NBTs, the natural evolution (in my opinion) from WBTs, are a solution worth evaluating. Let us look at NBTs from two aspects – one within a learning context and the other from outside that context.
Typical online training involves the use of self paced digital media or virtual classrooms. The major aspects are:
- The very nature of self-paced training is that it is a solo effort at learning for the learner.
- It is also confined, in terms of the experience it offers, to the expertise, imagination and skill of the subject matter expert, instructional designer and visual designer.
- The course structure is fixed and typically the core learning tasks happen inside the framework itself.
- Episodically, if designed so, there are assessment sections which then can send information to the LMS.
- Course managers then print off reports on who did, when and how well.
- This is sometimes backed by evaluations conducted with learners on course parameters and these are collated to report on overall effectiveness.
- The course itself is episodic, a snapshot reflecting the state of knowledge at that time. New developments need periodic updates.
The basis of Connectivism is that learning is connection forming and knowledge really is the network. Simply put, it is the exact inverse of what is a WBT paradigm. Course becomes the “un-Course”. And then it percolates right down to the reporting on effectiveness thus rendering the role of LMSes in the new paradigm, obsolete, especially as they relate to WBTs. So does, SCORM, more so in implementation than the actual concept.
So in an NBT,
- The very nature of network based training is that it is a collaborative effort for all learners.
- There are no barriers (except those that may be imposed by corporations for protection of intellectual property and confidential information), in terms of the experience an NBT offers. Learners can also bring in diverse perspectives and updated information to the learning process for the benefit of all learners. The expertise, imagination and skill of the subject matter expert, instructional designer and visual designer can form a starting point and tools exist (or should be created) that can enable learners to contribute complex media.
- The course agenda may be fixed, but the structure may be flexible enough to allow these interactions. The core learning tasks happen inside and outside the framework.
- Assessments undergo a change themselves. More emphasis is placed on an individual’s contribution to the network, her “ranking” and techniques for group assessment such as peer review.
- Course Managers – the role changes to a facilitator, someone in-charge of providing and ensuring network characteristics such as diversity and autonomy, as well as facilitating inclusion and access.
- Overall effectiveness would need to get measured very differently as a consequence. For the first time, possibly, the course manager and SMEs would need to take on-going responsibility for supporting the course and making sure the network is strong, flexible and reliable.
The nature of this debate could extend to virtual classrooms as well. Although, for the duration of the class session, there is a collection of individuals. However, the remaining characteristics remain virtually the same.
Both the WBT and the VC (virtual classroom) are teacher-led places or “sites of instruction”. That is, a WBT is launched from an LMS (or portal) and is a direct one-way instructional experience. The VC is situated in a virtual environment, but is still a place for teacher led instructional mechanisms. This is a direct result of porting other physical experiences (live classroom, text book) to new (and enhanced) delivery formats enabled by the digital revolutions.
They should really be “sites of collaborative learning” instead with a vastly different role for the teacher. An NBT could be a learning resource that becomes a part of a site of collaborative learning. And the site could itself be a framework that allows multiple NBTs and other learning resources to seamlessly inter-operate and share each other’s data.
So imagine a “place-site” of collaborative learning where content, context and networks blend. Some have called this, or aspects of this, a Personal Learning Environment.
So what happens to WBTs or VCs. Surely organizations have spent too much effort, time and money building these to just throw them away when a new way appears. NBTs can fit the gap with an intermediate solution if there is a way that it can pull and push/share data with network aware services. Just like SCORM was build to standardize the runtime interactions, maybe we can come up with a way to integrate the network (and thereby, collaborative learning) into an existing WBT or VC so that it genuinely provides a meaningful way forward. This is the within-the-learning context.
Of course, a full fledged “place-site” of collaborative learning, would need to include both these NBTs but also WBTs, VCs and social media as well. This would be a view from outside the learning context. This site would then need to integrated with many different systems and content types. It would also start innovation in terms of new collaboration techniques, new authoring tools, network analysis and management tools and so on.
Maybe we will have a Learning Network and Content Management System (LNCMS) at some point?