The Endless Course || Courses as Kindling for Communities of Practice

Just when things are getting interesting

Traditional courses are structured to have a beginning and end. You start with the orientation, you explore the content, you take a few assessments and (if you're lucky) you begin to establish relationships with your classmates. Just when you start to get a feeling of synergy with each other and with the new knowledge you're developing, the course ends; the Learning Management System revokes your ability to collaborate, the professor moves on to other students and you're left with all of these new ideas and no where to go with them. Next semester, the cycle begins anew. 

What if it didn't have to end?

What if we rethink the way courses are structured? What if courses are merely the beginning (rather than the definitive, contained experience) for learning? The idea of an "endless course" is to structure a learning environment that transforms into a community of practice as the formal, structured activities wind down at the end of each semester.  I'm not suggesting that faculty members continue to keep an infinite number of courses running in tandem, which would be unsustainable. I am suggesting that we empower our learners to become community leaders who carry on the torch once the semester ends.  Students can revisit the learning community to solve new problems, contribute content, share new ideas, collaborate with motivated peers, and reach out to other professionals in the field. The course acts as a kindling for future collaborations and the students take ownership of the community and their own learning. 

Practical suggestions for creating an endless course

  • Make sure there are opportunities for learners to have agency in your course by leading discussions, sharing content, contributing suggestions, etc. so they feel comfortable becoming community leaders. 
  • As the end of the semester looms, begin to discuss what options are available for students who want to keep collaborating. (I've seen versions of Tony's request for more learning opportunities and access to more advanced content on a number of MOOC posts.)
  • If your administration is flexible, and your LMS has the capability, simply extend the end dates of your course so students can keep using the blogs, forums and other tools to keep collaborating. 
  • If your LMS is not flexible, or if you'd like to build a more open community that can be accessed by new students each semester, reach out to students who have shown an interest in continuing the conversation. Ask them to begin a community in another space such as Facebook or Google+ and share it with the group. There is a good chance students are already doing this and all you need to do is share the information with the class.