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Online Learning Revisited

It won’t get me a job as a learning technologist (aka technician) but I’ve said it (in a presentation interview online) and will repeat it now and develop the argument, that the best learning experience a student can have is you in the room with them; if this cannot happen, then it is you LIVE, online, talking them through a topic, guiding them and praising them, correcting them and challenging them, responding to their individual stops and starts. Of course, one to one is not scalable. Nor is it sexy tech. So there have to be compromises.

In my five years completing a Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) with the Open University, taking the five required modules, and in due course another two or three to complete the ‘set’ I can recall two positive modules and equally positive experiences – and outstanding results. No longer the 42/53 and odd 70 I got in other (and admittedly earlier modules), but 92/93 – If I’d retaken the entire MAODE I guess I might have gained a Distinction. Though I am certain I would have needed the kind of support these tutors provided, but they only provided that support on their modules.

This was all online, ‘at a distance’ and very little of it was live. Rather we were ‘as live’ as much as anything putting content into a common OU Student Blog that our tutor and fellow students could dip into. I know that one or two students did outstandingly well and barely interacted at all … but I’m a social learner, I like the praise, I like to be ticked off and corrected too – and to put awkward questions, and to ask ‘why?’ over and over again. I don’t mean to be annoying but when I don’t ‘get it’ I just don’t and it takes a new angle, a new link, something else to read, a chance comment, an analogy or visualisation to get me over the line. Then once I understand it, I really understand it 🙂 I wear it on my sleeve, it is tattooed into my brain.

So where does this leave online learning?

It requires engagement, it requires responsiveness to the individual, even tailor-made – it requires direct engagement from the tutor – ideally the course chair, and where not that someone highly qualified in the subject – NOT a ‘nanny’ moderator who knows f*** all on the topic. Expertise matures over time, it is not last year’s PhD student or this years MA student, it is ideally a professor, or a senior lecture, who lives and breathes their subject.

But how can this be scaled up to teach hundreds, even thousands?

When I last checked there were over 223 million young people around the world hoping to go into tertiary education. There aren’t the professors and senior lecturers to teach them. So we have to create learning, create learning, gamify it, modulerise it, make it ‘smart’ and compromise. AI will do a better job that some tutors and mentors in due course – what is the point of a jobsworth mentor/tutor who restricts their engagement with you to a couple of hours on a Thursday evening – because, they tell you, they are only paid X to do X hours. This is where you need people who teach as a vocation, whatever the risk is to exploitation. This is for their line manager to protect them from, their union to negotiate or challenge if it goes wrong. Can a Chatbot behave like someone whose vocation it is to teach? To experience students finding and developing their strengths?

You have to make the time. And where time is limited you have to use Tech to make more time available – but it is always diluted. Online learning needs to be simple and effective for very particular tasks – I love the determined simplicity of the language learning platform LingVist for example. Involved tangentially in the development of a language learning platform in 2000/2001 I have followed developments closely, tried many apps and approaches (including failed attempts at an A’ Level, and even a undergraduate degree).

In conclusion

Online learning in the form of a course or module must be offered in a multitude of ways to provide a complete experience which includes live/as live, interaction, solo study, old fashioned reading and essay writing, lectures too, as well as smarter IT elements to ingrain specific necessary elements which are suited to a Tech approach.


Are Texting, keyboards and touch screens to blame for terrible handwriting?




It’s generational, but those of us brought up with handwriting competitions at school and handwritten essays and the written examination are judgmental of a generation who apparently have terrible handwriting and can’t spell.

Do they need to? They can touch type – can you? Faced with a sheet of paper and a pen to write an essay they may struggle to be legible and make spelling mistakes – but how often do they do that, or will they need to that.

Isn’t it like complaining in the 8th century that scribes would be rubbish with a chisel putting their words in stone.

The goal is everything – clear communication. Doesn’t technology deliver this?

Head down and write !

Paper Work Pens

I was brought up on a fountain pen. Snobbery at my boarding prep school equated Biros, ITV, Radio 1, comics and guitars with a different class and one that they were not going to indulge. You develop your handwriting with an ink pen age 8-13 and there’s no going back. Writing with a Biro I find is like trying to scratch your name in ice with a ski-pole.

Hear I am, prefered time of working 3.00am to 5.00am, head down, collecting my thoughts, ploughing through reams of paper as if I was sitting a time examination.

I think it works, for me at least. The ‘Muse’ joins me after half an hour and the ideas flow. I then sleep on it. Further ideas and fixes bubble up and I add these before breakfast. If I don’t write it down, by the evening it is lost. If I add it to the many hundreds of pages of Google Docs and notes it is as likely to become buried in electronic fluff.

In the image above I’d been brought to a halt by an empty ink cartridge. These have become costly. £4.50 for a packet of five cartridges! I must go online and find a supplier.



Computer Free

Gone is the computer. Here is a fountain pen and paper. It is easier to spread out, easier to gather up ideas in bundles … better for brain? This has the makings of a dissertation.

Familiarity and mastery

Your head gets into a place it never wants to leave. You take command of a subject and want to build on it.

Or should do. I resist mastery in favour of novelty.

So I have to find ways to keep everything fresh. To seek out the challenge.

Are you drowning in coffee?

Fig.1. Drowning in coffee


  • Kings College Overdose
  • Caffeine DSM-5

I have just fallen in love with Héloïse Letissier.


Chance had me discussing dreams today and I remembered that last night I had fallen in love. I had to explain it a bit further: I was on a studio set, as a writer or director or producer, or creative instigator of some kind. There were some 30 people, half performers half crew. During the course of the day or evening I fell in love with this girl. I’m 30 again. It was a delicious feeling. I could have drawn her face.

Chance had me trying out Amazon Music and my ‘Modern Folk’ choices had me listening to ‘Christine and the Queens’ who I immediately recognised.

Which is when I realised that I had seen her performing on Jools Hooland’s New Year’s Eve Hootennany and my mind had simply grabbed her from there and superimposed her as ‘the love interest’ in a sweet-dream romance.

Christine and the Queens


The Héloïse Letissier interview


Performing on the Graham Norton Show


How a child experiences their world matters

Pip is lead through the marshes by his kind uncle the blacksmith. Some parenting is a mixed bag. Regardless of male or female intervention warmth and a less controlling manner is favoured.

The following are medical subjects I’ve written about over the last couple of weeks:

Children of warmer, less controlling parents ‘grow up to be happier.’

Men with unaggressive prostate tumors ‘unlikely to develop or die from prostate cancer.’ 

Study identifies symptoms of suicide risk for people with depression

Study links brain tangles and diabetes independently of Alzheimer’s

FDA approve new drug to treat high cholesterol 

Breast cancer relapse could be predicted with new blood test

Multiple sclerosis linked to lower levels of vitamin D

Aspirin, NSAIDs linked to reduced risk of colorectal cancer

FDA approve new drug to treat high cholesterol 

The day will come when I can write stories that the reader can’t put down

Fig.1. My goal. To write scenes as fluidly as changing gear.

Goal: What does my central character want from this scene?

Conflict. Who is the conflict with?

Disaster. What is the disaster for this scene?

Fig.2. Common scene writing errors. From Bickman.  

I have characters, locations, events and situations in my head. For some characters the story runs for fifty years, most intense age 6 to 21. Armed with this editor’s tool I can ruthless delete, rewrite or come up with fresh scenes that meet the above criteria. It fits the pattern I want in my head of a story with momentum – that could be made into a linear drama for TV or film. I particularly recognise the need to ask repeatedly ‘what is the disaster?’ to conclude a scene. I related to this from a career in writing persuasive copy and videos where you repeatedly ask, then ask again ‘what is the problem?” The first answer is usually weak, though compelling … more likely the ninth or tenth idea will fit the brief.

Fig.3. Elements of Fiction Writing

I continue to read, note and try ideas from Jack M. Bickham’s book ‘Elements of Fiction Writing – Scene & Structure.’ I continue with the Open University course on FutureLearn ‘Start Writing Fiction’, as well as content on Open Learn of the same title.   

I also contribute to a LinkedIn group and Facebook pages on ‘Start Writing Fiction’ while writing in my own blog ‘Start Writing Fiction.’

Can you write a story in 140 Twitter characters?

Today FutureLearn pushed a contest on Twitter to write micro-stories of 140 characters. I gave it a shot, posting the following, mostly moments in different scenes of a story I’m writing.

Dad pulled over to pee. Mum told me to stay put. I didn’t. A truck smashed into the car and killed mum. Dad wasn’t bothered. I was. #Fic140.

A full potty is not something to fight over. Nanny G clung to one edge, her your charge Robbie the other. #Fic140

As a wealthy heir his nanny had instructions to keep him on a close rein. A boy first and an heir second Robbie had other ideas. #Fic140

Her smile was intoxicating. He’d kiss her but she smelt of alcohol. She said. “Giv ‘us a kizz, gadje” He said. “Giv ‘us a drink.” #Fic140

What’s not to love about her? he thought as she grabbed his ears and pushed his face into the bed of nettles. At least she’s a girl. #Fic140

Willing his art teacher mother to understand the child sitter cracked, then lashed out at every piece of work the class had done.  #Fic140

To escape his locked attic room on the 5th floor Robbie used the fire escape rope. Never checked,  it left him hanging 16ft short.  #Fic140

Certain it’s Kizzy the boy grabs the girl’s arm. He is promptly set upon by her brothers who have dressed up in her best clothes. #Fic140

“I will.” “I do.””You diven’t?””We just have.” “Where’s the ring?” Robbie bursts open the crisp packet and finds the plastic ring. #Fic140

“Whatever it is the answer’s ‘No!” The man never looks up.  In the doorway his son holds a little tighter the hand of a pretty girl. #Fic140

Unstuck from its rock pool the lumpsucker ogles the kids from the bucket. “Take me back” it said “and I’ll let you into a secret.” #Fic140

“They’re a family of illiterate, homeless, scroungers.” He said. “‘Family’ will do, his son replied. #Fic140

“Ah divn’t wanna help ye thieve from ’em!” She said. “You’ll dee as ah tell ye or I’ll shove your face in the fire.” He said.  #Fic140

As the storm breaks the boy runs off to his favourite hideaway: an upturned boat above the beach. He find it half submerged. #Fic140

He tied the girl and boy together but loathing turned to love and pulling in the same direction they escaped. #Fic140

The burglar nicking stuff on seeing a portrait of him done by the owner’s wife hesitates. Delaying too long he is caught. #Fic140

“If I can’t have her, no one can.” Drukker wraps his arms around his daughter and jumps of the Point into the angry North Sea. #Fic140

The blow meant for his daughter kills his wife. Jailed his children go into care. Once out he goes after the girl. #Fic140

His parents divorce. He is sent to posh prison a boarding school in the middle of nowhere. He is hit by a car trying to hitch home. #Fic140


He drew a passable likeness of the girl. Rehashed the picture of the headmaster’s daughter naked should have led to his expulsion. #Fic140

Expecting to hear she’d be OK for  ten years Kizzy was devastated to learn from her transplant team that they were giving her two. #Fic140

He loves her to bits but she’s falling to bits. She begs him to find another. He does. Her heart breaks first then fails. #Fic140

Cause-and-affection. He saw. He loved. His life felt whole again. #Fic140

Though her kiss and thrust were erotic, Robbie felt threatened by Angela not loved, intimidated not tamed. #Fic140

Both arms smashed the determined artist drew with his feet. Falling off the scaffold he broke his legs. He now spits paint. #Fic140

Lying bruised in piss and vomit in the bus shelter opposite his grandparent’s house after the disco Robbie concluded that Christine wasn’t ‘the one.’ #Fic140

Steven Pressfield’s Foolscap Method Template

Fig.1 Fig.1. Steven Pressfield’s ‘Foolscap Method’ to write a novel

Once more I am loving the Open University’s free online course ‘Start Writing Fiction’ on FutureLearn: it only started this week so there is plenty of time to join now. This free online course is all about character, so us novice fiction writers struggle with thoughts on plot. I love this from author Steven Pressfield: ‘The Foolscap Method’ is for me the ‘Creative Brief’ by another name, or even Churchill’s dictum of being given reports on a single sheet of paper. By setting parameters and being succinct you are forced to get to the kernel of an idea. When constructing a story then, say a novel, answer the following. I find I return to and refine this often and eventually have it on the wall to stop me wandering off … those ideas and stories can be kept for another project.

Fig.2 Close up on Steven Pressfield’s ‘Foolscap Method’ used to write his first novel 

Steven Pressfield’s Foolscap Method : From his blog.

A bit more on the Foolscap Method from his blog. The Foolscap Method – Video 1

The transcript The Foolscap Method – Video 2





Story telling device


Inciting Incident


Looks easy? Then add 70,000 coherent, clear, exciting words!!!

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