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Learning at the speed of desire


This is a simple expression of over six years of formal study and a couple of decades working in or around ‘technology enhanced learning’ of some kind, whether in ‘Corporate Training’ or in education.

This image sums up the best courses every time; its is obvious really: you build on experience and crank up the level of difficulty. To be achieved in ‘machine learning’, something that ‘gamification’ does deliver, is learning that is responsive to the individual learner. This is being offered piecemeal, for example, by being able to ‘restart’ a Coursera course every week, joining a new cohort where you left off each time – hardly conducive to creating any kind of collaborative learning though. It is also offered in fact-based, first year undergraduate courses where smart, well-researched and written ‘multiple-choice’ questions are part of the learning experience: the best not only guide the student to points in their course content where the answers they are seeking can be found, but the questions are shuffled each time you do them (better still would be to reword them). Some multiple choice ‘activities’ can be dire: full of double-negatives, too vague about the answer, or offering unfunny and stupid answers (the kind you have interrupting TV talent shows and morning breakfast TV).

One of the best at the multiple-choice question are QStream. Developed at Harvard Medical School and beginning life as ‘SpacedEd’ here heavy-weight courses, sent by email to your phone, helped medical students gain the knowledge they have to have.

I have many learning platform favourites: Rosetta Stone for languages, Youscian for guitar, Coursera for Photography, FutureLearn for Writing Fiction.

They’ll all get better. Lessons will be learnt and shared. I enjoyed the attending the Coursera Partners’ Conference last year where some 18 or more universities from around the world present, via ‘Posters’ papers they had researched and written on various aspects of ‘e-learning’. These shared insights will improve everything from use of multiple choice questions, and student forums, peer reviews and grading, to best-practice use of video.

More learning needs to be put through the kind of research labs they have at the Open University. I have been a tester here, and had a website tested. It helps enormously to study and observe, like an anthropologist, just how your site or learning experience is used. It reveals its strengths and weaknesses in a way that can be brutal and thrilling.


What’s the best policy regarding students ‘switching’ to a later ‘presentation’ during a MOOC?

Completion rates for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) bug their creators because of the massive fall-out. Like the half-life of something in a pond at Sellafield the figures can half in a week, and half again in another couple of weeks and at the end of a 12 week course there are 50 people left out of the original 15,000.
The excuses and reasons for this drop-out are multivarious: many never planned to start the course – it is too easy to sign up to something that is free; an early poor experience puts people off: it is not for them, too hard, too boring, irrelevant or time consuming. They can have a technical melt down too: the learning platform is pants, or their kit and connection isn’t up to it. A course can over promise and under deliver; there is a terribly fine balance and on the side of the creators ignorance of their students who can and will be ‘anyone’ : digitally literate or not, English their first language or not, lect school young with no qualifications or a professor nosing in on something that is their expertise …

Reasons that people stick include: they’ve paid for it, it should enhance their job prospects or working life (it has practical worth), they ‘like’ the educator(s), they ‘like’ their fellow students and/or ‘enjoy’ the platform, its functionality and experience. The intrinsic rather than the extrinsic motivators work best.

A responsive ‘platform’ by which I mean the educational establishment or organisation (The OU, Coursera, FutureLearn, EDx) will identify and fix sticking points: a flood of people quit after the third multiplechoice assessment – you fix it; the 12th too-long to camera talking head of the same person and you jazz them up, get someonelse or look for alternative approaches; and you acknowledge that everyone studying ‘at a distance’ and ‘online’ probably never had the time to set aside to study your course in the first time so will need time to adjust – to make time. And life is fickle, they may have setbacks. Great therefore if on a 3, or 5 or even a 12 week course or module that they can ‘elect’ at any stage to ‘switch’ to the next ‘presentation’ – so they pick it up in a few weeks.

With switching I wonder if there could be a way to discourage multiple switching though. I fear that what can happen is that having switched once out of expediency, then a second time ‘because you can’ then the third time there is some kind of behavioural pattern established and the person will never complete the course. Were a student physically attending class an aware supervisor would cause the student to think twice on the second ‘default’ switching and may put ‘soft’ barriers in the way of the third – after all, the hidden agenda here is about ‘completion rates’: one indicator of a successful course is the percentage whi make it to the end.

By not having switching, rather like having students paying a fee, you force their hand – gently, and sometimes of necessity. You have to face up to the genuine challenges of learning: you face and overcome obstacles whether they occur in your real home or professional life or because you are struggling ‘in class’. Either you have, or develop resilience; you seek help and advice and get it.

The graphic (actually an ‘installation’) featured at the top of the page is by American Lawrence Weiner whose work I first saw at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona. His career has been spent trying to visualise something amorphous: how we communicate and share ideas. My take on this ‘Nine pieces in a brown bag’ might have been the odd title, relates to my view on the power of two people making a better job of problem so,bing or creation than a person on their own, or, it could represent the interface between an educational institution and students. It means what you want it to mean. I have often resorted to using basic shapes in primary colours in a sequence to represent concepts or ideas. In a learning context Gilly Salomn famously uses kids building blocks to explain her ‘five phases’ of ‘e-learning’ : learning design for course writers in effect.

The future of learning

It doesn’t matter what order these are taken in. I constructed all of this in a series of ‘mashed up’ graphics with text and images, and online using SimpleMinds (mindmapping tool) as well as notes on paper.


Here’s my take on the way personalised, mobile ‘online’ learning needs to go. It needs to be responsive directly to the performance, expectations and record of the individual learner. Just like a parent, older sibling, teacher or grandparent who gets to know the person learning needs to find a way to be responsive not only to what they don’t know, but rewarding them by challenging that by what they do know, while throwing bricbats and googlies to keep them alert and to surprise them. It needs to know the person, at least as well as a psycologist might think they know them.

I’d like to see a volume knob on the online learning that I do: something that, depending on my mood would allow me to crank up the level of challenge, or to ‘tame it’. There are days when we fancy a challenge, and days when we don’t. Digital could do this, though I can’t see where it has been tried other than in games.



Is an App on WW1 better than an eBook and better than a book?

Dan Snow. “Clearly an App is better than a book for history.”

This is a fascinating insight into the way we learn and educate is changing with students exploring, creating and sharing from an App ‘smôrgasbord’ of rich, interactive content.

I picked up this thread in the WW1 Buffs Facebook pages

This conversation will keep me busy for several months. The debate on the guardian site is heated, personal and too often Luddite in tone. Why try to say that a book is better than an eBook is better than an App that is ‘book-like?’ I’ll be pitching in as I believe what he argues is right and applies immediately to Geography too. I‘ve studied online learning, history and geography – all to Masters level. I’m not an historian, geographer or an educator: I’m simply deeply curious and fascinated by the way we learn.

Key to Apps is immediacy, relevancy and motivation.

Put content into a student’s hands in a way they appreciate: at their fingertips, multi-sensory and connected. An App can take all that is a book, and add several books and angles; all that is TV or Radio and have the person sit up, create content of their own, form views, share opinions and therefore learn, develop and remember.

The value of using a 3D timeline in writing

Fig.1 Word and Tiki-Toki

Constructing a length piece of writing – over 50,000 words and need to stick to the chronology of events, at least in the first draft, I have found using the timeline creation tool Tiki-Toki invaluable. You can create one of these for FREE.

Over the last few months I’ve been adding ‘episodes’ to a timeline that stretches between 1914 and 1919. You get various views, including the traditional timeline of events stretched along an unfurling panorama. However, if you want to work with two screen side by side the 3D view allows you to scroll back and forth through the timeline within the modest confines of its window.

Peace in pieces

Fig. 1. Poster commemorating the bombing of Hiroshima for Japan, 1985. Ivan Chermayeff, de la warr pavilion, Bexhill.

Trip FIVE to this exhibition, this time with my brother-in-law, is imminent. What I adore about exhibitions here is that they are ‘bitesize’ and smart; they are a perfect ‘mind burst’. They are the ideal repeat show too as with each visit you see more, and see differently … and are influenced of course by the person you are with.

The right image says what each viewer sees in it.

This idea naturally translates into any and every conflict we see today: MH17, fractured and not yet stuck together, the Middle East utterly smashed into dust – I have this visual in my head of Hanukkah Lamp, the smoke from which forms a fractured map of Israel and Palestine.

From E-Learning IV

From a learning point of view to start with a poster such as this is to follow Robert Gagne theory of learning design; also the natural skill of storytellers and good communications: get their attention.

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.

Professor Gilly Salmon talks us through her Five Stages of e-learning

Fig. 1 Prof Gilly Salmon on Scaffolding for her Five Stages of Learning (c) Swinburne University of Technology 2014

Five levels, fifteen components
Keeping students engaged all the way through.

The building blocks or ‘scaffolding’ – perhaps Mecanno would have done the trick?

Stage 1: Familiarisation

1) Green Cube – People must have access to your platform to get in and motivation. May be issues to start with over technical access. Don’t need to know everything about the platform you are using, but they do need to be able to get in time and time again.
2) Blue Cylinder – e-moderator. Human intervention. Welcome. Support. Provide motivation to go on. To facilitate delivery of a successful learning experience. Don’t try to teach them anything yet.
3) Yellow Plank – Learning to take part, learning to log on and learning to come back frequently.

Stage 2: The start of online socialisation

Culture building and building your own little learning set.

4) Green Plank – technology environment part: not all the features, but how to navigate around and respond to others: not all the features, how to take part.
5) Blue Cube – e-moderator. A host at a cocktail party. Introductions. Basic needs satisfied.

Learning in three ways:

6a) Yellow Cube – Forming a team, getting to know others.
6b) Yellow Cube – Familiar with why they are working inline for this course.
6c) Yellow Cube – Some idea of what is coming up that is relevant for the course they are studying – don’t give them anything hard to do.

Stage 3: Information exchange

Get learners working together, exchanging known information they can bring or information that they can find.

7) Yellow Plank – e-tivity design to enable them to take part, navigate around, familiar by now.
really good e-tivities
8) Green Plank – links are working, can navigate around, feel familiar with the environment by now.
9) Blue Cube – really good e-tivities and have a presence.

Stage 4: Knowledge construction

10a/b) Yellow Columns – Constructing new knowledge
11) Green Bridging Piece – Everyone is taking part and everyone has a clear role
12) Blue Plank – e-moderator – do rather less …. gently, gently with feedback extremely important

Stage 5: benefit from looking back before looking forward

A bit of meta-cognition.
The role they have taken, what went on …

15) Green Triangle – a bit of technology (submitting assessments)
14) Red – Assessment or summative assessment
13) Blue Cube – back and forth through the online. course

For online or blended courses.

This video describes the scaffolding stage for the 5 stage model created by Professor Gilly Salmon. This is part of the Carpe Diem video collection via Scaffolding for learning (Carpe Diem MOOC).

University Of California Approves Major Open Access Policy To Make Research Free

Over 125 million people want a university education – current global provision struggles to cater for 5 milllion – making the source content free doesn’t create an educational package – it lack the scaffolding, assessment and accreditation, but it is food for the hungry.

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