FDOL131 – Design

Collaborative Open Online Learning or COOL in the context of the FDOL131 course is an experiment lead by educational developers Chrissi Nerantzi from the UK and Lars Uhlin from Sweden. We are trialling a pedagogical design based on Problem-Based Learning for open online courses. Our target learners are learners who might be new to open online learning or have a preference of learning in small groups to further their understanding, knowledge and skills in a particular area through an open course. Learners will have the opportunity to engage in a series of PBL tasks and activities with  peers from different institutions and countries. The COOL design has been based on findings from a pilot study conducted by Chrissi Nerantzi which brought together learners from different institutions working towards a Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning/Academic Practice and enabled fruitful cross-institutional collaboration and peer learning using PBL.

Chrissi Nerantzi and Lars Uhlin are investigating if COOL could become an attractive learning design for open learners and learning organisers and offer a complimentary approach to engage and facilitate learning in parallel with other practices. Could COOL help engage the un-engaged in open online learning, or bring back the learners who left after feeling lost or that they couldn’t cope? Could this design become a scaffold for not-yet self-directed learners, or open learners in transition to become self-directed and participate effectively in open courses?

PBL groups

The core PBL groups (around 4 participants in each) are formed by participants who intend to work towards a certificate of completion. Additional learners (around 4) will be able to join each group as peripheral members. The groups will be international and cross-disciplinary to encourage sharing and critiquing of practice and perspectives. Each PBL group will be facilitated by a tutor.

FDOL COOL FISh learning design plus tools


Participants who wish to study on their own without participating in the facilitated PBL groups are also welcome to do so and use the resources provided and the PBL activities for autonomous study, as well as participate in the online discussions. Others might choose to learn within non-facilitated PBL groups or identify a study buddy. To help with this we have set-up a Wanted noticeboard.

PBL practice

The first tasks to do as a group will be to get to know each other and formulate and agree group rules and how and when you are going to work together as a group.

A typical PBL activity will involve inquiry into a scenario with discussion of the related issues and topics and the intended learning outcomes which need to be defined by the group itself and shared with all group members. In your groups, you will then identify what you know and what you are unsure or don’t know. After identifying possible issues and defining your learning outcomes you need to put together a plan for action and share responsibilities. If there is need for support in this process your facilitator will be available.

The plan for action put together by the group might include:

  • What resources/literature can we use to find answers?
  • How are we going to present and share our findings?
  • Whether and when are we going to meet-up to review progress and complete the work linked to the scenario?

As part of your learning, it is recommended to keep a reflective journal in your PLE and reflect on your learning experience as you go through the course.

PBL facilitator

If you are learning within a facilitated PBL group you will be assigned a PBL facilitator. The facilitator will be there support your group when needed. The facilitator might be more hands-on at the beginning to help you co-ordinate the initial activities so that you can get started. Progressively, the facilitator will step back and let the group decide when they need his/her help. It will be important to keep the PBL facilitators up-to-date using the shared Google doc where the PBL groups are going to capture their activities so that he/she can get in touch with you when needed and be present at group meetings if required.

FISh, a PBL model

PBL is a structured collaborative approach. There are a number of models which suggest a series of steps.  In this course we are using a simplified model based on Mills (2006) 5-step model which we call FISh (Nerantzi and Uhlin, 2012). Use FISh within your PBL groups. Even if you learn autonomously or with a learning buddy, FISh might help you to keep on track and progress.


Step 1: Focus

  • What do we see?
  • How do we understand what we see?
  • What do we need to find out more about?
  • Specify learning issues/intended learning outcomes!

Step 2: Investigate

  • How and where are we/am I going to find answers?
  • Who will do what and by when?
  • What main findings and solutions do we/I propose?

Step 3: Share

  • How are we going to present our findings within the group?
  • What do we want to share with the FDOL community?
  • How can we provide feedback to another group?
  • What reflections do I have about my learning and our group work?

Group roles and functions

In PBL group work it is often useful to allocate specific roles that are rotated among group members. Roles that might be taken into consideration when working with PBL on-line is:

  • Chair: keeps the group on task
  • Note taker: keeps a record of what is discussed and agreed
  • Time keeper: makes sure the group stays on time

Help with PBL?

If you are less familiar with PBL, please access the self-study resources provided below. Also feel free to post a question to share any concerns you might have linked to PBL. All facilitators on this course are experienced PBL practitioners and happy to help you.

Why PBL?

  • “To integrate knowledge and skills from a range of multidisciplinary (themes)
  • To acquire knowledge through self-study
  • To teach participants how to work in groups and manage group projects (online)
  • To improve problem solving skills
  • To encourage self-motivation, curiosity and thinking
  • To make learning fun!”

source: Busfield, J & Peijs, T (2003) Learning Materials in a Problem Based Course

Also, please watch the following video clips

more PBL resources can be accessed at http://www.diigo.com/user/chrissinerantzi/pbl

Please feel free to suggest additional PBL resources you have found useful and share them with all participants at http://groups.diigo.com/group/fdol-resources. Remember to tag the resources you add.

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