Break down the barriers



Encourage learners to discuss their learning with a wide range of people across their professional
networks, as well as within the course.




You want to take advantage of the wealth of learning opportunities that your learners have access to within their
professional networks. But the learners tend to stick to the course pathway (i.e. pre-determined activities and knowledge
within the course), so you encourage learners to discuss their learning with a wide range of people across their professional
networks, as well as within the course.



In contrast to undergraduate learners, professional learners bring ready-made professional networks that can provide
valuable expertise to complement course materials. By focusing on course content, or internal discussion forums,
MOOC designs miss an opportunity to access this powerful resource. Most MOOCs focus on the resources (eg text, video and other media) that form the core course content. Learners may be encouraged to utilise course discussion forums to discuss
course content will peers. These discussion forums can be unsatisfactory, as they may be focused on technical issues,
or dominated by a few individuals who intimidate other participants. But professional learners often have their own
mature professional networks developed over years and focused on their own situation. Discussion with one’s own colleagues is high value as it is localised and directly relevant to practice. An individual’s existing network is a trusted resource and can be activated easily through platforms such as Facebook, Yammer or Twitter.


Instead of attempting to create new, high quality communities inside courses form scratch for every cohort, designers can
encourage learners to use their pre-existing networks to discuss course ideas and the questions they have. Interaction
with an external network encourages breakdown of barriers between learning and work and can have lasting value in
fostering personal learning networks. To complement this (and to support learners who do not have professional networks or
who seek to broaden their network), course designers should also encourage focused communities to develop. Communities
could emerge around language (MOOC participants can lack confidence to engage when they are not confident
about expressing themselves in a second language), or role (e.g. school teachers and university academics in parallel
communities) or motivation (based on different expectations). 


CONSIDER: You have to achieve a careful balance to encourage learners to share new knowledge they have gained back into the course environment, perhaps through specially designed tasks. Some learners may not have an appropriate external network to draw upon, in which case learners should still be able to use the course discussion forums to find other learners.



Justify the pattern by reference to data from cases where it appears to have had a positive effect. These would primarily be derived from the design experiment at hand and supplemented by external documented cases.


Data and References

This pattern was originally published in:
Littlejohn, A. and Milligan, C. (2015). Employers are becoming aware of the potential of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) as a significant form of learning for work. eLearning Papers 42. Retrived from

Author(s): Steven Warburton
Published at: 18 Mar 2019 14:09 GMT
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