Designing a Transformative Learning Community for Online Learning Excellence
April is poised to be an exciting month for educators in the State of Oklahoma. Through support of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, the Council for Online Learning Excellence is coordinating the first Oklahoma Learning Innovations Summit. This “blended” learning summit is aimed at helping educators share effective practices and knowledge about how to promote excellence in teaching and learning.
In this article, I “un-pack” the design considerations for planning a state-wide learning event such as the Oklahoma Learning Innovations Summit. Often as educators, we have a set “community” for a defined period of time such as students who enroll in a course or colleagues in a department. This helps define who the members of the community are and the roles each will likely play.
Creating an engaging learning experience that engages people in a more informal and across conventional groups creates a rather unique an interesting challenge.
The Transformative Learning Connection
Transformative Learning is a primary philosophy shaping the design and launch of the Oklahoma Learning Innovations Summit. The growth and complexities associated with online learning often creates a sense of questions and potential.
It is in between these two perspectives that Transformative Learning provides an ideal framework for creating an environment that helps educators realize the truly innovative potential their teaching and facilitation practices. The summit places each educator in the role of learner, contributor, teacher, and leader. This mix of roles shapes the goals that bring this community together.
The Oklahoma Learning Innovations Summit set out to provide high-quality professional development experiences to educators across the State of Oklahoma. This means addressing both geographic and logistics barriers (financial, time/schedules, topics of interest etc.) in ways that offer effective learning opportunities in a sustainable way.
People who participate in the summit will likely have very diverse sets of goals, needs, and interests. This creates unique challenges for learning designers because the environment must have high levels of flexibility, while also offering structure at needed points. It is also critical to provide diverse, yet clear entry points for people to interact within the learning environment.
The Oklahoma Learning Innovations Summit uses blended learning methods that incorporate three design elements: live online sessions, on-demand content, and in-person meet-ups.
The live online sessions are delivered completely online using a webinar platform (Adobe Connect). Facilitators are identified topic experts from around the state and are asked to share a presentation at a scheduled point in time. The goal driving this features is to open access to live learning opportunities while reducing travel time and expenses.
The On-Demand content elements are resources curated from leaders across the state with the purposing of providing access at anytime. These are posted on a website “hub” and are available throughout the summit. Additional resources are also added as the summit progresses.
The third component is the in-person “meet-ups.” While summit participants are located across Oklahoma (and beyond), there is still a desire for people to come together in-person to share ideas and build relationships. To meet this need, in-person meetings are scheduled at key locations around the state and specific times. This allows people to come together in-person while minimizing drive distances and time away from their jobs. The nature of the meet-ups are informal conversations and knowledge sharing.
Addressing design considerations and providing access opportunities are important; however, providing facilitation that allows the community to grow and develop is essential to the long term success of the summit learning environment. Weekly update emails will be provided to registered “participants” while a Facebook group is used to provide participant-driven connection and engagement.
The issue of sustainability is also an important consideration related to growing the summit learning communities. Ideally, the community begins to establish self-determined goals for itself and members take on the role of facilitating, contributing, and leading.
One goal I had when helping to design the community for the summit was to allow connections to be developed long after the summit “concludes.” In many ways, the summit becomes a focused time to develop connections and share ideas, while the community continues to grow. This allow educators to leverage their community at their future “moments of need.”
The Oklahoma Learning Innovations Summit is a unique and innovative way for educators around Oklahoma to connect and share their ideas and perspectives on how to help students succeed. It’s exciting to think of the collective knowledge and wisdom contained in such a community. The capacity and potential for the Oklahoma Learning Innovation Summit is a wonderful example of how Transformative Learning can extend and be applied to professional learning environments.