Exploring the Social: Challenges of Peer Learning

I wanted to respond to Philipp’s post about the use of challenges within School of Webcraft and to gather thoughts that have been developing over the last month or so. One of the changes that happened within the School of Webcraft at the same time as my transition out of a formal role  with the project was the change from a focus on peer-led courses to the development of challenges that peers can attempt together.

Generally I think that exploring challenges is a good move for much of the learning that should be happening within Webcraft. It’s a learning space which makes defining “learning challenges” simple, attractive and easy to tie to tangible recognition models such as Badges.  Jessy Kate’s written a really great response about the tension between recognition and heterogeneous learning, which has also kindled my response.   What type of peer-learning do challenges support, do they let people learn “anything” and how are they scalable?

The curated, employment focussed nature of Webcraft makes it easy to say “Want to be a web developer? Show us that you’ve completed these specific activities. We recommend that you do them in this order. Here are some useful resources to help.”  Online peer-learning with challenges support this approach very well, but I don’t think that they are an approach which will work across all disciplines and topics in a space such as P2pU.

With challenges learners are invited to interact with each other as peers, but the interaction that is invited seems closer to pre-designed peer-instruction  than learning driven by the peers themselves. Chloe’s put out a great document about how to create a challenge , which is targeted at content experts writing challenges for learners. No teacher or facilitator may be present, but the creation of good challenges means that someone besides the learner is required to take the role of instructional “challenge” designer.

This isn’t to say that a challenge based model or peer-instruction is in any way bad, but they both rely on someone else besides the learners to fill the roles of facilitators and designers.  Learners aren’t always going to learn things that have easy to find, pre-defined content, and experts aren’t always going to be present and able to voluntarily create the relevant challenges in time for learners to interact with them.

Learner access to pre-defined challenges such as Webcraft 101 is scalable, but peer-learning anything in this manner is not scalable. Learners wishing to explore other topics still need ways to create their own learning experiences, whether they are self-defining a learning pathway or co-creating a course of study with other people.

In many ways challenges are just pre-prepared online learning content with cues to write and comment via blogs. By itself, challenge content doesn’t solve the primary problem which makes “teacherless” peer-learning online (and offline) so difficult: the social.

Connecting and sharing a message with others is easy online, but effectively maintaining and developing a group of people in a shared journey together to a defined endpoint (end of course) is much more challenging.  In order for challenges and learner driven peer-education to work out we still need to find ways of better learning with each other.

One response to “Exploring the Social: Challenges of Peer Learning”

  1. […] Exploring the Social: Challenges of Peer Learning (pippabuchanan.com) […]

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