Tuesday, June 27, 2006

E-Learning Queen on Goal-Setting

Susan Smith Nash posted Goal-Setting and Self-Regulation in Online Courses (and an accompanying podcast) late last year. She focuses on the role of goal setting and motivation in learning (not just in online courses), which I'm digging into right now -- fascinating stuff.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Etienne Wenger on Communities of Practice

Like most of what I've been thinking about and linking to this week, this isn't really new. I just hadn't seen this excellent page containing an interview with and presentation by Etienne Wenger on Communities of Practice last year. It's all Flash videos, nicely chunked and indexed (although it would be great to be able to link to individual pieces). It covers all kinds of meaty concepts, including the shift to learning as "negotiation of mutual relevance" between people. Powerful stuff, methinks:
"You see the difference between 'learning as curriculum' and 'learning as a journey of the self'. One of the most important aspects of the course is, people discover a new identity, they get connected. The meaning of the technology is mostly, I'm connected to the world in a new way. So I ask, to what extent can learning with technology create new possibilities for learning, a journey of the self, a social journey, of moving through the world..."
Digging around a bit, I found Stephen Downes' summary notes from a similar presentation (the quote above is from the notes), some slides and an older paper of Wenger's (1998) that still rings true: Communities of Practice: Learning as a Social System. Wenger's homepage appears to be down, but may be up later.

Next-day update: His site is back up, and through it I found another great interview that's bending my brain right now.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Informal Learning Practices

Exploring the Icebergs of Adult Learning: Findings of the First Canadian Survey of Informal Learning Practices (pdf)
Excellent overview of informal learning, including workable definitions, and the results of the study are fascinating:
"This paper summarizes the first large-scale, country-wide survey of the informal learning activities of Canadian adults (N=1562) which was conducted in 1998. After defining informal learning and briefly reviewing prior studies, the major findings on Canadian adults' schooling and current participation in both further education courses and informal learning activities related to employment, housework, community work and general interests are presented. According to their self-reports, Canadians are now averaging about 15 hours a week in informal learning activities--regardless of prior schooling or current further education involvement."
This also reminds me that I've had Jay Cross's excellent article What is Informal Learning? saved in my bloglines account for a whole month already. It's full of gems like this:
"Informal learning and formal learning are at opposite ends of the learning spectrum. Informal learning is the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way most people learn to do their jobs. Informal learning is like riding a bicycle: the rider chooses the destination and the route. The cyclist can take a detour at a moment’s notice to admire the scenery or help a fellow rider."

Learning Communities

I've been digging into the concept of learning communities today and had good luck in Stephen's topic page for learning communities. Some good finds, which were mostly review, but still valuable:
  • Stephen's Learning in Communities article for Australian Flexible Learning a couple of years ago. Good learning communities foster better learning, a sense of commitment to the community, learning beyond the content, and reduce the workload of experts in the community as people help each other. He also shares eight points on what makes a learning community successful.
  • George Siemens' article on Learning Ecology, Communities, and Networks was also good to read again -- it's clear and practical, with some interesting examples. I'm realizing that my research focus is very narrow, captured by one small sentence in his paper: "Exploration, decision making, selecting, deselecting are all preparatory activities before we even enter the learning experience (the learning experience being defined as the moment when we actively acquire the knowledge that is missing in order for us to complete the needed tasks or solve a problem)."
  • I like the characteristics of a good learning environment in Distributed Learning Communities: An Alternative to Designed Instructional Systems (Word doc) --"distributed control; commitment to the generation and sharing of new knowledge; flexible and negotiated learning activities; autonomous community members; high levels of dialogue, interaction, and collaboration; a shared goal, problem, or project that brings a common focus and incentive to work together."
The question I'm grappling with is whether 3245 people sharing a learning goal like "learn Japanese" in 43 Things is a learning community by existing definitions. One guy in there even built his own learning object and shared it. If it does fit the definitions, then 43 Things has hundreds of learning communities, which is remarkable, really.

Linking thinking: Self-directed learning in the digital age

At more than 350 pages, Linking Thinking: Self-directed learning in the digital age (pdf) is a full online book -- even just the executive summary is a significant read. The Australian focus isn't so localized as to be intrusive. This is an impressive overview of current trends in self-directed learning by Philip C. Candy from 2004. I appreciated his distinction between self-direction and learner control:
"At the beginning of this chapter I alluded to the fact that there is a large body of literature pertaining to the phenomenon of online learning. Of that literature, the greater proportion focuses on learning in the context of being taught, although there are many references to concepts such as independent, self-paced, self-directed, autonomous or otherwise learner-managed learning. On closer examination, however, the majority of this literature actually turns out to refer to a severely circumscribed kind of independence, in which the learner is ‘permitted’ to take control over a relatively narrow range of choices."

Less is More

Jason Fried of 37 Signals talks about the process of building great web apps, with a focus on simplicity and choosing to create very specific tools. Lots of good common-sense advice with some smart counterintuitive ideas. Listen on the post page, or download the 5mb 12-minute mp3.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Self-Direction in Adult Learning

Self-Direction in Adult Learning is a book from 1991 that was put online by the authors after it went out of print (gotta love that). I was most interested in Chapter 5, which focused on qualitative studies on self-directed learning, and includes a look at historical figures who became experts in their fields without formal training or education. I was interested in this one about how people decide on and pursue self-directed learning experiences:
"Spear and Mocker's conclusions, which seem to challenge the oft-accepted view that self-directed learning is a clearly deliberate, well-planned, and linear series of episodes are reflected in the following statement: 'Because self-directed learning occurs in a natural environment dominated by chance elements and is in contrast to the artificial and controlled elements which characterize formal instructional environments, it seems useful to investigate the possibly differing effects of the natural environments on the learning process.'"
I think it is generally true that informal learning tends to not be very goal-oriented, but I wonder why this is. Are we more process-oriented when we pursue learning for ourselves? Is it because we don't have good tools or experiences to set goals and seek out specific resources that match those goals?

Another section summarized the findings from a study on self-directed learning done in the '80s. A couple of them:
"The ways people talked about how they go about their self-directed learning varied, but most referred to visualizing the end state of the learning goal before they entered into the effort. Suggests further exploration of the process of visualization as a guide or motivating phenomena in self-directed learning.

Learning since leaving school has been varied, challenging and meaningful. People commented on how much more they have learned outside of the public school context. They enjoy self-directed learning because they can do it at their own pace and without anybody judging them. This is consistent with findings from other research on self-directed learning. Suggests self-directed learning should be taken seriously as an alternative form of learning."
Following this section, there's a bit about libraries as resource centers for self-directed learners. It's ok, but the absence of the web from older articles like this is downright jolting: "As for the resources made available to learners, it is clear that the book remains the primary resource utilized by library learners." This seems almost hilarious now, at least to those of us who have spent the last decade learning as much online as from books or libraries. It makes me wonder how much the web (and our recent experience using it to learn) has raised our expectations for self-directed learning and forced us to question the fundamentals of traditional schooling more than ever.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Online Self-Organizing Social Systems

David Wiley was kind enough to direct me to a paper he wrote with Erin K. Edwards a few years back: Online Self-organizing Social Systems: The Decentralized Future of Online Learning. I had seen references to it, but couldn't find a copy. This look at online self-organizing social systems ("OSOSS") from a learning perspective is similar to papers I found earlier from David Passmore. Passmore also looked at PerlMonks (my thoughts here) and investigated learning in Slashdot (my thoughts here), and came to similar conclusions. From Wiley and Edwards:
"While none of the existing OSOSS consider themselves learning communities, learning is happening among their users, and happening in an extremely innovative manner."
I'm seeing some evidence to support this in 43 Things, especially in reference to explicit learning communities that form around learning goals.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Failure of Constructivism

When you title a paper like this, you're bound to attract some attention in educational circles: Why Minimally Guided Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching. From the abstract:
"Evidence for the superiority of guided instruction is explained in the context of our knowledge of human cognitive architecture, expert-novice differences, and cognitive load. While unguided or minimally-guided instructional approaches are very popular and intuitively appealing, the point is made that these approaches ignore both the structures that constitute human cognitive architecture and evidence from empirical studies over the past half century that consistently indicate that minimally-guided instruction is less effective and less efficient than instructional approaches that place a strong emphasis on guidance of the student learning process."
It provides some really good food for thought, and the authors support their positions well. After the first quick read, I thought it introduced sufficient doubt about the effectiveness of these approaches. I suspect they're measuring "success" differently (and in different areas) than I might, and probably haven't gone far enough in assessing the difficulty of properly implementing these approaches in educational systems built on an industrial model...but I'm going to have to let it linger a bit.

Thanks to Evan for the tip.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Subversive Use and Volatile Design

Papers from 1999 are starting to sound like old news, but it's a shame when gems like this one are overlooked -- Educational Software and Learning: Subversive Use and Volatile Design (pdf) by the late David Squires. It charts the movement toward learner-centred constructivist experiences and environments and the inherent contradictions in trying to create them for a system which dictates what, when and how things should be learned in education:
"The focus of constructivism is on learner control, with learner’s making decisions which match their own cognitive state and their own needs. Thus we are left with a paradox if a we accept a constructivist view of learning: In trying to design effective learning environments we may at the same time constrain the levels of freedom necessary for learners to make decisions about their own learning."
As I read this, I envisioned a scenario where an enthusiastic, progressive instructor opens a course by saying, "I know this course was required (you didn't choose it), was scheduled according to the school's timetable (not yours), the curriculum and assessment standards were pre-determined (without your involvement) and my teaching is being assessed based on your scores on a standardized test at the end of the course. Within those constraints, I'm going to try to make the course as learner-centred as possible." Good luck with that. This is certainly what I was trying to get at in my post about personal learning environments:
"I'm not even sure that it can be created or designed by someone for someone else. Just as each person's desires, abilities and past experiences are different, each person's personal learning environment should be their own unique combination of tools, networks and methods that help them accomplish their goals."
Can an instructional designer, curriculum developer or instructor actually create learning environments for someone else that are truly personal? Back to Squires' paper, where he proposes two solutions to the paradox of constructivist learning in top-down education systems:
"First, educational users of ICT can subvert the design of software to meet their own needs, i.e. through the way in which they use software, teachers and learners can recast the designer’s intentions."
And the next:
"The second solution is to recognise the essentially subversive nature of the educational use of ICT and deliberately design for such use. Rather than design with constraint in mind, design with freedom and flexibility in mind. From a design perspective I call this ‘incorporated subversion’."
Most people in ed.tech circles will recognize that nifty phrase as the name of James Farmer's online home, which was was inspired by the paper. Ever practical, he referenced this ethos again three years ago and concluded: "Quite simply until the prevailing approach of online education steps away from passivity, control and the figures, simply providing the tools won’t work." I think James nailed it here.

Although I love the spirit of Squires' paper and feel that the paradox he identifies is perhaps The Big One in education, I wish he had been able to take his prescriptions a few steps further into the realm of true learner-centred experiences and environments; ones where individual learners chose their topics, learning peers, resources and schedules that reflected their personal goals, needs, interests and limitations.

Via Mark van Harmelen's PLE wiki.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Trends in Social Networking Sites

Fred Stutzman is researching social networking and finding some very interesting things. In Social Networking: Five Sites You Need to Know, he covers some of the less well-known social networking sites with more global reach, and expands on three of the main trends he's seeing:
  • "Social networking is becoming content-centric.
  • Social networking is the vanguard of micropayment.
  • Social networking for the sake of social networking just doesn't cut it."
Via Michael Habib

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Teacher's new "PET"

In this interview from 2000, the late David Squires outlines his vision for Peripatetic Electronic Teachers, freelance instructors who attract students globally. While the idea isn't new (as he points out), he covers all kinds of interesting ideas in the subsequent discussion:
"Higher education is becoming much more market driven with a heavier emphasis on client led delivery. Learners now want bespoke learning experiences that match their needs and interests. This corresponds with the notion of the Internet as a market driven social space. Within this space there will be a role for entrepreneurs - freelance teachers who use the features of new technologies to create and deliver learning experiences."
And this:
"It is essential that the Education Establishment engages in the Information Society issue now so that it can have an influential - hopefully the most influential - voice in the developments of technology-mediated learning and teaching. If not other agents - the mega-publishers, telecom infrastructure providers etc. - will take sole/primary charge of education."

Friday, June 16, 2006

Required High School Portfolios

Helen Barrett's take on Required High School Portfolios rings true for me, partly because she's using my home province's graduation portfolios as an example of how not to do it. It reminded me of some of the feedback I heard from teachers two years ago when the intitiative was announced.

Via Downes

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Why link to this video of Mr. Rogers speaking at a Senate hearing in 1969? Because it's a passionate defense of an earlier educational technology, and of good teaching in general. He talks quite emotionally about offering an "expression of care" to children as the main purpose of his show. The gruff senator warms up throughout and says at one point that he's got goosebumps. Mr. Rogers' response:
"Well, I'm grateful, not only for your goosebumps, but for your interest in our kind of communication."
Fascinating stuff.

Monday, June 12, 2006

MySpace or SchoolSpace?

Dave asked last week: Why worry about Myspace/Facebook?
"The thing is, education is never going to be as attractive for most as sex, music, relationships and so on - so why even bother wasting time thinking about it? Surely the question is; how can we utilise the potential this connective software has given us to enhance formal and informal learning for those who want to use it?"
He summarizes some of the recent discussion about attempts to adopt/integrate/co-opt the success of social-networking sites like MySpace and The Facebook for educational use in schools. Although he's finding it a "little dull" , I think it he's hitting something important here, and we've been continuing the discussion in the comments section of his post.

Learning and Failing

George linked to, and pulled a great quote about the difficulty of real learning out of Lanny Arvan's post:
"'Learning is about failing, repeated failing.' It is uncomfortable being in a state either of complete ignorance or having the awkward feeling of partial knowledge, it is ego deflating when initial stabs produce less than satisfactory results, and to the extent that learning is viewed by students as a competitive sport, it also raises the fear that the others are progressing along so nicely and it is only this particular student who is not getting it, so he is falling behind."
This is what I was trying to articulate about the the choice to pursue learning goals -- although we say we want to learn to surf, the reality is that the learning is likely going to be painful and difficult. We want to be able to surf, preferably without the pain of learning. Lanny also touches on the issue at the core of personal learning environments and self-directed learning:
"What I want to talk about in this post is teaching really bright kids, especially early on in college, and getting them to make intellectual leaps in their thinking and to begin to get them to consider that is their lot in life and how they should spend their time."
Students (me included) have always had the latter decision made for us in school, which means we haven't properly developed our skills in deciding how to spend our "learning time". We might get very good at time management within the parameters set out for us, but we're not good at deciding what is most worth our attention and how it fits into the goals for our lives.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Engagement with Electronic Portfolios

I've had Engagement with Electronic Portfolios: Challenges from the Student Perspective saved for a while. The main strength of the paper is that the researchers focused on how students were receiving e-portfolio implementations in their programs, rather than looking at the usual institutional impact. A quote:
"Therefore, it is important that the e-portfolio is not viewed like other forms of assessment or assignments which students are required to undertake but may feel little sense of ownership in. The e-portfolio is (or should be) part of a student-owned, student-centred approach to learning which makes it possible for students to actively engage in their learning rather than just be the recipients of information."
I agree with these goals, but I'm still having a hard time seeing this happening in the context of our existing education system. There is so little in formal education (characterized by courses, scheduling, curriculum, and traditional instruction) that gives any real power to learners that I think our expectation for their ability or desire to embrace e-portfolios (as currently conceived) in the context of courses and programs is unrealistic.

That said, I also think that the philosophy underpinning good e-portfolios could be a driver for change in that same system. It's not difficult to envision a university degree that was really personal -- letting learners choose topics from any discipline and any school, helping them work in self-assembled networks, directing them to people and resources that will interest them most, letting them work at their own pace, valuing (and offering credit for) experience and learning outside of the institution (PLA), etc, etc... Once you go down that road, the e-portfolio (or personal learning environment, or whatever you call it) becomes essential for the people managing all aspects (topics, applications, networks, projects, timing) of their own learning experiences.

Monday, June 05, 2006

A Typology of User Experience Pleasures

Great teachers would probably understand immediately how each of these examples of cognitive seduction help people learn things. Kathy Sierra is talking about designing experiences for users of software, but wouldn't it be great if school was set up with these goals in mind? When's the last time you took a course that stimulated or contained even a handful of these feelings or elements? Her checklist could be used for designing learning experiences:
"1. Discovery
User experience as exploration of new territory
2. Challenge
User experience as obstacles to overcome, goals lying just beyond current skill and knowledge levels
3. Narrative
User experience as story arc (user on hero's journey) and character identification
4. Self-expression
User experience as self-discovery and creativity
5. Social framework
User experience as an opportunity for interaction/fellowship with others
6. Cognitive Arousal
User experience as brain teaser
7. Thrill
User experience as risk-taking with a safety net
8. Sensation
User experience as sensory stimulation
9. Triumph
User experience as opportunity to kick ass
10. Flow
User experience as opportunity for complete concentration, extreme focus, lack of self-awareness
11. Accomplishment
User experience as opportunity for productivity and success
12. Fantasy
User experience as alternate reality
13. Learning
User experience as opportunity for growth and improvement"

More on Personal Learning Environments

Although I haven't been posting much lately, I've still been following the ongoing discussion on personal learning environments. Of particular interest were Graham Attwell's in-depth coverage and this PLE wiki page initiated and maintained by Mark van Harmelen.