Thursday, June 3, 2021

MOOCs in study circles for teacher professional development

A return to an old theme this week of how we can use MOOCs to complement on-site training. Even if many MOOCs offer opportunities for forum discussions, many people would benefit from face-to-face discussions around the course material, especially in their own language. There are many examples around the world where groups of people decide to form a support community to help each other through a MOOC (MOOC meet-ups, learning hubs etc). This community can meet weekly either online or better still face-to-face. The community offers a safe space for asking question and discussing course topics and can be the difference between completing the course and dropping out in confusion.

The idea of self-organising study groups is firmly anchored in the Nordic tradition of study circles developed in the 19th century by pioneers like the Danish pastor N. F. S. Grundtvig. The principle here is also collaborative learning, a kind of community of interest. None of the group is necessarily an expert or teacher so the group decides together how to structure the course and one course can inspire a new one. Generally one of the circle acts as a facilitator but the study form is collaborative investigation and discussion. This form of study has spread internationally and can today be applied to studying a MOOC. The general principles and generic examples of the MOOC can be adapted by the study circle to local and specific cases thereby adding relevance and practical application.

One area where MOOCs can make an impact is in professional development. There are, for example, plenty of courses aimed at teachers and the study circle approach can work very well. To encourage this the European Commission’s Teacher Academy initiative on the School Education Gateway has published  a guide entitled Using Massive Open Online Courses in Schools. How to set up school-based learning communities to improve teacher learning on MOOCs. This is a step-by-step guide to organising a study group at a school or college to study a MOOC as professional development. Studying individually is challenging for many: finding time and maintaining motivation as well as the challenges of adapting to the course technology and learning in a foreign language. The moral support of colleagues adds a dimension that is not available in many MOOCs and the group can discuss how to apply the lessons learned in their own practice.

The study groups therefore offered a framework to support colleagues with low levels of digital and self-regulated learning competence to help them benefit from a MOOC, while at the same time contextualising and localising what was learned on the MOOC and facilitating a transfer to practice. Feedback from study group participants and the eight pilot teachers suggests that the study groups successfully addressed all of these areas. 
Here's a short film that gives a clear overview of the project and its outcomes.

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