Month: January 2013

What Learning Design Means to Me

OLDS MOOC is making me think about learning design. It’s a course in Learning Design, after all. Don’t get me wrong, I think about learning design a lot: I design materials to aid students’ learning and academic colleagues’ teaching, but I don’t often reflect on this process itself. It feels difficult and awkward to be reflexive, to be inquiring about my practice.

There was an interesting discussion on Google Groups entitled “What does learning design mean for you”, with references to some old friends (Kolb’s Learning Cycle, Stephen Downes) and some new theories. As a teacher I liked methodology (I entered TEFL at a time when there were approaches galore), but felt that a little theory went a long way: it can occasionally become a kind of self-aggrandising navel gazing or a lexical stick to beat other teachers with. I don’t think that’s happening on oldsmooc, but I think it’s a danger with this kind of course.

All of which is a long run up for the short jump of my very personal statement about learning design:

There is so much great debate and links to promising resources in this thread that I can add little, except my own personal account as someone who does learning design with teachers but doesn’t teach. A strange position, granted, but there you go.

For me, learning design is multi-faceted and malleable. Learning design is not an individual endeavour, it’s a team effort involving teachers, students, admin staff and sometimes learning technologists. No two courses, teachers or students are the same and so it’s important to have a range of options, to have a fluid mix of elements. To do this it’s important to keep learning, keep trying new things and try to keep an open mind.

For me learning design is about taking in the context of a learning situation as fully as possible: the politics, personalities, subject domains, skills, attitudes and dispositions of stakeholders to begin with. Then the educational context: how is it assessed; is assessment fixed or can we change it; how many students are there; what if we end up with a much larger cohort than anticipated, or much smaller? Do we know what tends to work well for these types of students in this subject domain – what are people in other settings doing? What kind of tasks and interactions might promote learning? What kind of learning do we value most? How will we know if learning is happening? How do we promote peer support? How can we introduce ‘authentic’ activity into the learning and assessment. Can we trial new ideas with colleagues or small groups beforehand?

It begins and ends with people.

Sometimes what seems important turns out to be impossible, sometimes beautiful things happen spontaneously.

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OLDS MOOC, New Tricks

Reflections on my first day in OLDS MOOC

I’m starting to lose track of how many MOOCs I’ve joined, but it’s certainly a lot more than I’ve participated in actively. I’ve completed one. Of close colleagues and friends, this achievement stands matched only by my esteemed colleague Ashley Towers. The suspicion that the MOOC craze is just educational planking is hardly helped by the fact that Coursera and Udacity are pedagogically threadbare. If only someone would get involved who understood online  learning.

Enter the UK Open University with OLDS MOOC, (Open Learning Design Studio). The OU has been doing great distance learning for decades.  My wife’s first experience of HE was with the OU  and its books got me on the right side of database design during my Masters. I joined the OLDS MOOC with warm feelings tempered by bad MOOC experiences. My “hello OLDSmooc message” was entitled “sceptical late arriver says hi“. Gratifyingly, Joshua Underwood, one of the course team soon replied. I felt better already. This was a MOOC with a human face beyond video lectures.

New Tricks?

  1. Google Groups for discussions. “Courserans” are encouraged to go down this route, but it’s an optional extra and when I tried it our group found little use for it. On OLDSmooc, Groups are a key tool for collaborative work. What’s not so great is the long list of discussions you’re faced with on the OLDSmooc Open Discussion. On tutor-led questions (e.g. “what does learning design mean for you?”), you get overlapping soliloquies. Nothing compared to the raging solipsistic chaos seen on Coursera Discussion boards, but I suspect that’s more due to the truly massive scale of those courses than anything intrinsic to Google Groups or the OLDSmooc approach.
  2. OLDSmooc uses Google Sites as its foundation and glue. Course details, timetables etc are here or embedded here. The design and navigation is clear and if you are so minded, you can click ahead to see skeleton versions of what future weeks hold.
  3. “Cloudworks”. I’ve never had a clue what Cloudworks was, despite creating an account some time ago. I’m still not sure what I make of it – that will have to wait for another post. What I can say now is that splitting the course between Google Sites, Google Groups and Cloudworks gave me usability friction burns. When I got to Cloudworks I felt lost. There were instructions on the main site, but the transition to an unfamiliar space (I don’t think there’s anything else quite like Cloudworks), made them hard to remember or apply.

I want to go home!

I thought about giving up. Having started late, I couldn’t find a group to collaborate with. I  was using a novel site with little guidance, I was unsure why I was doing the course at all: curiosity had got me into it, but I needed more than that to stay. I felt like a new kid in a playground where everyone was busy with unfathomable stuff. I was going to have to meet some like minded people if I was going to stick it out.