“A cord of three strands is not quickly broken”

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

One of my favourite books is the Holy Bible, I kid you not. You want to find immutable and eternal guidelines on how to live your life, make important decisions, and find out why you are alive? You’ll definitely find them there. And believe it or not, there are guidelines there that directly tie into the weeks’ topic of PLNs and (networked) collaborative learning! As Solomon despairs in the same book from which part of the title is taken, ” What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, NIV). But looking at the entire quotation about the three cords:

” Though one may be overpowered,

    two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. “

Ecclesiastes 4:12, New International Version (NIV)

This very biblical principle is something we already know and perhaps take for granted (although we might struggle occasionally against it): that we are stronger when we work together, each contributing something, and towards the same goals, than just on our own; and that we learn more when we learn with and from each other whether it happens face-to-face or online. Yet we know that interacting and collaborating online is not exactly the same,but has brought with it new challenges. Indeed, Brindley et al. (2009) citing Kearsley (nd) mentions a salient point: “…most people have little formal training in how to successfully interact or work with others and that the social milieu of online activities is quite different from in-person interactions, thus requiring new skills and behaviors.” (Own bolding, but taken from Brindley et al. 2009, p. 2).

But let’s back up, and begin with the wider angle of the perspectives we’ve been focusing on during these weeks, and more specifically on just a handful of a-ha moments which I’ve experienced through the richness of material we were again offered. And please note that I write these thoughts as a way to solidify my own learning and not to entertain any possible reader. Therefore, the path might seem haphazard, but all new learning is a sort of cacophony of half-understood ideas and applications, until it settles in our mind as a half-understood melody which we begin to recognise parts of in many other things.

During the webinar, I greatly appreciated Miriam Fischer’s webinar which introduced the hitherto unknown to me acronym, originally coined by the US military, of VUCA (=Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) as a way of describing the world in general or a possible perception of it. I shall not go into the details here, but it was satisfying to understand hear Ms Fischer expound on a way to combat these potentially unsettling tensions by thinking in terms of sustainability, creativity, collaboration and innovation. These terms were further developed by linking these to the work pioneered by the Batelle for Kids non-profit organisation with their support of 21st century skills and their creation of the ‘4 Cs’: Critical thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity. This of course linked nicely with one of the key topics of networked collaborative learning, but was an excellent start to underscoring why creating and ensuring collaborative and connective learning is not just a fad, but a vital element of the learning environment for university students and for us.

One aspect of this course that many of us already greatly appreciate is that we are not just learning content, but we are putting into practice its themes and principles in a welcoming sandbox with some more experienced and some less experienced peers. The more experienced are not there to steal our sand buckets or spades, but to encourage us to build our little sandcastles with the digital tools available and not be too dismayed if and when they seem likely to totter over in a stiff breeze or after a gentle prodding.

Sandcastles. By Neil Turner CC BY-SA 2.0

And as I don’t want to write all afternoon on my day of rest, I shall come to my last point: what a difference it makes to see how collaboration can work splendidly when it works well! After reading Capderferro & Romero’s (2012) findings on the issues which can cause frustration on an online course, I recognised many of them as also potentially happening in any team/ group-based task. For example, I have also noticed when setting my students a joint task, if I have not thought out beforehand how the students might carry out the task (as well as their underlying motivation and commitment for taking the course), then one student within any group of more than one (!) can either decide they know best/ have more know-how/ have more time on their hands/ have that type of driven personality, etc. and basically drive the whole project without understanding that the learning experience for the rest of the group will be that much poorer if they are not given an equal but different part to play. And some students in that group, due to an overly packed schedule, or a lack of moral conscience, or low self-esteem might accept this happening.

Returning to my two themes as exemplified in the quotation from Ecclesiastes 4:12 and my analogy of building sandcastles: if more than one person works on a joint project using the knowledge and skills they already have or have acquired during the course, the final outcome (basically the 4Cs) will be better, more sustainable, stronger and longer-lasting, because it was a collaborative effort. I am grateful for seeing this so well modelled in our own PBL group 11 since the first joint task. And for that I must thank not only my group members, but also the gentle, and non-intrusive intervention of our facilitators of whom we are blessed enough to have four! 🙂

Here endeth the sermon!


Battelle for Kids. http://www.battelleforkids.org/networks/p21 (Accessed 17.11.2019)

Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M., & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 10(3). https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v10i3.675

Capdeferro, N. & Romero, M. (2012). Are online learners frustrated with collaborative learning experiences?. The International review of research in open and distance learning, 13(2), 26-44.

Ecclesiastes 4:12, Holy Bible: New International Version.

Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volatility,_uncertainty,_complexity_and_ambiguity (Accessed 11.11.2019)

Published by Anya Siddiqi

Lecturer of English at Aalto University Language Centre, Finland.

2 thoughts on ““A cord of three strands is not quickly broken”

  1. Hi Anya, I loved reading your sermon. Even though you state that you are not entertaining any possible reader but just writing to consolidate your ideas on the ONL topic, I have to tell you that reading your blog or sermon was rather amusing and interesting. I liked the way you structured it and connected the three points that you made: 1. That we are stronger when we work together, 2. The message of the webinar and the 4C and 3. What is actually “collaborating”. Thanks for sharing!


    1. Oh kind of you, Lara! Thank you for your feedback and also the fact that you took the time to read my ramblings and were inadvertently entertained along the way :).

      Hope your ONL experience has been going well!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started
<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: