Strukturdaten Distance Learning/ Distance Education 2017

Nur eine protokollarische Notiz: Seit 1984 werden jährlich Daten zum Fernunterricht (jetzt: Distance Learning/ Distance Education) erhoben. Diese Anbieterstatistik stand und steht traditionell etwas „quer“ zu neuen, offenen Lernformen im Netz. Fernunterricht ist halt hierzulande im Fernunterrichtsgesetz von 1977 „zum Schutz der Teilnehmer“ geregelt. Jetzt hat das Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung (BIBB) die methodischen Grundlagen dieser Statistik einer Revision unterzogen. Die Begründung liest sich wie folgt:

„Im Zuge der Digitalisierung verliert die frühere eindeutige Abgrenzung zwischen Bildungsan­geboten in Form von Präsenzseminaren einerseits und (dem per se medienbasierten) Fernunter­richt andererseits jedoch an Bedeutung: So ist die didaktische Konzeption von Bildungsangebo­ten in Form von „Blended Learning“, also in Form eines sequenzierten Lernarrangements mit Präsenz- und medienbasierten Selbstlernphasen, inzwischen weit verbreitet. Von „Fernunter­richt“ abgrenzen lassen sich diese Angebote häufig nur noch anhand der gesetzlichen Definition des Fernunterrichts, gemäß der die Vermittlung der Lerninhalte über Distanz entweder „aus­schließlich“ oder „überwiegend“ (d. h. zu mindestens 51 %) zu erfolgen hat.“

Wie bei Kategorien wie „Weiterbildung“ oder „E-Learning“ darf man auch hier nicht von der Bedeutung des Begriffs ausgehen und einen statistischen Überblick über das jeweilige Feld erwarten, sondern muss genau lesen, was solche Datensammlungen eigentlich erfassen und was nicht. Ein MOOC fällt zum Beispiel nicht zwangsläufig unter Distance Learning/ Education …
Angela Fogolin, Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung (BIBB), September 2017 (pdf)

Heuristic Learning & Shakespeare

I used to write about apps I used or liked as part of my work, or at least I recognised could aid me in my work, but have been remiss on this front for a while. So, with the urging of a few peeps on Twitter (thank you) I’ll start it up again.

This new app I’ve installed actually covers two loves – learning/reading and technology. In my role as eLearning Consultant at Warwick Business School I am responsible for the University of Warwick’s Shakespeare and His World MOOC. My involvement with this course and Professor Jonathan Bate has kick started my love of reading – I studied English Literature A-level. So here we have an app that’ll help me understand the use of technology (and see a fantastic new approach to tech that can aid learning) as well as the understand the Bard’s language.

Back in 2011 I wrote this post about how ebooks, even apps, could be used to greatly enhance the learning experience beyond just the basic text-and-note features the early e-readers offered. It seems it’s coming true (I wish the images in that post had survived a server & hosting service migration)?

Heuristic Shakespeare - The TempestHeuristic Shakespeare – The Tempest (iPad): Like many I find Shakespeare difficult to understand, sometimes just plain obscure. Through the MOOC mentioned above I have learned a lot more about Shakespeare’s influences in the time he wrote the plays (literary, cultural, personal, etc.) as well as the subtleties of his jokes and digs(and careful similarities) to the establishment. This app, therefore brings everything together and makes this one play, The Tempest, so much easier to understand, read, watch, and like.

“The Tempest from Heuristic Shakespeare is the first in a collection of thirty-seven separate apps. Each app is a tool for demystifying one of Shakespeare’s plays and making it more accessible to a modern audience. Sir Ian McKellen and Professor Sir Jonathan Bate take us on journey of discovery using the world-famous Arden Shakespeare texts and their extensive essays and notes. The apps function is to provide an essential aid to understanding and enjoying the plays in the theatre or on the screen.”

Heuristic Shakespeare – The Tempest $5.99 / £4.49

From the outset it is clear this app brings the very best of the internet (small ‘i’ these days) and learning. Not least the range of names and successful Shakespearean actors and scholars like Sir Ian McKellen and Prof Sir Jonathan Bate (both of who I worked with on another MOOC), but the way in which multimedia has been used to enhance the text, not replace it.

For those studying Shakespeare for any level of exam or are just an avid reader or Shakespeare lover this App is as good as any book or cheat-sheet note … if not better! If you ignore the videos where the actors read/act the play for you (a massive boost to my understanding – let the actors handle the difficulty of getting the pace, language and emphasis right, I can concentrate on the words and their meanings) the rest of the features are worth getting the app on their own – Shakespeare’s timeline, productions of the play, a copy of the First Folio pages, etc.

Note: I wont review each of the subsequent 36 apps, if indeed they do get round to them all, but suffice to say this approach is a quality one, offering everything I could ever have wanted when I was 16-18 and studying Shakespeare myself.

Heuristic Shakespeare The Tempest 1  Heuristic Shakespeare The Tempest 4

Heuristic Shakespeare The Tempest 5

Heuristic Shakespeare The Tempest 2  Heuristic Shakespeare The Tempest 3

Now on to the actually purpose of the App .. and it being called ‘heuristic’. For me a ‘heuristic’ learning experience is all about having the freedom or opportunity to use my experiences to discover or solve something myself. I may be led to the subject, question, or the problem, but the process of learning and solving or answering the question is for me to work out. I wont use, or even know, the best or most efficient process to use to do this, I’ll no doubt flounder around while i figure out what I need to be doing, but it’ll be my decision, my design process, and my skills that’ll take me through this and towards a solution.

And this is exactly what this App offers … the ability to use/choose what version of the play I want: either the text of the play, the pages from the First Folio, actors performing the words, understanding where the play. This is amazing and there should be more opportunities for people to learn like this, Shakespeare or not.

If you’re an English Literature teacher, or a student who’s used the App please let me know what you think of it? Did it help? What aspect of the App you found most useful, interesting, distracting, good for comprehension, good for revision, etc.?


How ‘long’ is too ‘long’?

For a few years now I’ve been spouting the same lines when it comes to planning a video for an distance learning course or MOOC: “preferably no more than 4 minutes, definitely no more than 6.” Anything more than 6 and we’d consider splitting it at a natural point in the subject, or working with the individual and their content and seeing where a natural break can be made, or other ways to shorten the video.

This has been supported by experience (from distance learning courses I’ve supported at both Bournemouth and Leicester University’s) and the MOOCs I’ve supported and developed while at Warwick, as well as articles like this.

As with everything, there is enough evidence to be found to support and to disprove it.

Yes, I agree that if you have a ‘teaching’ resource, where the academic/teacher is speaking to camera then there is an optimum length that someone will sit and be ‘talked at’, and this is where I see the 6 minute limit coming into play. These kinds of resources are often loaded to a VLE or a MOOC and as part of a set of resources for the topic or week’s subject area.

But there are other approaches to video content where I don’t see this working. What about case studies or mini-documentaries? What about a conversation, when a short 4 minute clip just isn’t enough to get in to the details? Do you still stick to the short-is-best message? In order for these to work you will often need to make it longer so the content and ‘message’ of the case study can be put across.

Let’s not forget, the video is nothing on it’s own. It must always be put into context for the student – why are you presenting the video for them to watch, what do you expect them to think about when they watch it, is there something they need to question as a result of the video (and/or linking it to other resources to build their wider knowledge about the subject area), can they critique the resource and present their findings back to the group, etc.?


Short, teaching video.
Taken from the Big Data course, this short video is a well-liked video of Associate Professor Suzy Moat talking directly to you, the student. It’s a great example of the personal approach you can still achieve from a 4 minute video, carefully planned and edited

Measuring happiness with Twitter and Facebook

Big Data: Measuring happiness with Twitter and Facebook – click to watch on FutureLearn. You can’t see the comments on this step unless you were enrolled on the course (April, 2015)

Long, non-teaching video.
Taken from the Literature and Mental Health MOOC, again from my work at the University of Warwick, this is a 26 minute in-depth conversation between Professor Jonathan Bate and Stephen Fry. No ‘teaching’ takes place here, but a clear and engaging learning resource, in the form of a conversation, where two extremely knowledgable and passionate authors discuss poetic form:

We did try and see what we could edit from this in to a shorter clip for the core materials on the MOOC, whilst making this full version available to those who were interested enough. Then we thought ‘stuff it’, this is excellent as it is, with the ebb and flow of the conversation between them just a pleasure to watch and integral to the learning experience from this resource.

In this example, the students on the MOOC watched the video and reflected on their own interpretation of poetic form, of specific poems, of the love of poetry to relax and ‘meditate’ for their mental wellbeing. The sharing and social aspect of the video, and the strength of camaraderie they shared together on this single resource. This resource, in the first week of the MOOC, had 1,400 comments on it!

Short, non-teaching video.
We have also used a mixture of both the above – taken a long interview and provided a shortened version for the students and the fuller version on YouTube, for those interested in more detail, background, and more depth to the work. In this example we have an interview with Professor Steve Koonin, which was 11 minutes in total, and we produced a more concise 4 minute version and directed the learner to the long version if they were interested.

What happened was that the majority of students who left a comment on the video started by saying to ignore the short one (loaded to FutureLearn) and watch the full version on YouTube instead! There were five of these in total in the course, and each time students referred their colleagues to the longer ones, often saying they’d have loved to have more!

Interview with Professor Steven Koonin

I have heard the argument before, when asking for the context of the video, that you “don’t get that on YouTube” so the students shouldn’t expect it on the VLE. Yes, but YouTube is not a structured learning environment and often, if you’re directing the students to the YouTube video you’d be telling them why. Again, the YouTube video on it’s own is nothing without the purpose of why you’ve given it to the students to watch it … !

For me the length of the video is never the issue. The video should be relevant and to the point, whether it’s an interview, conversation, or presentation, or a teaching style video that needs to get a particular theme or concept across. I will watch, and I realise this is ‘me’, two minutes or 20 minutes of a ‘learning resource’ if I am engaged and I see a purpose to it. If it becomes just waffle or filler or clearly does not have direct relevance to why I’ve been asked (there we are again – context) to watch it, then you’ve lost me and I’m on to something else.

Lecture capture
Lastly, let me cover the subject of lecture capture – I recognise the video approaches above are far higher quality of resource and enterprise that went in to creating them, but the above does not mean there isn’t a place for lecture capture in online and campus based courses because there is.

If a two-hour lecture isn’t stimulating when you sit and watch it at home, then odds are it isn’t for those sitting in the lecture hall itself either. That’s not a fault of lecture capture or the technology; it’s more something the lecturer needs to address. No one would blame students in the lecture that was being filmed for letting their minds wander and for working on something else at some point, so surely it’s fine for those at home to do this too. Those watching the recording have the added benefit of pausing the stream for a break, email, message, etc. and can come back when they’re focussed again. Those watching the archive can re-watch the same section again and again if they like until they’ve understood the section that they couldn’t understand before, or couldn’t hear, or missed due to any other kind of distraction.

There is a place for all these types of video resources, whatever their length. Just so long as it’s relevant. Always relevant.

Image source: David Hopkins (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Don’t give it to me unless I can customise it

My first car was a 1993 Rover Mini Cooper 1.3i, in British Racing Green (obviously). I bought it second hand in ’97 from John Cooper Garages (JCG) in West Sussex, and the legendary John Cooper himself handed my the keys (and made my mum a cup of tea while I did the paperwork).

Like so many people who own a Mini it didn’t stay ‘standard’ for very long, as I read through the Mini magazines on the kinds of things I could do to personalise the car. I went to Mini events, like the London-to-Brighton Mini Run and the 40th anniversary party at Silverstone, and looked over the show cars and private cars that were parked up, as well as the stands and auto-jumble traders. I bought the whole set of JCG brushed aluminium door furniture (window winders, door pulls, etc.) and chrome accessories (bling!), as well as doing more mechanical upgrades like vented discs and four-pot calliper for both front and read brakes, and a full-length straight-through (manifold to rear ‘box) DTM-style exhaust system (ooh, that was awesome!).

This was the start of my love affair with tinkering and messing with anything that’s standard to make it personal for what and how I like it. 

At the same time as mod’ing my Mini I also started to work in web design. Here I worked with HTML code and WYSIWYG editors. I constantly tried new designs and different approaches to layout, colours, structure, brand implementation, etc. I was customising what I could, using tools and ideas around me. If I saw a website I liked I’d look at the code, see how it was done, and try it for myself. Then I’d improve it to work how I wanted it to, where I wanted it, and why I wanted it.

Fast forward to 2007 when I joined Bournemouth University (BU) as a Learning Technologist and started working with the likes of Blackboard, TurningPoint, Echo360, etc. Note how I use names of the companies rather than more generic tool names like VLE, audience response, lecture capture? These were systems I had to use out-of-the-box (i.e. no personalisation or customisation), as were other systems within BU. I had opportunities to be more creative and enterprising in other fields and other aspects of my work, but these were highly controlled and locked-down systems that offered little ability to personalise or customise.

For something like Blackboard I had to work in the defined structure and implementation of the installation, but I settled in to it because I had the ability to use it creativity when it came to different approaches to presenting learning materials, online activities, offline resources. I worked with some amazing people in the Business School to develop innovative (for us, at least) assessment techniques (group working, case studies, multimedia, time constrained papers, Box of Broadcasts, etc.) and different ways to utilise and customise Blackboard within the structure of a defined and prescribed ‘default template’.

Today I still have to work within constraints of learning management systems, both internally at Warwick and externally with, for example, FutureLearn. Sometimes the rigidity frustrates me (whilst I fully appreciate the reason for it) and sometimes it’s a welcome boundary with which I can fall back on as a base-line to build on/from. I use WordPress on a number of hosted and self-hosted websites (like this one and my 100 books project), which gives me some freedom to customise how and what I present, although I admit to leaving the innards well alone in case it gets messed up with the next WordPress update.

Customisation, for me, has been key to my own development and understanding of what kind of learning technologist I want to be. Yes, a defined and rigid system is needed in order for it work for everyone, all the time. Yes, the boundaries are required in order that, for example, students. Yes, it annoys me when systems change without warning or without input from the users (e.g. Twitter ‘like’ option), whether they’re free social systems or expensive VLEs (has anyone ever had timely updates to problems identified in Blackboard? How long did you have to wait for the next ‘patch’ which would fix it? Months? Years?).

This customisation has spilled over into other aspects of my life too. I’ve customised by smartphone with a custom cover, I’ve got stickers over the back of my tablet, but this isnt’ really customising the device, just changing the look of it. Yes, I can move apps around and group them together how I think I want to use the, but this isn’t customising it, is it. I think the last time I customised a computing device was when I opened my old ZX Spectrum and did something inside (add extra RAM, I can’t remember).

I’ve loved reading about projects recently where people have ‘hacked’ furniture and repurposed them. Over the festive break this year we’ll be doing this too as a present to our boys (aged 5 and 6), using Ikea Kallax shelving units as base and storage area under a bed, also providing a play space underneath for the kids. For my other boy we’re going to hack his bunk bed and make a fort (like this, but not as full-on – I know my limits). We’re also looking at different ways to create outdoor living space in the garden from different structures – how about a railway carriage (within reason, not sure my neighbours want a full-size one in the garden, even if it did fit!)?

Something else I’ve customised is the humble photo frame. Taking a standard 3-photo frame I removed the glass and stuck a couple of flat Lego base-units in each frame. Each month, sometimes more often, we take it down and the boys make something new to put in each aperture. Again, it wasn’t something I thought could be customised, but now I know I can I love it and see other standard objects in a way that makes me think about how I can customise it, make it work better, for me.

I have also customised my own learning. I use my network (PLN) on social sharing platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. to not only source topics or articles or research or courses that interest me, but also to engage with them (you!) as I read, learn, interact, engage, and progress through the resource(s). I’ve taken part in a number of MOOCs now (#OpenBadgesMOOC and #ocTEL and #EDCMOOC) and have enjoyed the experiences, both positive and negative. I can pick up these courses up pretty much when I please, and drop them if something else takes my attention. Being flexible allows me to fit more into my life. You might say it diverts my attention too much (you could be right) but if it works, and I’m learning new things about new subjects that benefit me personally and professionally, then why not? Shouldn’t more of us be doing it? I haven’t taken a formal course since my PG Cert in 2010, and that was the first real formal training since I graduated in ’96. I was planning on taking the MSc in Learning Innovation from Leicester, but was actually glad it didn’t run in the end; I’m just not ready ,or interested enough, to dedicate that much time to a formal course. Plus the fact I don’t think I want the formality a course like that dictates anymore.

I want / like the informality of connecting with people through online networks – it’s become a standard to how I think, being able to take something and mould to my needs. Finding new people or resources that go someway to fulfilling my needs is almost expected these days, and the ability to take it and adapt it (with proper attribution, of course!) is the norm.

That’s me: customising what I can to make it ‘work’ for me.

Image source: Daniel Go (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Interview Process #altc

From this year’s ALT conference I enjoyed (finally) meeting Wayne Barry, EdTechBook contributor, and chatting about his ALTC presentation.

Wayne’s presentation looked at a different way of interviewing candidates for Learning Technologist positions using standard questions and short presentations, but also the inclusion of a short role-play exercise. Each candidate is given advance notice that they will engage with an ‘academic’ who is interested in introducing elements of distance learning to their module. During the short exercise (many people took issue with the use of the term ‘role-play’) candidates will exhibit both knowledge of their discipline as well as the ability to listen, engage, problem solve, and debate with a member of the team taking the role of an academic.

So, how do you find out if someone will fit in to your office and team environment? Can you do this by just questions? Do competency based questions offer enough space for someone to fudge their way through the process, or rather offer the interviewers enough insight to see the tRuth behind the candidate?

This reminds me of this video, from Heineken: Job Interview. Slightly over the top, but you get the idea – by changing the process you find out many different things (hopefully good) about the candidates. Enjoy!

YouTube: Job interview at Heineken

Life’s a beach #blimage

So, I’ve been convinced (it didn’t take much) to write a 4th #blimage post, this time from
Kate Graham.

You can read all my #bliamge posts here, and find out more about the challenge and how to get involved (hint: find an image, write about it as part of a learning journey or story or experience).

I’m not a fan of cricket (which is what Kate has written about), but can appreciate how sport and a game like that can capture the passion and loyalty of a nation, especially when it’s going so very well, or so very badly, which is unfortunately how England seem to play. Kate’s challenge image, the beach scene above, is much more in keeping with my wandering soul / spirit and something that brings a lot of very strong emotions to the surface.

It is these emotions, as well as the image itself, that makes me accept the #blimage challenge here. Yes, I lived in Bournemouth for many years, just a 10 minutes walk from the wonderful sandy beaches for the last 12 years, before moving to the part of the country that is the furthest from the sea. We used to walk or cycle along the 7 mile promenade from Hengistbury Head past the two Bournemouth piers to Poole Harbour, sometimes getting the ferry to Studland and along the coast to Swanage. We’d often stop and get our feet wet, sometimes just sitting down and enjoying the sunrise or sunset.  

In recent years there have been some good quality cafes and restaurants popping up along the promenade or a short distance away from it – I was able to work with a few of them and provide web design and marketing services to them, so there was always a table there if I wanted to catch the atmosphere or have a drink or meal.

But the scene above also makes me think about how I view how I learn. The scene is open, empty, and inviting. It’s a canvas to do all sorts of things like swim, paddle, sunbathe, run, walk, cycle, fly a kite, kitesurf, etc. There are endless possibilities on this one stretch of beach.

That is how I like to learn. I’m not good in a fixed environment where I have no room to explore the boundaries or room to ‘breathe’. I am happy to work within boundaries set (either physical or not) but I don’t necessarily want to see them or be told where they are at the start – I’ll find them in my own time thanks.

I learn by doing, not by being told stuff. I’ll read (sometimes extensively) about something I’m interested in, but be totally turned off and tuned out if it’s not relevant or engaging. I’m happy to follow instructions, but I need to know why I’m being asked to do something, what I can / should obtain from the task or activity, how it can help me, and where I can expect to go from there as well as where it will take me.

It’s not about how easy the learning is, it’s about relevant the process and outcome is for what I want to achieve – admittedly I may not know this when I start, but if I’m engaged, I’ll work hard at it.

How about you? Do you follow along (blindly?) and hope the end justifies the journey, or do you need to know in advance where you’re going to end up?

And, for my next #blimage challenge. I love this image and I’ve used this on another blog (more about that later!), so see what you can make if it:

Another #blimage challenge
Darren Johnson (CC)

Header image source: Kate Graham

Reading: Digging Deeper into Learners’ Experiences in MOOCs

One aspect of working on MOOCs is that there is no clear way to measure it’s success. Do you use the stats and logs that indicate clicks and time-on-page, or look at the nature of the conversations and/or comments made?

That’s why this paper loaded to by George Veletsianos piqued my interest – is there something in here that can help me understand the metrics we need to use in order to measure the learning and/or success of a MOOC?

“Digging Deeper into Learners’ Experiences in MOOCs: Participation in social networks outside of MOOCs, Notetaking, and contexts surrounding content consumption.”

Unsurprisingly the authors highlights the lack of literature around MOOCs that look into the metrics of MOOCs that are not captured on the MOOC platform (EdX, Coursera, FutureLearn, etc.), notably the social engagements, note-taking, and content consumption. Something I’d not considered before is the “availability of large-scale data sets appears to have shaped the research questions that are being asked about MOOCs.”  It’s something I’ve wrestled with … are we asking the right questions about a course ‘success’, and do we have the right data to start with? I think not, on both counts. I would love to know more from learners on a MOOC, but the response rate on post-course surveys are typically low, typically completed by the ones who finished the course and enjoyed it. It’s the learners who signed up and didn’t visit the course, those who did visit the first step but then left, and those who dipped in and out that I really want to hear from. They have as much to say about the course, it’s content, it’s delivery, and it’s ‘merit’ as those who completed.

The paper concludes, rather disappointingly, by saying that “researchers need to dig deeper, and use an array of methodological tools to do so. Separately or together, each research method can lead to pragmatic suggestions to improve open teaching and learning through social, pedagogical, or technological approaches.” I shouldn’t be too surprised with the conclusion as there isn’t a good metric to define a MOOC or online courses’ success – it depends on what you define as the success (numbers of learners enrolled, numbers of learners completing, passed assessments, duration of study, post-course questionnaire, course reach, etc.)

Veletsianos, G., Collier, A., & Schneider, E. (2015). Digging Deeper into Learners’ Experiences in MOOCs: Participation in social networks outside of MOOCs, Notetaking, and contexts surrounding content consumption. British Journal of Educational Technology 46 (3), 570-587

Image source: Gabe Rosiak (CC BY 2.0)

What makes a good online learning experience?

Is it possible to define the qualities of what makes a good online learning experience, or a good MOOC? Is there a check list we could have pinned to the wall which we could use as we design and build our courses?

Here’s a few items I think the list needs, feel free to add your own ideas in the comments field below:

Presentation: Is the student able to relate to the subject and the presenter / educator? This is not always easy as the platform (Blackboard, Moodle, FutureLearn, Udacity, etc.) often controls how the materials are ‘presented’. Even with these constraints you do have options on designing your materials and laying them out in ways which make them easy to navigate or interact with. 

Accessible: Yes, there is web accessibility, but there is also ‘how easy is it to find your way around the materials’. Are there signposts in place at different points of the course to extra reading, areas for interaction and engagement, contact details, schedules, assessment points, etc.?

Interaction: You will probably have specific pinch-points in the course where you have designed and expect interactivity, but remember that students may want to interact or comment on other resources as they work their way through your materials. Consider adding functionality to enable students to do this (a dedicated forum for questions,or comments on each step?) and that someone from the course team will monitor these areas and is ready (and able?) to reply where necessary.

Connection: Remember that your students are not only geographically dispersed, but will have a range of learning styles, backgrounds, and availability. Not everyone can join your online chat or webinar at a certain time every week (it’s likely they work and have family commitments that take priority), just like they may not be able to access materials due to firewall issues. Distance learning students often say they don’t feel connected or part of the University or course because of these distances, so think about including some getting-to-know-you or group activities, give them opportunities to meet each other (virtually) and grow their own learning network (PLN).

Build for online: Re-using the same materials and design for an online course that you teach face-to-face will probably not work. Your existing materials and activities are designed with you as a focal point, where you can introduce, explain, highlight, and support students in a real-time environment. Online, things are different. Students will access and interact with the materials and each other asynchronously, therefore there will be delays between posts, requests, etc. of days or even weeks. Providing a link to a resource (PDF, PPT, etc.) should not be done even with face-to-face students (contextualise it, explain what it is and why they need it) and it’s even worse for learners at a distance: introduce each step and resources, explain what it is and why the student needs it, and provide an action to it (read, discuss, critique, analyse, share, etc.) to give it meaning.

Platform: Know what functionality your platform has (Blackboard, Moodle, FutureLearn, Udacity, etc.) and what you can use, where, and why. Consider each tool you’ll use to present materials as well as ask for engagement, and be sure the students have adequate instruction to use them if they’re new. Don’t use every tool in the box for the sake of making the course seem ‘modern’ or ‘interactive’ if there is no reason to do so. At the same time don’t ignore the tools available to you, just because you don’t know what they do – go find your Learning Technologist (or equivalent) and work with them during the process of designing your course – they’ll help you think about different tools or techniques available, explain what benefits they can offer you and your students, and help you implement and support them.

Value: For some this will be value of resources, for others it’ll be quality of videos produced and used. Consider each stage of the course, each resources you’ve included (core or recommended) and think about whether it is adding value to the learning experience, or not. If it’s going to cause a distraction, drop it. if it’s interesting but tangental to the learning journey, then consider moving to an area that students can go if they want more information.

Visual elements: Don’t forget that images or diagrams  (infographics?) can help showcase an idea, concept, or theory just as much as words can. Not everything need an image, but something that could link or help structure the course materials may well aid students and their understanding of the subject.

Journey: The learning journey should not just be about getting from the start to the assessment (and passing). There should be goals set at different pinch points where students can show understanding or critical evaluation of themselves and the materials. I prefer courses that don’t have exams (that’s because I always did badly under exam conditions) and alternative ways of assessment should be explored. Admittedly there are restrictions on what you can and can’t do with assessments that are possibly based on the platform, programme, or QAA (Quality Assurance Agency), but we shouldn’t stop thinking about improving and enhancing the learning journey and learning experience with different assessment methods.

Time: Do you make resources and materials available all at once or release them over a published time frame? Do you allow students to work ahead of the rest or keep them back so they engage at the same time as everyone else? Do you have objectives or webinars that require synchronous learning; what do you do if these don’t meet with individual and personal schedules? Do you provide alternatives?

Testing: Never underestimate how much time testing your course should take, and always get someone who has not worked on it to try it out. Test links, embedded media, tools, logins, interactions, assessments, etc. from both the view of how the students will view and interact with them, and how the course team (academic and administrative) will support your students.

What makes a good online course?

Image source: Kristina Alexanderson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


Learning the Netflix way

I’ve just read the post by Donald Clark called ‘What does ‘learning’ have to learn from Netflix?’ which has resonated with much of my own thinking from recent work and discussions I’ve been having on Twitter.

I signed up for one of the free 1 month trials of Netflix when it was first available in the UK. I enjoyed it, then cancelled it. I’d got what I wanted. Then I realised I wanted access to the binge-watching phenomenons like House of Cards, Breaking Bad, and the one that started them all, 24. But more than this, as Donald mentions in his post, I wanted access to the kind of programmes I like and at my convenience. I am not always available at 9PM every Thursday to watch the latest instalment of my favourite show(s), just like I don’t actually want to wait a full week for the next episode. I first watched 24 on DVD, not Sky, so I did binge-watch the show, usually 4 full episodes a night (or 1 DVD) and went to bed wired for the next marathon 24-fest.

So, if we’re changing our viewing habits, are we changing our learning habits (as pointed out by Donald)?

Yes. Consider Donald’s points: 

  • Timeshift. We want to watch what we want, when it’s convenient to us. In education MOOCs have enabled some of this to happen, but what is on offer is quite thin on the ground and only available at certain periods, which still mean we’re locked down to the information provider (note: not platform provider) to offer the course.
  • Delivery. If data is able to drive delivery of streaming video services like Netflix then why not use our knowledge of students and their learning habits to enable a system (or institution) to deliver fully flexible learning course (degrees, etc.) in a more flexible manner. Do they really have to start in September? With more students dropping out at 18 years old for a gap year, or more people taking distance learning degrees while they work, these courses could theoretically start any time.
  • Content. By being more flexible in delivery methods and start times, the content can be more flexible and more up to date. They could and should be more relevant, more in-depth, and more appropriate to the specific learning outcomes and learning journeys.
  • Multi-device. Like Donald I watch Netflix via various different modes, depending on where I am and who I’m with. The same goes for how I learn and interact online, whether it’s a formal course or MOOC. If this is what we do, then it stands to reason current students are also using their devices like this, not to mention what the next few cohorts of students will be doing. Flexibility to watch what we want, not just how, is key to the success of Netflix and other streaming services. The same will be true of the first truly flexible learning experiences students have.
  • Global. Back to the MOOCs again, but it’s a no-brainer that in times of global connectivity we live and work in, that we’re also learning globally too. Courses have to reflect not only the reach of the learning resources to a global audience, but also reflect the subtle (and not so subtle) differences a global community and the different cultures will and can bring to the learning experience.

For me the comparison between streaming video services like Netflix and education is too far apart to be relevant. But it wont be that way for long. Talk of making MOOCs ‘aligned’ and ‘meaningful’ for a participatory institution are all around us.

“Of course, young people are watching way less TV these days, TV is dying, and when they do watch stuff, it’s streamed, at a time that suits them. Education has to learn from this. I’m not saying that we need to replace all of our existing structures but moving towards understanding what the technology can deliver and what learners want (they shape each other) is worth investigation.” Donald Clark

We are very close to a cross-road where traditional learning institutions will need to make a choice, just like traditional broadcasters are now. The likes of the BBC have not only an immense back catalogue of programmes it could drop into it’s online iPlayer, and be in a position to run with the up-and-coming streaming video services, but it could also start developing high quality online/streaming first options. Other broadcasters may not have the opportunities of the BBC, just like  many universities may not be in a position to offer online courses in a more flexible or bite-sized chunks.

But those universities that take on board lessons being learned in other industries may just get ahead of the curve and be stronger in the market place? By breaking away from the boundaries set many years ago for the traditional 18 year-old-school-leaver, and offering more flexible and dynamic course options, learning and degree schemes could actually see a resurgence in interest?

I’ll let you make your own mind up about why I chose the image for this post … !

Image source: Dave Dugdale (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Draw Me: A History of MOOCs

Zuerst nimmt uns Audrey Watters auf eine kleine Zeitreise mit: zu den ersten Anbietern von Fernlernkursen (”correspondence courses”). Vor allem die Art Instruction School, gegründet 1914, hat es ihr mit ganz bezaubernden Werbeplakaten und -texten angetan. “Draw Me” war ein Slogan aus dieser Zeit. Von “Draw Me” ist der Bogen schnell gespannt zu “Code Me”, mit dem MOOC-Anbieter heute ihre Kunden suchen. Und dabei, ganz nebenbei, so Audrey Watters, ihre Sicht der Dinge verbreiten.

“The parallels between the correspondence courses of the early twentieth century and the MOOCs (their venture-funded variety, I should be clear) are quite indicative of how we have long viewed educational “content delivery,” particularly when developed and delivered by a for-profit enterprise.”
Audrey Watters, Hack Education, 20. Januar 2015