onsdag den 30. december 2020

Pragmatisme - udgangspunktets kontingens

  




“Kant ønsket å unngå det han kaller udgangspunktets kontingens, gjennom å finne en a priori-struktur for enhver mulig undersøkelse. Fra et pragmatisk synspunkt er derimod dette det samme som å håpe på å bli en maskin som er programmert på den riktige måten. I stedet aksepterer Rorty utgangspunktets kontingens.”

(Sundsdal 2013)

Indledning

Hvordan kan man vide, at man ved det, man ved? Dette er epistemologiens fundamentale spørgsmål. Men det er også et spørgsmål, der forholder sig til det ontologiske spørgsmål om, hvordan verden grundlæggende er konstitueret, da man kan formode, at der eksisterer et forhold mellem verdens og erkendelsens beskaffenhed.

Pragmatisme - hvad er det?

Et centralt element i pragmatismen er, at erkendelse ikke er et filosofisk spørgsmål, men et praktisk. Epistemologien har historisk set været et centralt anliggende i filosofien, og derfor handler meget filosofi om, hvordan det helt grundlæggende forhold mellem verden og menneskers erkendelse af den skal eller kan forstås ud fra nogle almene principper.

Denne bestræbelse på at udlede filosofiske principper for erkendelse gør pragmatismen op med. “The pragmatic method is primarily a method of settling metaphysical disputes that otherwise might be interminable….The pragmatic method in such cases is to try to interpret each notion by tracing its respective practical consequences. What difference would it practically make to anyone if this notion rather than that notion were true? If no practical difference whatever can be traced, then the alternatives mean practically the same thing, and all dispute is idle.” (James 2004) Citatet stammer fra det værk, der kan siges at grundlægge pragmatismen som en position, nemlig Pragmatism. A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, som William James udgav i 1907 (Egholm 2014 s.178).

Inden for pragmatismen drejer viden sig derfor ikke om sandhed forstået som en korrespondens mellem en fremstilling og et sagsforhold, hvor tænkningen anses for at være et spejl af en ‘virkelighed’; at være “a mirror of nature” (Rorty 1979). En beskrivelse af et sagsforhold eller en forståelse skal vurderes ud fra, hvilke konsekvenser den har eller kan få. Man må derfor spørge til, hvad en viden skal bruges til for at vurdere den. Det er det, der ligger i Egholms formulering om, at et fænomens “essens er dets konsekvens” (s.179). Et fænomens essens i strikt forstand har ikke nogen betydning, og er derfor heller ikke noget, pragmatismen beskæftiger sig med.

Pragmatisme går ud fra den moderne indsigt, at alt, der har med tilværelsen, verden og livet at gøre, dybest set er kontingent. Der gives ikke nogen mening, der kan tilskrives verden udefra eller indefra, hvorfor det heller ikke giver mening at lede efter universelle principper for dette og hint. Derfor er pragmatisme et udtryk for at acceptere “udgangspunktets kontingens”, som Einar Sundsdal har sagt med henvisning til Rorty (Sundsdal 2013 s.337). Pragmatismen forholder sig derfor heller ikke til verdens beskaffenhed - dens ontologi - da det ikke har nogen praktisk betydning. Der er dog ikke nogen ontologisk skepticisme tilstede i pragmatismen (Kjørup 2006). Da spørgsmålet om verdens væren eller dens essens slet ikke stilles, vil det heller ikke give mening at diskutere, om man kan være sikker eller ikke på dens eksistens.

Dette er formentlig også baggrunden for, at Egholm fremhæver, at pragmatismen, hverken er realistisk eller konstruktivistisk (s.236), selvom hun tilsyneladende ikke rigtig kan få det til at passe inden for hendes eget perspektiv, som når hun om pragmatismens holdning hævder, at der skulle være “et stærkt realistisk element, fordi forholdene antages at eksistere objektivt i verden.” (s.184) 

Hvilken forskel gør det i en given kontekst at hævde, at ‘forhold eksisterer objektivt i verden’ overfor at hævde, at vores verden er en drøm drømt af en sommerfugl i et alternativt univers’? At stille dette spørgsmål er at anvende den pragmatiske metode, som den bliver beskrevet af Peirce i “How to make our ideas clear”: “Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.” (Peirce 1878 s.293) Om verden forstås på den ene eller anden måde gør ikke nogen praktisk forskel i erkendelsesprocessen, og derfor stiller pragmatikeren ikke dette spørgsmål; det genererer ingen mening for nogen i en praktisk forstand.

Egholms fremstilling illustrerer på meget fin endnu en vigtig pointe inden for pragmatismen, nemlig at man er nødt til at tro, at verden forholder sig på en forståelig måde, og at denne tro stabiliserer verden, så man kan handle i den. Egholms tro kan være grunden til, at hun formulerer pragmatismen ind i en sammenhæng, hvor spørgsmålet om virkelighedens status må formuleres, hvorimod min tro gør, at jeg ikke fortolker problemstillingen på samme måde. Vi får pragmatismen til at passe ind i vores måder at forstå videnskabsteori på, og vi når frem til to lidt divergerende perspektiver.

For Peirce er tro et heuristisk princip og ikke noget, der korresponderer med noget andet - hverken fysisk (materialistisk) eller metafysisk (idealistisk). Tro er en måde at forstå verden og omgivelserne på, som er meningsfuld og brugbar i vores omgang med den (jf. Christensen 2004). Tro er derfor også de teorier, som vi holder for sande; som vi tror på. Dette kan eksempelvis gælde teori om, hvordan virkningsfulde udviklingssamtaler fungerer. Der kan man have en tro på nogle principper, som man er overbevist fungerer bedre end andre. Denne tro er blandt andet kommet i stand via studier (tilegnelse af teori) og egne og andres praksiserfaringer.

Troen bliver rystet, når fænomener ikke passer med troen, eller hvor resultaterne af at anvende principperne og teorien ikke lever op til forventningerne. Så må man påbegynde en analyse, hvor man skal finde ud af, hvordan man kan få bedre resultater. Dette har især John Dewey arbejdet fokuseret på i det, han har kaldt en funktionalistisk metode. Denne består i fem trin, hvor praksis og refleksion indgår i en vekselvirkning med hinanden: Man støder ind i en udfordring; man prøver at lokalisere, hvori den består; man prøver at udkaste løsninger på udfordringen; man reflekterer over disse og endelig eksperimenterer og observere man for at vurdere de nye løsninger. (Dewey 1909; Egholm 2014 s.179f) Denne proces kan føre til, at troen erstattes af en anden tro - man forkaster den tidligere antagelse af sammenhænge - eller man kan måske nøjes med at justere den oprindelige opfattelse og fastholde de overordnede principper.

En del af den foreløbige og iterative problemløsning er abduktionen, som Peirce fremhæver ved siden af induktion og deduktion, når han beskriver tænkningens former. Abduktion er evnen til at knytte forskellige enkeltelementer sammen til en sammenhængende forklaring eller fortælling. Et ofte brugt eksempel er William af Baskervilles redegørelse for en hændelse i indledningen af Umberto Ecos Rosens navn (Eco 1990 s.22ff). Ved at betragte nogle tegn som spor i sneen og hestehår på en busk, psykologisk indsigt, lidt forudgående viden og rent gætværk kan Baskerville fortælle sammenhængende om et hændelsesforløb uden at have overværet det. Metoden kendes også fra Conan Doyles historier om Sherlock Holmes, hvor Baskerville har hentet såvel navn som metode fra.

Den pragmatiske metode konstruerer en forklaring på et fænomen ved at sammensætte de elementer, der kan beskrives, til en helhed; en tro. Denne forklaring kan så efterprøves eksperimentelt ved at blive anvendt som Dewey har beskrevet. Herefter kan beskrivelsen eller forklaringen tilpasses og eventuelt videreudvikles eller forkastes, hvorefter processen begynder forfra, indtil man har fundet den bedst mulige beskrivelse. For pragmatikeren, der ikke leder efter den endegyldige forklaring, er fantasi og kombinationsevne vigtige egenskaber, da alle ‘indsigter’ altid må betragtes som foreløbige. De kan derfor også altid forbedres og påvirkes af andre ‘indsigter’ eller erfaringer. Tro, viden og teorier er nemlig sproglige fænomener - og det er i sproget striden om den bedre forklaring står, mens det er de praktiske konsekvenser, der afgør striden.

Pragmatismen indgår i den tendens, der er blevet kaldt for den sproglige vending i tænkningen. Retningen er blevet navngivet af en af de betydeligste af de yngre pragmatiske tænkere, nemlig Richard Rorty, der i 1967 udgav The Linguistic Turn, men den kan idehistorisk spores meget længere tilbage, som vi har set her. Generelt er denne vending kendetegnet ved at holde fokus på, hvordan man beskriver fænomener - og man holder sig til, at det, der betyder noget, er beskrivelserne og den effekt for handlinger og virkninger, de kan afstedkomme i menneskelige handlinger. Som det fremgår af Wikipedias beskrivelse, så er pragmatisme en “tradition that considers words and thought as tools and instruments for prediction, problem solving, and action, and rejects the idea that the function of thought is to describe, represent, or mirror reality.” (Opslag: Pragmatism) Men dette fokus på det retoriske og fremstillingen (Peirces ‘tro’) betyder ikke, at fremstillinger og forståelser er subjektive (Kjørup 1994), hvilket man måske godt kan få en forestilling om i Egholms fremstilling, når hun blandt andet skriver, at pragmatismen insisterer “på, at alle erkendelser opstår på baggrund af kropslige sansninger i konkrete situationer.” (s.172)

Netop det, Peirce kalder ‘tro’ og det forhold, at mennesker indgår i sociale fællesskaber, gør, at man ikke kan hævde, at ‘anything goes’. Videnskaber er institutioner, som er med til at regulere, hvad der kan anerkendes som valide argumenter (hvad der virker), da de også er akkumulerede erfaringer. Så selvom man ikke kan hævde, at der kun er én teori, én forklaring osv., da kontekster og situationer hele tiden skifter, så er det ikke op til den enkelte forsker eller aktør at fortolke et fænomen frit. (Bernstein 2008; Kjørup 1984) Vores omgangsformer er reguleret socialt, og dette gælder også vores hævdelse af viden og normer, der til stadighed skal sanktioneres. Det er også det, Dewey viser med sin funktionelle metode, som også er en metode for lærende udvikling. Det, at man lærer noget, betyder også, at man udvikler et fælles delt handlingsberedskab - og læring er derfor ikke udelukkende eller primært et subjektivt anliggende. Jürgen Habermas har med sin universalpragmatik yderligere vist, hvordan en pragmatisk forståelse også er reguleret af en række almene regler, der sætter sig igennem ved vores sprogbrug (og sprogspil)  - også inden for det videnskabelige domæne. (Habermas 1971)

Et stabiliserende element i pragmatismen er således traditionen, der for pragmatikeren er et udgangspunkt. Videnskabshistorien kan betragtes og anerkendes for den måde, man (forskere, tænkere) har forsøgt at (be)gribe verden i forhold til deres erfaringer med fænomener. Når man således vil forstå noget pragmatisk, vil det være oplagt at konsultere forskellige tidligere beskrivelser - at forholde sig historisk til et givet fænomen. Ved at se historisk på et fænomen vil man også kunne se, hvordan forståelser af det ‘samme fænomen’ har skiftet og ændret sig. Man kan spore et fænomen eller et begrebs genealogi for at se, hvordan forskellige historiske transformationer er med til at tildele et fænomen dets betydninger. Dette kan bruges i bearbejdningen af nye erfaringer.

Opsamlende kan man sige, at pragmatismen er en videnskabsteoretisk retning, der tager udgangspunkt i en given situation og kontekst i sine beskrivelser af fænomener. I disse beskrivelser vil pragmatikeren anvende de teorier, der mest effektivt kan bidrage til at forstå fænomenet i et handlingsperspektiv. I forhold til fortolkninger, vil pragmatikeren gribe til de forklaringer, som gør vores forståelser så nuancerede som muligt, og som udvider vores forståelse af et fænomen eksempelvis ved at fremdrage noget, der ikke har været opmærksomhed på tidligere. Pragmatismen kan forstås som en del af en sproglig vending inden for tænkningen, hvor der kan etableres forskellige perspektiver på givne fænomener, uden at disse nødvendigvis samles i én sammenhængende forklaring. Det pragmatiske sandhedsbegreb er afhængig af, at det bliver anerkendt inden for sociale (evt. videnskabelige) fællesskaber. Sandhedsbegrebet “er en relation mellem mennesker, institutioner og udsagn” (Egholm s.237) - og i øvrigt afhængig af, at det overholder en række regler for fremstilling, der hersker en enighed om, vil Habermas universalpragmatisk tilføje (Habermas 1981).

Litteratur

Bernstein, R. J. (2008). Beyond objectivism and relativism: Science, hermeneutics, and praxis. Philadelphia. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Christensen, O. (2004). Methods and Models – An Essay on Media Analysis.
Dorfman, B. (ed.). Culture, media, theory, practice: Perspectives . Aalborg
University Press.

Dewey, J. (1909). How we think. Boston: D. C. Heath and Company.

Eco, U. (1990). Rosens navn. København. Tiden.

Egholm, L. (2017). Videnskabsteori: Perspektiver på organisationer og samfund.
København. Hans Reitzel.

Habermas, J. (1981). Hvad er universalpragmatik? I Habermas, J. Teorier om
samfund og sprog artikler 1961-76. København. Gyldendal.

James, W. (2004/opr 1907). Pragmatism. A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking. The Project Gutenberg. Lokaliseret 28. december på: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5116

Kjørup, S. (1994). Semiotik og retorik. MedieKultur: Journal of Media and Communication Research, 10 (22)

Peirce, C. S. (1878). “How to Make Our Ideas Clear” Popular Science Monthly.

Rorty, R. (1979). Philosophy and the mirror of nature. Princeton NJ. Princeton
University Press.

Rorty, R. (1967). The linguistic turn: Recent essays in philosophical method.
Chicago. University of Chicago Press

Sundsdal, E. (2013). Richard Rorty. Med håp om en bedre fremtid. I: Straume, I. S.
(red.). Danningens filosofihistorie. Oslo. Gyldendal.



onsdag den 1. november 2017

MOOSL - Social Learning and participation in MOOCs



There are two fundamental approaches to OLL [online learning]. The first is to provide the tools and techniques for individuals to access and organize information to sustain existing distance education practices that maximize learner independence. The second is to use the full capabilities of OLL to create purposeful communities of inquiry that is currently transforming higher education based on collaborative constructivist principles.” (Garrison 2009)

Barriers to MOOC participation

The discussion of MOOCs has to some extent focused on the differences between instructional design xMOOCs and cMOOCs that are connected to connectivist or networked learning theory (Siemens 2005, Jones 2015). In both types of MOOCs, the learning outcome is determined by the self-direction of the learner. The two types of MOOCs can be seen on a scale from high to low structuration and from individual to collective-based participation:
1. Individual acquisition from pre-established curriculum and resources (xMOOC)
2. Self-organized and networked participation in collaborative communities (cMOOC)
Option 1 and 2 both require a high level of intrinsic motivation and provide a high degree of flexibility. 1 and 2 differ when it comes to the social aspect in participation. cMOOCs integrate the social aspect of learning and reciprocal collaboration is part of the learning as well as the learning process. Collaboration is paid with a decreasing degree of flexibility and heightened interdependence, which exactly emphasizes the social element of learning and teaching.
However, far from all - or most of - the potential participants have the prerequisite skills for participation either in one or the other types of MOOCs, which Gráinne Conole shows in her article ‘MOOCs as disruptive technologies: Strategies for Enhancing the Learner Experience and Quality of MOOCs’. Participating in a cMOOC can be a very confusing experience if you are not very apt in online networking and knowledge co-creation in advance. There are a lot communication options available that you as participants will have to relate to and utilize to benefit from the networked learning environment. The proclaimed autonomy also means that individuals risk feeling lost and overwhelmed - frustrated with too many options and the vast complexity of ‘the whole network as a learning environment’. The opposite is the case with xMOOCs where there is no autonomy when it comes to the knowledge offered. It is often a ‘take it or leave’ with no space for negotiating the educational resources or the sensemaking of the knowledge. The educational means often neglect current ways of learning (collaboration, sensemaking, learning as situated etc) and are indeed often ill-suited to many participants and potential participants’ specific learning needs (Conole 2013 p. 11).
According to Conole, we are dealing with a design challenge when it comes to exploiting the media-related options for the design of web-based teaching. Some participants may have been able to exploit the highly individualized form where MOOCs mainly consist of instructional videos and individual tasks. Other students have had a blast and learned a lot through networking and virtuoso use of various forms of communication. Both groups of participants have been preconditioned with strong internal motivation and good professional as well as learning methodological prerequisites (Ferguson et.al. 2014).
The required prior knowledge and the habitus that are needed for highly individualized and self-organized courses, however, is a challenge for many. 'O' for open is a relative concept in MOOCs and the skills required to participate in many MOOCs make them de facto closed for the majority. This de facto closure makes MOOCs less suited as a distribution model of education and training for the many. MOOCs as the well-known x- and c-MOOCs are, therefore, not playing any important role in democratizing education.
If one thinks of education besides narrow job related professional development and some university courses, the lack of real openness is further stressed. If MOOCs are used as a national educational strategy, the achievement with and through MOOCs are discouraging if we only look at the experiences with the two types of MOOCs: xMOOCs and cMOOCs.

Online Social Learning - MOOSL

If MOOCs are to be part of an education policy strategy which includes Higher and Further education, and other formal education and as part of lifelong learning strategy, the question of pedagogical thinking in MOOC design is crucial as formal education has an obligation to attract a larger and broader group than those who already are well educated and capable of engaging in self-directed education. And as Karsten Gynther points out in “Design Framework for an Adaptive MOOC Enhanced by Blended Learning” the dropout rate really matters when it comes to formal education whereas it doesn’t necessarily matter when it comes to individual professional development (Gynther 2016).
According to Stephen Downes, MOOCs should only be judged by the outcomes of individuals: “Different people have different objectives for MOOCs, and what we find in informal learning generally is that people are successful through informal learning, insofar as it enables them to do what it is that they wanted to do.” (Quoted in Buck 2013). But this is not enough when it comes to utilizing the benefits of MOOCs in formal education. In formal education, it does matter what people are learning from participating. Formal education has other requirements than informal learning in respect to content as well as completion rates.
There is a somewhat intrinsic relationship between the skills learned and the pedagogical design. George Siemens (2005) for example argues that the network society or the digital age requires a special way of learning, and he is thus in line with many other researchers who study the relationship between skills or competencies and the ‘digital age’. Much research points to the need of 21st century competencies and new conditions for learning associated with the development of an information and knowledge society or 'the digital age' (ex. Sharpe et al. 2010; Beetham et al. 2007; Nussbaum-Beach et al. 2011; Laurillard 2012). Competencies like collaboration, co-creation, communication and cross-cultural understanding are essential and must be included as part of professional standard in most professions.
The focus on MOOCs in formal education changes the perspective from merely a perspective of the participant - the individual - to also include a societal perspective. Education is about ensuring the right competency profile of the current and future workforce. From the perspective of education this means a shift in focus from a technical viewpoint (how many can you reach?) to a qualitative viewpoint (what will provide the best form of learning/teaching in relation to the given conditions and requirements?). The question changes from 'flexibility for participation' to 'educational quality in supply' (Conole 2013).
Being a part of a national educational supply MOOC design must consider that the learner should be able to engage in a social learning contexts. MOOCs providing courses for individuals must take on responsibility in terms of offering a learning environment with supportive structures to diminish the need of a strong inner motivation. In a study on different models for educational supply to a wider population, Petersen and her colleagues also point to the need of more supportive structures in MOOCs if MOOCs are to be part of formal education: “Some of the negative attributes of MOOCs, however, may be explained by the lack of the supporting structures and the social environment that we associate with traditional education formats such as academic guidance, study group activities, social activities and technical support.” (Petersen et al. 2016 p. 3). The guidance and peer activities are scaffolds for students’ learning process and support the student in achieving the relevant competencies not only for the student but for society as well.
To reflect this need for social or other supportive structures in MOOCs, Ove Christensen talks about Massive Open Online Social Learning or alternatively Massive Open Scaffolded Learning (MOOSL). (Christensen 2015, see also Ferguson 2014). The basic idea of ​​MOOSL is the same as in network learning, but with the difference that the social aspect of learning becomes a principle for the design of the web-based training provision, and that it is not necessarily the participants’ own learning objectives that determine the participant’s progress. In the 2014 report Innovating Pedagogy Mike Scharples and colleagues discuss “which successful pedagogies can improve with scale” and they conclude that MOOCs only can scale if they take advantages of elements of social learning. Their chapter on MOOCs has the telling title: “Massive Open Social Learning.” (Scharples et.al. 2014).
A real open MOOC must be designed to better meet the different needs of potential participants. In a well-designed MOOC, it must therefore also be a participation option to be ‘supported’ and ‘guided’ through a MOOC - MOOCs must facilitate participation, and teaching ‘how to mooc’ should be part of the design. Moocing is what students do when they engage with the online learning environment and the connected activities as co-authoring assignments.
From the challenges, we have seen for MOOC participation and the need for scaffolded participation, we find three prototypes of participation that are equally legitimate in MOOCs in that they are filling the variety of different needs for different types of participation:
1.    Individual self-paced acquisition of knowledge and skills based on individual needs (xMOOCs)
2.    Participation in collaborative self-organized groups with different levels of participation in co-creation of knowledge (cMOOCs)
3.    Scaffolded programs that integrate elements of collaborative communities, social learning and supportive structures of participation (MOOSLs)
The third form of participation requires that educators and MOOC providers must 'rethink pedagogy in the digital age' (Beetham et.al 2007; Sharpe et.al. 2010). Research on the relationship between technology and education points to several quality criteria for good educational design. One can summarize the quality criteria in many ways, but there is no doubt that they as a minimum must contain these seven elements listed by Conole in ‘MOOCs as disruptive technologies: strategies for enhancing the learner experience and quality of MOOCs’ (Conole 2013):
     Encourage learner reflection
     Enable dialogue
     Foster collaboration
     Apply theory learnt to practice
     Create a community of peers
     Enable creativity
     Motivate the learners
And when it comes to online learning, it will also be important that participants have a sense of belonging, feel safe in their learning process and feel that the learning resources are relevant and appropriate to the learner's needs. This is what Randy Garrison calls presence and he operates with different kinds of presence: social presence, cognitive presence and teaching presence (Garrison 2006 and 2007). He defines presence as a prerequisite for the participants' co-creation, negotiation of meaning and participants processing of understanding of teaching material. Social presence is about the participants and their sense of community. Cognitive presence is felt when the actual content and other learning resources are deemed relevant for participants’ negotiation of meaning. Teaching presence deals with the learning design that structures the teaching and its parts.
In a study of the presence forms that were at stake in an online education, Armellini and Stafani showed that social presence was felt by participants that recognized cognitive presence and teaching presence (Armellini & de Stefani 2015). This finding emphasizes the importance of the social element to support many participants in online learning.

Social Media and Networked Learning

The idea of MOOSLs is that learners are gathering around common learning interests to obtain specified competencies and that they work collaboratively to achieve them as well as their personal learning goals. They form a community - and it is the community that scaffolds their learning. Learners in this model work like a network. The co-learners become part of each other's Professional Learning Network (PLN). For this process to happen the learners - the participants - must have platforms for their communication, collaboration, co-creation and co-learning. That platform can be the MOOC - or it can integrate other already existing platforms such as social media. Especially Twitter offers a promising and dynamic learning network and might be a cornerstone of a Professional Learning Network says Nussbaum-Beech and Ritter in their very interesting study on The Connected Educator (Nussbaum-Beach et.al. 2011).
Fei Gao and co-authors have studied the effect of twitter integration in education up till 2011. In a meta-study, they conclude that “microblogging has a potential to encourage participation, engagement, reflective thinking as well as collaborative learning under different learning settings.” (Gao et.al 2012 p.783). They find that Twitter is a particularly promising tool for creating strong learning communities for many reasons. Not alone the collaboration but also the possible participation of people from the outside in the discussions is a benefit making learning much more authentic. Using social media and especially Twitter in education “promotes a collaborative virtual learning environment.” (Gau et.al 2012 p.783). But they also conclude that there is “a need for rigorous research on” microblogging in education.
Gao’s conclusions are to some extent supported by an empirical study by Gilly Salmon. Salmon and her team were running a MOOC that tried to take advantage of social media as a supportive structure for the students. And during and afterwards they surveyed and interviewed participants on how they had used and benefitted from collaboration on Facebook and Twitter. Their study confirms several potentials for learning when MOOC participation is supported by social media (Salmon et.al. 2015).
In the study, they found that social media made students more engaged in collaboration, co-creation, knowledge sharing and reflexive learning practices. Social media interaction also supported a sense of belonging to a community of learners. But they also found that there was no evidence that social networks provided an arena for independent professional development for all students. On the contrary, they found that for a sample of students, social networks had the opposite effect. Alas, less creative thinking, less knowledge sharing and reduced desire to collaborate. The researchers found that the adverse effects were associated with the conception of social media held by the students. “The main objections to using social media can be divided into three categories: a belief that social media might be a waste of time; the perception of social media platforms as confusing or intimidating; and concerns about blurring social and professional identities.” If students held these beliefs they did not benefit in their learning from social media (Salmon et.al. 2015).
Unlike Gao's study, Salmon’s study indicates that especially Facebook is more promising when used for reflexive learning, while Twitter rather supported sharing of learning resources (Salmon et al. 2015).
That great learning effects that go beyond a given MOOCs platform are achieved through social networking is also confirmed by a study by Veletsiano and colleagues presented in ‘Digging deeper into learners’ experiences in MOOCs: Participation in social networks outside of MOOCs, note taking and contexts surrounding content consumption.' They conclude that the reflexive work through social networking with fellow students can enhance learning. Their study supports the conclusion from Salmon that the students’ conception of social media is important when it comes to the benefits. If students embrace social media they are more likely to reap the benefits through this type of learning.
The social media is not sufficient to offset the challenges in MOOCs and other online learning courses compared to sufficiently providing all or most participants with a sense of belonging to a learning community, or to support competency development of interpersonal skills, co-creation, communication and participation in reflexive and collaborative learning processes.
To really teach students to mooc, more supportive structures must be in place than just a coupling to social media. But social media can for a large sample of students be one of the most important scaffolding structures, and it is a structure that most of them know from their everyday life - and something that most of them have experiences with before participating in online learning.

Social Learning in MOOCs

In 'Guidelines for Facilitating the development of learning communities in online courses' Yuan and Kim point to the importance that MOOCs establish themselves as learning communities. Learning Communities, where participants have a sense of belonging, where there is academic exchange, collaboration and knowledge sharing, and how you can work together on common issues is essential for the many benefits of web-based education.  To succeed the learning communities, must be part of the design, and it must continuously be supported in the course (Yuan & Kim 2014). There must therefore be allocated ‘space’ to 'group activities'.
It is also important that MOOC instructors contribute to the learning communities and their maintenance to give the students a security for the professionalism (the feeling for teaching presence (Garrison 2009), which Salmon (2015) pointed out to be a challenge. Yuan and Kim also stresses the need to work with both synchronous and asynchronous contribution to the learning communities. The principles of teachers' active participation and use of both synchronous and asynchronous contributions to learning communities can be both costly and reduce the flexibility of a web-based training. But to make sure that MOOCs become an educational opportunity for the many, MOOC providers still have much to work on. (Ferguson 2014).
It is essential that study activities in a MOOC are designed so that they require or at least strongly support that students are working in groups. (Yuan & Kim 2014). And the activities need to be varied so students are accustomed to different ways of working with peers. It is crucial that there are different activities, so the learning community is activated in different learning processes: reflective, collaborative, discursive and so on.

References

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