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Category: General Review of Things in General

Signals of Success and the EMOOCs Summit #emoocs2014

Earlier this week, I was in Switzerland at the EMOOCs Summit. I was there, along with Paige Cuffe, to present a collaborative paper entitled ‘Signals of Success and Self-directed Learning’. It seemed a little weird at first, considering that this time last year I had barely cut my MOOC teeth (who had?), and I’d certainly never presented at such a conference before or had a paper published (collaborative or otherwise), so testimony to the power and possibilities that MOOCs and open education can afford and, more importantly for this story, testimony to the power of connection for collaboration and ongoing learning that’s now possible in this new era of learning.

Reflecting individually, collectively and openly
Paige Cuffe, Iwona Gniadek, Briar Jamieson, Penny Bentley, Helen Crump and Sheila MacNeill –
“How do learners define success in a MOOC?”

So what’s the story? As you might know, this time last year I participated in OLDSMOOC and you might be forgiven for thinking that once a MOOC has finished that is it that, the learning is over, but not so because via the OLDSMOOC hashtag and other various social networking activities, connections made in the MOOC continued; the true awesomeness of which was realized when, six months after the MOOC, a group of us responded to a tweet from one of the OLDSMOOC design team wondering if anyone was thinking of submitting a paper to the EMOOCs conference. Hey presto, what do you know; spontaneously and enthusiastically out from the internet emerged six individuals to reflect on their learning and to deliberate what success in a MOOC meant to them. You can read the full paper in the conference proceedings here (p.18) and get more of an insight into our back story in the video below:

The premise of our paper is interesting in that it tries to go beyond institutional evaluations and measures of success to offer an alternative perspective to the pervasive discourse about completion rates and dropouts in MOOCs. Hence, in the conference session entitled ‘Dropouts in MOOCs’, I was heartened by the findings presented by Tharindu Rekha Liyanagunawardena that shows that “MOOC participants are challenging the widely held view of dropout, suggesting that it is more about failing to achieve their personal aims”. Yay!!

On the other hand though, I was a little dis-heartened because although there was a session devoted to connectivist style MOOCs at the conference, cMOOCs seemed to be something of a Cinderella topic. Don’t misunderstand me, there were some excellent presentations given pertaining to cMOOCs (Christine Sinclair, p.245 and Jutta Pauschenwien, p.277) but the overarching concerns of the conference seemed to be xMOOC oriented with concerns about platform provision, production quality and costs and the optimum way forward for higher education dominating.

Not that the conference was all about higher education, indeed one of the four tracks was dedicated to business. I’m glad I opted to go to the panel discussion in this track, ‘MOOCs as a training instruments for employees and partners’, because it really was excellent.

The panelists:

  • Donald Clark, Plan-B Learning, UK
  • Ralph Wieser, SWISSCOM, Switzerland
  • Gregor Erkel, Deutsche Telekom, Germany
  • Marcelo Di Pietro Peralta, WIPO, Switzerland
  • Yannis Angelis, Fresenius Kabi, Germany
  • Carl Dawson,, UK

Certain of their application and with a can-do beta attitude, the panelists were very convincing in aligning MOOCs with vocational skills, competency, CPD and lifelong learning for a corporate market, which was in stark contrast to the presentation entitled ‘MOOCs: an alternative perspective’ given by Debra Humphris of Imperial College, London who didn’t really seem to say what purpose MOOCs might serve and whose institutional policy was to go away and formulate a strategy.

It’s widely agreed that MOOCs are a phenomenon of transition, pointing the way to some future landscape of learning. Right now though, the term seems to signal different things to different people with discussion easily conflating learning contexts, learning cohorts and pedagogies for learning.

In the policy track session, ‘Bringing new challenges to Higher Education’, that I attended on the last day, Gerhard Fischer, Center for Lifelong Learning, University of Colorado noted that many reflections on MOOCs seem to be based on economic and technical perspectives rather than on perspectives of learning science. He suggested that in the main MOOCs are currently geared towards ‘learning about’ and to topics for which there is a known answer, as opposed to ‘learning to be’ and when the answer is not yet known.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience of attending the conference and learning something of the flavor and the fervor of MOOC development and debate, but I think what I was struck by the most was that despite the general nod towards social learning there is a real lack of awareness or understanding for learning in networks and distributed learning environments. Attending the conference as just such a learner (or researcher) made me wonder if I belong to a secret sect because so many people seemed oblivious to these developments.

Image source: Davinia Hernández-Leo.

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2013, a year on the global learning commons.

Do you have books just lying around on your Kindle, clicked and downloaded back in the mists of time because they seemed to have something important to say then forgotten, or simply left upstream as the river of information kept on flowing passed? I thought you might, so have I (quite a few actually). Well, an airport lounge always affords the opportunity to paddle back and take a look; this is how, as I embarked on my Christmas travels, I came to read “Open: how we’ll work, live and learn in the future” by David Price and subsequently came to put this blog post together as a kind of end of year review.

Although the New York Times might have labeled 2012 the “year of the MOOC”, for me it was most definitely 2013, just take a look at my blog posts. I think I participated in 8 or 10 altogether, at least half of which I either completed or participated in to a large extent. However, I don’t think I’d like to remember the year as just being synonymous with MOOCs. After all, I was active in many online communities as well as kept busy attending to my personal learning network, so I’d rather like to think of 2013 as the year that I discovered the “global learning commons”. But what do I mean? According to the author of the aforementioned book, the global learning commons is something that

encompasses the ‘ecology’ of learning: the relationships we have with each other; the creation of an hospitable habitat for learning; how we cultivate the evolution of learning in communal, social environments, [and] transfer it successfully to others.

I like this idea because it gets away from what’s become almost ceaseless noise about MOOCs and their platforms/sponsors to put the spotlight firmly on learning (three cheers!!). That is, learning across a variety of environments in which open is a fundamental feature, learning that’s personally driven by passion and/or purpose and open in the sense of not just open access but in the sense of open values and actions too. In truth though, this notion is quite contentious because openness signifies the battle being fought for the control of knowledge (hence, the reference to the commons with its historical connotations and its antithesis, the enclosure); the idea also signifies a switch in thinking from teaching to learning, or pedagogy to heutagogy, which is equally contentious.

Medieval Open Field and Common Land System

Shaping how we interact online in the global learning commons, where collaborative participation abounds, are four inter-connected and consequential values making up the acronym SOFT: share, open, free and trust. Sharing appeals to people’s sense of altruism; they freely share with no sense of return other than maybe a little recognition, which in turn encourages reciprocity and requires that we’re open. Free can mean many things, but the notions that sit best with me here are “free to roam”, wherever your passion/purpose takes you, and “free to fail”. Trust is best thought of as “in ourselves we trust”, which gets us away from the plethora of institutions that we’ve recently lost trust in and away from the “command and control” mindset of the industrial era.

It’s these values and actions that are thought set to become increasingly important because they allow knowledge to flow freely and quickly, facilitate collaboration and in turn promote innovation. Looking back over my own participation for the year, I can certainly vouch that these values, actions and outcomes are to the fore in the informal social learning environments that I’ve been engaged in. And what’s more, it’s the learner that’s calling the shots. However, this shift is largely being experienced not in education or the workplace but in individuals’ social space. It’s true. Using my experience “in the new learning landscape” and telling of my learning journey “beyond the walled garden“, I’ve presented at a couple of education conferences this year and both presentations clearly illustrate this. In addition, I’ve recently collaborated, as part of a small international group, on a paper that’s been accepted for the European MOOC Summit in Switzerland in February, which again is proof of new and innovative things that can happen in open environments, or the global learning commons. I’ll blog about this at a later date, maybe after the conference, because it’s been an interesting learning experience, one that none of the group had prior experience of or that none of us could’ve have been prepared for, not in the management/logistics of the endeavor nor in its potential for cooperative learning.

So now, with all this in mind, it kind of begs the question of me, “so now you know (about the global learning commons, or learning in open online environments), what are you going to do about it?” This is the “transfer it successfully to others” bit that was mentioned in the quote above. Good question. Because like I said earlier, this is happening in the informal social space; I’m not a big shot in higher education (just a limpet on the underside), I’ve not had anything to do with learning in the workplace for over a decade and in the day job I teach adults that education didn’t do right by the first time and that “accidents of geography” now similarly place on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Looks like that’s the challenge for 2014. I’ll keep you posted.

Image source:

References: Price, David (2013). OPEN: How we’ll work, live and learn in the future. Crux Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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My footprint of emergent learning in exploring personal learning networks

This appears to be an interesting bonus that has come my way. Last week, or rather the week before because I got held up finishing this post, a tweet forwarded on by my PLN notified me of a webinar run by Jenny Mackness and SCoPE that was shortly getting under way, “what is emergent learning? why is it relevant?“. Not a topic that I know much about, only that it had been recommended by my PLN and that I happened to be free at the given time – so why not!!

It transpired that this would be the first of two webinars. In the first one we’d be introduced to the concept of emergent learning and in the second we’d be shown how to draw a footprint identifying the mix of emergent and prescribed learning experienced within a particular learning event.

Emergent learning being defined as:

“learning that happens when a large number of self-organising people interact frequently, in an adaptive, open environment, with considerable degrees of freedom and minimal constraints; no individual can see the whole picture; agents and system co-evolve”.

That being the case, it immediately put me in mind of the learning experience I’d just had in the open online seminar, Exploring Personal Learning Networks, because I have to say that some of the learning I experienced there was probably some of the most challenging I’ve faced in a long time, possibly ever! So yes, I’d definitely be interested to try and map a footprint of that. Footprints can be used to map not only the learning experience but the design intentions also. They’re also time contextual, so they can be drawn as a series over time by an individual.

So what is a footprint? With complex learning environments in mind, they aim to represent the pedagogy and design elements of a course in an easily accessible and visual way. The footprint is developed around a series of circles with the more structured, prescribed part of the learning experience towards the center, and the more “emergent” self-directed, connectivist elements towards the outside, and beyond which is “chaos”. The white shaded area represents what’s seen as the “sweet spot” for emergent learning.

from the centre out: prescribed learning > emergent learning > chaos
from the center out: prescribed learning > emergent learning> chaos

The series of circles are divided into four areas:

  1. Open/Structure (the space or environment and how it’s set up)
  2. Interactive Environment (the extent of contextualization and interactivity)
  3. Agency (self-direction and autonomy of learning)
  4. Presence/Writing (the learning process and product, or the way the learning is realized)

and in each quarter is a number of elements that can be mapped across the spectrum of circles and then joined up to create the footprint. The more inward parts of the footprint represent the more prescribed or directed elements of the learning experience, and the more outward parts represent the more emergent elements.

This is what a blank footprint palette looks like:

blank footprint palette
blank footprint palette

And here is the link to resources you’ll need in order view the mapping elements and to draw a footprint of your own. There is also a handy video to guide you through the process.

The activity is quite detailed, and in truth requires some amount of effort to fully understand the elements to be mapped, but once you’ve grasped those, I’d say that a footprint, such as the one I drew below, has a lot to offer as an attempt to describe and understand the dynamics at play in the learning experienced in these new and complex open environments.

#xplrpln footprint of emergent learning

It was an interesting and worthwhile activity, and I’d be interested to see what the course #xplrpln facilitators, Jeff Merrill and Kimberley Scott, make of my footprint, and indeed maybe see one of theirs from a design point of view. When I get permission, I’ll upload my completed mapping sheet to the emergent learning wiki so that it’s possible to see how I arrived at my footprint.