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How to read an online course

Gilly Salmon Five Phases

Fig.1 Gilly Salmon’s ‘Five Stage Model’ for e-learning

How can you assess what makes an online course from something so complex and varied?

The answer is to think through the components that are likely to be there, or need to be there, in every session, or phase of the learning.

During the Master of Arts Open and Distance Education (MAODE) that I took through The Open University (entirely online), we often created and used flowcharts of various forms. This appealed to me. Keep it simple.

Gilly Salmon was the star of the moment. For a while she was the queen of all things ‘e’ from e-learning to e-moderators and her eponymous’e-tivities’. That was a few years ago. As I predicted when I started the MAODE in 2010 the expression ‘e-learning’ would soon be reduced to ‘learning’ – out context is digital in 2016, is mobile too – it is learning whether done at a desk with a book, in a class face to face, or on your smart phone during the daily commute.

Gilly Salmon has a system called ‘The Five phases’ delightfully explained in a Blue Style presented video from Swinburne University.

I love it. Though in one of her books or papers, I forget which, she did liken learning online to building not with Lego, but with Lego ‘Technics’. In this video she uses kids’ coloured wooden building blocks.

I’ve gone along with this so that the system can be moderated and applied to the online learning that I am always doing: currently on Search Engine Optimisation (Coursera), Photography (Coursera) and French (Rosetta Stone). As well as the MAODE, and two further MAODE modules I did ‘to complete the set’, I have done some 27 other courses on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs, First World War history, Climate Change, Arts in Medicine and much, more much.

Each course is made with familiar ingredients, though the recipe and outcome is always different. Some do it better than others. Some are poor. All could be better. Most will improve as the science behind learning online informs the educators where they are doing wrong. This is particularly the case I have found with Coursera who are on missions to analyse, research, share and improve every course that they offer.

Gilly Salmon 5 Phase Flowchart

Gilly Salmon 5 Phase Flowchart

Fig 2. Gilly Salmon’s ‘Five Stage Model’ simplified.

This is how Gilly Salmon’s model looks laid out left to right. A softly softly opening with human intervention leads to every so slightly more involved learning and ends with a test or assignment of some kind.

Model of Phase OneFig 3. How the building blocks are used. I would go further and give each shape meaning too.

The blue row represents people, an associate lecturer at the Open University, or a moderator. This, though ‘distance learning’ is more akin to ‘blended learning’ – this component of human involvement from the course tutors limits its scalability. Increasingly this blue row is fulfilled by the green row. The green row represents the technical side of things: the learning management system, the design and other digital support, easiest with copious and user-friendly ‘frequently asked questions’ (FAQs).

My own take on this is different.

This I take from the numerous online courses I have taken: starting in fact with one of the original Master of Arts Open and Distance Learning (MAODL) courses from the OU in 2001. I have taken multiple courses with FutureLearn, with Coursera, a few from Open Learn, specialist one-offs on MOOCs from various providers and language learning with Rosetta Stone (French and Spanish).

Ideal Supported 6 Phase Flowchart

Ideal Supported 6 Phase Flowchart

Fig 4. My own version of the ‘ideal’ e-learning or online course

Here, I have followed the same patterns and approach to suggest what I understand to be best practice for a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) in 2016. For a start, the blue row should not be thought of as a person. The course design, the platform, ought to be intuitive enough and easy enough to follow without the need, for all the support and education benefits, of anyone from the course design team. How could a senior lecturer or professor engage with 10,000 or more students in any case. Far better to have the means for students to engage with each other. And where ‘constructed learning’ through collaboration is required maybe have self-selected and vetted student moderators taking an active role moderating forums and discussion threads: seeding conversations, acting as a catalyst for discussion and debate …

Of significant difference, from a learning design point of view, I introduce testing almost immediately. Simple testing, with a well-designed multiple-choice quiz for example, sets the tone for later, gets students engaged, and will build knowledge and familiarity with one assessment approach that should become a regular feature, and increasingly challenging as the module progresses. At Coursera learners are expected to gain an 80% grade in the formal assessments or not progress. You can, and have to repeat these, sometimes multiple times, going back over course materials three or four times even – this is what learning is about: not progressing until you have the concept in your head.

There’s a new row or column that needs to be added to this: monetization. In most cases these courses need to pay for two reasons: from a learning point of view people who pay for their course upfront are more likely to completed; from a funding perspective the creators of these platforms need to show a return. There are ample ways to make a course available free to the worthy.

Here’s some detail on each of these phases:

JFV Phase One MAX

Learning Online Phase Two JFV

Learning Online Phase Two JFV

Online Learning Phase Three JFV

Online Learning Phase Four JFV

Online Learning Phase Four JFV

Phase Five Online Learning

My aim is to develop a system to analyse online courses I do or have done.

I’m not looking for a ‘magic formula’ but rather simple indicators that can be shared with educators during the design phase, or when appraising a course after its first ‘presentation’ so that faults can be understood and fixed, strengths developed and repeated.

The future of learning


During my years studying for an MA in Open and Distance Education with the Open University I came to admire and follow the work of Gilly Salmon. I ‘got’ the idea of ‘e-tivities’ and ‘e-moderators’ though then, and certainly now, we are dropping the ‘e’ from learning and everything else. It just is.

This idea of a direct, consequential flow of development of learning from Education 1.0 (One point Zero) onwards to Education 3.0 (Three point Zero) is all a bit 2002. It supposes that digital can enhance learning in a series of step-changes like upgrading software. Software is no longer upgraded in such steps. It has become transitory, ‘in the cloud’ and forever mutable.

The model should be used for debate. I challenge it. Too often I find myself at a presentation where this is shown and the cowed audience are too accepting. This is where and how that mythical ‘Oxbridge tutorial’ comes into its own. Here a professor invites challenge and debate, expects students to form their own ideas rathe than to accept his or hers as Gospel.

I found myself stripping this back through the night. I didn’t feel comfortable challenging the model in public, in front of an audience of hungry ‘worshipers’ amongst whom I would have counted myself a few years ago. I’ve read and done too much since. I am qualified to have an opinion and too often have the reference tickling the back of my mind as I write.

‘Diffusion of Innovations’ for a start. My first module of the MA ODE which I re-activated in 2010 after a 9 year absence. I’d started the MA ODL in 2001.


So here is Gilly Salmon’s table, or model, once more. My challenge would have been intellectual, based on theory as well as practical – experience of the ‘Oxford Tutorial’ which to my mind achieves, and has achieved, much of what Education 2.0 and Education 3.0 sets out to do. The parameter that is missing in this model is to say this is being applied to a mass audience of students. You cannot deliver one to one, or one to three at most ‘tutorials’ on a weekly basis (or more often) to the tens of millions who deserve and crave a graduate level education in 2016.

Let me pick out some points here.

Lifelong Learning. It may be a marketing ploy but at the end of this month I’ll be returning to my old college, Balliol, for a day of lectures and seminars given by alumni. Last year I did something similar with the family. I also attended a lecture from my own faculty, ‘The School of Geography and Environmental Studies’. Content alone with Balliol and the SOGE counts as some ‘life long learning’. Is this only fed or made possible by the nature of quality of ‘connectedness’ we now have courtesy of the Internet?

Academics are students too. Maybe some were less willing that others to put themselves on the same plain as their students, but even more so than their students, if they are conducting research and especially if they are teaching and tutoring they are learning too. To teach is the best way to learn. Tutors feed of the bright, and not so bright, minds in their tutor groups. They are repeatedly challenged to repeat the same reply or to develop a new angle – until they do.

Learning that is ‘constructed and co-constructed’ is exactly what the ‘Oxbridge Tutorial’ achieves. You are given an essay title and some references. You research your answer and right your reply. In a group of two or three someone reads out their essay. Between your fellow students and the tutor you talk it through. Together you construct a fuller, deeper, remembered meaning. One day you get to apply this in a written test. It doesn’t need to wait for ‘Education 3.0’ as Oxbridge has taught this way for some 750 years. What the Internet offers, or should aspire to offer, is some version of this that 85 million can enjoy.

It will need a little bit of tutor engagement, some PhD candidates and MA students too, and peer support and pressure. Perhaps some AI will be thrown into the mix as well, with lessons from gaming.

I see versions of it. There are ‘break out’ meetings whenever you learn online, real people in real or ‘as live’ time having a discussion on a topic. It is thrilling to pick up the thread of a conversation that started in Canada, is picked up in New Zealand, crosses to Japan and the Indian Subcontinent, then Africa before re-emerging in Europe. You do wake up wondering where the conversation is going to go. It is akin to that thing where as a student you sat up late and set the world to rights. You can read through the discussion; you can see where thoughts are going; you can draw your own conclusions.



Development of the digital ‘Oxbridge Tutorial’


Prof. Gilly Salmon at a Coursera Event in The Hague, The Netherlands

Cousera has ‘more than’ 18 million learners. In her keynote at a the recent Coursera Partners Conference, Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller said that Cousera is  “so much more than a platform, it is  movement”.

It is this very quality that is already recreating the ‘Oxbridge tutorial‘ online because where hundreds of mentors come forward, or are recruited ‘pro them’ to contribute and to take part in discussion, and to view assignments and even ‘buddy up’ with newcomers, part of the joint, collective outcome is ‘tutorial like’. This is possible even where several or even many different people are playing the role of the tutor as they are, as part of a common ‘movement’ ‘speaking with the same voice’.

Understanding how ‘movements’ come about, from the informality of a nebulous Zeitgeist to common political views, lifestyle choices and behaviours and religions would all help to recognise this. Having taken a Masters degree online and completed or taken part in well over 30 MOOCs my experience is that of the insider; as a learner, a lurker and ‘wannabe’ course creator. I have studied online with The Open University, Oxford Brookes University and through many universities on the Coursera, FutureLearn, Edx and Udacity platforms. What’s more, I have being sharing and learning online since 1999 and working in the world of ‘corporate training’ – I’ve been immersed in it for long enough to feel I have some sense of where it has come from and where new developments are founded. Perhaps this experience, knowledge and studying of online learning makes me better able than many to see and imagine where it could be headed.

Mobile is missing from the term ‘Massive Open Online Course‘, yet I’d argue that this too is enabling the recreation of the ‘tutorial’ because it is at the same time ‘intimate’ – two people in an exchange and shared – there are other ears in on the discussion. In ‘micro moments’ throughout the day we carry on multiple conversations through the devices we have in our pockets and bags. I have been part of collaborative groups of four to six people or so who over weeks from our locations on different continents around the world having tackled a problem and even become friends ‘of sorts’. I’d even say we from time to time, like students on campus, ‘broke out’ did our own thing and were disruptive.

I am privileged, for sure, to have experienced the ‘Oxford Tutorial’ first hand as an undergraduate studying Geography – my first degree in the 1980s. In a model Gilly Salmon uses to imply that education has been Education 1.0 (one point zero) and struggles to become Education 2.0 let alone to achieve the goals across nine criteria of Education 3.0′ yet I can argue and provide ample evidence that the collegiate, tutorial system, that has been the Oxford model for centuries (my college, Balliol, was founded in the 13th century) delivers Education 2.0 as its standard. It does this through ‘intimacy’ you are a small cohort, niche in terms of subject, housed in a college of a few hundred that includes the academics: lecturers, senior lecturers and the tenured professors.

It makes me realise too that when it comes to harnessing the power of learning through exchange between two, or a few people the Oxford I know – a model matched at Cambridge and Durham I believe in England, provides much more than just a professor and two or through students sitting in his or her study for an hour per week per topic.

Oxford fosters and nurtures making mistakes, through forming your own opinion rather than regurgitating and quoting back those of others, and in casual and formal debate you ‘construct’ meaning of your own.

‘Collegiate’  rather than campus, staircase rather than corridor in a hall of residence, eating together and ‘doing’ together is all part of this: you don’t just study together in a ‘tutor group’ but you may row, act or be in any of many other groups or associations – it’s the whole package that makes the tutorial possible.

The MA ODE that I did, I am a ‘Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education’ was, like many Open University courses based around a ‘tutor group’. The OU, founded in the 1960s as ‘the university of the airwaves’ to exploit radio and television as platforms for offering higher education ‘to all’ is a distance learning specialist, using course books too, and DVDs, though quickly online, as early as 1992 putting an MBA module online. I personally did a Masters level module entirely online with The OU in 2001. I only returned to complete my MA though in 2010-13. A cohort of 60 in five tutor groups of 12 or so study together for a ‘module’. There might be five modules you need over three to seven years to earn a degree with in my case seven only to pick through (though I have since ensured that I have done all seven). In theory I am on my way to earning an MEd too. It isn’t scalable in the sense of ‘massive’ – some tutors struggle with a handful of students and in the time they are paid to spend with students and marking three or four formally submitted assignments only a few can and want to take on the ‘tutor role’ as mentor and lead educator too.

All of these experiences though, the good and the bad, indicate to me what is possible and what is likely to happen. The nature of MOOCs and their attractiveness to all kinds of learner, from the ‘newbie’ to the Masters student wishing to refresh their knowledge means that ‘the community’ can, like globules forming and breaking apart in a lava-lamp, support multiple tutor groups. Indeed, FutureLearn, does this as they have addressed the problem of massive forums or discussion threads. How do you tame a thread then runs to over a thousand contributions from many hundreds of people? The answer is to support people to ‘edit’ down by their choice those they converse with, enable the picking out of replies personally to you and encouraging a mindset that dips in and out selectively rather than ever trying to follow every word of ‘the crowd’.

Aren’t tutorials one of the most natural human conditions? Is that not what, in part, parenting is? The knowledgeable parent passes on their experience and behaviour to the ’empty’ mind?

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.

Data, Analytics and Learning

Data, Analytics and Learning

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. EdX MOOC – right up my street (MOOC = Massive Open Online Course).

These, like the NHS, are ‘free at the point of delivery’ – they are free and online with often, potentially at least, a huge enrolment – though this collapses on the heavyweight longer courses such as the above to around 5%. FutureLearn with its three week ‘lite’ format is retaining 22% of those who register.

They are free, but the US ‘Open Learn’ courses don’t half use the opportunity to sell you at every turn on the idea of making a contribution, or purchasing a badge, certificate or even a formal assessment. It shouldn’t feel like one of those holiday timeshare things or a ‘free’ trip to a traditional Turkish village where you are flogged carpets.

Might the supply of free online learning of this calibre threaten traditionally courses entirely?

H817 on Open Learning, a new MAODE module, is, in various alternative forms offered online. Here with George Siemens, now at the University of Texas. This would be no different to Martin Weller turning up at Harvard and offering a version of H817 or some of the other MAODE modules on the EdX MOOC platform.

Deaf in one ear

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. Perforated Eardrum – before and after surgery

This has lasted a week. It’s barely been bad enough to send me to my bed, but the drops and painkillers have knocked me out while the ear-thing has sent me all lopsided. I appreciate entirely that there are people with and who have significant and lasting disabilities here, so I don’t mean to diminish by any means what they go through or need to overcome, it has simply made me realise all kinds of things that never struck me while doing the MAODE module on accessibility.

We’re aware of those suits people can wear to get a feel for what it is like to be heavily pregnant – who do they use it on? teenagers?  Is there value though in the able-bodied getting some sense of what it is like to have an impairment by, for example, blocking their ears for a number of hours, wearing a blindfold and restricting their day to a wheelchair, even typing while wearing gloves. In swimming we get swimmers to try swimming with their fists closed in order for them to appreciate the importance of the correctly shaped hand.

Everything, particularly to do with sound, is different.

If someone calls my name I struggle to know where they are – upstairs, downstairs or behind the door. When I shave it sounds as if I have my ear pressed against the wooden floor while it is attacked with a rotary sander. I feel unbalanced, and totter a bit when getting up and have tripped too as if I can’t quite place my left leg.

I did the idiot thing of putting the phone to the ‘wrong ear’ and wondered why the person had stopped talking. If I sleep on my right side the silence would be pleasing except for the constant ‘sandy’ electronic interference like sound in my left ear.

When you have a problem to solve it helps to do something completely different, either to take a break, or bring someone in who has nothing to do with a project. This blocked ear thing is temporarily skewing or tipping so much, as if one end of the shelf has collapsed and all the books have fallen off.

Trusting it won’t last because for now if at any time it looks as if I am my sunny self it’s something I’m putting on.  It could well be perforated in which case I ought not be using ear-drops. if it is perforated then there needs to be surgery. I suspect that it is and I remember how. I pushed a piece of cold, stiff silicon into my ear and then wore headphones over these when trying to block out the sound of a fire alarm in a B&B, not because there was a fire, but because the alert to say the battery was flat was ringing every two minutes all night long.


It was earwax. A jet of warm water into my ear and it was gone. Like three wet cornflakes squashed together. How did they det in there?

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’.

The connectedness of ideas by learning online – towards a new theory of learning

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. This IMHO is what learning has become in the 21st century – and how it got there

There’s more going on here than you may realise!

From E-Learning V

Fig.2. Traditional top down learning

Two triangles, one above the other and linked with a down arrow suggests traditional top down learning … or simply knowledge transfer from someone who knows something to someone who does not.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 3 By someone’s side

Two triangles, one facing the other, may represent a shift towards collaborative or horizontal learning in a formal setting, though for me it represents the learning you do away from the institution – with friends, with family ‘on the same level’ as it were.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 4. Participatory and situated, networked learning on the periphery

From E-Learning V

Fig.5 The thinking starts with Vygotsky and his research into behaviorist learning

It then progressed to the study and analysis of learning in communities

From E-Learning V

Fig. 6. Activity Theory as conceived of and developed by Yrjo Engeström. 

From E-Learning V

Fig.7 The interplay between two entities or communities coming together to solve a problem and thus producing something unique to them both (object 3) – a fresh idea.

From E-Learning V

Fig.8. Activity Theory re-connected – breaking out

Though developed over some thirty years the structure of ‘Activity Theory’ as a model is breaking down because of the quality, speed and way in which we now connect overrides barriers and invades silos making communication more direct and immediate.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 9 Activity Theory in a connected world

Everyone and everything is just a click away.

From E-Learning V

Fig.10 Visualizing the maelström of original ideas generated by people sharing their thoughts and ideas as they form

The maelström of new ideas where people and groups collide and interact. Historically this had been in grounded ‘communities of practice’, whether a London coffee shop or the senior common room of a prestigious university, the lab, the studio, the rehearsal room … today some gatherings online are frequent, enabled by the Internet and no less vibrant as like-minds and joiners contribute to the generation of new ideas.

This, drawing on Engestrom via Vygotsky, might be a more academic expression of Open Learning. Here a host of systems, expressed in model form, interpose their drive to achieve certain objectives into the common whole. That mess in the middle is the creation of the collective powers and inputs of individuals, groups, departments or institutions. The Open bit are the connections between any node in one system, and any other node from any other one of the systems … which blows apart the actions within a single system, making them more open, though not random.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 11 It’s going on inside your head.

fMRI scans reveal the complex way in which ideas form and memories are recalled and mixed-up, challenged and re-imagined. We are our very own ‘community of practice’ of conflicting and shared viewpoints.

From E-Learning V

Fig.11. Perceiving brain activity as the interplay between distinct, interacting zones

From E-Learning V

Fig. 12 Ideas enter your system, your brain and are given a fresh spin

From E-Learning V

Fig.13 Ideas coalesce until you reach a point of understanding. The penny doesn’t so much as ‘drop’ as to form.

Where would we be without one of these. 98 billion neurons. A uniquely connected mass of opportunity and potential. This is where, of course, memories are formed and thoughts had. Increasingly we are able to share ideas and thoughts as we have them, typically through the tips of our fingers by sharing our thinking online, especially where it comes to the attention of like-minds, and troubled-minds – anyone in fact or strongly agrees or strongly disagrees enough to contribute by adding their thinking and revealing their presence.

Why most published research findings are false

Why most published research findings are false


Ioannidis, J A 2005, ‘Why Most Published Research Findings Are False’, Plos Medicine, 2, 8, pp. 696-701, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 12 February 2013.

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.

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