TEL Communities

Helen Caldwell and Anna Cox | View as single page | Feedback/Impact
TEL Communities
Definitions: Theoretical background relevant to technology facilitated social learning
Research evidence: Systematic literature reviews on the theme of technology facilitated social learning

The Online Learning Hive


In this paper we draw an analogy between the hybrid MOOC and a bee colony. Honey bees are social creatures who live within their own community which they build themselves and collaborate with specific roles within that community to produce honey. We use this metaphor to describe the analysis of online engagement by participants in a MOOC on teaching with tablets and mobile devices. The MOOC was aimed at educators, prompting them to use tablets in novel and innovative ways in their own educational practice. The MOOC included instructor-led and student-led activities and had a substantial social and constructivist component. We analysed the online discussions (across several platforms) and identified clear and frequent examples of participants providing evidence of their own practice, and many examples of peer to peer learning. While the MOOC was designed to facilitate the transfer of novel teaching approaches to the participant's practice, there were fewer examples of this happening. A surprising finding was the degree to which peer support encouraged participants to engage more fully in the MOOC.

This paper examines the nature of the interactions within a community of practice associated with an online hybrid MOOC, ‘Teaching with Tablets’ (TWT), to see whether the learning environment facilitates a more effective transfer of skills to practice.

Our key questions were:
    Does participation in a hybrid MOOC prepare educators for using tablets more effectively in their classrooms?
    Is the hybrid MOOC format effective in influencing the teaching practices and pedagogical beliefs of those involved?  

The TWT MOOC had 570 students registered, of which 294 accessed the course website and 171 accessed some learning material. The Google+ Community had 273 members.

Samples of the Google+ posts were taken for analysis; every third post made by participants was taken from all categories. The Storify of each Twitter chat for each week and other data from video, multi-modal reflections (such as Thinglink) and Google Hangouts was also analysed.

The connections between postings and identified codes allowed us to understand the types of interaction that surrounded each e-tivitiy.

We found that the hybrid MOOC demonstrated clear elements of an active and supportive community of practice as identified by Lave & Wenger (1991) and Rogers (2000). The community was originally driven by the moderators but shifted in balance and tone throughout the progression of the MOOC. The common goals of the e-tivities as well as the diversity of outcomes from the same task brought a sense of mutual engagement to the community.

Examples of shared discourse as well as humour can be found within the comments on the Google+ community. Questioning and reflection, both by participants and moderators and this often led to statements of intention to transfer to practice (figure 3), or evidence of actual transfer to practice. This generated a real learning community and enabled additional peer-peer and instructor-participant learning. Where there were clear roles at the beginning (participants and moderators) these appeared to blur as the course continued. Moderators learned from participants and vice versa. Participants took on the role as the expert, sharing, answering questions of other participants.

In all cases, the journey into practice was not as straightforward as we expected. Participants did not take the suggested sample activities presented in the e-tivities and other MOOC material and directly transfer it. Instead, they seemed to reflect on the provided material and discuss it in the various communities, where they engaged in peer to peer learning about the uses and possible impact of the new practices. When participants did successfully transfer content from the MOOC to their practice, they did so after this interaction and a subsequent period of self-reflection. Only then did they apply the new practice to their context, following it up with a reflective post on the activity in the MOOC community.

‘It 's so inspiring. That's why the course has been so interesting. Because you might not have an idea. And then you might not know what to do with something so seeing someone else use it effectively just makes you go 'OK, I'm going to try that.'

There was clear evidence of knowledge transfer, both from instructors to participants and peer-to-peer between participants.

In the MOOC creating the artefacts appear to be catalyst for individual understanding and reflection, however the sharing of the artefacts appear to be the springboard for more learning. Analysis of the interactions in the MOOC suggests that something more aligned with rhizomatic learning (Cormier 2011) is taking place.


Caldwell, H and Smith, N., 2017. The Online Learning Hive: Transfer to practice within a MOOC community of educators. Publication pending in: Paper presented to the International Conference on Information Communication Technologies in Education. Rhodes, Greece, 6-8 July, 2017.

Full text available here:

Cormier, D., (2011). Rhizomatic learning-why we teach.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge University Press.

Rogers, J. (2000) Communities of practice: A framework for fostering coherence in virtual learning communities. Educational Technology and Society. 3 (3), pp1-12. Accessed 11 March 2003