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If you’ve ever read a Choose Your Own Adventure book, then you know how awesome it is to make choices in what’s usually a static environment that lead to dynamic, customized outcomes. And that’s just what it was like (minus the dinosaurs and the time travel) for participants in the third cohort of BlendKit 2014, an open online course recently hosted by Canvas Network.

ArmadilloSome decisions are bad.

Based upon open courseware created by the University of Central Florida's (UCF) Dr. Kelvin Thompson as part of a project funded by the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) program, BlendKit2014 was designed and facilitated by Dr. Thompson and UCF's Dr. Linda Futch with the goal of helping teachers design and develop blended courses. Participants were able to engage in the course according to their own preferences and to apply learning contextually as they worked through the materials.

As Dr. Thompson put it, “This course was designed to create a multiplicity of paths so that we can meet everyone’s needs.” The multiplicity of paths (or “choose your own adventure” part) looked something like this:

  • Facilitators released all of the asynchronous materials up front, so if you wanted to work independently without interacting with other participants, you could do so. Or, if you wanted to discuss and reflect on course content in a very social way, you could use various internal and external channels. (Dr. Thompson said he was “pleasantly surprised” by how active people were in the social network right from the start.)
  • You could earn badges by applying course concepts to a series of tasks presented each week that included blogging and DIY activities. Gather at least one badge from each module, and you could earn a course completion badge.
  • You could even go beyond the course completion badge by submitting a portfolio of work to the facilitators at the end of the course. If your portfolio met a set of predetermined standards, you could then add a certificate issued by both UCF and EDUCAUSE to your professional credentials (for a small fee).

From a facilitation perspective, this course did exactly what it was designed to do—it provided a successful, personalized experience for as many participants as possible. Dr. Thompson told students that facilitators were only there “to make it all OK. You decide how you will derive value from this course.”

BlendKit 2014 By the Numbers

  • 5 weeks of learning
  • 2,838 participants registered
  • 422 participants earned at least 1 badge
  • 174 participants earned a course completion badge
  • 84 participants submitted a portfolio for review
  • 77 participants were awarded the “Certified Blended Learning Designer” credential

After the course, I spoke with one of the participants, Ed Garay, a veteran in the educational technology industry with more than 30 years of technology leadership at University of Illinois, Chicago. He continues to teach graduate courses at UIC, so he took this opportunity to revisit much of what he already knew because he was “constantly looking to improve his practice.” Even though his engagement ebbed and flowed while he managed other aspects of his life, he felt the course was one of the “most organically fluid learning experiences [he had] participated in.”

Mr. Garay said he “really liked how the course was organized and offered different options for engagement, collaboration, communication, and reflection.” He also believes the social community created during the course will be a continued resource because it wasn’t “course-centric.” For someone who chose not to earn a badge or formally complete any of the course tasks, this was still a highly successful experience.

For all of us creating, teaching, and participating in open online courses, this is a great model for how even the largest online courses can provide personalized experiences (or learning adventures, if you’re the daring type) that are built around community-driven success.

Keep learning,

Melissa Loble