Listen and Learn: Conference Calls in Online Learning

Many people choose online learning because it offers access and flexibility. The Recreation North training program offers recreation leadership training in short online courses (micro-learning) that allow people from rural and remote locations to participate and develop valuable knowledge and skills without leaving their jobs and community life.

What learners may not recognize is the thoughtful design behind the structure and delivery of the two-week learning events. The weekly conference calls offer learners a chance to get comfortable with a new style of learning.

Listening has always been an important part of learning. We have to pay attention and focus to understand new concepts and take in new ideas. During each two-week course, learners are encouraged to participate in conference calls but are not required to speak if they aren’t comfortable or are uncertain about the topic. The instructor presents new learning by sharing stories and asking thoughtful questions, while learners are able to listen and refer to a Powerpoint slideshow to see how the talk relates to the course and the required learning activities (which replace traditional exams).

If learners encounter any technological or local challenges in connecting to the call (e.g., a recent glitch was due to the use of the learners’ workplace phone lines by the circuit court) they can participate by typing in a chat room. The instructor is careful to summarize what is learned as each person asks their questions, tells stories about their work and community life, and explores ideas about recreation that extend from local to national perspectives. Calls are recorded, so learners who are unable to participate can listen to the recording and share their thoughts or questions afterward in the online forums.

Many Indigenous learning principles reflect the value of storytelling and learning in context (i.e., in land-based settings). While online learning lacks the physical-environmental context, the weekly conference calls can provide a sense of the reality that each learner may face in their community or in the environments they use to recreate. During the weekly conference calls, learners take time to describe their land and their communities; to share stories of local recreational, social, and creative events; to reflect on and discuss commonalities, differences, challenges, and strengths.

Feedback from learners often mentions the value they perceive in these conference calls:

“I enjoyed learning from others experiences.”  A.Storr

“I really enjoyed having the conference calls where everyone has an opinion and no one has a wrong answer.”  A. Lizotte

“Sharing is always my favourite part. To hear what others are doing and how that might be applicable in my community.” S. Lonsdale

“Collaboration is always a highlight of this course. There is a wealth of insight gained in sharing experiences.”  S. Whittle

The opportunity to listen to and speak with a knowledgeable instructor and other learners can be a valuable experience for each participant, but the impact of listening and sharing also resonates beyond each call. Learners have frequently mentioned their intention to share parts of their conversations or ideas gleaned from other learners with their staff, colleagues, and community members.

Like a pebble thrown on an icy pond, the reverberations reach out beyond the point of impact.

If you want to learn more about teaching and learning check out these resources:

Antoine, Asma-na-hi, R. Mason, S.  Palahicky, and C. Rodriguez de France (2019) Indigenous Epistemologies and Pedagogies, Pulling Together: A Guide for Curriculum Developers, retrieved from

Dion, L.S. (2014). The Listening Stone, Learning From the Ontario Ministry of Education’s First Nations, Metis and Inuit-Focused Collaborative Inquiry 2013-2014.

Docherty-Skippen, S.M., and E.D. Woodford (2017). Indigenous Knowledge as 21st Century Education:  A Taxonomy of 21st Century Learning and Educational Leadership as Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ), Transformative Dialogues: Teaching & Learning Journal, Vol. 10, Issue 3, retrieved from

First Nations Education Steering Committee, First Peoples Principles of Learning (pdf), retrieved from