What are MOOCs going to do for learning?

From E-Learning V

Fig.1.  Web 1.0, Web 2.0, Web 3.0. The way it was, the way it is, the way it will be.  J F Vernon (2013)

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are new and FutureLearn, a wholly owned subsidiary of The OU is itself adapting as traditional institutions embrace e-learning, respond to feedback and to results and improve.

MOOCs will be new for a decade.

E-learning like this is not a lecture series online, TV online, a book or book list online, quiz or a tutorial online. Whilst this is invariably the starting place for ‘ground based’ educators, the academics working with instructional designers, not in isolation, need increasingly to begin with a blank sheet rather than looking at the physical assets of academics, books, lectures and papers around them.

What we are witnessing today is that transition from the Wright Brothers to World War One fighter planes: we are seeing hints of the jets to come: we are a long way from drones. I use the analogy having just completed a wonderful three-week FutureLearn MOOC ‘World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age‘. Innovation takes time, though not necessarily violent conflict.

Innovations go through recognisable phases.

E-learning in the forms of MOOCs is still at the stage of ‘early adoption’ – rest-assured they will become commonplace, though surely with a different name? MOOCs can be a hybrid during a transitional phase so long as this is seen as the first step in many away from traditional approaches, embracing what works online.

Academics need to resist hiding away in their silos and welcome into their midst those of us seeking to understand and to integrate the processes involved – that combination of learning and e-learning: how and why we learn (neuroscience and physcology) and how then scale (massiveness), interactivity (digital) and connectivity (openness) changes things. In time, when the academics themselves have reached their accredited status of ‘doctor’ and ‘professor’ through e-learning and when we can call them all ‘digital scholars’ – then we’ll be able to look down from the clouds and smile at how much things have changed.

Think evolution not revolution

Think how long it will take to see out the current generation of academics – thirty to fifty years? Whilst many embrace change, most do not. They chose academia as a lifestyle and fear closer, open scrutiny and engagement. Learning is now experiencing what retail has gone through over the last decade. They are exhilarating as well as scary times.

Ultimately MOOCs are about a combination of sequential activities and ‘interactivities’, collaboration and connection.

Gilly Salmon coined the term ‘e-tivities’: sadly not in common usage, it nonetheless captures beautifully what is required for students to learn online – doing stuff on your own, with other fellow students and with the academics. Academics who like to observe from their ivory towers are failing in a duty as educators, and are missing the opportunity to have their own thinking challenged and refreshed.

Collaboration is a long held view of a kind of learning in ‘communities of practice’ most associated with the academics Lave and Wenger: how working together is a more effective for of constructed learning.

Connectedness as a way of learning is dependent on a few things: the affordances of the platform to permit this with ease: if you have the opportunity compare current student messaging and blogging platforms at your institution with those at FutureLearn which has stripped back the unnecessary and concentrated on this ‘connectivity’; the number and mix of participants: massive helps as a small percentage of a group will be the front runners and conversationalists with others benefiting from listening in, out of choice not pressure and the ‘quality’ of the participants in that they need to have both basic ‘digital literacy’ skills and reliable access based on their kit and connection. ‘Connectivity’ is often associated with the academic George Siemens and is the new kid on the ‘learning theories’ block.

Embrace the pace of change

A lean and smart organisation will tumble over itself, re-inventing and experimenting with ways things are done until clear methodologies present themselves for specific types of learning experience: ‘head work’ is different to’ handiwork’ – academic study is different from applied practice. Subjects freed from books and formal lectures, like the genii released from the bottle will, in the cloud, form into shapes that are most suited to their learners and what is being taught: blended and ‘traditional’ learning most certainly have their place.

Academic snobbery is a barrier to e-learning. 

John Seely Brown, working out of the Palo Alto Research Centre, famous for coming up with the WYSIWYG interface between us and computers and a ‘learning guru’ is passionate about the idea of ‘learning from the periphery’ – this is how and when someone new to a subject, or team, hangs around at the edges, learning and absorbing what is going on at the heart. The wonder of open learning is the participation of equally brilliant and curious minds, some who know a good deal on a subject while others are just starting out, eager to listen, willing to ask questions that may be naïve but are usually insightful; in the two-way exchange both the die-hard academic and the newbie change for the better. Learning feeds of this new fluidity. It is evidence of the ‘democratisation’ of learning.

Proud and happy to call myself a ‘Master of Arts’

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. Mr Kung Fu - was he the master or the pupil?

When I completed enough modules early last year to graduate as a ‘Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education’ I felt like a fraud; I’d scraped through, more importantly I didn’t feel I was ‘fluent’ enough in the subject. One module, H817 had been replaced and had felt a little dated at the time. This is why I’ve ended up doing a couple more MA modules from the MAODE – I have only one missing from the full set (H817 Open) which I may do in due course. I could even put it towards an M.Ed (Masters degree in Education) for which I also need the compulsory 60 point module Educational Enquiry which next registers a year from now.

From E-Learning V

Fig.2 The forgetting curve

Confidence to call myself a ‘Master’ and belief by others that I know my subject led me to being asked to join the Open University advisory panel on the MAODE and in the same week to join the board of advisors for a national educational body that recently met. Now I feel I have enough of ‘the knowledge’ at my fingertips. I prepared for this first meeting my searching through this blog: it shouldn’t surprise me to know how much I’d forgotten, studying why and how we forget is very much a part of education – it is summed up in the Forgetting Curve (fig.2) that Hermann Ebbinghaus thought up over a hundred years ago.

From E-Learning V

Fig.3. SatNav (not me)

It intrigues me that no gadget we own can circumvent this: that in fact, take a SatNav for example, let’s assume that it takes you on a journey in the correct direction. Let’s say you keep using the SatNav regardless. You could probably turn it off after two or three of these trips as your brain lays down the landmarks in your longterm memory. Thinking of which, I think the SatNav makes an excellent model for e-learning; just image you need to learn 120 absolute facts as a junior doctor – you could have your SatNav ‘peg’ the facts to specific points of a familiar journey. When you sit the exam it’s then as easy as driving this route in your mind’s eye visualisation everyone of the facts along the way.

I wander, cloud like.

I’m writing up my notes from this national advisory panel and over the next four years can hopefully nod at the courses that appear on which I’ve had some influence. Still not there yet, but I’m one heck of a long way further on since February 2010 when I re-booted this malarkey.

The answer has to be a P.hD. And I guess the only place to do that would be with the Open University. I went off the boil on that one a year ago, though I did secure a couple of interviews but came away suitably crushed.

It will have taken by then, at least ten years, more like 12 or 13, to call myself a ‘Digital Scholar’.

What is learning?

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. Learning that is connected, socialised and shared

Does learning happen within the head of an individual, or is it mediated, situated and distributed?

Learning as an artefact is the potential informed or insightful response in an individual’s brain. Learning as a process includes the mechanisms of the brain and everything that person perceives around them – which must indirectly include everything they’ve laid down in their memory and how the subconscious responds to any of it.

What does a test or exam measure?

A test or exam can only be judged by how it is constructed and where and how it fits into a period of study – is the test part of the learning process or an assessment? Are the questions open or closed? Are their significant time constraints or not? So they should test what they were designed to test.

Why some online learning works better than others

From E-Learning V

Fig.1 This is what a reading list looks like – too much of a good thing makes it a bad thing

I ‘do’ e-learning for two reasons:

  • love of a subject, or a desire to fill holes or build mountains in my knowledge
  • fascination in e-learning: what works and what does not.

FutureLearn is a magic platform

I love it’s simplicity, clarity and intuitiveness. In the right hands it’s the perfect cup of coffee. (and once a day takes about as long to consume)

Classy copy

The considered, edited and crafted content doesn’t dick about: it is a brief talk, or walk and talk BBC documentary style opening (video), followed by a a dozen paragraphs of a succinct piece of required reading that is then opened to the ‘floor’.

‘Connectedness’ is enabled

The threaded discussion looks more like this bulletin-board cum blog cum student forum. Perhaps, as this has developed over the last decade, is where the idea came from? As a bulletin-board each time you comment your thoughts are placed on the top of the pile: someone has to read it when they log in, or at least there’s a  greater chance of that.

This connectedness is facilitated and encouraged further by alerts you get as others comment in a thread you’ve contributed to or started.

Your contributions are sorted for you and so build, without you needing to do so yourself, into a threaded line of thought – you can see how you are learning, how your knowledge improves and your ideas develop.

There are parameters

There is a word count for each posting. 1200 characters I think and a time frame during which you can edit (15 minutes).

There is a modicum of overload

We, as students, are the masters of the time we have, or want to give to a thing. We are also the ones who know and control the pace. It is too simple to say that some people read faster than others, so can consume more. We approach text in very different ways. What is crucial and done in the FutureLearn module I’m doing on the 1919 First World War Paris Treaty is the amount of reading offered. It is more than enough, but not overwhelming. It takes itself and its students seriously by saying that ‘we think you can read all of this and contribute to the discussions in the time allocated – five hours a week’.

Module teams get it wrong when content is sparse or when they overload the student with that laziest of get-outs ‘the reading list’. Getting it right requires effort, confidence in the subject you are teaching and a belief and understanding of the way people learn and the platforms and tools now available and how their evolving use impacts on learning. I’m doing a couple of FutureLearn modules: ‘Writing Applications’ at two hours a week, compares to World War 1: Paris 1919 at five hours a week. The contrast couldn’t be greater.

It’s like the first offers you a small cup of coffee: no refills. Instant. You get it with milk whether you like it or not. While the second gives you a rich cup of coffee and, if you want them, a couple of refills. No more. There are parameters.

FutureLearn keeps it simple

What matters are the words people type. There are none of the mess of unnecessary buttons provided here. Honestly. Keep it simple OU. They just muddle things massively. Where used they invariably take away from the ability to communicate. It is enough of a challenge to type on a QWERTY keyboard. Plain text does the job. In the hands of the amateur (all of us), being able to add colour, change font size and a whole lot more serves no useful purpose.

Content is self-moderated by the group

A simple alert button allows you to flag something to let moderators know that something inappropriate is going on: hateful language, foul language, ‘drunken’ rants …

Go see

‘There’s something for everyone’.

Learning French with the Open University (L120 Unit 1: Session )

From E-Learning V

From E-Learning V

Making a tentative though necessary start.

When taking an online course such as this my interest is two-fold: the content and how the course is constructed and delivered.

Regarding the content I last learnt French formally for O’Levels and got a ‘C’.

There are multiple holes in my knowledge, use and understanding of the language. Wanting to acquire rather than learn the language I got myself onto a school exchange scheme, spent three weeks in Rochefort near La Rochelle – and returned for five weeks that same summer ending up hitching through France to Andora and back. My new friend was Algerian. In my gap year I worked in a French 4 Star Hotel for five months where many of the staff I dealt with were from North Africa and the south of France. I gained a Marseillais accent and vocab. Finally I worked in French TV in Paris: my immediate work colleagues were a Geordie, a Russia, a Moroccan and an Israelie. By now I passed as Belgian – so long as I said very little. The third phase has come since: gambling away in French thinking I can be understood when that is far from the situation as my grammar is so poor. Finally, a yesr using Rossetta Stone has me slowing down and the few very correct phrases I use have me sounding like a government official from Paris. This sounds like fluency: it is not. My written French wouldn’t get me through primary school, which explains why I’ve enroled on L120.

More grammar to absorb, understand, know then apply … and be around people who are told to fix rather than tolerate my mistakes.

From E-Learning V

I need to figure out how to generate accents otherwise that will be another lesson that passes me by.

From E-Learning V

The importance of digital literacy in learning online

Fig. 1. Mozilla Webmaker Digital Literacy Map

Learning online for a degree means that over a number of modules, sooner rather than later, you are likely to master a number of these digital literacy skills; the more the better.

Navigation, search and credibility and vital for any student. Can you find your way around the web and your university’s virtual library, the student forum and Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)? Can you search elsewhere for credible results – remembering to tag and cite these?

Learning online you may never need to code, but other ‘building’ skills are important; the basics of this blogging platform for a start, remixing and re-blogging and accessibility issues.

Connecting might be the most important skill and habit to acquire: sharing, collaboration and community participation are what make the Open University learning experience so special. ‘Connectivity’ is considered by academics such as George Siemens to be the learning theory of the 21st century; that by taking part, connecting and commenting you and others benefit from the insights gained, mistakes corrected, problems solved, issues understood, theories tested …

While ‘openness’ is a state of mind that takes a bit of getting used to; some make feel it is ‘exposure’ or compromising their privacy. Others simply prefer to get on with a task alone, and therefore with less disturbance. You can see that I am an exponent of openness and connectivity.

Open and free learning needs to preach to the converted

Fig. 1 My big sister and me

‘Preach to the converted’ is the mantra of advertising; increasingly it should the mantra of e-learning, and especially of Massive Open Online Courses which are both open and free. Give potential students what they want in a way that they are already open to. Don’t force feed platforms and tools that are foreign to them, nor pander to the book, pen and notebook when by its very nature if you are learning online you are in front of a computer screen. Think more in terms of the needs of the student, than of the willingness of the faculty to give this kind of e-learning a go. Engage someone with a background in communications.

‘Preach to the converted’ ties into the need to know who your students are – in all their diversity. There’s a bunch of personas used by the Open University to help with this. We’re a handful of shifting types across a spectrum of some 12 personas. This helps educators design for hidden, massive audiences.

Fig.2. The Santorini Museum

Big Sis and me both wanted a book from the Santorini Museum.  

We’d done the Akrotiri excavation and did the museum in our separate ways (family event on the island with people arriving at different times and staying in different place. When we met up we agreed immediately at the frustration at no having a shop at either location. You whet your appetite on a subject are ripe for a bit more. I even started looking for a two week course on Archaeology in Future Learn. No book. Not much of a website. Ample content with each artefact.

Visitors to museums are converts; not just easy to sell postcards and tea-towels too, but ready to learn and suckers not just for ‘the book’, but just as prepared to come to the talk, even, these days, to sign up to a taster course.