“Here we go Group 17- the “Food Ambassadors”! I am delighted with the dedication and respect of our members, thanks to our team leader”
“My Group 1 colleagues: it is good working together with everyone. Thank you Yvonne for expertly leading the group. Let's keep up the good spirit”
“Group 8: It was a great trip!”
My own experience as drop-out
I participated in the Learning Experience through Design workshop of NovoEd before the holidays. I really wanted to finish this one. I really looked forward to it, had quite some time and a good motivation: I wanted to work on my own case: a new learning experience. Yet I gave up. I had to get used to the platform. I wanted feedback on my case and signed up for a group with the idea of getting feedback, but there were 100 people in this group so I did not gain connections. I was deeply ashamed when I saw a month later that I did have a comment! I didn't see this because I didn't get a notification. I had a positive boost when my work was shown as an example during a Zoom session. Then I went on vacation and dropped out. So you see that there can be a lot of drop-out moments. Could I do that better through collaborative learning?
Did we succeed to keep people engaged in the Food systems course?
Not 100% but 54%! The course had a total of 558 participants who were selected to participate in the course. Of these participants, 299 completed the e-course and obtained their certificate (54%). I am very proud and satisfied. This is a high percentage compared to other large scale online courses. Research by Katy Jordan shows that in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), the completion rate can approach 20%, but most MOOCs have a percentage of less than 10%. Some MOOCs are larger and scale up to 50,000 participants, I can imagine that lowers the completion rate.
Is the glass half full, or half empty? Maybe you also think 54% is low? I regularly work with people who have less experience with this type of online trajectory and find 54% very low. They compare it with face-to-face training where completion is almost 100%. Online offers much more flexibility, maybe someone will learn a lot by participating in two of the four modules and only following the resources that are relevant. In other words: in doesn't mean the 46% did not learn anything.
How to measure success?
Success can be measured in several ways: by observations and measurements- and measurements can be clicks or surveys. We had a weekly barometer - a short survey to get feedback. When interpreting your findings it helps if you can compare it with other online courses.
1. Observations. People reacted super enthusiastically, gradually there was more and more reaction to each other.
“During this course, expectations were exceeded. I am very grateful to be part of this community of scientists and mentors. The facilitators were great and very rich in knowledge sharing. Thanks again WCDI!”
“Thank you very much to our supervisors. You guys were amazing to share with us so much knowledge that you bridged my knowledge gap. I am eternally grateful to WCDI for this free, customized training. To my fellow participants, thank you for connecting and hopefully we'll keep in touch. Karibu Tanzania”
“I enjoyed the modules and how they were designed. I have learned and make good use of the knowledge gained. A great appreciation to all supervisors and WCDI. I look forward to collaboration between some of the resource persons and myself in the field of food safety and biotechnology. Thank you very much!"
2. Measurements. Engagement can also be measured quantitatively. The first week there were 3,800 responses, but the other weeks there were even more – above 4,000. There were between 180 and 280 participants in the plenary sessions with guest speakers, while the recordings were also viewed an average of 150 times.
46% are dropouts. These were mainly people who did not start, or people who dropped out after the first week. 25% never started the course despite the fact that we emailed them separately a week after the start that they are taking the place of other people who also wanted to join and were rejected.
If you would like to support these people, you may need more personal attention, which takes a lot of time. 22 people who did not start have responded to our survey and this shows that being too busy with work was the most important factor followed by the internet connection.
So what were the main success factors?
An important precondition for involving people: good content – practice-oriented
It may seem obvious, but the content of the food systems course was relevant and practical. The topic of food systems is relevant because of the great challenge: how do we feed 9-10 billion mouths in 2050? An important UN food summit will take place in September. This was the second edition of the food systems e-course. The content of the first edition was developed in collaboration with experts from Wageningen University and an external consultant, all with extensive field experience. Hence, the content was good and relevant. Lots of short, relevant videos and cases and interesting speakers in the synchronous Zoom sessions. The advantage of a second edition was also that the core team was well attuned to each other. In this case, the experts were really practice-oriented, which was a big advantage. My role was to refine the questions and to organize collaborative learning.
Collaborative learning as part of a broader vision of social learning
Collaborative learning was part of social learning. Other components were forming a group feeling, building trust, and learning from each other. We have used the Curatr platform within StreamLXP. This platform is developed for social learning which facilitates online exchange. There was a network café where people introduced themselves and placed themselves on a worldmap.
“This map is so cool! It's nice to see three others from my country on the course."
The network café was also open to people with a call for collaborations or advice. For instance:
“I am working on a book proposal focused on the intersection of urban agriculture and forced displacement/humanitarian crisis. It will largely focus on case studies from the field. Given the wealth of expertise in this e-course, I was wondering if you have come across any projects in your work focusing on gardening/agriculture for refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs)?”
Another way of social learning was through the open space. After the catch-up week, we started an open space area online with important themes that emerged from the discussions by participants. We also asked a number of participants in a Zoom session to present and discuss their case with an expert.
The facilitation was aimed at creating a group feeling. People with an interesting contribution were mentioned in the emails, the network was made visible by means of a map, but also by making a YouTube playlist of participants' favorite songs. When playing, you become aware again of the great diversity in the group. The playlist was certainly popular, new songs were contributed until the very end and had 1200 views.
Online collaborative learning for large numbers: use clear instructions and mentors
- Four short assignments of an hour with a tight deadline, all assignments were online and were explained again in the Zoom sessions. The assignments worked towards a clear final assignment: writing a blog.
- There was guaranteed feedback from experts; but only after handing in the assignment before the deadline
- The opportunity to work for an hour in your own group in Zoom every Wednesday after the guest speaker. Many groups have taken advantage of this. The groups were free to choose their own time, however this can be quite some hassle.
- In the first assignment we stimulated the creation of a Whatsapp, Viber or Signal group for fast communication within the group. Some groups opted for email as a means of communication.
- We asked for one contact person. This made it easy to get in touch.
- In the first assignment we asked to choose a name for the group. These became names like “11 tomatoes”, “Simba”, “Asian Booster” and “los Andinos”.
Collaboration learning worked for course engagement: group members progressed further in the course
Intake, feedback and a certificate also contributed
“Yippeeeeee! On June 30, I obtained my certificate. After trying the last quiz several times, I finally crossed the line. I would like to say a big thank you to the organizers of this course, all our wonderful tutors, mentors at the plenary session and all participants for making the last 5 weeks unforgettable for me, having fun while learning. You are all much appreciated. Lots of hugs!"“I feel good, very good, because I got my certificate today. My appreciation goes out to all supervisors of the four modules. Mr Erik Slingerland, our mentor, thank you for your tireless efforts to ensure that we complete the group assignments on time. To the course organizers and the entire WCDI team, God bless you for giving us this opportunity. Fellow participants… Congratulations to all of you. WE DID IT!!"