emergent learning in exploring personal learning networks

This appears to be an interesting bonus that has come my way. Last week, or rather the week before because I got held up finishing this post, a tweet forwarded on by my PLN notified me of a webinar run by Jenny Mackness and SCoPE that was shortly getting under way, “what is emergent learning? why is it relevant?“. Not a topic that I know much about, only that it had been recommended by my PLN and that I happened to be free at the given time – so why not!!

It transpired that this would be the first of two webinars. In the first one we’d be introduced to the concept of emergent learning and in the second we’d be shown how to draw a footprint identifying the mix of emergent and prescribed learning experienced within a particular learning event.

Emergent learning being defined as:

“learning that happens when a large number of self-organising people interact frequently, in an adaptive, open environment, with considerable degrees of freedom and minimal constraints; no individual can see the whole picture; agents and system co-evolve”.

That being the case, it immediately put me in mind of the learning experience I’d just had in the open online seminar, Exploring Personal Learning Networks, because I have to say that some of the learning I experienced there was probably some of the most challenging I’ve faced in a long time, possibly ever! So yes, I’d definitely be interested to try and map a footprint of that. Footprints can be used to map not only the learning experience but the design intentions also. They’re also time contextual, so they can be drawn as a series over time by an individual.

So what is a footprint? With complex learning environments in mind, they aim to represent the pedagogy and design elements of a course in an easily accessible and visual way. The footprint is developed around a series of circles with the more structured, prescribed part of the learning experience towards the center, and the more “emergent” self-directed, connectivist elements towards the outside, and beyond which is “chaos”. The white shaded area represents what’s seen as the “sweet spot” for emergent learning.

from the centre out: prescribed learning > emergent learning > chaos
from the center out: prescribed learning > emergent learning> chaos

The series of circles are divided into four areas:

  1. Open/Structure (the space or environment and how it’s set up)
  2. Interactive Environment (the extent of contextualization and interactivity)
  3. Agency (self-direction and autonomy of learning)
  4. Presence/Writing (the learning process and product, or the way the learning is realized)

and in each quarter is a number of elements that can be mapped across the spectrum of circles and then joined up to create the footprint. The more inward parts of the footprint represent the more prescribed or directed elements of the learning experience, and the more outward parts represent the more emergent elements.

This is what a blank footprint palette looks like:

blank footprint palette
blank footprint palette

And here is the link to resources you’ll need in order view the mapping elements and to draw a footprint of your own. There is also a handy video to guide you through the process.

The activity is quite detailed, and in truth requires some amount of effort to fully understand the elements to be mapped, but once you’ve grasped those, I’d say that a footprint, such as the one I drew below, has a lot to offer as an attempt to describe and understand the dynamics at play in the learning experienced in these new and complex open environments.

#xplrpln footprint of emergent learning

It was an interesting and worthwhile activity, and I’d be interested to see what the course #xplrpln facilitators, Jeff Merrill and Kimberley Scott, make of my footprint, and indeed maybe see one of theirs from a design point of view. When I get permission, I’ll upload my completed mapping sheet to the emergent learning wiki so that it’s possible to see how I arrived at my footprint.

A review, or two, giving the heads up for social learning designs #oldsmooc

Well, #OLDSMOOC draws to a close this week with time being given over to look back and learn something of participants’ learning narratives or design narratives and to review the course itself. Over all, for me, the course has been a great success, but that’s not to say it’s not been without its trials and tribulations, most of which seem to stem from the constraints of the Cloudworks platform, used by the course as a central hub and repository for content, and the challenge of designing for collaboration and the successful establishment of social contacts on which this collaboration might be built. So, in order to throw some light on these aspects, I’m going to use this plenary session to look back and review the “social” design of the course and take a closer look at Sheila MacNeill’s prototype, which addresses the problem of visualizing networks and content within Cloudworks.

In week 5, the concept of prototyping for teaching and learning was explained as being part of the iterative process within “design science”, that is “the need to build on what others have done and learned, to experiment and test, and then use this to improve the design” (Laurillard, 2012). Well, that’s certainly what Sheila did.

Seeking a better way “to make Cloudworks more friendly and show how some of the social data there could be used to give users a different view of what they’re doing, and maybe help them to make more connections and maybe use Cloudworks a bit more”, Sheila used Balsamiq to prototype her envisaged Cloudworks make over.


I think Sheila has done a terrific job here. The prototype, and her demonstration, clearly shows the advantages of making these modifications. It shows how the platform might be used to provide alternative views highlighting the relationships amongst networks and amongst content. Used in this way, like Sheila, I can really see how Cloudworks has the potential to be used more widely, not just as a content repository, but as an individual’s portfolio/personal working space across a range of learning events, and so support their lifelong learning. Clearly, like Richard Site says in his article, “working with prototypes can point out deficiencies and reveal unseen opportunities”. Sheila’s design modification, and rationale for doing so, has been warmly received. Indeed, one of the original Cloudworks developers has responded positively in the discussion forum, adding “what would be most useful for me is to know the exact navigation issues that folk are having difficulty with: what exactly are you having problems finding and how are you trying to look for it at the moment?”

It’s here that comments from learners, or end users, can be illuminating. Kelly Edmonds says, “I don’t find Cloudworks intuitive and it has hindered my ability to jump into the social aspect of this MOOC”, and Paige Cuffe‘s response also seems particularly illuminating when she says, “I really like your idea of organising around people to whom you are connected through interaction – it would greatly facilitate conversation within this environment rather than driving discussions out of Cloudworks into a plethora of spaces (twitter, FB, google closed groups…)”.

So what participants are having problems with, apart from visualisation of the platform, is finding how to develop conversations within Cloudworks and nurture relationships in order to help facilitate meaningful collaboration.

By switching perspective, it appears much as Diana Laurillard says, “the closer teachers learners are to the specification of digital learning designs, the more these programs are likely to achieve useful learning goals. The detail of the design must not be left to programmers!”

It seems to me that the same sentiment might well be applied to course designers as well. I wonder whose opinions the OLDSMOOC designers solicited. Who did they envisage would be their MOOC participants and what learning proclivities did they envisage them having? I wonder if they used the Ecology of Resources (EoR) Design Framework in the inquiry stage because, if I understand this correctly, the EoR framework seeks to include the views of course participants into the process.

I know the course designers did survey participants upon registration, but I wonder if instead of just paying attention to the course materials, individual learning goals and to the course website and tools, if sufficient acknowledgement was given to the “social” dimension pertinent to MOOCs and to the extent to which participants were willing and able to engage in social and networked participation in order to support their learning. I’ve looked over some templates provided within the course, but I can’t detect anything noteworthy that relates to this aspect.

To be fair, attempts were made within the course design to encourage collaboration, but this proved to be too much of a challenge in the short space of time available. Particularly as the course bizarrely advocated that participants assemble themselves not just into a collaborative project group but also into a study group as well. This is puzzling, indeed possibly plain wrong, and I can’t figure out the reason behind it. It seems to me that one encourages learning by doing whilst the other encourages learning about, and adds up to a lot of effort. Mysterious.

Despite all that, it seems that the design challenge for such courses in the future is how to “jump start” conversations so that people can make connections, build trust and go on to develop working relationships. My own learning narrative demonstrates that finding commonalities with other participants is vitally important. Additionally, Penny Bentley showed how by disclosing small snippets of personal information you can reach out and invite contact. During the first OLDSMOOC convergence session she provided a link on Twitter to pictures of her recent camping trip, such a simple act that helped spawn the development of a supportive learning network. What’s more, looking to strengthen the “social glue” within the MOOC, Penny went on to initiate the OLDSMOOC Facebook group. To me, the social underpinning of a course such as this appears to be just as important as its content, structure and facilitation.

Talking of which brings me back to the course itself. Over all, the course was very good. The content provided was both expansive and of a very high standard, and facilitation of the course was excellent too. It’s amazing that a “rookie” like me was provided with access to so many experts in the field of learning design. The course was highly structured, possibly over structured, but I’m not sure if that was a bad thing for me. I didn’t know anything about learning design before I started the course, so I probably benefited from being “micro-managed” within such a tight structure, even if the timings for some activities seemed highly fanciful at the beginning. However, I definitely found the project based premise of the course to be very useful, and I’m coming to think that with all this talk of MOOCs and their ideological prefixes – whether it’s a cMOOC or an xMOOC – that the real gem might just be the pMOOC. After all, if done well, participants have the opportunity to come away with not only tangible skills and competencies but also an enhanced personal learning network too.

Finally, I’d like to add that incorporating a badge strategy into the MOOC has proved interesting. Some participants have reported that they’ve found it strangely motivating, whilst others have found it a source of irritation as it seems to introduce an element of competition. I don’t know what to make of the effect it’s had on my participation. I know that in week 7 I was tired, and because I didn’t need to participate for it to count towards a badge, I largely ducked out, and I know, like you might already have suspected, that this “review” is a blatant attempt to bag another badge.

Anyway, to end, I’d like to thank not only the OLDSMOOC design team but also all the facilitators on the course as well. It can’t have been easy designing for what’s pretty much unknown territory, but your efforts are sincerely appreciated. I’ve lots to take away with me, not just in terms of learning design but also in terms of new buddies for future laughs and learning.



Laurillard, D. (2012) Teaching as a Design Science. Routledge. New York

Site, R. (2013) Prototypes Are Essential to e-Learning Design. Available at:

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Sites 2013