Archive for August, 2009

So are LMSs now part of a technology trend that is headed south? Will incorporation of Web 2.0 features make them more enticing? Will learning really become more effective if Web 2.0 happens to these LMSs? Will they start working on a networked learning SCORM advanced API soon, maybe by defining standard runtime Web 2.0 interactions with services such as Facebook and Twitter? Do we bid adieu to learning objects?

These are uncomfortable questions that must be asked. Scholar360 attempts to be one effort to move away from LMSs as we traditionally know them by keeping the social network at the core.

Let us try and visualize what would really happen if the network really was the core and learning, the process of making connections.

Firstly, the definition of what constitutes content would change. It would become highly personal. This is because it would be pieced together from every learner’s perspective from the content already available to her.

Secondly, content would generally come from connections, which is to say that each learner would share her raw or synthesised perspective with her network and those who have access to that network will learn through evaluating the content and perhaps engaging in discussion. Perhaps rather than a learning object with pre-filled content, it would become a network map of ideas and concepts peppered with individual insights. So a “course” written by an “expert” would become a “network of ideas” weaved together by a “weaver”.

Not only would it be personal, but it would also be dynamic with very little control by the “weaver” in determining the boundary or tone of the ideas, once it is “out there”.

So a new learner who “enrols in the course” (read, “decides to learn”) would, around the broad parameters of the learning experience, start building certain types of awareness.

The first awareness would be of the mass of ideas. The second would be of the people. The third would be of the technology that enables her to navigate between people and ideas. The fourth would be a growing awareness of the learning process itself.

This awareness would continue to grow through the “course”. The process of learning as mandated by the “weaver” would be a responsible contract between the learner and the “weaver”, as would be unwritten rules of conduct in collaboration and communication in the network. Certain technological  peculiarities may also need to be learnt or adapted to.

Imagine walking down a road all times of a day and night over many different seasons. Imagine watching a kaliedoscope of people, houses, shops, all change over time. Imagine recognizing something new in the landscape that has changed since you were last there. That is how the network of ideas that the learner creates will change in response to the evolution of the learning experience that is being woven as the “course” progresses.

The weaver’s job will be to acclimatise the learner to the changing landscape, provide an understanding of the environment through initial idea networks and through an empowerment in terms of tools, technologies, processes and social conduct perhaps. It will be the learner’s job to practice and reflect.

The job of technology then transcends the social network provision or the provision of Web 2.0 tools such as blogs and wikis. Technology should now be harnessed “network” each dimension of the learning experience, to help the network really become the core.

For the weaver, technology should provide a way to negotiate the changing nature of interaction/collaboration, of the explosive network of ideas that she set the seed for, of the mechanisms for maximum impact of these ideas on learners. Not only that, it must allow for her the ability to derive a measure of her effort.

For her, the “weaver”, the experience will repeat multiple times. But each time, her network is enriched by the thought processes of her learners – past and present, so that it is never the same experience.

Technology’s greatest challenge will be this immersion into the network, both visually and conceptually. It will not be simple. Atleast not as simple as pushing Web 2.0 collaboration over a social network or inserting a social network (and tools) into a course.

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NBTs, the natural evolution (in my opinion) from WBTs, are a solution worth evaluating. Let us look at NBTs from two aspects – one within a learning context and the other from outside that context.

Typical online training involves the use of self paced digital media or virtual classrooms. The major aspects are:

  1. The very nature of self-paced training is that it is a solo effort at learning for the learner.
  2. It is also confined, in terms of the experience it offers, to the expertise, imagination and skill of the subject matter expert, instructional designer and visual designer.
  3. The course structure is fixed and typically the core learning tasks happen inside the framework itself.
  4. Episodically, if designed so, there are assessment sections which then can send information to the LMS.
  5. Course managers then print off reports on who did, when and how well.
  6. This is sometimes backed by evaluations conducted with learners on course parameters and these are collated to report on overall effectiveness.
  7. The course itself is episodic, a snapshot reflecting the state of knowledge at that time. New developments need periodic updates.

The basis of Connectivism is that learning is connection forming and knowledge really is the network. Simply put, it is the exact inverse of what is a WBT paradigm. Course becomes the “un-Course”. And then it percolates right down to the reporting on effectiveness thus rendering the role of LMSes in the new paradigm, obsolete, especially as they relate to WBTs. So does, SCORM, more so in implementation than the actual concept.

So in an NBT,

  1. The very nature of network based training is that it is a collaborative effort for all learners.
  2. There are no barriers (except those that may be imposed by corporations for protection of intellectual property and confidential information), in terms of the experience an NBT offers. Learners can also bring in diverse perspectives and updated information to the learning process for the benefit of all learners. The expertise, imagination and skill of the subject matter expert, instructional designer and visual designer can form a starting point and tools exist (or should be created) that can enable learners to contribute complex media.
  3. The course agenda may be fixed, but the structure may be flexible enough to allow these interactions. The core learning tasks happen inside and outside the framework.
  4. Assessments undergo a change themselves. More emphasis is placed on an individual’s contribution to the network, her “ranking” and techniques for group assessment such as peer review.
  5. Course Managers – the role changes to a facilitator, someone in-charge of providing and ensuring network characteristics such as diversity and autonomy, as well as facilitating inclusion and access.
  6. Overall effectiveness would need to get measured very differently as a consequence. For the first time, possibly, the course manager and SMEs would need to take on-going responsibility for supporting the course and making sure the network is strong, flexible and reliable.

The nature of this debate could extend to virtual classrooms as well. Although, for the duration of the class session, there is a collection of individuals. However, the remaining characteristics remain virtually the same.

Both the WBT and  the VC (virtual classroom) are teacher-led places or “sites of instruction”. That is, a WBT is launched from an LMS (or portal) and is a direct one-way instructional experience. The VC is situated in a virtual environment, but is still a place for teacher led instructional mechanisms. This is a direct result of porting other physical experiences (live classroom, text book) to new (and enhanced) delivery formats enabled by the digital revolutions.

They should really be “sites of collaborative learning” instead with a vastly different role for the teacher. An NBT could be a learning resource that becomes a part of a site of collaborative learning. And the site could itself be a framework that allows multiple NBTs and other learning resources to seamlessly inter-operate and share each other’s data.

So imagine a “place-site” of collaborative learning where content, context and networks blend. Some have called this, or aspects of this, a Personal Learning Environment.

So what happens to WBTs or VCs. Surely organizations have spent too much effort, time and money building these to just throw them away when a new way appears. NBTs can fit the gap with an intermediate solution if there is a way that it can pull and push/share data with network aware services. Just like SCORM was build to standardize the runtime interactions, maybe we can come up with a way to integrate the network (and thereby, collaborative learning) into an existing WBT or VC so that it genuinely provides a meaningful way forward. This is the within-the-learning context.

Of course, a full fledged “place-site” of collaborative learning, would need to include both these NBTs but also WBTs, VCs and social media as well. This would be a view from outside the learning context. This site would then need to integrated with many different systems and content types. It would also start innovation in terms of new collaboration techniques, new authoring tools, network analysis and management tools and so on.

Maybe we will have a Learning Network and Content Management System (LNCMS) at some point?

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Nokia has recently launched this service in India. Nokia Life Tools are rich iconic applications that use SMS as the backend on inexpensive (sub $50) models such as the Nokia 2323 and 2320 classic.

As Mr. D Shivakumar, Managing Director, Nokia India says,

We believe this is the beginning of a historical journey that will take mobility to grassroots and make a positive difference to the lives of people in the areas that are crucial to them.

This is an interesting development. Nokia is a leader in the India market. It has got the support of  a state government and has companies like Pearson ready to share content apart from a host of other partners. It has also first established viability and utility through prior pilots and made the service relevant. It is also affordable in that income group (Rs. 30 per month or little over half a dollar a month).

I also read about SMS Gupshup from Webaroo (Gupshup means conversation/gossip in Hindi) making waves with its tie-up with Facebook India – the core idea being that SMS could replace/augment computer access to the website seamlessly. Similar companies include Google smschannels, Vakow and myToday.

So, in principle, the social network can now go to the grassroot level without Internet access. That’s how I see it anyways. This could be the greatest advantage in the educational space. So the best kind of Learning 2.0 applications would be those with small footprints (data size) and high on sharing and connecting, especially with established social networking sites like Orkut and Facebook.

At the higher end, this could be supplemented by PC-based or smartphone-based access to richer internet educational services such as collaboration tools, learning management systems etc. for those who do have the access, even in rural or semi-urban settings.

I agree with Pradeep at watblog who is worried that voice recognition/activation is not a core feature in Life Tools. This could be a key differentiator.

I am not seeing voice as a key element in online “2.0” conversations using the mobile phone. I am surprised because it seems like such an obvious idea. Let us say you are having a discussion with friends. In the physical space, you would share points of view around a topic with one speaking after the other (like in a discussion forum online) or in response. In a discussion forum, you would scan through and write your interjection in response to someone else’s comment etc.

Why not on the phone? It is very natural. So you could get an SMS or call that someone replied to your comment on a  topic and you could call back with your reply. Someone accessing online could seamless see your response coming in and respond through a text message or a voice one. Anybody else could replay/watch your conversation in the form of a podcast and add her own notes.

Leverage connectivity. Leverage voice. Leverage small byte sized content for learning. Leverage tools and Web 2.0 technology. Leverage new instructional models. Rethink the paradigm and come up with new thoughts. The space is dynamic and challenging and there seems to be no dearth of companies or individuals taking the plunge to cover it!

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