In general, Finnish higher education institutions have coped well with the transformation mainly because there has already been a strong push towards digitalization for several years before the crisis. However, indisputably, digitalizing courses built for contact teaching at such a fast pace has not come without difficulties. From the learner’s point of view, the change has evoked a genuine need for more interaction.
We wanted to provide a few ideas on how we can increase interaction in online learning and how technology can support in doing so by reflecting on lessons we learned from creating and implementing a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on entrepreneurship, “the Co-Innovation Journey for Startups and Corporates”, during spring 2020 for over 2,400 enrolled learners.
MOOCs are typically free, open, online and asynchronous courses built for the masses. They provide an opportunity to bring together thousands of diverse learners with different cultural backgrounds and expertise from a wide geographic area with different time zones. Therefore, MOOCs should be built to take these aspects into consideration. In our case, we had an additional challenge in building the MOOC in question: teamwork. We were responsible for implementing a team assignment for the last two weeks of the MOOC. Especially facilitating interaction and enabling collaboration was difficult. Here are some of the dos and don’ts we learned that we want to share with you:
- Make sure your learners are aware of their role in learning. Online learning requires learners to take responsibility and accountability for their own learning and work autonomously. The teacher’s traditional role of being an active facilitator and a sort of “big brother” for learners transforms to more of a content provider and technical manager.
- Give clear understandable instructions and tasks. Keep in mind if you have a large mass of learners, you do not have the resources to answer every question. Design the learning tasks and instructions in a way that anyone can understand them and pay special attention to clarity. Ask a colleague to read them through and comment.
- Create a learning environment built on trust and with a positive social atmosphere. Make sure your learners get to know you and one another, especially, if they don’t know each other from before. This will enhance peer-to-peer learning, which is an essential part of learning in a MOOC. In our MOOC we encouraged everyone to share their LinkedIn profiles, introduce themselves in a discussion forum and we sent frequent reminders about tasks with motivational messages.
- Focus on community building. Both you and the learners are required to activate discussions and interact with others. We had several discussion threads open for different topics of the course and all teams had their own collaboration space for chatting, video calls and sharing documents only among team members. Team building exercises also played an essential role.
- Encourage collaboration not merely cooperation. Create tasks in a way that teams actually work on them together not only dividing them into individual parts. Introduce digital tools built for online collaboration. We built our own canvas, the “Co-Innovation Builder”, to help facilitate online collaboration. There are plenty of tools and canvases that you can easily find online.
- Make teams discuss and plan their mutual goals. Teams that pursue a shared goal work better. Make them plan when, where and how they will work on any given tasks right from the start.
- Make a tradeoff between a structured and unstructured learning design. Educators’ facilitation possibilities may be limited in an online learning environment, which requires structured learning phases. However, an unstructured design helps learners learn to cope with unpredictability and provides more space for creativity and expansive learning, where the goal of learning is not predetermined.
Online collaborative learning in a MOOC requires careful planning, the right type of tools and teaching strategies. Now that we are forced to teach and learn online, it’s the right moment for higher education institutions to consider offering MOOCs to reap the benefits it may offer for continuous learning.
Johanna Koskinen, International Education Specialist
Maija Suonpää, Senior lecturer
Haaga-Helia has participated in a three year ERASMUS+ funded Corporate EDUpreneurship – Benefitting Startups, Universities and Corporates across Europe –project since the beginning of 2019.