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The Learning Potluck

The Learning Potluck-1

The Learning Potluck is my third blog post written for the Open Networked Learning course as part of my doctorate. The third topic Learning in Communities is more than just a theme for discussion; it is what I actually have experienced as an ONL student: learning in collaborative networked environment.

As a student I participated in a number of learning formats. Let me group them somehow by country: classical note-taking at lectures followed by individual assignments when I did an MA in Ukraine, far less structured discussion seminars based on pre-reading when I did an MPhil in England, and the blend of those two in my doctoral program in Sweden. And now, this online networked learning course is an added format I never previously tried.

We speak a lot about collaborative networked learning as an increasingly popular approach to education. I can’t agree more with the following statement: “Learning in the digital age is no longer dependent on individual knowledge acquisition, storage, and retrieval; rather, it relies on the connected learning that occurs through interaction with various sources of knowledge (including the Internet and learning management systems) and participation in communities of common interest, social networks, and group tasks” (Brindley 2009). Let’s assume the future of education is by collaborative learning. Then, what are the strengths and weaknesses of learning by doing team tasks?

Group learning is more enjoable and more effective

I enjoy team work in general, it allows for more input, more creativity, brainstorming, sharing thoughts and learning from each other. Firstly, by focusing diffrent minds on the same problem, the result is finding more than one solution. Or, if the group comes up with a single solution, it has more layers, more possibilities, and, as a result, is more effective. Secondly, learning as a group reduces the likelihood of an individual failure. If you learn on your own and you can’t do the task, you fail. If you learn in a group and you are confused, you get supported by the team and move on.

No doubt, collaborative setting has its disadvatages. The group will inevitably have its ups and downs: personalities clash, meetings get interrupted, shared google drive documents disappear, natural disasters prevent members from joining online discussions (no kidding here, yes PBL5?).

Conclusion: lots of risks and lots of fun.

Individula learning is more empowering and… less fun

When you learn on your own you have all the power over what to do with your knowledge, how to apply it and who to share with. You are not dependant on a group, you are responsible for your final tasks, you have no risks (unless your computer crashes). But do you know how my one-to-one reading course with an instructor at LTU looks like?:  Now, Aliona read 5 books and 25 articles and write a 8000-word essay. You have all the power to create this groundbreaking text by yourself. Not a clue what to write? Follow the study guide.

No comments:)

Conclusion: No risks and no fun here.

By no means we should idealize collaborative learning. This format may be very disappointing for a number of reasons, such as unfair workload share and group motivation. In fact, commitment imbalance has been identified as the biggest source of frustration for learners of online collaborative learning and lack of instructor’s support was reported as the least important factor (Capdeferro & Romero 2012). Here we come to the question of the teacher’s role in team learning. The teacher is not an instructor, she is (fashionably) called a facilitator who guides the group, but does not interfere into their knowledge acquisition. This time, it is not the teacher who is responsible for the group work and progress, it is the group including the teacher as an equal member of the group. I tried this role when teaching undergratuate courses in Sweden and I found the experience motivating and rewarding.

Learning in communitites is the topic which, for some reason, attracts metaphorical comparison in describing it. For our presentation with PBL5, we use restaurant metaphor to compare how you gain knowledge from lectures vs from team-work. Kay Oddone, for example, compares networked learning with symphony orchestra. So, I will continue the metaphoric line to say that for me team learning is like a potluck. Everyone comes with their plates full of unique knowledge to contribute to the fest. If you arrive there with your plate, let everyone taste from it and don’t forget to get your share from others. It will be a deliiiiicious party! 🙂


Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M. & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3).

Capdeferro, N. & Romero, M. (2012). Are online learners frustrated with collaborative learning experiences?. The International review of research in open and distance learning, 13(2), 26-44.

Oddone, Kay (2017) The Symphony Magic of PLN

 Photo credit:
Kaizen Nguyễn

Published in ONL


  1. I couldn’t agree more on the aspect of having fun in collaboration. True collaboration really is rewarding. Bur I think you exaggerate the tediousness of individual work a bit. Individual learning can be fun and rewarding too. I guess it is also a question of personality what you prefer.

  2. I love the title of this post. I agree, one needs to take up on risk of working with different people, and take it as a fun learning experience.

  3. Hi! Nice reflections about the facilitators role! I have never taken a course like this before, and I am more use to a traditional course with a teacher and students. It is quite new to me that our “teacher” is not a teacher, instead he is more like a group member. I experience the environment to be more friendly and open when you feel that the whole group is like on the same level.

  4. Chaiwat Chaiwat

    Your blog post is very positive. I imagined this reflected on what you have learned from this topic. I have similar feelings after going through the work in this topic. It is just very nice to come here and read your blog post as it also sums up what I have learned too. Thank you for the post.

  5. I had not thought about the issue of risk-sharing and, at the same time, being exposed to more risks in the context of collaborative learning. Thanks for bringing that up! I have been thinking about the conditions under which collaborative learning makes more sense or provides more benefits. I think it is an understudied topic and maybe one could think about the risk of individual failure in different settings as an additional factor in this thought experience.

    • admin admin

      Thanks for commenting, Kaveh! I also think that in collaborative learning there is shared success and shared failure. For example, getting a rejection of the article written in co-authorship is easier to tolerate. But in the case of acceptance, the merit and acknowledgement is also shared, which for some people may be seen as another risk.

  6. In your conclusions you wrote about risks and fun…but what does that have to do with learning? It could be that your one-on-one interactions where you read 5 books and 25 articles leads to a wealth of new knowledge that you now have.

    In other words, when we discussion collaborations, it seems necessary to state what we hope to get out of the collaboration? Why are we doing it to begin with? What’s the end goal?

    In your scenarios, it seems like you might learn a lot more by working by yourself. But maybe this would lead to higher burnout rates or maybe it leads to a lack of socialization skills, so that when you do have to work with others, you don’t know how.

    You critiqued collaborative learning a bit. Something that popped into my head while reading your blog was the idea that someone, especially a more independent and/or ambitious person, maybe use a collaborative groups’ ideas for their own self-interest (e.g. steal their ideas). This is something that bears discussion when it comes to collaboration and the potential pitfalls of it.

    • admin admin

      Thanks for your comment, Michael. One can of course gain a wealth of knowledge from reading 25 articles, but I doubt that this knowledge isolated from shared discourse will be applied to something useful. For me gaining knowledge for the sake of knowledge is a waste of time:)

      As for your concern about one’s use of collaborative group’s ideas, I think it’s inevitable in all collaborative settings that all group members gain something for their self-interests. I would rather see it as building on one another’s ideas than “stealing ideas”. Alternatively, if a person carries a unique idea which she/he wants to ‘protect’ from public before this idea is implemented, in such a case perhaps team work is not the best setting for developing the idea.

  7. Doulette Doulette


    Great blog, really enjoyed it and it really stayed with me. Most likely as I have a food background and really associated with this analogy. The fact that collaboration like potluck cooking can great a great meal, with each person adding a flavor, but there has to be some kind of recipe otherwise there will be chaos. So here we are at the end of our ONL course it the meal has be served and we are enjoying the after effects of our potluck dinner.

    Thank you

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