Connected learning


After my first 100 days as director SOZ (SEA, Student & Education Affairs) at the Vrije Universiteit, it is time for some reflections. A good opportunity to look back at my “final thoughts” document I made after the MOOC Leaders of Learning (HarvardX), that I followed from April-June 2020. And then to see what I recognize (or not) after walking around (well, of course not literally) at the VU campus.

Connected learning

Let me first start with the conclusions I drew end of June (please note the references at the end of this blog), in relation to the principles to guide learning and what this means for the learning environment.

In the heart of the mindmap that I used to summarize the MOOC I had put three important principles that should guide learning, i.e.:

Three principles to guide learning

  • Learning is everywhere – A teacher is not a content master anymore, but more a navigator.
  • School/university has to be a place that delivers things that the online world cannot deliver – Find how to give meaning of present life; how to implement active learning, and ignite creativity & imagination, where there is discussion, interaction and consultation. You do not engage students in giving them problems you already know the answer for, you engage them if they feel they can change the world by solving them.
  • Collaboration is the stuff of growth – Networks are the new classroom; tap into the wisdom of the crowd.
Deze afbeelding heeft een leeg alt-attribuut; de bestandsnaam is LearningTheory_mindmap_vanwezenbeek.jpg

“Collaboration is the stuff of growth”

What does this mean for the learning environment?

Based on the principles of the learning theory I learned that the university needs to:

  • Offer easy access to both their physical and digital spaces.
  • Provide learners with autonomy to determine their level of commitment to and engagement with the learning, and allow learners to have the autonomy to create unofficial spaces for learner-to-learner communication, outside the formally designed learning spaces.
  • Offer spaces, tools, or apps that may facilitate learning, but leave it to the learner or its community where its learning should happen.
  • Listen to the learner to improve the learning organization, and make sure that physical and digital designs facilitate active learning.

Also, I learned that it is important to design the digital and physical environment together with the students and teachers. And to use design thinking processes: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test.

Furthermore, above all stands out the importance of diversity and inclusiveness, and how the university as a learning organization should blend more with collaborative and distributed elements.

It should be more about the “competences” a student needs to gain (not so much the knowledge), and that the organization (the institute) should open up, and define its role in a networked environment, not in isolation, and should open up to the collective, and the distributed approach wherever possible.

Where does this fit in?

I cannot yet encompass all the education activity that takes place with the VU faculties (I spent a lot of my time meeting our own staff, and attending the online “set” meetings in which I participate as director), but as I see it, also due to what we had to face and “live” during this COVID-19 crisis, the direction we are taking is in line with what I depicted above.

We talk about flexibility, microcredentials, a new higher education ecosystem that can accommodate this, the fact that the word alumnus fades, and the importance of the network the student chooses.

And to stimulate active learning our faculties, supported by our Network of Teaching & Learning, will gradually make the digital transformation education needs. A role for the learning designer is recognized, who is at the heart of education and who, together with a team, student, and instructor, looks at the changes that are possible in education, and open educational resources will be interesting and relevant in this change. This designer helps in creating a place for active learning, and connects or taps into the network.

Making use of data and technology, the student and teacher can do with less stress if we provide them with the right knowledge on progress and tips for improvement. The VU Analytics team for study data is currently working to achieve this.

The elements of competences (the VU puts this under the umbrella of a broader mind), of engagement with the society via community service learning and the mixed classroom are spot on. The same coherence can be found in the core values we describe in our Strategy towards 2025 (Responsible, Open and Personal); and our priority areas (Sustainable, Enterprising and Diverse).

Moving on

For me there is so much to learn, and to see how I can connect my own learning to the experience I bring from the open science approach I cocreated at the TU Delft, and the integrated research and education support ideas I still have. So moving forward to the new year with lots of trust and enthusiasm. Bring it on!

References (all taken from MOOC HarvardX, Leaders of Learning, 2020)

John Dewey, Self-Realization as the Moral Ideal (1893).

Daphne Koller, What we are learning from online education (2012), Ted talk, last viewed May 2020.

Vijay Kumar, 101 Design Methods: A Structured Approach for Driving Innovation in Your Organization (2012).

Prakash Nair, Blueprint of tomorrow; and Prakash Nair et al., Learning by Design: Live Play Engage (2019).

Frank Smith, The Book of Learning and Forgetting (1998).

Will Richardson, Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information are Everywhere (2012). Also his TED talk about Education Leadership, last viewed May 2020.

Sir Ken Robinson, Changing Education Paradigms (2010), RSA Animate, last viewed May 2020.  

Wilma van Wezenbeek

23 December 2020




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