Personal Learning Environment and MOOCs

In response to a post here, Peter Sloep comments on Google +

Peer learning makes a lot of sense but as one of the tools in the box only. We’ve done work on this, see the PhD thesis by Peter van Rosmalen, back in 2008 already: See also a paper by me: There are pedagogical issues but the really hard part is developing the supportive technology that works at the level of large networks.

Thanks Peter for the precious sharing.  I have browsed through the papers, and there are many points worthy of deep reflection, especially in the peer learning and PLE/PLN. The development of supportive technology that works at the level of large networks, as Peter said could be a challenge, especially if such technology is overly rigid.

Take MOOCs as examples of technology platform, should one consider distributed platforms/social media, or a hub (VLE/VLM) for MOOCs?

Should MOOC shift its pedagogical to be more adaptive (or more connective and engaging) or should it stay with a prescriptive design (emphasising on one standardised model only – especially in mastery learning and common examination or quizzes)?

Are learners involved in the design of curriculum or instruction?

How would PLE/PLN developed by participants support MOOCs?

My sharing of cMOOCs

More sharing on xMOOCs in part 2.


If I have a dream, what would it be? Part 2

As I was attempting to respond to Tony’s post (and a background on MOOC with this introduction about MOOCs and What you need to know about MOOC?) in this part 2, Stephen got a wonderful and inspiring post where he says:

We need also to begin designing the educational resource support system for individual learners, including access not only to free or easily affordable educational resources – the learning ‘bread and butter’, so to speak – but also learning environments, network support structures, and access to learning inside work and other environments. I have spoken in the past about treating educational resources as a utility like water or power; we need to begin building this utility and putting it to work in hospitals, courts, manufacturing plants, parks and museums, and any other place people get together to work or play.

I agreed, we need to integrate work or play with learning, so learning is not separated from the work/play in the form of vacuum.  We could design learning through gamification, by ourselves and with others.

This helps me in formulating the following questions:

a. How would you respond to these changes in HE, especially the MOOC and commercialization of education?

b. What would be your ideal education?

c. What would be your ideal MOOC?

d. Would personal learning environment help learners to learn more effectively, with the knowledgeable others in the networks?

As shared in my previous post:

An ideal MOOC to me would likely be distributed over different learning spaces, which again would align with learners’ different and changing needs and goals. As Stephen mentioned the product of learning is the learner, and so the learning is based on a growth model where learner’s growth of “knowledge” and wisdom with the navigation and construction of networks upon time. This also requires pruning of obsolete network patterns (outdated concepts, information, knowledge etc.), with the growing and nurturing of new and emergent network patterns.

This is also one of the most difficult and challenging part of education and learning, as it challenges the values of traditional canonical knowledge often prescribed in books and are determined by authorities, and are confined to be “delivered” in a closed wall settings. With the rapid changes in information and knowledge landscape, such ways of “transmitting” information and knowledge limited the discourse and inquiry, reducing knowledge to a set of memorable known facts, information, or procedures which, if understood would constitute learning.

Answers to questions, if shared would provoke further thinking and reflection, in a connectivist learning ecology. As each of us may look at the answers from our own lens, experience, we could then share our understanding, and critique on the “strengths” and “weaknesses” of those answers, and thus be able to improve or innovate through deeper inquiry and critical thinking. This is also based on a social scientific approach where “truths” are revealed in light of evidences and arguments, rather than the mere showing of facts and figures in experimentation.

Photos: Google image

I have thought about the questions from Tony’s post :

1. Do you believe we should replace teachers (or instructors) with computers? What are your reasons?

I think we could replace teachers or instructors of certain courses with computers, and these courses include those that relate to hard technology – like this Mechanical MOOC on Pythons.   The skills required to program are based on routine programming knowledge, and would best be learnt and tested through machine based learning platform and machine testing and grading.  This way of learning may not require much intervention by the human instructor, though not everyone is comfortable with the learning with machine.  The mastery of programming knowledge are then based on instrumental learning.  In fact, we have adopted such system in our knowledge test for driving for a few decades, using computer technology, and that seems to be a perfect, effective solution.

It is, however, dangerous to replace all teachers or instructors with computers in other online courses which are based on soft technology, especially on those subjects on philosophy, humanity science,  arts, history, or certain science subjects.

Teachers or instructors are still the designers of education, and are needed to build innovative and improved learning spaces for and with the learners.  Though the instructors might have changed their roles from the traditional “instructor’s” role to “facilitation, mentoring and coaching” role (see below), they should take an active part in guiding those learners who have specific needs in their learning journey, and in particular those novices who would need mastery of learning how to learn in online learning environment and ecology.

The goal that instructors could consider is to help and support each learner to become an autonomous learner (Mackness, 2011) on their self-directed learning journey (Mak, 2012) for life.

2. Can online learning improve productivity in post-secondary education without getting rid of most instructors?

I think we could introduce online learning in post-secondary education without getting rid of most instructors. There are many ways.

a. Instead of focusing on the delivering content of the course using online approach, focus on the design of educational experience, and reinforce the importance of transformational and parallel thinking and learning in online education design and delivery.

In summary, western thinking is failing because its complacent arrogance prevents it from seeing the extent of its failure.

Because criticism is so very easy, it has become a dominating habit of even intelligent people.  There is a ridiculous belief that it is enough to get rid of the bad things and what will be left are good things.  Today’s experience all over the world shows that getting rid of the bad things only results in chaos.

The elevation of the ‘critical intelligence’ to the highest level of human endeavour has probably been the single mistake of Western intellectual development.  Yet that is still the basis of our culture and our universities.  That is danger indeed.  Think of all that wasted intellectual talent which might have been harnessed to creative and constructive effort.

Creativity and the design process and parallel thinking itself are only ways of achieving constructive results.

The above thoughts and perspectives challenge me to re-think about the traditional Western thinking system that was fashioned by the Greek Gang of Three (Socrates, Plato and Aristotle).  What was wrong?

Enjoy this:

So instead of using the boxes and judgement of traditional thinking, how about a ‘design forward from a field of parallel possibilities’ ?

The present folksonomy movement in Web 2.0 allows for the creative design and collaborative  aggregations under an adaptive learning ecology.

Instead of competition between teams of learners, how about an integration of technology affordance with teaching and learning?  This will foster the collaboration and learning amongst networks and communities of learners?  The present proliferation of free open course ware and social learning networks and educational communities accelerate the spirit of collaboration amongst all parties – institutions, business, educators and learners on a global educational and learning movement.

Success in such movement relies on how educators and learners would create new learning spaces, based on connections, collaborations, and co-operation with Web 2.0 and other emergent technologies both locally and globally.

See also my posts on Transformational Thinking and Transformational Thinking – additional 2 hats in thinking. These 2 additional hats, when used in conjunction with the 6 hats would allow for transformational thinking at this digital age, especially in education and learning.

Learning and development of new and emergent technology on an institutional and personal level would be deemed necessary to align with transformational and parallel thinking in action.

b. Provide support to online instructors based on their expertise, as subject experts, facilitators, mentors and coaches.

As content mastery is still important for technical subjects, online instructors could support students in the mastery of content with different roles -as facilitators, mentors and coaches.

A focus on emotional and social intelligence by both the instructors and learners would help in building a positive educational and learning experience, through interaction, dialogue and active positive reinforcement and constructive feedback.

What would be my dream then? To become who and what I want to be.

#Change11 Is this rhizomatic learning? My view on MOOC

I read Jenny’s post with mixed feelings.  I could understand that alienation is an uncomfortable feeling, as Terry mentioned, and that being involved in MOOC, but then he didn’t seem to find it right:

I recognize that education is a two edged sword and can also stamp out creativity, as evidenced by studies of changes in school aged children – but it also provides a context for students to learn how to create, think and get along with and tend the various weeds (personal and institutional) in our gardens. Education, like other institutional systems both creates and is created by individual and social hierarchies. You can also see that children don’t generally get any more creative when they are denied opportunity to go to school – maybe just the opposite. Except of course if they are the children of or exposed to educated adults or others with large (and often uncommon) personal gifts and abilities.

He then commented: “I think we need to develop roles as change agents that speak WITH rather than AT our formal education systems – as well as developing and building alternatives.”  It could be disheartened to see many educators feeling alienated, and powerlessness, but then I think this is also a source of inspiration, when viewed in positive lights. No pain, no gain.

The eagle must fly high, in order to see the sky.

Photo: Flickr

Photo: Google

I think we have now gone to a stage where our formal education systems is opening up for public scrutiny, and so any one would not only speak WITH but AT the formal education systems.  That is reality.  It is good to be constructive,  and to suggest positive solutions to education, rather than “blaming and criticising” the system, and to me, that is what education discourse is all about.  However, it could also be interpreted otherwise, when the authority perceives such discourse as a threat to the formal education system, and a threat to academic knowledge (or the canonical knowledge) which has been built for decades.

What is a better way?

Photo: From Terry Anderson

Are these values of learning and knowledge creation and development reflected in the MOOC sharing, conversation and discourse?  I do think we are and have been listening to different voices – even the negative ones as perceived – relating to the production of workers, and soldiers. Have we forgotten that many of “us” have been educated under a regime where we were expected to be a responsible and loyal worker, and a compliant “soldier” to follow instructions and orders, especially in a hierarchical structure of organisation.  We are STILL operating in such modes of operations, within many institutions or business settings, and I doubt if that is a really distorted image of reality.  Rather, under a structure regiment, this is viewed as both legitimate and “democratic” setting in education in many developing and even developed countries.

There are merits in having a structured education (including the formal and informal education system), though there are also demerits in such an approach in this digital era of education.  Besides, the advances in technology and its use far outmoded most of the existing practices of educators and teachers, and that the technology used in the social media, such as mobile technology,  and various open softwares and learning management system has most likely lead ahead of most of the classroom practices.  Interactive board has only been introduced into the classrooms recently, in developed countries (like Australia).  How many teachers are actually feeling comfortable in its use?  Are these tools readily easy to use?  How far do teachers use these tools in classroom compare to other tools like Elluminate, FB, Twitters, Google (doc, Google +, Google Hangout), Wiki, and Blogs,  as used in social and learning networks or online education?   Teachers seem to be feeling more equipped and comfortable with the use of bits and pieces of social tools and media, including PLE/PLN than the Learning Management System and Interactive Boards in schools.  Why?  I think part of the reasons lies with Power and Control.  I would leave it to my readers of this post to ask further questions, and explain about this phenomenon.

So, yes, learning in social media, and networks could create feelings of “incompetence” (both amongst scholars, researchers, educators AND learners) too, when they are newly introduced into formal education and learning, with the feeling of alienation (especially when others in the networks or communities are judging “us”, or “we” are feeling neglected in our voices, when making suggestions to improvements or innovations) as facilitators, educators, administrators, scholars or learners.

Questions like: Should we weed out the concept of Nomads (or rhizomes)?  Should we criticise the education system? do spring up from time to time.  I don’t think any one could answer these questions with an absolutely “No”. Rather, our question would be WHY?/WHY NOT?

“Should we remove the weeds (with incorrect information, or biased sources of information, or those posting threats to human, like trolls, trojans, viruses)?” I would give it a resounding “Yes”.  So what is the solution?  I do reckon a combination of formal, informal, non-formal education and learning, offered and developed at various stages, for different people, at different times would be a feasible solution, in face of the uncertain future.

In this Future of Learning, personalisation, collaboration and informalisation becomes the focus of education and training, where learner centred, social learning and lifewide learning are considered as “new ways of learning”

Are these reflected in part of the MOOC, or shared in the concepts under-pinning Connectivism or Community of Practice (COP) or Landscape of Practice (LoP).

There seems to me that there is no more clear boundary between these conceptions (or metaphors) of learning, despite that each theory of education and learning (Social Constructivism, COPs and Connectivism) are based on different (and in fact overlapping, similar and dual) epistemology as shared here.

Whether we should focus on formal and or informal education is a priority for the institutions, as they need to develop strategic frameworks in order to accommodate and respond to the rapid changing technology and the quest for better and cost-effective education in order to survive and thrive.

How such changes in the education institutions would affect the overall education system is based on the assumption that what worked in the past (with face-to-face mass lectures) in particular, based on a standard one size suits all sort of curriculum, may not work that well in face of the rapid changes in society, in the existing financial situation.  What seems obvious would be to replace such mass lecture with more innovation in teaching. But how far would such education reforms go?  Would the adoption of more open, accommodating and structured online education system provide the solution?  What sort of challenges are there if the structure of institution is open and “flattened”?  What are some of the implications for the educators and researchers under those re-structuring? What sort of issues would arise relating to new pedagogy? See this post about education changes.

They’re being told to find new ways to provide a more individualised education, to change the shape of the school day, explore what technology can offer and even ask whether pupils need to be in school at all.

“The challenge we face is nothing less than transforming our schools from assembly-line factories into centres of innovation,” said the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who warns that the US school system is falling behind international rivals.

To these ends, MOOC could be a good experimental ground to explore all the above challenges, and wicked problems.

Back to our MOOC here:

First, I could see that this Change11 MOOC has been structured rather differently to the past.  Every week there is a guest speaker taking up the role of the facilitator.  And so it seems to me that there are responsibilities shared by the facilitators in the convening of the MOOC, not only the MOOC main facilitators – George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and Dave Cormier.

Relating back to Jenny’s questions:

  1. What is the responsibility of the MOOC conveners to ‘newcomers’ or ‘MOOC novices’?
  2. How will the MOOC avoid ‘group think’, and in reality welcome and embrace the diversity of ideas that inevitably comes from a diverse network – which may (and hopefully will) include critical discussion of MOOCs. Isn’t this what a MOOC is supposed to be all about?
I don’t think the question of responsibility of the MOOC conveners is within the “scope” of the learners, rather it is the learner who SHOULD consider what is in the best interests of learning to reach out for LEARNING, using whatever approach that suits his/her needs, be it based on situated learning and Community of Practice, Social Constructivism, Connectivism (a connectivist approach), or Rhizomatic Learning approach.    To me, MOOC might be “self-organising itself” in a way that conveners and learners are co-convening itself, though the conveners still hold the “power” to post the resources on the course.  To this end, there is no reason why participants should or could not involve themselves in the creation of MOOC, and here inside or alongside MOOC.  Actually, that could be a healthy way to ensure that each individual in the MOOC would and could develop themselves in this setting.  There have already been various wikis and new MOOCs, and networks set up in response to those individual’s needs.
Even the clustering is based on whether one wants to or needs to do so, as this is dependent on the type of project that one is engaged in.  Is it a network, group or individual project?  What is the purpose of the project?  Who are involved in the project?  So, working on a project may be a wonderful way to learn through MOOC.  I have adopted an approach of working on research projects throughout the MOOC, though I still find it rather difficult to work on collaborative “group” project due to various reasons.  I also find the most satisfying project would be the creation and sharing of artifacts (blog post, video, digital stories, or a mindmap) that would resonate with myself and others.