Online Learning & Poker

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I’m co-facilitating an online course right now about online facilitation. Our participants are a group of educators who are learning to do what they already do (teach) in an online environment instead of a classroom. Like any new learning and environment, it takes time early on to figure out where everything is, how stuff works, how to act and interact in this new space, and how to get help.



Which brings me to poker.  I am learning how to play this game (not online), because it comes up occasionally in my social life, and it’s boring to be the only one not playing. So I’ve played a (very) few games in a “low stakes” environment (i.e., where I can show my cards to my husband and ask him what to do).  But this past weekend, I dove in on my own with $40 bucks and played in a tournament with people who really knew what they’re doing. It was hard! Talk about cognitive load!

And it reminded me of some of the important, basic, intuitive principles of design that apply to just about any teaching and learning environment.  Perhaps the biggest is the importance of doing it for real (“authentic learning”, if you like). In our faculty development offerings, we increasingly design learning experiences that require people to actually create, design, and teach something.  It’s extremely rare that we invite faculty to attend and passively hear us talk about something.

The poker game also made me think about strategies for mitigating some of the potential negative aspects of throwing people in to doing, e.g.,

  • pressure to perform in a new, strange environment – for teachers, modelling “right” behaviour, transparent use of the language of the community, providing direction on what’s happening now, and what’s happening next is helpful (online: managing posting, use of glossary and otherwise defining terms, providing orientation and summary material for units, etc).  I really appreciated dealers who said, “ok, blinds are 50 and 100 – you’re the big blind, you’re the little blind…”. Similarly, learners appreciate direction, “ok, here’s what’s happening now…”. Sometimes we think providing a course schedule is enough, but it may not always be the case.
  • self-testing in a safe place – trial runs, self-marking quizzes, games/scenarios – any opportunity to practice in private seems to be received positively by students
  • pre-work, early access to the online space – give people as much time, ahead of time, to get in and learn the lay of the land
  • Instructor presence: I got to a point (several times) where I was faking my way through just to get through the moment. At the poker table, that works out well for others because ultimately they want my chips! But in teaching, it’s wonderful when someone recognizes and intervenes when you need it. The “teachable moment”, if you like. This is harder online where you can’t see the faces contorted in confusion, but we can create strong instructor presence (and timely replies) so they know you’re there and they can contact you (privately, or publicly) for help.

I suspect the course will turn out much better than the poker game.  I lost all my money, though I wasn’t the FIRST one out, so that’s a victory of sorts.  And actually, my husband won big, so it was definitely a positive experience overall!


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