Wednesday, October 11, 2006

New Systems for Sharing Learning Goals

I think the intersection between learning goals and social software is heating up. The popularity of 43 Things must be contributing to the interest, and maybe some of my babbling here has helped moved things along, but I think there was probably a certain inevitability about it -- in environments where people are deciding what to learn, who to learn with and figuring out how to go about it, these tools could be really valuable.

George Siemens introduced the U of M's Virtual Learning Commons a few weeks ago and linked to a backgrounder on the project. I had it saved in Bloglines for too long, and thankfully Brian nudged me to take another look at it. It's a system for students to post their learning goals as a way of recording them, finding related resources and connecting with others who share the goal. It seems to be pretty slick, and even in the current closed mode (registered students only) with relatively few participants, it looks like there could be the critical mass to make it useful. George's note about it:
"It sets learning in a conversational spaces...knowledge as a pathway through connections with others...learning as a constant in life. I'm confident that this implementation of social learning (integrated with institutionally provided academic support) is a first indicator of more prominent trends. Learning not as an explicit task...but as a constant action."
I also got an e-mail about Learning Flow and Lee Kraus explains what it's for:
"LearningFlow is a web-based application that allows (you) the learner to identify learning goals, then associate resources from across the web to that particular learning goal. The goal can also be shared with others interested in learning that goal."
It's also got a pretty nice, simple interface and some cool features for sharing goals. The kicker with any system like this is that it depends on large numbers of users and goals to start being really valuable. Until you have a few people sharing a (often quite unique) learning goal, it's just a place to store yours. So we'll see if it catches on. Elgg integrated this kind of functionality last year as well, in the context of a much richer feature set -- I should ask Dave if he's received any feedback about it.

Update: Roger Stack is paying attention to these goal-based networks as well. He describes a cool program at his school where mentoring/counselling groups have formed around areas of interest.


Artichoke said...

I love the potential of this Jeremy

IMO we have over used "what are your goals" stuff with kids in New Zealand so much that many of them are cynical and disengaged when asked to play the "goal game"

If they got to connect with other learners across the world engaged in striving for the same identified learning goal - imagine how much more interesting this would be.

Just need someone to set this up for 5 to 18 year olds

Jeremy said...

Thanks for this, arti. Goals in school are such a joke -- they're basically trying to get kids to pretend to care about the predetermined outcomes of the curriculum. Like you say, letting kids choose what they actually want to learn and letting them hook up with people who share that desire...there's good value there. Sadly, I don't think any schools will want their kids to have that kind of open relationship with scary strangers out on the wild web.

Lee said...

Jeremy, Again, thanks so much for again for checking out LearningFlow. We are so early in the process it will be interesting to see where this goes. To your comment on sharing goals within a "group", we are working on the functionality now, trying to capture the delicate balance of authority within a group and the ability for the learner to still maintain control. It kind of goes back to being a facilitator or coach.

We want LearningFlow to allow an authoritative person (training director in a company or teacher in a classroom) to identify a group of learners and serve them by supporting their learning needs. There are a lot of issues to deal with like, can the "manager" of the group assign goals or suggest goals?

Also, can you create an environment where the "group" learning a goal can benefit from the public exchange as well as the private exchange. The technology isn't so hard, but then the exchange of the group isn't really supporting the public goal by not sharing, thus reducing the network effect. And this might still work, but I'm not sure.

We are also hoping to allow the learner to extend their learning goals outside of our application. This would allow them to live in an Ajax home page or within your project or classroom management software giving you both the value of groups and the open exchange.

It should be intersting.

Jeremy said...

Hi Lee. Interesting discussion of the role of authority in these systems. I don't see much good in including the authoritative role -- I think it undermines the potential for people to realize that they don't need to be coerced to learn when they are able to choose the networks and content they find personally useful.

It's too bad that managers/teachers should have to assign anything, rather than simply participating in meaningful ways by adding insight, pointing to resources, and helping create a good learning environment for everyone (themselves included, since they can't possibly know everything). Suggesting goals might work, but you wouldn't need any "extra" power to do it -- as soon as someone is assigning things, it feels like breaking the model of networked learning as I currently understand it. It just becomes an LMS with someone telling you which hoops to jump through.

"...then the exchange of the group isn't really supporting the public goal by not sharing, thus reducing the network effect."

Exactly -- well said. This is what's happening in WebCT/Blackboard courses all over the world right now -- participants are able to use and benefit from conversations and resources on the web, but the resources and conversations they're having are locked away, which doesn't help the wider network OR the participants in the long run, because they lose those artifacts/discussions/links/etc when the course ends. That just feels wrong.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if authoritative is the best description. I'm trying to capture what it is I (and I am guessing you and many others) do on a daily basis, be the person who recognizes a perforance issue and immediately wants to be involved in fixing it. It is in our DNA to help solve that issue or teach that new skill. We start to diagnosis the problem, collect baseline data (at least informally) and suggest ideas. This often leads to sending an email with pointers on where to find information. And sure, I can become part of the "community" around that shared goal, but that isn't really my goal. I don't want to learn basket weaving, I just want empower you with the knowledge and tools you need to learn basket weaving.

So, if I add "Learn Basket Weaving" to my list of goals or 43things, that's not an accurate view of what is happening or my intentions. So, how can an information system allow someone to be a facilitator.

Creating a "facilitator" role within the system also leads to some strange places... (I like coach better) Can anyone be a coach? Do you have to have domain knowledge to be a good coach? Can a coach suggest learning resources for people he/she doesn't have an established relationship with?

So now we are talking about reputation... maybe. So I think allowing a group of people to self-associate (if that's a concept?) as having a trusted relationship, might allow for coaching within the group.

I'm guessing past online communities have addressed this issue, but I have little experince with past, walled-garden online social communities.


Jeremy said...

I wish I knew who "--" was, as it feels odd responding to anonymous words...but these examples are great and the topic interests me. I'm thinking it's still Lee...

It's true that these systems currently lack a public function for suggesting a goal to someone or prodding someone toward an outcome they might not otherwise pursue on their own. Perhaps that's because those kinds of suggestions would almost always be perceived as a form of criticism? Maybe those types of assigning, assessment and guidance are best initiated in person (or privately at least, through e-mail or private messages through the system).

I like the question about whether coaches need domain knowledge. I think nearly everyone in a network (emerging or more formalized) has some domain knowledge at varying levels and in different specific areas. In 43 Things, you can offer advice on a goal someone else has already set for themselves, or adopt a goal you have already completed and write about your experience in learning or applying what you learned. These are valuable ways to offer "coaching" in an informal way. You don't need to be a coach to do them...and if you haven't actually done the things I want to learn, I'm probably not interested in your advice whether you're a coach or not.

In past online communities, the role most closely matching what you're describing might be the moderators. They enforce the agreed-upon rules of the community, keep things running smoothly and act as a point person for issues that arise...but they're more like participants than leaders. There might be some subtle coaching about the processes and norms of the community (play nice with others), but never in assigning tasks. In self-formed communities, I think that would be considered bullying behaviour.

Lee said...

Sorry about that... It was me (Lee). I've been playing with Blogger's beta and it is a seperate login, which I failed to recognize before posting.

I agree with your comments. I think a function that allows someone to offer advice would be useful and I guess another way to consider it would be that "good" (interpreted by the learner) interaction among network participants will be acted upon appropriately (such as our exchange on this blog) and "bad" interaction will be ignored.

Jeremy said...

Oh, no worries, Lee. Thanks for a great discussion.