Now, the end is near

Lessons learned in topic 5

An image of a tree of knowledge from the Galway City Museum exhibition on the “Keepers of the Gael

So here we are at topic five. We met our PBL group yesterday evening, and it was an emotional farewell, to our facilitators, Alastair and David who I can’t thank enough for their time and wisdom in keeping us on course. And to my fellow participants, Elżbieta, Helene, Irshaad, Sara and Wei – it’s been a whirlwind few weeks, meeting every Tuesday and Thursday evening, and I will miss this networked connection. What an inspiring and committed group of educators, one and all. I’ve learned so much from shared conversations with you.

For us, the final framework of modes of study of Elmor’s modes of study, as described by Meilleur (2020) I’ll-fit a means of framing our ONL participation. It presents a false binaries between individual and collective, hierarchical and distributed. Our involvement was characterised as much by movements between these endpoints. Shifts that were more organic than mathematically liner. And irrespective of which quadrant might best characterise one’s learning context, the need for practices such as organisation, structure and routine transcend.  

One metaphor that might more aptly describe our engagement is Engeström (2007) concept of mycorrhiza. The term mycorrhiza describes a fungus that grows on the roots of a plant or tree in a symbiotic relationship. The idea evolved from his research groups work on negotiated knotworking and suggests another way of framing our understanding of learning in distributed networks, whereby together we create knowledge and understanding through our open collaboration in a mutually beneficial way, like mycorrhiza do, on the roots of a tree of knowledge, within a community of learners.

“Expansive swarming engagement and multi-directional pulsation refer to star-like patterns of movement where the participants disperse outward to pursue their various trails and to expand the scope of the mycorrhizae, but also return and come together in various ways to contribute to the forging of the runaway object. … Interestingly enough, mycorrhizae behave in ways somewhat similar to the social insects: when one of the filaments contacts a food supply, the entire fungal colony mobilizes and reallocates resources to exploit the new food.”

Engeström (2007)

Whilst an abstract idea, this video of the science behind mycorrhiza will illustrate how this works in nature, and may help you see some parallels with our patterns of participation on ONL.

It is this metaphor that speaks more to the mutually beneficial relationship we had within our PBL group, and the wider course members outputs, and the course organisers themselves.

I hope we can carry out some of our learnings out into the wider metaphorical soil of our own places of learning, and share the benefits and challenges that these last weeks have wrought.  

A note on benefits and challenges of engagement on ONL

To conclude, here are the overall challenges and benefits accrued.

Firstly, the use and variety of tools, and making decisions on the most appropriate to use to convey our shared outputs, was not always easy. Finding our way across the WordPress site and Google drive took some time to become accustomed to. And we used What’s app – a mobile-first approach that was immediate and direct but invisible to others in terms of our engagement on the course.

Secondly, the socio-emotional aspects of group working could be challenging, asking us to shift away from working independently as we do in our institutions, to working collectively and without hierarchy. But ultimately, this challenge turned out to be one of the major learnings and benefits.

And of course – time is always a challenge but is also a good indicator of one’s priorities in how it is allocated.

In terms of benefits accrued, the course offered an emancipatory exposure to key theories, models and frameworks. Notable were David White’s visitors and residents model (White, 2021); pedagogies of open educational practice from Maha Bali (2021);  the importance of community (Oddone, 2021); the examination of the learning design models and frameworks such as approach within the Open University as shared by Martin Weller (2021).

The course facilitated the experience of socially distributed collaboration and openness directly as a learner. We have learned so much in working together, through the structured scenarios, supported by our facilitators and the course design. The authentic, real-world scenarios drove our curiosity. The current resources led us to more in-depth reading. Being part of the process directly changed our practice – ideas were not just theoretical; we learned through living the application, and from our individual reflections and collective artefacts. Our competence in the use of digital tools, grew as we appropriated these embedded in the course activities.

In living through the course in this way, we grew larger too.

So, (for living proof that the written word is never enough), all that remains to say to the ONL212 organisers, facilitators and collaborators is …


Bali, M. (Producer). (2021). Webinar: Exploring Nuances of Open Educational Practices Retrieved from

Engeström, Y. (2007). From communities of practice to mycorrhizae. In J. Huges, N. Jewson, & L. Unwin (Eds.), Communities of Practice (pp. 14): Routledge.

Meilleur, C. (2020). Elmore’s 4 learning modes. Knowledge One. Retrieved from

Oddone, K. (Producer). (2021). ONL212 Topic 3 webinar – Learning in communities Retrieved from

ONL212. (2021). Open Networked Learning 212: A course, a community, an approach. Retrieved from

Weller, M. (Producer). (2021). #ONL212 Topic 4 webinar recording with Martin Weller. Retrieved from

White, D. (Producer). (2021). #ONL212 Topic 1 webinar with David White. Retrieved from

Final note: our advice to future participants (See full source)

Join the Conversation


  1. Thank you for your positive feedback and thoughtful posts during the course. ONL is meant to be a springboard rather than an end result and the process of learning to teach in a networked society is a never-ending story. I’m glad you found the course valuable even though you already have a very high level of expertise in the field. You have now ticked all the required boxes for course completion!

  2. Fiona, thank you for sharing the thoughts on the topic 5 and the whole course. As Alastair mentioned, you indeed have a very high level of expertise in the field. For me, it is inspiring to work with you and also with other members in our group. I think the metaphor of mycorrhiza you shared for explaining mutually beneficial relationship within PBL group, among the course learners, and the course organizers is very insightful. On the other hand, the root of the tree in the video and the structures in Elmor’s modes of studies somehow remind me the organizational structure in institutions and companies. The complexities of the organizational structure depend on the size of the organization. Somehow there is always a structure: simple or complex in different formats. I doubt if the organizational structure can be similarly linked to the modes of the studies that are adaptive to learning outcomes, learning contexts, and available technologies. We teachers accordingly adapt our facilitating roles in the process of learning, just as Alastair explained the leadership role during our group discussions.

  3. Wei, I love your metaphor! You’ve had a great experience for sure and one that is inspiring! Thank you.Santha

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