Connecting Online

September 1st, 2008 by Cristina Costa

What does connecting online mean to you? why do you connect online? Why is online environments become so popular and for some so priceless and important as part of their further development and (informal) learning?

These are questions that come to mind sometimes and today they make even more sense since I have joined Connecting Online 09 (More about CO09 here). Co09 aims at inviting people to tell their stories, share their experiences and create opportunities for people to talk and be listened to. And maybe it is here that the magic especially resides : in the fact that online everyone can develop their own voice and be valued for what they have to give.

Online, in order to make one’s self visible, one has to participate actively. It doesn’t mean to say that you cannot take part in online initiatives in a shier, quieter way. BUt if you are really looking for action and meaningful interaction you will have to make sure to be part of that world in an active way, so it ca bring you visibility. How are we otherwise supposed to know you have something to share. We cannot guess you are part of it if you don’t give us tangible evidence of your presence.
The hardest part is to get started! How many of us have dread to go to that very first dance class in a room full of people who we don’t know and who we assume are already friends with eachother, and been dancing for years. There is always this resentment we will not be good enough or what we have to share is too trivial to be accepted by the others, who supposedly already share group coherence. I think acceptance is an important issue. People new to these kind of online interactive environment don’t want to take this kind of risks. Most times we are afraid of not belonging there; or better of not being able to fit it. But the truth is totally the opposite. Usually the people who engage in these conversations are friendly and keen on new faces – it means new learning possibilities based of fresh perspectives. In my opinion, online interactions are (or are supposed to be) nothing but these interesting, relaxed conversations among people who get together to discuss their interests based on their own experiences or lack of them. Stress and tense dialogs are usually not part of the deal. Everyone is there on a volunteer basis and we all want to make the best of it and create an environment in which we feel comfortable and welcomed.  Everyone is there with a similar purpose – to hear what others have to say and offer their perspectives whenever they think pertinent. That’s a healthy exchange of personal data (experiences, practices, reading, interpretations, etc) which can be converted into joint constructed knowledge and know-how. That’s the magic of Connecting online – to listen and be listened to; to be part of this ongoing dialectic of giving and taking, which is becoming rare on face to face learning opportunities, as such interaction often get limited to that classroom/session pre-arranged time.
Connecting online is not about connecting to a machine; nor is it only about connecting through a machine. There is more to it:  it is about truly connecting (reaching out) to people and establishing interesting human interactions which enable learning opportunities to happen in a coherent and continuum process There is no limitation so time or space for these exchanges to happen and the fact that are the individuals who choose their connections and guide their learning path often makes connecting online a more relevant journey (when compare with some classroom sessions) to the parties involved.

In short, connecting online involves a volunteer move from the individual to learn with others; later on it requires a deeper engagement with his/her peers in which warm interactions take place and help evolve the relationship the learner has with other learners and with the entire group. Connecting online is about making bonds which will grant one good company in a nver-ending journey into learning.

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