Friday, October 24, 2014

E-Learners of the Future: Tip #2- The Rules of Engagement

In the last post, it was suggested that students need a powerful purpose in pursuing their education in the online environment. Without a powerful purpose, many students who have been educated throughout their life in the traditional education systems will simply revert back to that framework bringing with them old habits and with that a growing disconnect and mindset that what they are doing is really meaningless in their world.


In order for e-learners to pursue their education effectively so that it is an enriching experience for them, something needs to be said about the rules of engagement in an online environment.
The way that we communicate in an online environment where education is our focus is different from the way that we communicate when we use the online environment as a function of socialization. If you take a close look at the substance of communication when social media applications such as Twitter, Facebook and Messenger are used, you will notice that communication occurs in short bursts using a scattering of mutually agreed upon acronyms. The real question becomes whether or not students can pursue deeper sustained learning using social media contexts? My response to that is maybe in carefully designed learning experiences these formats are useful. The format and context of communication is as important in the online environment as it is in the traditional school systems. One of the noticeable challenges in dealing with online students is to reinforce the responsibility that they have to communicate not only with each other but especially with their instructors and mentor networks.

The type of communication that students need to be mentored in is what I term "collaborative thinking communication style." This type of communication is not a type that comes naturally to those who have been communicating in the online environment over an extended time. The following conditions need to be presented to students in order for them to have appropriate opportunities to see the benefits of this style of communication when they are given a powerful purpose in their online education:

  1. Collaborative thinking and communication means that you acknowledge that you need to go beyond just communicating with other students on a purely social level and that you need to understand what talents or gifts they bring to the powerful purpose that you are engaged in. For example, one student might have an above average aptitude for mathematical thinking while another might display an above average aptitude for spacial reasoning and yet another might have an above average aptitude for logical reasoning and argumentation.
  2. Individually a student would have difficulty dealing with learning experiences that have challenging problems presented. Together, a problem can be analyzed, understood and potential solutions proposed. This type of communication requires that students value each others contributions to the solution of the problem. The powerful purpose that unites them is their guide.
  3. This type of thinking expects that the goal is to make a difference in solving a real world issue. It does not stop at the hypothetical. 
  4. It is expected that students using this type of thinking will have real and relevant outlets to communicate what they think in an effective manner and trains them how to deal with the feedback that results.
  5. In this type of communication, all possible online forms are available to be used to communicate a coherent solution. For example, 3D graphs, animations, YouTube videos, virtual reality scenarios can all be coordinated in the online environment to communicating solutions.

 If we accept the idea that we want students and educators to be agents of change in our society and that we wish to see a culture of innovation ingrained into the greater education systems, then we want students to be able to think critically with the emphasis on the higher thinking skills as contained in Bloom's revised taxonomy. Our goal is to have student be creators of new knowledge and skill sets. Therefore, in the design of irresistibly engaging learning experiences it is a given that they are designed in such a way as to nurture and reinforce this type of thinking. This is a second rule of engagement.


A third rule of engagement is to encourage a divergent mindset among students when it comes to their approach to their education. Students need the habits of an eclectic in order to bring in diverse ideas within a collaborative group as contributions to the solution of challenging problems contained within learning experiences. They need to be able to look at available resources that could be used in the solution of a problem in a multitude of ways or contexts.

These suggested rules of engagement are not all encompassing. Since online education is evolving, we can expect this list to grow and better reflect the reality that changes as our technology and pedagogy continue to take shape.

Next post........Tip #3

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