How do you get collaboration, reflection and feedback in a learning network

Recently I was facilitating an on-line learning network and I was curious to find out how learners responded to this space, i.e. a place to collaboratively learn. On-line learning is where the learner can complete, at their own pace, a series of steps. But it is often perceived as an isolating experience However, not all learning can follow a defined process. There are many topics where the diversity of thinking will create agile and highly relevant answers to a conversation thread. An exciting move forward is the use of social networks in the learning process, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. These environments have created a culture of unconditional sharing. Through this voluntary collaboration, the breath of knowledge is multiplied exponentially (2010, Clay Shirkey).

The question is how do you create a focused learning conversation in a learning network that can benefit a smaller group?

Perhaps we need to take a closer look at what we are seeking to achieve.  A leading thinker in experiential learning, David Kolb, sets out four stages in his cycle of learning that help to explain human learning behaviour and how we might get a better understanding of supporting others to learn (1984, D Kolb). The four stages are:

  1. Concrete Experience
  2. Reflective Observation
  3. Abstract Conceptualisation
  4. Active Experimentation

It is worth observing that ‘Reflective Observation’ builds on the first ‘Concrete Experience’ that then allows us to build new intelligence in stages 3 and 4. Equally, we can apply this to an on-line network where an individual describes their new experience in a discussion thread and then invites comment. It is arguably much easier to add observations and comments when the new experience is described clearly. So my next question needs to be, where do you start your learning process in this model for learning? For example, when faced with the assembling a new gadget do you prefer to read the instructions thoroughly first (Step 1.) or just plug it in and play with the buttons intuitively (Step 4.)?

Knowing where you start this learning cycle will inform you on how you will choose to approach a new process and, in turn, observe other’s learning. In participating in an on-line course there are likely to be many invitations to try new tools and techniques so there will be plenty of opportunities to talk about your experiences and to notice everyone’s learning preferences. Consider inviting feedback from the group on your learning preferences as well as how you are encouraging learning in others in the group. This will give you important information when do your assignments.

Feed back can make or break a learning thread. So here are a few pointers for both those asking for feedback and those giving feedback.

  1. Good feedback is information-specific, content-focused, and based on observations. It is helpful, in this case, that we are informed by the assignment descriptions set out in the E-learning Studios Learning Management System (LMS).
  2. Do pay attention to the feedback the learner has asked for before you broaden your observations to areas they might have missed.
  3. Consider asking open questions that invite new reflections such as: What is it about this on-line tool that will appeal to your primary audience?
  4. Apply positive feedback to any specific strong points in an assignment. It will add valuable information on ideas that have worked well.
  5. If something does not work well for you give solid evidence explaining why.
  6. Consider that your feedback may well be relevant to you. It is often said that we notice, in others, what we need to learn ourselves.
  7. Ensure you are clear when making your point. Check through the meaning of your feedback before you send it off as you might not have explained the real point!
  8. Remember your feedback may well be a personal opinion and bring important diversity to the conversation thread. Illustrate, where possible with examples, to show them what you mean as you may be offering something completely new to their world of understanding.
  9. Follow up when they respond to you.

In summary, if I am going to create a learning network I need to share my experiences, however small and respond to any feedback I receive. To do this productively I need to understand my own learning preferences that will, in turn, indicate my bias when giving feedback to others. That way I can ensure that the dialogue is rich with the diversity of the group and reveal that unexpected gem of new learning and collaboration.

What do you think? What is your experience of creating collaborative thinking on-line?


2010, Shirkey C., Cognitive Surplus, Pub. Allen Lane

1984 Kolb, David A., Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Pub. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

2 thoughts on “How do you get collaboration, reflection and feedback in a learning network

  1. Nice post. Creating collaborative thinking online can be pretty powerful – what other platform or modality would allow you to interact with other people across continents and capitalize on knowledge and experiences from potentially thousands (or more) people who you’d otherwise never meet? That said, my experience has been it’s very difficult to sustain online collaborative learning. In a formal educational setting, the struggle I found was based in the strength (or weakness) of study group members (if people don’t post or don’t respond, then it’s difficult to sustain an online dialogue). In less formal settings like LinkedIn groups, there seems to be a lot of “white noise” out there – people posting advertisements or promoting their own blogs, and it can be quite time consuming trying to find the “sweet spot” where good learning is to be had. That said, I’ve also found some really good conversation happening in these groups and try to jump in as often as I can!

  2. Thank you. On thinking about this I am wondering if the importance of individual achievement at school in the past made people reluctant to collaborate. Looking at at today’s curriculum I would say the next generation of school leavers will be baffled by this behaviour.

    On visiting a global bank recently it was interesting to note that the staff were less motivated by the learning than the importance of getting a good end-of-year appraisal. Part of this impressive process involved completing an “appropriate” programme of courses. For me, it kinda took the fun out of creating really engaging e-learning. Plus, I am sure that it impacted the quality of the learning network.

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