Creating Authentic Online Learning Experiences through Personal Learning Networks

Concurrent Session 3

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Brief Abstract

Educators often struggle with creating meaningful peer-to-peer learning for online students. Findings regarding developing and implementing peer-based learning networks in online/hybrid programs will be presented. Experiential themes provide a model for developing PLNs in hybrid/online programming. Attendees will reflect on ways to create PLNs at their institutions.


Erin is a Librarian at Orange Coast College in Southern California. Prior to this position she was the Senior Director of La Verne Online, the virtual campus of the University of La Verne. Erin was brought in to develop and implement a strategic vision for online education at the University. Prior to working in La Verne Online, Erin was an academic research and technology librarian for more than 15 years. She also teaches online and is an adjunct faculty in the EdD in Organizational Leadership program at the University of La Verne. She is a 2018 IELOL alumni and a founding member of the Collegiate Online Research Collaborative (CORAL). Her research interests are in faculty trust and readiness for change; resistance and readiness towards online education in higher education, and effective leadership and organizational structures of online education.
Dr. Bouchey is Associate Professor of Business and Management and Associate Dean, Academic Operations and Faculty Development of the College of Professional Studies and Advancement at National Louis University. She also holds the university-wide position of the Director of Online Academics. Prior to joining NLU in this capacity she served on the adjunct faculty body as well. Dr. Bouchey has enjoyed a long history in higher education leadership serving in roles at smaller institutions ranging from vice president, provost, and dean, to her most cherished role as faculty member. She has led enrollment, advising, student services, academics, career services, and accreditation activities in her long career in higher education. In the years leading up to her tenure in higher education, Dr. Bouchey worked for and led several high-tech start-up firms in Upstate New York. Dr. Bouchey believes that everyone deserves the opportunity to pursue post-secondary schooling and that National Louis University is one of the best places to do so. She is known for combining her deep understanding of pedagogy with caring, hands-on leadership of students, faculty and staff. Dr. Bouchey holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University at Albany, an M.B.A. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a Doctorate in Education from Northeastern University. She also serves on the Board of Directors Epilepsy Foundation of Indiana. Her research interests include for-profit education and student outcomes, innovative higher education models, and the intersection of technology and education. Dr. Bouchey’s research methodology expertise rests in qualitative studies, more specifically the uses of the case study method and phenomenology.
Dr. Monica Simonsen is the Director of Special Education Online Programs for the University of Kansas. In this capacity, Dr. Simonsen is responsible for recruiting and training instructors, coordinating course development and revision, and overseeing admissions and student advising. She is currently participating in the OLC"s Institute for Emerging Leaders in Online Learning. Dr. Simonsen previously served as the Program Associate for the Secondary Special Education and Transition Services online graduate program and a Senior Research Associate at TransCen, Inc., providing technical assistance and research expertise to a variety of state and national transition projects. Prior to joining TransCen, Inc., Dr. Simonsen worked as a secondary special educator and transition specialist in Maryland, coordinated a post-secondary program for 18-21 year olds with intellectual disabilities, and completed her doctorate at the University of Maryland. She has been an instructor for KU since 2010 and has taught courses at the University of Maryland and at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Dr. Simonsen has authored numerous peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, and practice briefs. Dr. Simonsen's primary research interests are on the role of family and teacher expectations on student outcomes, the impact of online learning on special education teacher preparation, culturally responsive online teaching, and organizational structures that support high quality online learning.
Michael Reis brings a broad range of professional experiences as an educator, administrator, and project manager, both in higher education and community organizations. Mr. Reis currently serves as an Associate Director for Online@VCU and the ALT Lab, Virginia Commonwealth University’s central administrative units for online programs and technology-enhanced learning. Mr. Reis’ work as a higher education administrator has focused on building greater institutional capacity to support high-quality online learning. This includes recruiting a superb instructional design team, launching programming and quality assurance initiatives, and developing policies, processes, and analytics to support greater clarity and efficiency. Mr. Reis has also conducted large-scale institutional evaluations, managed technology implementation, and performed institutional research on student success, campus climate, and resource management. As an educator, he has designed and directed degree and community education programs, developed open-access resources for teaching and research, and taught graduate courses in education. He holds a master’s degree in Ethics & Social Theory and a master’s degree in Higher Education Administration, with additional graduate coursework in organizational development and distance learning pedagogies. He has presented at national conferences and international symposiums on curriculum, policy, and instructional strategies.
Demonstrated history of working in higher education, as a trainer, consultant, instructional designer and admissions coordinator for an online graduate program. Possesses In-depth technical knowledge of LMS platforms with a specific focus on partnering with faculty to thoughtfully adopt educational technology into their pedagogy and course design. Capable admissions coordinator, handling all aspects of processing applications from submission to decision and communicating with prospective applicants at every stage in-between. Driven by and dedicated to the ongoing task of delivering high quality online teaching and learning. Work experience supported by a master’s degree in Learning Technology & Design from Purdue University.

Extended Abstract

As online programs continue to compete in an ever-crowded student marketplace, many colleges and universities find themselves needing to differentiate and create unique and authentic learning experiences for students.  A critical aspect of online learning that is often discussed, yet not thoroughly operationalized, is peer-to-peer learning. The Community of Inquiry framework has reinforced the importance of this type of learning in online classes; yet as educators, we often struggle with how to create space for peer-to-peer learning outside of traditional online discussions, peer review, or group work.

At the same time, as online educators are looking for new ways to uniquely provide programming, professionals are paying more attention to Personal Learning Networks (PLNs).  A PLN is “being part of a ‘connected’ community provides support for getting specific needs met, solving personally relevant and meaningful problems, and developing professional expertise” (Moreillon, 2016, p. 65).  PLNs can take many forms as one progresses in their careers. The authors of this study recently formed a PLN, stemming from a Online Learning Consortium’s Institute for Emerging Online Leaders (IELOL) cohort. This PLN has resulted in a research collaborative, personal and professional gains, and a forum to discuss best practices of online teaching and learning. The PLN is comprised of educational administrators from a diverse set of higher educational institutions across the United States. The roots of this presentation stem from metacognitive discussions amongst a PLN regarding developing and implementing PLNs in online and hybrid programs.

During this session, findings from an autoethnographic study of PLN members who have reflected on developing and implementing peer-based learning networks in online and hybrid programs at their institutions will be presented.  Through these collective experiences, themes from these experiences are framed as a model for developing personal learning networks which can be appended to online programming at any institution to augment traditional curricular learning, connect students through their shared academic and professional experiences, and create a sense of community and ambition that would compare to in-person community and connection building that often happens in on-campus programming.  Session attendees will be asked to reflect on the themes and the opportunity to create a co-curricular PLN for students at their institutions to serve as a proxy to the type of community that is created in traditional face-to-face programming.

After attending this session, attendees will be able to:

  1. Identify the benefits of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), and

  2. Create a vision for implementation of a co-curricular experient at home institutions.


Moreillon, Judi. 2016. “Building Your Personal Learning Network (Pln): 21st-Century School Librarians Seek Self-Regulated Professional Development Online.” Knowledge Quest 44 (3). ERIC:64–69.