In times of writing this article, when many of us are still confined to our homes and computer screens, unsurprisingly, there are many discussions going on about online learning. Some of them are very practical and around concrete tools, platforms and tips and tricks of facilitating learning online. Some of them are more existential and raise questions about how online learning fares compared to residential, face-to-face activities. Some of the conversations go as far as questioning whether online learning and, in particular MOOCs, can be considered non-formal education at all. Having this in mind, I will briefly share our experience with YOCOMO MOOC, which is a part of the wider YOCOMO pilot phase.
The intentions behind the YOCOMO (YOuth Workers COmpetence MOdel courses) pilot experience were to support participants in working with the ETS Competence Model for Youth Workers to Work Internationally. At the very beginning of this pilot phase, 3 blended courses were planned (combining online learning content with residential training experiences), together with YOCOMO online courses. Therefore, the first YOCOMO MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) is not a quick response to a Covid-19 induced lockdown as its launch just happened to take place when the whole pandemic started. In fact, the team behind it was wondering how YOCOMO online would potentially get lost in the sea of online offers that suddenly started to appear. Luckily, this question quickly faded away.
But other questions and dilemmas remained. Can an online experience, especially one that is meant for a large group of people, go to the depths of experience that YOCOMO is aiming to reach? Can it stimulate self-reflection and development of self-awareness without intense interaction that is facilitated during residential courses? Will learners be able to grasp and embrace the complexity of the ETS competence model through mainly visual and written content? And, of course, how about the magic in all that? Or rather, can magic appear when YOCOMO and a competence-based approach for professional development are being tackled through keyboards and screens?
Why go online in the first place?
Considering those questions, we might start with the basic one: why go online in the first place? Because youth workers active on the international level, who are the main target group of YOCOMO courses, are dedicated, mobile and have very busy schedules. Even if they manage to attend one of the YOCOMO courses, they might not have a chance to participate in the other ones and complement their experience with different YOCOMO aspects and perspectives. Therefore, YOCOMO online had two main intentions: 1) to provide opportunities for all youth workers, who are willing and able to engage online, to do it in their own pace and rhythm; 2) to become an online resource that can be free and accessible for all.
At the same time, the YOCOMO blended courses were the basis on which Laimonas Ragauskas, Nerijus Kriaučiūnas and myself started developing the MOOC, with big support from Gisèle Evrard Marković and SALTO Training and Cooperation Resource Centre team. Not with the attitude and the intention to “translate” everything that happened during the residentials to the online environment, but rather to try and capture the essence and then to experiment with what the online environment has to offer. We knew that not everything that can be implemented when learners meet face to face is possible, but we were also aware that online learning environments offer opportunities that are only possible there! Therefore, our overall attitude was of curiosity, openness and willingness to experiment
To try and capture the essence and then to experiment with what the online environment has to offer
But there are a lot of exciting insights being shared, generated by participants’ reflections and experience
Did the MOOC support the initial intentions of YOCOMO?
While experimenting, we knew that what we wanted to achieve is to utilise the advantages that the online learning environment has to offer. This included providing a lot of visual content, additional information and resources that learners have time to explore and digest, as well as enough space and time for proper reflection. It was this time and space that an online course had to offer that supported a self-reflective practice, as one of the core pillars of YOCOMO, to a large extent. If you would drop by that MOOC on Canvas, you will see that the discussion forums are active and a lot of reflections and insights are being generated. There are 713 posts in different forums as I write this. Learners even started opening their own discussion forums. Surely, not all of the discussions here go to the level of critical reflection, but there are a lot of exciting insights being shared, generated by participants’ reflections and experience.
Is this a valid replacement for a residential?
No, it is not. But it was never meant to be, anyway. That said, one of YOCOMO residentials (which focused on a systemic approach to competence development) finished right before the YOCOMO online started. A number of youth workers decided to join the MOOC, although they were freshly out of their intense face-to-face experience. They are still – at the time of this writing – exploring and contributing, having the time to think, reflect, and consolidate some of their learning.
In addition, YOCOMO MOOC reached those that did not have time and a chance to participate in the blended courses. They could not take part before and this was their time. Would that be possible if they were not forced to put their dynamic lives on pause? Perhaps not. We cannot be sure of that. However, though Covid-19 seemingly brought even more work and meetings to many youth workers, they could and still can find time to invest in YOCOMO online modules and discussions.
While the launch of the course has been facilitated, a lot of it is left to learners’ own pace, interest and needs, which can in turn into being a good experience for fostering self-directed learning. So yes, there are some things that an online learning environment can do pretty well.
So yes, there are some things that an online learning environment can do pretty well.
Back to the main question: how about the magic in all that?
Right, there is still this one question. I have to be honest with you: I was pretty convinced that the magic is reserved for those rare moments that can only happen in face to face interactions with the learners. Sometimes, when you least expected it, it would transcend the whole complex galaxy of competences and bring that additional touch that would make the learning experiences transformational and somehow not fully explainable. But YOCOMO online still managed to have the magical dimension appearing.
It managed, even in the online environment, with no chance for direct interaction and for reaching out, to create an amazing collection of visual youth workers paths, engaging and sharing insightful reflections and comments like these:
“I liked the possibility to discuss various topics on the way, and more than that, I liked people answering me and our way of searching for common ground and other understanding of a thing.”
“I feel that the self-assessment really helped me which I didn’t expect to that extent. I felt closer to my memories of other seminars in real – feelings came up which led me to know: Yes, I am at the right place and at the right time. Working as a youth worker is something I love and through this I am everyday improving competences!”
“I believe that this is the kind of learning that will remain with me for years to come, if not for my lifetime. In that respect, it will guide all of my future initiatives to varying degrees, both consciously and unconsciously.”
I realised that there is magic involved when my sensing antennae started growing in this online environment and I began to pick up all sorts of impulses from written words only. When I felt the excitement and urge to read every single post and keep coming back to the forums, wanting for more. When I sensed that people are genuine, hence generating a true interest for what they had to share. When I felt stretched by some of the learners’ reflections and even created a mindmap to capture them. Or when I realised how much I am learning and how stimulated I feel by different links and connections. I believe YOCOMO MOOC was one of my transformational moments and it feels that magic had quite a lot to do with it.
For further information:
YOCOMO – an ETS online course on competence-based development for youth workers:
YOCOMO Youth Workers Paths:
by Snežana Bačlija Knoch (2020)
Snežana Bačlija Knoch is an educator, consultant, facilitator of online learning opportunities, author and a wannabe creator.
Title © Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash,
“magic” cube © Snežana Bačlija Knoch,
flying lessons © Bee Felten-Leidel on Unsplash,
Illustrations © YOCOMO online course