Reclaim Open Learning

better online learning for higher ed


September 20, 2013 by Claudia Caro Sullivan

Diego Leal, EAFIT University (Colombia)
Francisco Morfin, ITESO University (Mexico)
Enith Castaño, Universidad del Valle (Colombia)

Weaving online learning networks: a Latin American cMOOC

Weaving Online Learning Networks (TRAL) is an eight-week open online workshop aimed at higher education teachers, but that allows for free participation of anyone interested. TRAL is a hands-on experience (available under Creative Commons licenses) that allows participants to recognize the composition of both their personal learning environments and their professional networks, as a starting point to enrich them with the use of social media and, in some cases, to consolidate professional communities of practice.

Participants in TRAL use personal blogs to document and share their learning process. The information produced in TRAL is aggregated and redistributed automatically across multiple media, making easier for everyone to be aware of the decentralized reflections happening all over the web. TRAL uses open source platforms for content publishing and information aggregation, as well as several free tools that can be used by participants to replicate the experience in their own spaces. TRAL is based on a distributed technology design similar to that used in other connectivist MOOCs.

TRAL emerged as a volunteer initiative led by a small group of practitioners from all over Iberoamerica, interested in the development of open educational practices and the design, delivery and facilitation of open online courses, building on experiences developed and documented by Diego Leal since 2009. TRAL was not conceived as a course offered by an institution, but as a community initiative that could be articulated with the teacher training activities developed by the institutions that some of the practitioners belong to. Participants included both individuals and groups from universities, schools and other Latin American organizations, that were supported by a facilitator.

A recurring issue in most educational spaces is how to make effective use of the many technological tools currently available in order to support personal learning. At large, teachers are still unaware of the possibilities of social media and the potential of open networks as a complement to formal education and learning processes. Spanish-based experiences developing network thinking are scarce and, paradoxically, they remain confined to the technological limits defined by Learning Management Systems. In this sense, we are losing an opportunity to model effective network learning habits for our students and to help them inhabit existing open online spaces.

TRAL is a unique experience in the Latin American context because of its origin, its design principles, its target population and the heterogeneity of participants, involving during its Spring 2013 edition over 600 participants from 19 countries, with over 1800 posts published in 314 public blogs. So far, it’s a clear example of what a few people with a common interest can create. In Fall 2013 we will begin a new cohort, involving groups of teachers from several Colombian universities, new Mexican and Argentinean groups and participants from all over Latin America. We want to experiment in further detail with the development of volunteer distributed support systems for participants, aiming to consolidate emergent communities of practice among participants.

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