Posts Tagged ‘change11’

MOOCs and Content Stores

Every instant someone is learning, or trying to learn the same thing as you are. Every moment, someone apart from you is solving the same problem. Every moment, someone is searching for the same thing that you are.

There is an immediacy in learning, in the learning at that instant, that has awesome proportions and purports for scale. MOOCs as environments with techniques for sense-making and connection-making, provide the ideal melting pot for that immediacy.

There is also the flip side.

Every instant of your learning someone has encountered before. Every problem that you solve, someone apart from you has solved before. Every thing you search for, in all probability someone has searched for the same thing. At least, in general, more or less.

MOOCs have the potential to operate as massively linked content and artifact stores. The amount of knowledge, information and analysis that I have seen in the MOOCs so far, are crying out for someone to figure the semantics for (rather than Instagrok-ing or Wolfram-ing our world).

The challenge is in the nature of the MOOC, an initial unwillingness to stereotype either content or interaction in terms that we have known before (Learning Objects, DITA, SCORM and so on) – which is both good and bad. Good because it does not enforce standards (which are anyways antithetical) and bad because, seriously, this has massive potential.

In fact, I think a measure of the success of MOOCs should perhaps be the quality of connections and sense-making experiences that the MOOC has engendered. Did the MOOC help learners in their sense-making and does it allow them to make connections to people and resources in a way that aids the learning experience (whatever that may be).

To measure that, MOOCs would need to have underlying principles that allow this measurement. For example, learning analytics attempts to capture data about visible elements of the learners’ experience (in fact, as I write this, I am listening to George’s audio recording at Change11, and he is talking about how information elements gets lost in the mass of learners!). One of the underlying principles is, as George says, the principle that there is an adaptive, changing structure that is influenced by the participants of the MOOC.

My own sense is that a certain “understanding” or “framework” can be usefully constructed at two levels. In ways, as Stephen metaphorically said, we are drawing our lines in the sand rather than wondering what the sand really is. Here is my interpretation of the sand.

  1. One, at the level of net pedagogy, there are conversation capture mechanisms (I call these native collaboration) that can be created or become more intelligent without imposing on the open and distributed nature of participation. We already have audio recording, elluminate recording, individual and course blogs and a variety of other social media tools among other platforms as part of the MOOC environments. I think it is time that the structure, connections and content behind the learning experience are studied to devise a shared understanding.
  2. Two, at the level of technology, there must be ways to allow that kind of capture, to consolidate learning experiences, to even connect one MOOC with another on several dimensions (people, content, experiences and other patterns) of the network. George makes the important connection – learners have evidenced their preference for creating their own personal spaces (and identity) on the MOOC. In a way, this ties in with a load of conversation around Personal Learning Environments.

Further, I don’t feel that these are necessarily unique to MOOCs, but that these elements of pedagogy and technology, could in fact be used seamlessly in other systems as well.

Building environments for MOOCs to anchor themselves to, and to enable connections between MOOCs that can benefit from shared experiences, connections and content, can (IMHO) have a transformative impact, if balanced with an open architecture that allows autonomy, extensibility and simplicity. It will be important to provide core technology services that will enable capture, sharing and analytics among other things to enable an entire generation of teachers, facilitators and learners to adopting the MOOC style.

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I have been meaning to catch up with the interesting discussion happening around MOOCs. I believe that there will be and should be plurality of approaches and intentions – they are the inevitable accompaniment to change itself. The top tensions in the conversation are:

  • How do MOOCs compare with other initiatives like the Stanford AI? Should they be compared at all? How is the MOOC experience different from the others in both design and execution?
  • Should MOOCs be seen as disruptive and liberating futures of education, or as incremental improvements to existing educational systems? Should they be posted at all as alternatives to degree or continuing education programs?
  • What skills do learners require to navigate these new learning environments? Does it require that they be motivated, socially enabled and have certain Critical Literacies? Should we worry about motivation or presume it? Is learning an art that can be acquired through reflection and practice or is it a science that can/should be rigorously taught?
  • Is there intentionality in the design/conception of a MOOC? Should we be moving away from the assumption that MOOCs exist to teach something (as opposed to arguing whether learners can chase their own goals)? If so, how is it different from the way things are today on the Internet and with social media?
  • Are theories other than Connectivism able to explain these phenomena accurately? Can/should existing theories be reframed effectively for these types of experiences? Is the Connectivist mode, just as for other theories, like the principles behind the steam engine – evidenced anywhere, anytime?
  • What are the benefits that can be derived from such open systems? Are these benefits comparable to the perceived benefits from traditional closed, semi-open systems?

George indicates that this is a process of experimentation, rather than a prescription yet. But not necessarily one that should or does preclude entrepreneurs from adopting it or universities using and promoting their brand to differentiate themselves with. Stephen indicates that we would be better off thinking afresh, rather than treating them as another way of doing the same thing. Dave indicates how the Cynefin framework and the Rhizomatic learning approach can be interpreted in the context of what a MOOC can help one achieve.

The goals of education are variously defined to include a humane & progressive society, inclusive & equitable development, growth & innovation and a host of other goals that arise from awakened and aware individuals. The goals of training are to ensure repeatability in performance and the ability to handle emergent situations.

Theory and Practice are clearly differentiated by challenges of scale, diversity, infrastructure and operations. While Theory may predicate how things should be, Practice dictates what things are – and there are substantial gaps between the two that cannot be resolved by changes in Theory or Practice alone. This is true, not just in Education.

Thus while theories may suggest that Connectivism or Cognitive Apprenticeship or any other theory be the best way for someone to learn, the practice may leave much to be desired. In fact, trying to systematize any theory/philosophy at scale has always been a challenge. This is the core problem that faces us today, so much so, that we have questioned repeatedly the industrial nature of the education system. Of course, there will always be much to be said and debated about one theory over the other.

Which is why it makes sense to experiment with another paradigm which is closer to the way things are and much more in tune with what our goals from Education and Training are. Such a paradigm embraces complexity, questions the existing design and intentionality, while at the same time attempts to meet the same overarching goals. It is necessarily incomparable and requires a new acceptance from people willing to experiment, to craft it into Practice.

The new paradigm is at once more scalable, more respectful of diversity & personal needs, more inclusive & progressive, and most importantly, addresses just those issues that are really crippling the existing paradigm.

In Practice, there is still a long way to go to see how that acceptance can occur in an emergent manner. There are questions around the temporality of learning for specific needs, the need to assess (internal or external) learning for performative reasons, the assurance of learning in such environments, the use of technology, heutagogical considerations and many other important areas. These cannot be answered by rebuttal, but by cooperation. And it must be done by mechanisms that respect complexity and open-ness.

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