What Is a Modern Learning Experience?

social on mobile

Jane Hart, who I have been following online for many years, is the Director of the Centre for Modern Workplace Learning, which she set up to help organizations and learning professionals modernize their approaches to workplace learning. Reading her online Modern Workplace Learning Magazine has alerted me to trends outside academia and outside the United States.  

She recently posted an article titled "Designing, delivering and managing modern learning experiences" and that made me consider how I would define "modern learning." It would include school experiences for some of us, but for most people today it is more likely an experience that occurs in the workplace and on our own. That itself seems like a big shift from the past. Or is it?

If in 1917, someone had wanted to become a journalist, he could go to college, but he could also get a job without a degree - if he could show he was a good writer. He could do some freelance writing with or without pay to get some experience and samples. Move 50 years to 1967, and the path was more likely to be a school of journalism. What about today?

As Jane points out, the modern learning experience path for the workplace probably includes using: 

  • Google and YouTube to solve their own learning and performance problems
  • social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn to build their own professional network (aka personal learning network)
  • messaging apps on their smartphones to connect with colleagues and groups
  • Twitter to participate in conference backchannels and live chats
  • participating in online courses (or MOOCs) on platforms like Coursera, edX and FutureLearn

The modern learning experience is on demand and continuous, not intermittent, and takes place in minutes rather than hours. It occurs on mobile devices more than on desktop computers.

Jane Hart believes it is also more social with more interacting with people, and that it is more of a personally-designed experience. I don't know if that is true for educational learning. Is it true for the workplace on this side of the pond? Does the individual design the learning rather than an experience designed by someone "in charge."

Modernizing classroom learning has often been about making learning more autonomous (self-directed, self-organized and self-managed) but that model does not easily fit into the model used for the past few hundred years in classrooms.

Checking Accesibility

designLast week, I wrote about a ruling against a university by the Department of Justice for not making its free content online fully accessible. I thought that today I should share some resources you can use to evaluate web materials for accessibility.
You might maintain web pages, including things like blogs and online course materials, and if you're not concerned about making sure they’re accessible for everyone, including people with disabilities, you should.
One easy to use accessibility-checking tool is a browser-based one called the WAVE Accessibility Extension. It is available for Firefox and for Chrome at WAVE Chrome Extension. There is also a WAVE Help site.
The ProfHacker blog has done some interesting posts on accessibility topics, from general ones like User-Friendly Advice for Accessible Web Design and How to Evaluate Your Web Pages for Accessibility to one that I think is a good test to try out with students if you're discussing this topic - To Test for Accessibility, Try Navigating Without Your Mouse.   

Autonomous Vehicles and Autonomous Learning

autonomous car

One of the newer categories on this blog is for VR, AR and AI. They were not topics of much concern in education when I started writing here in 2006. They are topics of interest now. 

The same may be true of autonomous vehicles and it is definitely true of what I'm calling autonomous learning

You are more likely to hear news about "autonomous vehicles" rather than "driverless cars" these days. They are pretty much interchangeable, but the former doesn't sound as scary. In the way that "global warming" was replaced with "climate change," the newer terms are not only better in public relations terms but also are more accurate.

An autonomous vehicle (AKA driverless, auto, self-driving, robotic) is one that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input. Many such vehicles are being developed, but as of this writing vehicles on public roads are not yet fully autonomous.

Many of the experimental cars and trucks you might see on the road (or, more likely, on the news) have a human along for the ride and ready to take over if needed. Initially we all heard about this future where you would get in a car, tell it your destination and sit back and relax. It was a taxicab without a driver. But more and more we are hearing about the autonomous vehicle with no human in it that might be delivering packages to locations. (No word on how they are unloaded. I guess you meet the vehicle at the curb.)

I was talking to a friend who has no involvement in education about an online course I was teaching and how MOOCs are being used. He said, "So, it's like an autonomous vehicle."

My first response was "No, its not," but when I gave the idea a few moments, I saw his point.

You set up a good online course. It has AI elements and guided learning, predictive analytics and all the other tools. The student enters and goes along on their own. Autonomously. Teacherless.

Some archived MOOCs are already somewhat like this - though probably minus the AI and guidance systems.

I call this autonomous learning. If you search on that term today you are more likely to find articles about learner autonomy. This refers to a student's ability to set appropriate learning goals and take charge of his or her own learning. However, autonomous learners are dependent upon teachers to create and maintain learning environments that support the development of learner autonomy.

My friend and I took the vehicles:learner comparison further. The mixed or hybrid car will probably be with us for a few more decades. By hybrid I mean not only with its fuel but also with driver-assist features. Part of the redundancy there includes the passenger as backup driver - a guide on the side. The car can park itself, but you might need to help in some situations.

Hybrid or blended courses are also going to continue to be around for awhile. Like the vehicles, the fully-automated course will be the experimental exception for a decade or two. But those kids in the college Class of 2037 have a very good chance of taking autonomous classes.

I will feel safe on the road with autonomous vehicles when ALL the vehicles are autonomous. Throw a few human drivers in there and the reliability drops. Do I feel the same about autonomous learning? Too early to say.

You Are a Data Point

Does it disturb you to be thought of as a "data point" or "test subject"? A data point is a discrete unit of information, a single fact usually derived from a measurement or research. A person as a data point can be represented numerically or graphically. That sounds pretty cold. 
An article on chronicle.com about Western Governors University (WGU), a nonprofit, online-only institution that enrolls 80,000 students worldwide, talks about how it has enlarged its institutional-research office the past few years and how students are very much data points. Of course, students, as well as employees and customers offer a valuable source of data for researchers.
In an educational setting, this data could be used to improve student outcomes and to make assessments that can lead to improvement in learning design and delivery..
One of the often stated benefits of MOOCs has been the opportunity to use these very large courses to obtain data about how students learn online. Critics of this approach say that learning online in a class of 25 versus a class of several thousand are not comparable experiences. And are there valid comparisons to how students learn online to learning in a face-to-face class? That has been argued for several decades. 
WGU is also a competency-based institution. Standardized measurements and goals are how their courses are designed. If not a good thing for a student's education, it certainly is an approach that is great for researchers who can hold certain variables constant while testing tools and interventions to see how they influence students.
No one likes to be thought of as just a number. It reminds me of sci-fi novels and media about the future like 1984 and Brave New World (or the cult favorite TV series, The Prisoner, illustration at top). But we are all very much considered as data points by advertisers and in many modern technologies, social networks and institutions.

Open Everything 2017

OER knife
Open Source "Swiss Knife" - illustration by Open Source Business Foundation - licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Back in 2008, I first posted here about what I was calling "Open Everything."  That was my umbrella term for the many things I was encountering in and out of the education world that seemed relevant to "Open" activities based on Open Source principles. The growth I saw nine years ago continues. I had made a list of "Open + ______" topics I was encountering then, and I have updated that list here:
educational resources (OER)
source as a service
source licenses
source religion
source software

All these areas overlap categories that I write about on Serendipity35.
David Wiley makes the point in talking about one of these uses -"open pedagogy" - that "because 'open is good' in the popular narrative, there’s apparently a temptation to characterize good educational practice as open educational practice. But that’s not what open means. As I’ve argued many times, the difference between free and open is that open is “free plus.” Free plus what? Free plus the 5R permissions."
Those five permissions are Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and Redistribute. Many free online resources do not embrace those five permissions. 
A colleague sent me a link to a new book, Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science . The book also crosses many topics related to "open": affordable education, transparent science, accessible scholarship, open science, and courses that share this philosophy.
That last area interests me again of late as I am taking on some work on developing courses using OER materials for this fall at a community college. These courses are not what could be labeled as "open courses." They are using using Open Educational Resources. They are regular Gen-Ed courses with the traditional tuition and registration structure.
So, why remake a course using OER? 
Always on the list of reasons to to lower the cost for students by eliminating (or greatly lowering the price of) a textbook and using open textbooks and resources. But there are more benefits to OER than "free stuff." This course redesign is also an opportunity to free faculty from the constraints of a textbook-driven curriculum. (Though, admittedly many faculty cling to that kind of curriculum design.)
David Wiley's warning is one to consider when selecting OER. Is a text "open" if it does not allow the 5R permissions? Wiley would say No, but many educators have relaxed their own definition of open to the point that anything freely available online is "open." It is not.
For example, many educators use videos online in YouTube, Vimeo or other repositories. They are free. You can reuse them. You can usually redistribute (share) them via links or embed code into your own course, blog or website. But can you revise or remix them? That is unlikely. I fact, they may very well be copyrighted and attempting to remix or revise them is breaking the law.
You might enroll in a MOOC in order to see how others teach a course that you also teach. It is a useful professional development activity for teachers. But it is likely not the case that you have the right to copy those mate rails and use them in your own courses. And a course on edX, Coursera or another MOOC provider is certainly not open to you retain, reusing, revising, remixing or redistributing the course itself.
There are exceptions. MIT's Open Courseware was one of the original projects to offer free course materials. They are not MOOCs as we know them today, but they can be a "course for independent learners." They are resources and you were given permissions (with some restrictionssee their mission video) to use them for your on courses.
I didn't get a chance to fully participate in the OpenLearning ’17 MOOC that started in January and runs into May 2017. It is connectivist and probably seems like an "Old School MOOC" in the 2017 dominated by the Courseras of the MOOC world. It is using Twitter chats, AMA, and Hangouts. You can get into the archives and check out the many resources.  It is a MOOC in which, unlike many courses that go by that label today, where the "O" for "Open" in the acronym is true. Too many MOOCs are really only MOCs.

The Battle of the Learning Management Systems

D & G

David and Goliath in a detail from Michelangelo

Yesterday, I wrote about Google's continuing movement into the  learning management (LMS) world, and a reader sent me an opinion piece that says that the "Goliaths" of the LMS world are losing ground to the "Davids." The author of that piece, Carol Leaman, does not tell us who these "Davids" are by name. Are they the more open systems like Moodle and Sakai? Is Google Classroom one? It's hard to think of Google as a David when we know it is a Goliath.

But the real takeaway from the essay is that after about two decades of LMS use advancements have not kept pace with expectations for both academic classroom use and for the training of employees.

The author gives numbers (from Ambient Insight) that show global revenues of $46.6 billion in 2016 declining to $33.4 billion by 2021 with the U.S. corporate segment having a negative 33.9 percent growth rate.

What are schools and companies looking for? The wish list includes platforms that are mobile-first, cloud based, drive voluntary learner engagement and use what we are learning from cognitive science about mapping knowledge to how learners best acquire it.

In my seventeen years of using various LMS and doing instructional design for both higher education and corporate training, I noticed a gap between those two markets. Much to my initial surprise, organizations outside academia were much more concerned with being able to measure knowledge, mastery and growth by learners and correlate it to business results.

It shouldn't have surprised me that companies wanted a return on their investment (ROI) in an LMS and in training costs and employee time. Surely, we have these concerns in education too, but our "assessment" follows different models. Education has several centuries of precedents for measuring learning. Some of them work in the modern classroom. Some do not. Even fewer work in an online environment.

The LMS field is still young.  Many people consider FirstClass by SoftArc (which the United Kingdom's Open University used in the 1990s) as the first modern LMS. Blackboard, WebCT and others appeared at the turn of this century. But learning management systems were preceded by computer-managed instruction (CMI), and integrated learning systems (ILS) which offered a way to manage instructional content and also manage student data. When I started in online learning at NJIT in 2000, we used the term CMS (Course Management System). If you consider in this history the terms ILS (coined by Jostens Learning) and CMI (originally used to describe the PLATO Learning Management system), then we can go back to the 1970s and find systems for computer-based instruction being offered that were content-free and a separate product from the course content.

About ten years ago, mergers in the learning industry brought the LMS into the same house as publishers of content. This was a meetup that I have always seen as dangerous for education, but probably good for corporate clients. I don't want to see curriculum coming from a vendor, even though I have to concede that textbooks have unfortunately driven course design for a very long time.

Will Goliath(s) fall and if so, who and what will bring it down? 

I received an email letting me know that Carol Leaman is the CEO of Axonify, so the David in this story is Axonify.