How Unplanned Learning Led to Online Book Group

Learning by stumbling upon things — and cultivating the ability to recognize when you’ve stumbled onto something valuable — can be amplified manyfold if you regularly look where people in your personal learning network are pointing. Focused, systematic, pre-planned learning is still a powerful tool in the learning toolbox but, sometimes, you need to put yourself into the position of stumbling upon and dipping into learning that you had not planned.

Autumm Caines, for example, participated in focused, systematic learning as a master’s student (now graduate) at Ohio State University and associate director of academic technology in the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at Capital University. She also knows the fine art of peeking into previously unknown subjects that look interesting in her PLN: “I stumbled into MOOC MOOC, a 24-hour version of a MOOC, through a hashtag on Twitter.”

After happening upon MOOC MOOC, Caines took the next step — dipping in. “From a Twitter conversation among the Hybrid Pedagogy community I discovered through MOOC MOOC, I clicked on a link to a Hangout that looked interesting. I thought I was joining as a lurker, but it was a participant link, so I found myself in a live conversation.” The community she had stumbled into was Rhizo14, an online course about “rhizomatic learning,” led by Dave Cormier, one of the creators of the first MOOC (and the term MOOC itself). At that time, Caines was participating in Cathy Davidson’s Future Ed initiative, so Rhizo14 appeared to be perfectly complementary.

MOOCs like Rhizo14 end up as communities. Caines explored and followed the Hybrid Pedagogy. While she was taking a course on the philosophy of open ed tech, Rhizo15 seemed like another natural complement. The next step after stumbling upon and dipping in can be leaping in and trying to do it yourself, which is what Caines and colleagues are doing with an online reading group.

After a little experience, Caines offers some advice for people who want to experiment with their own casual, conversational, low-pressure mini-MOOCs as online book groups:

  • One-hour Twitter chats around the group’s agreed-upon hashtag is an easy way to start and a low-commitment invitation to participation.
  • Similarly, a Facebook group is easy to set up and offers a low bar to participation.
  • Weekly or daily focal topics help — one- to three-minute video prompts can set the focus.
  • Prompts for daily (or weekly makes) are useful. (See Alan Levine’s “Daily Create” for ds106) as a model.
  • If participation level is high, assign hosts to Twitter, Facebook, and other places your community convenes.

Watch this video of my conversation with Caines to learn more about her journey.

Banner image: Todd Morris