CourseNetworking - A Weapon of Mass Education

A CHANCE ENCOUNTER

I wasn’t actively searching for another solution yet, but one evening, a new follower on my Twitter account attracted my attention.  The handle was @coursenetwork and it claimed to be “changing the way the world learns”.  That was a kind of a bold statement!

I stumbled on the Course Networking by chance.  I was very unsatisfied with the e-learning solution I was using just a couple of months ago.  The LMS itself was fine, but, as a few glitches occurred, I had the unfortunate opportunity to test the reactivity of the customer service - it was a full-blown disaster.

However, since I am naturally curious, I clicked on the provided link.  And I found something new, something I have long sought after. Not a simple LMS, but a full and complete solution.  A “real virtual learning environment”, as weird as that oxymoron may sound.

I have been working for years on e-learning. I have been a pioneer in bringing blended learning to a few Belgian schools. So, I was perfectly aware that most solutions on the market were lacking an essential part of what works so well within traditional in-person schools: true social features.

THE LESSONS FROM MY OWN ACADEMIC JOURNEY

I left school early. I didn’t even finish high school. I went to work in a number of industries, ending in industrial and naval cleaning. Then, one day, I realized I would be stuck in this kind of job for the rest of my life. Was that really what I wanted? No, it wasn’t. I enjoyed those years of freedom and travels very much, but I longed for something different, for something more intellectually challenging.

I went back to school when I was 27 years old. I studied computer science during the day and in the evening and on the weekends, I pursued my bachelor’s degree to become a librarian. Then, I went to university to study labour and political science, while working as the coordinator of an association offering vocational training to unemployed people. All of this has been an incredibly interesting and nurturing experience for me.  
 
Now, as a trainer and course designer, I know one thing for sure, one of the most important factors of success in adult education is the social dimension. Of course, you need good professors, good learning material, optimal learning conditions. However, if you have all of this but you lack support from your peers and your professors, then, good luck even finishing your curriculum, let alone succeeding in the end.

My own non-standard academic journey taught me one thing: the discussion around the coffee machine, at course breaks, and the group learning sessions with your peers are an essential part of being an adult learner. They give you the opportunity to exchange ideas, to find where you stand in the group pace, to measure how far you are from your goals and how to fill your own gaps with the support and knowledge of others.
 

FINDING THE MISSING LINK

In most learning solutions, the missing link is that social dimension. Forums and discussion threads are not enough. Most of the time, their formal succession of questions and answers are an obstacle to real exchanges. The long threads are also potentially confusing because the core of knowledge you need at that specific time is drowned in an endless discussion that goes in every direction.
 
To counteract the lack of social features, most e-learning coordinators rely on external social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, or some invest in external forums. Although, managing various accounts is a real bore for most people and switching from one account to another to pursue a conversation on a topic doesn’t feel natural.  Therefore, a lot of interesting exchanges or contributions are lost in the gap between the LMS and the social media platform being used.
I strongly believe the internal social media features of CourseNetworking (The CN) are the missing link. I can see that learners in my courses have started exchanging, asking questions, providing answers, giving tips and advice. They propose links to websites or demos of interesting software and share free learning resources.  Exactly as they would do on their Facebook timeline, but they don’t need to quit the CN to reach another social media. They don’t need to open various accounts to find all the communication and learning tools they need.  It is all in the same place.
 

REAL, ACTIVE LEARNING

The social media aspect is not the only interesting feature on the CN.  It is so easy to create posts, polls or to plan events.
 
In addition, something crucial: every learner is a potential teacher, since everyone can create his or her own course and invite anyone to join.
All of those features are actually the base of real active learning.  When people start learning by doing things themselves, by experimenting in a safe environment. This occurs when they can think and exchange for their own achievements, their successes or their failures; when they can ask questions and give answers without the professor’s supervision.
 
For me, that is the real utility of a virtual learning environment like the CourseNetworking; it is not technology for technology’s sake. It is technology to assist new forms of interactive learning and teaching.
 
That is the real revolution of 21st-century education - not in an avalanche of pixels and terabytes, but in the opportunity to explore and experiment new ways of learning and teaching. To promote new pedagogies more adapted to the new modes of consumption of the information by the young generations. To redefine the place and role of the teaching personals in and out of the classroom. To redefine what education is and is not.

LIFELONG LEARNING

With the demographic evolution of the human societies, education will have to change drastically. We live way much longer than ever. But our technological and professional environment changes at an unheard of pace.  Our children have a lot of chances to live beyond 100 years. But they also will live several careers in a lifetime.
 
That means that the life cycle we have known in the industrial society - school, work, retirement – is over.  From now on, people will face several cycles of training and work in their lifetime.  Academic institutions have to get ready to provide new ways of training to all those people.
An unprecedented number of students will enter university throughout the world.  And faculties won’t be able to welcome them all in brick and mortar classrooms. A growing amount of education and training will be provided through e-learning, blended learning, and microlearning courses.
 
And people will be compelled to keep traces of their academic achievements as well as their life and work experience.  The ePortfolio that the CN provides for everyone is a smart and simple answer to that need to gather and preserve the evidence of your career path.
 

A WEAPON OF MASS EDUCATION

So, to summarize my experience and my thinking around the CN, I would say that, for me, it is a weapon of massive education.  It provides all we need to train and educate thousands of students all over the world.  This is why, my partners and I, have decided to use the CN for a MOOC about learning disabilities that will take place in October next year.
Because the CN provides a lot of internal tools for experimenting new ways of teaching.  And its compliance with LTI software ensures that you can go even further in personalizing teaching and learning, even for a great number of students. 
The personalized product for everyone.  It shouldn’t be a marketer’s dream only.  It should be the goal of every trainer and educator today.
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 
MARCO BERTOLINI
Marco Bertolini is a Consultant, Trainer and Designer of educational content. Macro joined Point Jaune, a reception center for young people in difficulty, in 1989. He conceived and animated his first training for the use of the staff of the company. Then he worked in intercultural training with Interculture in Charleroi where he was responsible, for training of immigrant women in international cuisine, which expanded into a social economy project entitled, Globe Traiteur.
Marco then worked for the Regional Missions of Charleroi (MIREC) and Mariembourg (MIRESEM) where he was responsible for all of the project managers, development officers and coordinators. He managed the La Wartoise Fund for the King Baudouin Foundation and accompanied projects for young people, women and companies in Chimay, Couvin and Momignies.
Taking the direction of Archipel Monceau-sur-Sambre, Marco coordinated the reconversion cells of Sabena after the bankruptcy of the latter, as well as that of Cokeries Anderlues. He also accompanied the creation of classic companies or social economy. Still, he says, “[he does] not know what a "classic business" is: every business is unique and creates its own story.” Marco went on to coordinate training for the Interior SPF in Brussels: from the handlers to the fire brigade officers through a training of trainers and the organization of large maneuvers.
Most recently, since 2008, Marco Bertolini has served as an independent consultant and trainer, offering his services to various Belgian, French, Dutch, Malaysian, Saudi or American companies. Marco has developed both an outplacement service for a French Human Resources firm and language courses for a U.S. company where he trained job seekers to start a business or accompanied their job search.
Marco has led conferences and mind-mapping trainings, seminars on local development, framework games for public authorities. Today, he is always on the lookout for powerful tools, and says he is “passionate about digital training; I create for and with you, training courses that exploit the full potential of digital tools.”

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