Source: Downes, S. (2018). How people learn.
A nice collection of quotes in a slideshow, taken from a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine,
Source: Downes, S. (2018). How people learn.
A nice collection of quotes in a slideshow, taken from a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine,
As teaching and learning activities move into online and blended learning environments we need to think carefully about how we use those spaces, which is often determined by the features of the platforms and services we choose. One topic in the field on online learning that’s been getting a lot of attention, is the MOOC (the New York Times declared 2013 the year of the MOOC). However, for all the rhetoric about how MOOCs are disrupting higher education, we have yet to see any strong evidence that they lead to any kind of improved learning, and we are slowly starting to realise that “MOOCs are essentially a dead end with regard to providing learners who do not have adequate access to education with high quality qualifications.” In other words, if you don’t already have a good foundation upon which to build, the promise of MOOCs seems to be an empty one.
One of the reasons that disruption is difficult to apply to the mainstream MOOC phenomenon is that – for all intents and purposes – these MOOCs (specifically, xMOOCs) are not doing anything particularly innovative. They reproduce distance learning models that have existed for decades and moreover, they do so less well. This post will focus on the Open aspect of xMOOCs – in particular how they are anything but open – and to discuss some of the ways that educators need to think differently about how we use the web in our teaching practice.
The majority of xMOOC providers design their courses using non-open formats and use restrictive content licenses preventing reuse and sharing of the content and learning experiences. These MOOC providers are fencing in and closing off the educational experience, while at the same time preaching openness and enhanced accessibility. This loss of openness in online learning – as it is conceived by the major xMOOC providers – is, according to some, a horrific corruption, as more and more of our learning experiences are controlled by organisations that dictate the direction that online and blended learning is taking. Which brings me back to the idea that started this post; if we are going to move teaching and learning into online environments it is important for us to understand the environment that we’re moving to. We need to remember that when we talk about online learning, we should be talking about learning on the web. Not learning on an app, or on Coursera, or on Facebook. And therein lies the problem:
This isn’t our web today. We’ve lost key features that we used to rely on, and worse, we’ve abandoned core values that used to be fundamental to the web world. To the credit of today’s social networks, they’ve brought in hundreds of millions of new participants to these networks, and they’ve certainly made a small number of people rich. But they haven’t shown the web itself the respect and care it deserves, as a medium which has enabled them to succeed. And they’ve now narrowed the possibilities of the web for an entire generation of users who don’t realize how much more innovative and meaningful their experience could be.
Maybe we need to reclaim online learning for what it is and what it represents. The open source movement has provided the tools we need to build our own (open) online courses, so what exactly do we need Coursera and Udacity for? As we give up more and more (or, as platform providers take more and more?), we must remain cognisant of what it is that we’re losing. The restrictive licensing requirements of most xMOOC providers has shown that we – the people doing the teaching – need to take the online learning environment back, eliminating (or at least reducing) our reliance on convenient platforms that do more to impoverish the learning experience than enhance it. We can provide an open online learning experience while at the same time enabling a culture of democratized, permission-less innovation in education.
We need to remember that delivering mass media is the least of the Net’s powers.
The Net’s super-power is connection without permission. Its almighty power is that we can make of it whatever we want.
We, the People of the Internet, need to remember the glory of its revelation so that we reclaim it now in the name of what it truly is.
No one owns that place. Everybody can use it. Anyone can improve it.
Anil Dash described how we lost the web and then followed up with how to rebuild the web we lost, highlighting the utility of the open web to enable transformative change in the world. The web as an open platform for creative expression and unfettered communication is slowly being eroded and replaced by gilded cages. As the services we champion make it more difficult to move content into and out of, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to create connections between people and ideas in open online spaces. Sure, if you want to do everything in Facebook, then Facebook works. But just try taking something out of Facebook to use somewhere else.
We get bullshit turf battles like Tumblr not being able to find your Twitter friends or Facebook not letting Instagram photos show up on Twitter because of giant companies pursuing their agendas instead of collaborating in a way that would serve users. And we get a generation of entrepreneurs encouraged to make more narrow-minded, web-hostile products like these because it continues to make a small number of wealthy people even more wealthy, instead of letting lots of people build innovative new opportunities for themselves on top of the web itself.
In his post about rebuilding the web we lost, Anil made the following suggestions for taking back the open web, which I’ve repurposed here in an online learning context. I’m sure that my take on it isn’t perfect, and I’d be happy to hear any other interpretations.
While this list isn’t perfect – it was written for a different context – I think it gives us some ideas about how we can think differently about moving education into online and blended learning spaces. It’s not enough to simply add online to our teaching and learning activities, and think that we’re changing anything. We need to stop doing “business as usual”. The mainstream xMOOC providers offer little more than structured collections of content, well-produced video lectures and extremely limited forms of engagement. There is nothing fundamentally innovative about this approach, nor does it have any pedagogical foundations to support learning. The promise of technology – and the web – in teaching and learning is not simply to reproduce a poorer version of the classroom experience. We need to ask who is setting the online learning agenda and whether or not we are comfortable with that (hint, the correct answer is “No”).
Open source software has given us the tools to create sophisticated online spaces for learning – all we have to do is learn how to use them. We would be asking no more of ourselves than we ask of our students every day i.e. to push ourselves to learn something new; to make a difference in the world. As long as we’re performing in closed spaces, we are disempowering our students and colleagues, preventing them from participating in educational experiences that are liberating and that develop a sense of agency.
Stephen Downes offers us four principles of open and networked learning via the theory of Connectivism – principles that could be useful in our designs for online learning experiences. We could do worse than these concepts when it comes to interrogating what kinds of online platforms we use, and how we use them. It would be an enlightening experiment to take an honest look at our learning spaces – online and physical – and ask if they encourage and facilitate the development of these concepts:
At the risk of sounding like an uncritical fanboy, I’m well aware that the web is not the panacea we sometimes make it out to be. The presentation below – given at the 2014 meeting of The Network – Towards Unity for Health, in Fortaleza – was largely inspired by the ideas presented here, and highlights the challenges with online and blended learning, especially when we are uncritical about what we use and why.
This uncritical perspective is most evident than when we talk about the web. We speak about it as a discrete entity, something defined, bounded and imbued with a set of characteristics that is inherently Good. The web positioned as the solution to our many educational problems is somewhat the essence of the xMOOC contingent, and most solutions to the “education problem” that emerge from Silicon Valley. Evgeny Morozov has suggested that our tendency to look to the internet as the solution to everything is problematic, calling it the “quasi-religion” of “Internet-centrism” where Internet-centrism views the internet as being inherently special. As educators responsible for using the web and it’s features to our advantage, we must ensure that we are cognisant of both it’s utility and potential for harm (or, at the very least, it’s potential for ineffectiveness). Taking a critical position – one of the roles of academics in society – allows us to see mainstream xMOOCs for what they really are: impoverished walled gardens that diminish the learning experience. Learners are treated as users, content is viewed as knowledge, and the learning interaction is regarded as linear and subject to control. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The internet is essentially a set of agreements (protocols) that tell us how to write a page that can link to any other page without needing anyone’s permission. Without needing anyone’s permission. Without having to ask if it is OK. Without needing to login. Without needing to share our personal information. Without giving up our content through resrictive licensing requirements. “Every link by a person with something to say is an act of generosity and selflessness, bidding our readers to leave the page to see how the world looks to someone else.” When we construct our learning experiences behind closed doors, hiding our interactions inside platforms and apps that we can’t make real choices about, we give up something. As we continue to move teaching and learning into spaces like Facebook – because it’s “where the students are” – we cede our autonomy and ability to make real choices about how we teach and how students learn. We change our teaching practices, not because it is in the students’ best interest, but because it is all that we are allowed to do.
We all love our shiny apps, even when they’re sealed as tight as a Moon base. But put all the closed apps in the world together and you have a pile of apps.
Put all the Web pages together and you have a new world.
Web pages are about connecting. Apps are about control.
As we move from the Web to an app-based world, we lose the commons we were building together.
In the Kingdom of Apps, we are users, not makers.
Every new page makes the Web bigger. Every new link makes the Web richer.
Every new app gives us something else to do on the bus.
The real purpose of a lecture is to show the mind and heart of the lecturer at work, and to engage the minds and hearts of learners.
It’s important to understand that lectures in themselves are not bad but that they, like any teaching medium can be used badly. A good lecturer tells a story that inspires and motivates students, so we should use caution when speaking poorly of lectures. When the lecture fails as a teaching medium, it is the lecturer who is at fault.
I was asked (Stephen Downes)
…focus your work on serving others, not enriching yourself, because your work will have no value to you otherwise. Write from the heart; don’t be a slave to academic form, but don’t ignore it. Back up your reasoning with evidence, and reason soundly from what you know and what you have experienced, not what you have been told. Understand that argument rarely convinces anyone of anything, that an understanding of principles of reasoning is to protect yourself from error, not to correct other people in theirs, that time spent explaining what you are doing and why will often pay off, but not everyone will support you, and often nobody will, but if you are true to these principles, that won’t matter. And, at the end of life, the only thing that will matter to you will be what you gave to the world, not what you took from it. Share.
I used to think (Shelley Wright).
I used to think marks were important. Now I think they’re arbitrary at best. What does 82% really mean? I’ve asked my students that question. They don’t know, and the truth is, most often, neither do I. I would like to get rid of all marks, and move solely to feedback, and the more often this feedback can be verbal dialogue the better. When my students receive lots of formative feedback they know where they stand as learners. Then it’s about learning, not marks and grades.
Freedom to connect (Eben Moglen): Eben makes the argument that in a digital and networked world, open source software and hardware are essential if citizens are going to maintain control of their civil liberties. When governments and corporations control our devices and the code that runs on them, we will find ourselves with fewer and fewer private places to go.
So here we are, asking ourselves what the educational systems of the 21st century will be like, and how they will socially distribute knowledge across the human race. I have a question for you. How many of the Einsteins who ever lived were allowed to learn physics? A couple. How many of the Shakespeares who ever lived, lived and died without learning to read and write? Almost all of them. With 7 billion people in the world right now, 3 billion of them are children; how many Einsteins do you want to throw away today? The universalization of access to education, to knowledge, is the single-most important force available for increasing innovation and human welfare on the planet. Nobody should be afraid to advocate for it because somebody might shout “copyright”.
I’m going to try something new on this blog. At the end of every month I’ll write a short post highlighting the things I particularly enjoyed reading. I found that simply pushing them into a Twitter or Google+ feed would tend to obfuscate them among all of the other things that I wanted to point out to people. I guess this post is a way to say, “Of all the things I read this month, these are the ones I enjoyed the most”. I’m not trying to summarise everything I read, just present a small sampling. I’ll try it out for a few months and see if I like the process.
The web we lost (Anil Dash). A look back over the past 5-10 years of social media and how things have changed, usually not for the better. In many instances, we’re actually worse off now than we were before the rise of the new social platforms. He talks about how we’re progressively losing control of our online identities, of the content we create and share (and which makes those platforms as powerful as they are), and lost sight of the values that actually led to the development of the web in the first place. Here’s a quote from the end of the article:
I know that Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and LinkedIn and the rest are great sites, and they give their users a lot of value. They’re amazing achievements, from a pure software perspective. But they’re based on a few assumptions that aren’t necessarily correct. The primary fallacy that underpins many of their mistakes is that user flexibility and control necessarily lead to a user experience complexity that hurts growth. And the second, more grave fallacy, is the thinking that exerting extreme control over users is the best way to maximize the profitability and sustainability of their networks.
The first step to disabusing them of this notion is for the people creating the next generation of social applications to learn a little bit of history, to know your shit, whether that’s about Twitter’s business model or Google’s social features or anything else. We have to know what’s been tried and failed, what good ideas were simply ahead of their time, and what opportunities have been lost in the current generation of dominant social networks.
Update: Here’s a follow up post from Anil on Rebuilding the web we lost.
Mobile Learning, Non-Linearity, Meaning-Making (Michael Sean Gallagher). What I liked most about this post is the suggestion, presented below, that the true power of “mobile” is that it transforms every space into a potential learning space.
They refer to the ‘habitus’, the situated locale of the individual. Yet the locale doesn’t define the learning per se as the process of mobile learning transforms the habitus into a learning space. Tools, content, and community are reconstructed to allow for meaning-making. Turning the environment in which we happen to find ourselves into an environment for learning. Mobile technology assists in bringing these elements into conjunction, an organizing agent in this process. But it is really about the transformation. From space to learning space. From noise to meaning.
Arm Teachers? (Tom Whitby). When I first read about the suggestions to arm teachers, in the wake of the Newtown shooting, I dismissed it as ridiculous without even considering it. What I liked about this post from Tom is that instead of just dismissing the suggestion out of hand, he follows it through to some logical conclusions. I realised that his approach does far more to systematically dismantle the argument than simply rejecting it.
The demon-haunted world: Science as a candle in the dark (Carl Sagan). Carl Sagan is one of my heroes. Few people have done as much as he did to bring a sense of wonder about the world, to the public. This book is an exploration of scientific thinking over the past few centuries, highlighting the many areas where a lack of this critical approach to the world has led to a stumbling of our species. Think of the hysteria of witch-burning, UFO abductions, racism and all the other instances where a lack of critical thought has brought so much suffering and misunderstanding about the world. This book should be required reading for everyone.
The robot teachers (Stephen Downes). Stephen argues against the idea of universities and higher education in general as a system designed to maintain division between a cultural elite and everyone else. He suggests that the solution is not to open up those institutions (i.e. MIT, Harvard, etc.) but to build a better system outside of them.
We must develop the educational system outside the traditional system because the traditional system is designed to support the position of the wealthy and powerful. Everything about it – from the limitation of access, to the employment of financial barriers, to the creation of exclusive institutions and private clubs, to the system of measuring impact and performance according to economic criteria, serves to support that model. Reforming the educational system isn’t about opening the doors of Harvard or MIT or Cambridge to everyone – it’s about making access to these institutions irrelevant. About making them an anachronism, like a symphony orchestra, or a gentleman’s club, or a whites only golf course, and replaced with something we own and build for everyone, like punk music, a skateboard park, or the public park.
I thought I’d make some notes while listening to this podcast interview from Stephen Downes., where he talks about personal learning environments, problems with e-learning and open vs. closed educational content.
Mentions Plearn as part of the opening discussion and bio.
What is a PLE? Compares LMS to PLE. LMS is based around the institution, and when the student leaves the system, they lose access to that learning. Same applies when changing institutions, or learning in different environments. PLE provides access to services and educational services from a personal space, rather than an institutional one.
Very new category of “learning system” right now, so there are no applications that exist that define a PLE. Rather, it’s a generic collection of tools and concepts.
Most resources are accessed on the fly, through the browser. Some people have small libraries that they keep locally, but only for backup purposes or content they need to access offline. Students will access lectures as audio and video streams if available. I disagree with the assumption that we’re all connected all the time and that there is no longer a need to download content to be kept locally.
There’s always going to be a mix of local and remote content that’s relevant for learning. A PLE should support whatever works best / whatever the learner needs in whatever context.
Discussed the Khan academy and the role of online video (YouTube) as an educational resource. Quality of the video production isn’t as important as the quality of the video content. The problem is that the video format is linear, which means that it consumes time, it isn’t searchable (it’s not random access). You can’t find the specific piece of information you’re looking for. Content can be more efficiently acquired through text and images.
Videos are also not social or interactive (although video conferences are). Skype conferencing mentioned. Contextual, flexible teaching and learning isn’t really possible when watching video.
Classrooms are not especially well designed for personal learning “1 size fits 30+”.
Is artificial intelligence a viable approach to education? “Going to be tricky”. Some components of the concept available in primitive recommender algorithms currently present in Amazon, iTunes, etc. But going to be a long time before true AI is going to be able to truly personalise the learning experience.
Software will continue to get smarter and understand more and more about what we want to do. It will be able to aggregate, filter, categorise content dynamically.
Discussion on online identity as a tangent to the above point i.e. that your point of entry into the network (i.e. the browser) would be the software that would aggregate, etc. the content you’re interested in. Downes created a tool that did something like this, but which was subsequently superseded by OpenID. Also a brief mention of OAuth.
Briefly talked about SCORM / IMS and the Common Cartridge format (i.e. learning objects). Useful for closed organisations’ learning requirements e.g. the military. Not useful for learning content that needs to be interactive and to engage with other environments / scenarios. Doesn’t do much for the social component and is unnecessarily complex in trying to create “units of knowledge”. The best model is the open web. Many companies trying to create common formats, but also lock consumers in.
Not an easy, decentralised way to create a “learning” management system. But the context there is in managing students or content, not learning. Nothing wrong with the LMS to manage students, but it’s not about learning. How do you give people the freedom to learn in a personal way?
Ends with some discussion on revenue, profit and commercial aspects of education.
I was just going through this presentation on personal learning from Stephen Downes (2008), and wanted to highlight the point he makes about 3 different approaches to viewing learning resources:
The first 2 approaches are information- and medium-based, and stress content and rules. The third approach stresses experiences and pattern recognition.
I’ve never really had the need to use Google Translate. Most of the content I come across is in English, and if it isn’t I’ve never read it and so never realised what I was missing out on. Earlier today I came across Ilona Buchem via a post from Stephen Downes, pointing out a presentation on PLE’s that she’d shared on Slideshare. The presentation led me to her blog, which was in German.
Chromium helpfully popped up a tab asking if the text should be translated from German into English, which I agreed to. After reading the first few posts, I decided that this was someone to include in my network. After clicking the RSS icon in the browser, it automatically imported the feed to my GReader account, again asking if this feed should always be translated into English.
Every so often I’m blown away by an elegant and intuitive solution to what was previously (for me, in this instance), an almost insurmountable obstacle.