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Repetition or re-visiting is vital.

From E-Learning III

Repetition or re-visiting is vital.

We cannot help but change our perspective as we gain more experience, insights and knowledge. We need repetition in order to get ‘stuff’ into the deeper recesses of our brains where wonders are worked. Therefore, far better to exposure to brilliance often, rather than giving them something less than brilliant simply because it is new, or an alternative. If nothing else Web 2.0 ought to be giving students the chance to find and limit themselves to the best.


Vibrancy and energy are born of risk


Fig. 1. In Dracula mode

I was up at 3.30am and I’m not even presenting. It brings out the vampire in me.

I use these early hours to write – pulling together ideas before they blow away in the wind of daily life in a household where the number of teenagers has suddenly doubled. We have the older teenager couple, and the young teenager couple … and the parents of two of this lot looking at each other and thinking ‘we’re teenagers too’.

Three hours of short presentations and without exception each has an impact and contribution to my thinking an practice.

This despite the presence of a lorry full of blokes with pneumatic drills who attacked the house an hour ago – cavity wall insulation.

I am sitting here with industrial strength headphones – for a ‘test to destruction’ I’d say that these Klipsch headphones are doing their job admirably. I ‘suffer’ from having acute hearing … I do hear the pins drop a mile away. I need headphones like this whenever I leave the house otherwise travelling is a nightmare.

Is this normal?

The great value of a session like this is to listen to your fellow students – a voice, more than a face, evokes character and conviction. Not that I ever doubted it but everyone is clearly smart, focused and keen to ‘play the game’ when it comes to using online tools.

There isn’t enough of it.

The OU has a habit of designing the life and risk out of a module. Bring it back. Vibrancy and energy are born of risk.

What are the benefits or drawbacks of each of self-assessed, one-to-one and group modes of learning?

Fig. 1Working with Activity Theory (based on Yrjo Engestrom)
What are the benefits or drawbacks of each of self-assessed, one-to-one and group modes of learning?



Self-assessed engagement with content: books, online multimedia, etc?

Feeds off innate motivation and curiosity to learn at your own pace chasing your own lines of enquiry.

Undirected or ‘governed’ it can do two things: grind to a halt, or spin obsessively out of control, and in either case not lead to meeting any learning objectives – if there were any in the first place.

One-to-one feedback with a tutor: face to face or in correspondence/online

The traditional ‘Oxbridge’ tutorial where a ‘great mind’ and educator supervises and supports and hopefully motivates and directed the student ‘intimately’. Online a similar experience can be recreated, even bettered, complementing face-to-face and/or offering something different.

The two don’t get on so knowledge transfer is challenged, the student is demotivated and both give up on the relationship or resort to formal guidelines and behaviours that might be described bluntly as the ‘carrot and stick’. Online, as dependent as ever on human foibles, there is the added potential difficulty in relation to digital literacy, acceptance, familiarity or stonewalling.

Group-work and peer mentoring: face to face or online?

Likeminds and mutual empathy better able to respond to life’s rollercoaster. Exposure to diverse ideas and behaviours. Exploitation of the ‘connectedness’, search power and serendipty of Web 2.0

Overwhelming, learning to handle ‘exposure’ and privacy issues – some people feel as uncomfortable ‘being’ online as an agrophobic in a shopping mall. Distractions. False trails and digital ‘rabbit holes’. False belief that there is a short cut to learning if the answers are given to you.

Fig.2. Learning and the role of context.


Engeström (2001) article, Expansive learning at work: toward an activity theoretical reconceptualisation

Sharples, M., Meek, S. & Priestnall, G. (2012) Zapp: Learning about the Distant Landscape. In M. Specht, J. Multisilta & M. Sharples (eds.), Proceedings of 11th World Conference on Mobile and Contextual Learning (mLearn 2012), Helsinki, October 2012, pp. 126-133. Preprint available as 320Kb pdf

13 E-learning theories

E-learning theories are not new theories, but rather e-enhancements of existing learning theories (Mayes and de Freitas, 2004).
They form “sets of beliefs: about the nature of knowledge and competence, about the purposes of learning, about how learning occurs, about how people should and should not be treated, etc” (Goodyear, 2001, p.51)
Consecutive learning theories don’t replace each other, but complement each other, each contributing its legacy to learning.  Theories can be considered as various levels of aggregation, with associative/behaviourist approaches addressing observable factors, cognitive approaches focusing on the ‘detailed structures and processes that underlie individual performance’ and situative approaches taking into account the social and cultural aspects of learning (Mayes and de Freitas, 2004).
Activity designs are usually a blend of different learning theories.  Being aware of the main learning theories helps building a consistent design and clarifying what type of learning and interaction is intended.
An example provided by Goodyear (2001): It is not uncommon to find some members of a team believing that learners are poor at  organizing themselves and learn best by being fed information in small amounts, while other members of the team want to promote active, student-managed learning.
The table below summarizes key concepts of different learning theories and their implications for online learning, taken from the publications from Anderson, Mayes and de Freitas and Goodyear.
Associative/ Behaviourist approaches
Design principles
Looking for observable behaviour
Explicitly mentioning course outcomes
Behavioural objectives
Ability to test achievement of learning outcomes
Instructional Systems Design (ISD)
Decomposing learning into small chunks
Routines of organised activity
Learning hierarchies (controversial!)
Sequencing learning materials with increasing complexity
Giving direct feedback on learning
Individualized learning trajectories
Cognitive psychology (constructivism)
Types of memory (sensory – short term – long term)
Maximize sensations: strategic screen layout
Research on memory, perception, reasoning, concept formation.
Maximize sensations: well-paced information
Learning is active
Maximize sensations: highlighting main elements
Learning is individual (knowledge construction)
Relate difficulty level to cognitive level of learner: providing links to easier and more advanced resources
Use of comparative advance organizers
Use of conceptual models
Importance of prior knowledge structures
Pre-instructional & prerequisite questions
Experimentation toward discovery of broad principles
Promote deep processing
Use of information maps zooming in/ out
Cognitive Apprenticeship (Brown et al, 1989)
Interactive environments for construction of understanding
Metacognition (reflection, self-regulation)
Relate to real-life (apply, analyse, synthesize)
Learning styles (controversial!)
Address various learning styles
Cognitive styles
Let students prepare a journal
Dual coding theory
Use both visual information and text
Motivate learners (ARCS model)
Use techniques to catch attention, explain relevance,  build confidence and increase satisfaction
Situated learning (constructivism)
Personal knowledge construction
Personal meaning to learning
Situated learning: motivation
Relate to real life (relevance)
Holistic/ Systemic approaches
Conduct research on internet
Build confidence with learners
Identity development
Use of first-hand information (not filtered by instructor)
Communities of Practice (Lave & Wenger)
Collaborative activities
Fostering the growth of learning communities
Learning as act of participation
Legitimate (peripheral) practice, apprenticeships
Lifelong learning
Authentic learning and assessment tasks
Information explosion
Digital literacies
Learning in network environment
Keep up-to-date in field
Knowledge base
Multi-channel learning
Distributed learning
Build diversity, openness in learning (different opinions), autonomy
Personal Learning Environment
self-directed learning, just-in-time
Some comments on the table:
1. It’s difficult to draw sharp lines between these theories.  Some authors distinguish between cognitive constructivism (based on the work from Piaget) and social-cultural constructivism (based on the work from Vygotsky).  The work of Vygotsky formed the basis for the anthropological work from Jean Lave and the concept of ‘communities of practice’. The work of Engeström on activity theory forms a bridge between situative learning (with the activity system, it takes a more social unit of analysis than the individual) and constructivist approaches.
2 .Constructivism doesn’t really fit into the overview.  Goodyear (2001, p.75) mentions the following description of constructivism:
“…learning is a constructive process in which the learner is building an internal representation of knowledge, a personal interpretation of experience. This representation is constantly open to change, its structure and linkages forming the foundation to which other knowledge structures are appended….this view of knowledge does not necessarily deny the existence of the real world..but contends that all we know of the world are human interpretations of our experience of the world….learning must be situated in a rich context, reflective of real world contexts…” In other words, constructivism states that knowledge is relative and is different for every user.  Learning, in this position, means actively building a personal and contextualised interpretation of experience.

Constructivism – Jonassen et al 1999

Social Constructions – Vygotsky 1986

Activity Theory – Engeström et al 1999

Experiational Learning – Kolb 1984

Instructional Design – Gagné et al 2004

Networked and collaborative work – McConnell 2000

Learning Design Jochems et al 2004


Primary: presenting information

Secondary: active learning and feedback

Tertiary: dialogue and new learning.

Goodyear, P. (2001) Effective networked learning in higher education: notes and guidelines, Networked Learning in Higher Education Project (JCALT), Lancaster, CSALT, Lancaster University, [online] Available from:http://www.csalt.lancs.ac.uk/jisc/guidelines_final.doc(Accessed 28 May 2012)
Anderson, T. (ed.) (2008) The Theory and Practice of Online Learning, 2nd ed. Athabasca University Press.
Mayes, T. and de Freitas, S. (2004) Review of e-learning theories, frameworks and models, Bristol, The Joint Information Systems Committee, [online] Available from:http://www.jisc.ac.uk/uploaded_documents/Stage%202%20Learning%20Models%20%28Version%201%29.pdf(Accessed 28 May 2012).

Cognitive Learning Theory

Cognitive Learning Theory

This is based on the study of the neural mechanics of how the brain gains knowledge and understanding. So it is deeply embedded in educational psychology and can be used to optimise the learning experience of a student. It can also be used as a tool to explore the nature and cause of any deficits that a student is displaying in a behaviourist sense.

The fundamental element to any cognitive learning theory is the Information Processing Model used. These vary and any model of the brain is an approximation of a more complex reality, but a classic three component model looks like this:

Sensory Memory –feeds into– Short-term Memory –interacts with– Long term Memory

To take learning to drive as an example, in the early days of driving you are receiving a flow of instructions through your sensory memory on what to do. You are also receiving sensory information from your eyes, ears, contact with your seat and your balance system. All these feed into a short-term memory experience, some of which lodges in long-term memory. As you repeatedly go through the learning to drive experience, your long-term memory stores ever greater amounts of information on what works and doesn’t work when driving a car. Your amygdala is also drawn into this because when you do scary things in your car your emotions are raised and the memory is more sharply recorded than when everything is rolling along smoothly.

While you could potentially be taught everything you need to know about learning to drive a car while sat in a classroom, nobody would try to teach it that way, because from a cognitive learning theory perspective, all the sensory experiences of actually driving are a far more efficient way to learn.

You can also see how channelled learning can become, when a countryside dweller drives you into the city. Despite many years of experience behind a wheel, the driver is in an unfamiliar environment, despite all the same rules of the road, and can struggle to deal with it. This is an example of the very practical nature of learning, as predicted by cognitive learning theory.

Created by David Morgan on Saturday, 23 Mar 2013, 06:37.

Teenagers and technology

This from a paper from Rebecca Eynon a Professor of Education and the Oxford Internet Institute (Eynon, 2009:277)

Her book ‘Teenagers and Technology’ is a valuable read too.

So what do you think? Do we expect too much, too quickly from technology? Look at the horseless carriage, it still can’t drive you home – well, not in England anyway. Over a hundred years ago you could stumble into you tub trap after a few too many pints of ale and your dobbin would take you home. I suppose the equivalent today would be to have a private secretary to do all this typing stuff for you?

Pizzas burning, must dash.


Eynon, R (2009) Mapping the digital divide in Britain: implications for learning and education. Rebecca Eynon

Why skiing is my metphor for life and learning

Fig.1.   Mont Turia from the summit of Aiguille Rouge, Les Arcs at 3250m

On the last day, on the last run of my first week’s skiing I broke my leg rather badly. I was 13. I was in hospital for a week. In a wheelchair for two months and had the leg re-broken as it wasn’t setting properly. I spent six months at home. Idiot. But most 13 year old boys are.

I missed the next season.

For the following 20 years skiing mattered – a gap year working in the Alps (Val D’Isere in the Sofitel Hotel working 13 hours a day 7 days a week), a decade later researching a TV documentary and book  (Oxford Scientific Films, Skieasy Ski Guides), falling in love with a fellow skiing enthusiast (we’ve been married 20 years), a honeymoon on the slopes and ten years later, on the slopes with a 4 and 6 year old, then again when they were 10 and 12. 

I miss it.

(See above – the last week of the season, Tignes. The only people on the slopes are the ‘seasoniers’ who have worked since December. It is like being on the beach. A stream that flows above Val Claret melts and various ponds form. We ski it.)

Early in the afternoon I’d asked my girlfriend if she’d marry me. I was feeling cock-a-hoop.

We’ve been back twice in the last decade. There have been other priorities. I’ll be taking my 14 year old son out later this month or in April. Is that wise? At this age teenagers really are prone to take risks and can lack the physique.

Reasons to celebrate and look forwards

37 months to the day after starting the Masters in Open & Distance Education (MAODE) I got the final result, for H810: Accessibility in Open Learning – supporting students with disabilities, today. 84.

It has been so worth it and such a better, engaging, effective, experience than my undergraduate degree in a traditional university some decades ago. I feel as if I have earned it for a start. I have survived disasters rather than succumbed to them.

I am a reading, thinking, writing machine.

I feel like someone who has come to skiing late in life and has caught the bug. My mother started skinning in her mid 40s … and in her 50th year (unencumbered by her husband who was with wife three by then) sold the house and did a belated ‘gap year’ working a season in the Alps. The equivalent for me has to be the intellectual challenge of doctoral research.

More reading, thinking and writing – with research and teaching too I hope.


Tutor Marked Assignment One  (TMA01) for H809 (Practice-based research in educational technology) is due on Monday.

Why more?

‘Practice-based research in educational technology’, to use skiing as a metaphor, is like learning to ski ‘off-piste’. Apt, as the tracks I make are ones I have planned, rather than keeping to the groomed, signed and patrolled ‘safety’ of the regular runs.

And my reward?

Fig. 2. Mont Blanc – From the Ski Resort of La Plagne,  Above Montchavin. Les Arc on the right . The road to Val d’Isere clinging to the mountain in the middle distance Bourg St. Maurice in the bottom of the Valley

Skiing en famille.

We’ve not been out for five years so it should be a treat. It has to be on a shoestring, so short of hitching to Bulgaria can anyone recommend ways to keep the cost down?!!


Exploring students’ understanding of how blogs and blogging can support distance learning in Higher Education

Fig.1. Why Blog?

If anything has been written on blogging I want to read it. On 27th September 1999 I posted to my first blog – it was on blogging and new media. We’re now in the phase of transition that took the printed book after the Gutenberg Press some 400 years. The clunky blog of 1999 barely compares the variety and scope of what we still call a blog today.

This rightly questions when and where blogging should be an endeavour to use with students. 

Exploring students’ understanding of how blogs and blogging can support distance learning in Higher Education (2007) Kerawalla, Minocha, Conole, Kirkup, Schencks and Sclater.

Based on this research blogging is very clearly NOT of interest to the majority of students, NOR is it likely to be of value to them for collaborative learning. There may be value in blogging for your own sake – aggregating content in one place.

(Research on using blogging with students of Public Relations gives a far more favourable response … I would suspect that this would apply to courses on journalism and creative writing i.e. use the medium that is appropriate for those on specific courses).

This is a study of OU students.

A more promising, and appropriate study I am looking at concerns PR students who a) need to develop their writing skills b) need to understand what blogging is all about.

The greatest value I have got from this self-inflicted exercise is to deconstruct the research that was undertaken should I wish to undertake research of this ilk myself. Can I fault the research?

What do you think?

Problem Does blogging support student in their learning or not?
Are educators perceptions of the positive uses of blogging for learning borne out by the perceptions of and uses of blogging by students?
Questions QQ Designed to ascertain their level of experience of blogs and to gather their opinions about how blogs (and other tools) could support their learning.

The research questions we sought to answer were as follows:

1) What degree of blogging experience do students have?
2) Do students want to have blogging as part of their course?
3) In what ways do students think blogging is (not) a useful learning tool?
4) Is there a disparity between what course designers think blogging is useful for, or would like blogging to be used for, and students’ opinions of usefulness?

Setting Online students at the OU
Survey of 795 student and course designers
Authors ‘Enthusiastic’ OU IETT Academics
Previous research O’Reilly 2005, Sade 2007, Weller 2007 – literature search, previous research …
Methods Qualitative – explorative/iterative rather than set

All questions required students to select their response by clicking on a radio button, (e.g. ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or Likert scales such as ‘not at all’, ‘slightly’, ‘in-between/no opinion’, fairly’, or ‘very much’). (Kerawalla et al. p. 6. 2007) + an open question for expanded thoughts.

Interviews with course designers – Interview questions were designed to address the following areas: the rationale for introducing blogs, whether blog content would be assessed, whether blogging was compulsory, uptake levels and whether there were any plans to evaluate the success of blogging activities.

– extract, collate and compare.


Analysis – The survey generated both quantitative and qualitative data.

SPSS Analysis
Manual coding of responses
Coding of responses

  • Affordances of blogs not taken up, support meaning making, (Fiedler, 2003)
  • reduce sense of isolation (Dickey 2004).
  • knowledge communities (eg Oravec 2003).

i.e. Not everything they’re cracked up to be.

Krause (2004) reports haphazard contributions to blogs by his students, minimal communication between them, and found that posts demonstrated poor quality reflection upon the course materials.

Williams and Jacobs (2004) introduced blogs to MBA students and although he reports overall success, he encountered problems with poor compliance as, for example 33% of the students thought they had nothing valuable to say in their blog.

Homik and Melis (2006) report only minimal compliance to meet assessment requirements and that students stopped blogging at the end of their course. Other issues include:

  • students plagiarizing from each others’ blogs
  • the need for students to have developed skills in choosing which hyperlinks to include in their blog (e.g. Oravec, 2003)
  • an ability to manage the tension between publishing private thoughts in a public space (Mortensen and Walker, 2002).

It appears that the ideals of educators can be difficult to implement in practice. (Kerawalla et al. p. 5. 2007)

Paradigms A cultural psychological approach to our research that proposes that learning is a social activity that is situated and mediated by tools that fundamentally shape the nature of that activity (e.g. Cole, 1996, Wertsch, 1991 and Vygotsky, 1979).
Limitations Expectations about sharing, enthusiasm for the genre …definition of blog (see e-portfolio and wiki), journalism …. hard to define (Boyd, 2006).

They mean different things to different people. Uses to collate resources (portfolio) (Huann, John and Yuen, 2005) , share materials and opinions .. (Williams and Jacobs, 2004).

Implications Guidelines, informs design
  • 53.3% of students had read a blog
  • only 8% of students had their own blog
  • 17.3% had commented on other people’s blogs
  • 23% of students thought that the commenting feature on blogs is ‘slightly’ or ‘not at all’ useful,
  • 42% had ‘no opinion’
  • 35% thought that commenting is ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ useful.
  • only 18% said that they thought blogs would be ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ useful.
  • of those who blog only 205 of these thought blogs would be ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ useful.

Students were asked ‘how much would you like to use a blog provided by the OU as part of your studies?’

35%  ‘not at all’
13% said ‘slightly’
34% had ‘no opinion’,
12% said ‘fairly’
6% responded ‘very much’

Students were asked ‘how much would you like to use a blog provided by the OU for personal use?’.

52.6% said ‘not at all’
8.7% said ‘slightly’
28.3% had ‘no opinion’
8% said ‘fairly’
2.7% responded ‘very much’.

Chi-square analyses

Examination of the observed and expected frequencies for this data suggests that in both cases, there is a relationship between not seeing a role for blogs and not wanting greater use of conferencing.
Supporting findings that when given a choice between classroom based learning or e-learning those who have a choice are equally satisfied by what they get.

All of the positive responses refer to the students’ own (potential) study blog. (Kerawalla et al. p. 7 2007) Others use their blog as a repository. Few saw the benefits of linking or using a blog to for reflection and developing ideas.

Responses to the question ‘would you like a blog provided by the OU to support your studies?’ reveal that there is a profound lack of enthusiasm (from 82% of the sample) for blogging as part of courses.

Later this year, we plan to explore PhD blogs. This variety and combination of methods will enable us to gather different perspectives and to triangulate our findings. (Kerawalla et al. p. 7 2007)


Cole, M. (1996) Cultural Psychology. Camb. Mass: The Belnap Press of Harvard University Press.

Kerawalla, Lucinda; Minocha, Shailey; Conole, Grainne; Kirkup, Gill; Schencks, Mat and Sclater, Niall (2007). Exploring students’ understanding of how blogs and blogging can support distance learning in Higher Education. In: ALT-C 2007: Beyond Control: Association of Learning Technologies Conference, 4-6 September 2007, Nottingham, UK.

Vygotsky, (1979) Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. M. Cole M, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner and E. Souberman (eds and trans). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wertsch, J (1991) A sociocultural approach to socially shared cognition. In L.Resnick, J. Levine and S. Teasley (eds), Perspectives on Socially Shared Cognition, Washington: American Psychological Association.

12 research questions featured in a spider map

Fig.1. Research questions spider map

When reading an academic paper give it due consideration by using this spider map as an aide-memoire.

It runs from Structure in a clockwise direction through to Implications.

I’ve only just counted the number of ‘issues’ – 12 is a coincidence.

The reality so far is that 8 will do it, 12 if I want to be thorough and probably just a few of these if I am going to look at title, abstract, authors.

I create a standard template using these as I go along – two columns minimum, sometimes three depending what I want to take, or share or develop from the paper.

In time these should become automatic.

‘Paradigms’ still throws me.

I’m not hot on ‘Concepts’ or ‘Frameworks’ either.

All the more reason to be on the postgraduate module H809 : Practice-based research in educational technology with the Open University


Way was, way is, way will be – Webs 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0

  • Top down Web 1.0.
  • Democratized Web 2.0
  • Semantic Web 3.0

Doodle on the back of a hand out from WebSciences @University of Southampton DTC

14 years and this is what I’ve got to show for it




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