I am currently in week two of a cMOOC called Exploring Innovations in Networked Work and Learning. And so far there has been some great discussions around the various topics of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and Communities of Inquiry (CoI). Helen Blunden continued to inspire our thinking through her blog post, cMOOC, Social Learning Guided Design or Community of Inquiry – All The Same? The big question seems to be around defining how a Community of Inquiry would fit in with our other social learning networks and then into the business environment. What is interesting is that the more I read from the various articles, and then Helen’s blog, I am now convinced that not only can I relate to what a CoI is, but that I have been involved with one in the past and preparing to lead one now.
First I want to provide the context that led me to this realization. Through our reading, I found a definition of a CoI as broadly defined as “any group of individuals involved in a process of empirical or conceptual inquiry into problematic situations.” This was originally defined within the scientific community and “represents a process of creating a deep and meaningful (collaborative-constructivist) learning experience through the development of three interdependent elements – social, cognitive and teaching presence.”
Then Helen posed some great questions in her blog:
- “How can Communities of Inquiry help solve business performance problems?”
- “Who can act as the “teacher” in a Community of Inquiry?”
- “Does Learning & Development have a role as the “teacher” in a Community of Inquiry or should this be better served by someone who is an external consultant or someone within the business?”
- How is a CoI different to a cMOOC or a Guided Social Learning Experience exactly? They all look like one and the same thing.
So with all of these questions and the model for CoI defined, I believe I can apply how this can, and has, been used in business.
My first experience was in the creation of a leadership model. A “community” of people who represented various parts of the business came together virtually and physically to collaborate and define the leadership model and expectations for leaders in the organization. The process through which all this occurred encompassed all three components of the CoI model. There was a core team with a program leader (teacher), there was a great deal of thinking and discussion from high performing leaders in this community on what this model should look like (cognitive presence), and there was definitely relationships created and time to learn from, and about, each other (social presence). This community of leaders had a very specific performance problem they were focused on – leadership behaviors and expectations. And while Learning & Development (me) played a key role on the core team, the “teacher” was not L&D, but an Organizational Effectiveness consultant from within the business, supporting the business. This was a great experience that lasted several months, with great relationships forged, and a model defined for 21st Century Leadership.
Now fast forward to the present. I am preparing to launch a Change Champion Network in my current position as an Organizational Change Management Manager.
There will be a teaching presence (me) to help education change champions on some of the key principles of managing change in addition to other learning opportunities. There will definitely be a cognitive presence in that we will all learn from each other how various cultures approach change and what we can learn and build together in support of managing and leading change within our organization. And I will help ensure there is a social presence as this community engages with each other across organizational, geographical, and cultural borders. While the experience I bring is primarily L&D, I am not currently L&D. I am within the business, not external. I may be the primary teacher at first, but I believe we will all be teachers at some point throughout the course of this community as we learn from, and about, each other.
And finally, as I look at a CoI through this lens, I see it as different from a PLN, cMOOC, or other learning network. The CoI has a purpose – help the organization lead and navigate change more effectively. A structure – the framework comprised of roles & responsibilities, expectations, and guiding principles. An education component – leveraging virtual collaboration tools, change management concepts and tools. And a “teacher” – me. But the purpose of the CoI is not solely focused on learning. It’s about applying that learning to help facilitate organizational change.
So in essence, when I look at the purpose of the various social learning networks, I can see the difference in purposes and how they are leveraged. In pursuit of learning or education. In pursuit of connections or networks. And in pursuit of personal and organization change. Give all of this, and your social presence, what is your pursuit?