Learning from massive open social learning

Learning from massive open social learning

There has been lots of chatter and talk over the last two years on MOOCs.  One of the challenges of MOOCs is that they lack the social interaction that traditional small campus based courses offer.

MOOC providers such as Coursera and Futurelab are recognising this and starting to build in social networking to their massive online courses.

The recent OU publication on innovating pedagogy talks about massive open social learning.

Massive open social learning brings the benefits of social networks to the people taking massive open online courses (MOOCs). It aims to exploit the ‘network effect’, which means the value of a networked experience increases as more people make use of it. The aim is to engage thousands of people in productive discussions and the creation of shared projects, so together they share experience and build on their previous knowledge. A challenge to this approach is that these learners typically only meet online and for short periods of time. Possible solutions include linking conversations with learning content, creating short-duration discussion groups made up of learners who are currently online, and enabling learners to review each other’s assignments. Other techniques, drawn from social media and gaming, include building links by following other learners, rating discussion comments, and competing with others to answer quizzes and take on learning challenges.

When developing online learning, the lesson we can take from MOOCs and as outlined in the OU report is the importance of adding online social elements to courses. We need to ensure that these social aspects are as much a part of the learning journey as the content and the activities.

An expectation that these social elements will “just happen” is a flawed approach, and as with other aspects of the learning design, the social components of an online course must be thought about, designed and delivered in a similar way to the learning and assessment components.

Activities can be designed to motivate participants to engage with each other and create social networks within those taking part. Obviously with a large number of learners (such as you find in MOOCs) you will probably find this easier. With smaller cohorts it will be significantly more difficult.

It can also help embedding aspects of the course into existing social networking services and tools, but it is useful to audit which of these tools, if any, the participants actually use external networks.

Social aspects of learning are important to many learners and that is one of many reasons why learners choose to attend a programme of study at a physical location such as a college. The social aspects of an online course are not a replacement for face to face social interaction, but are for many learners an important aspect of an online course and will help support and motivate them as they go through the online course.

Image Credit: Empty by Shaylor

Webinars, FELTAG Confusion

It is no wonder that many in the FE sector are confused over the implications of FELTAG.

In my previous blog post I quoted the SFA response to FELTAG which includes the following comment.

This is activity which replaces face to face lecturing time including webinars, but not time spent on researching information on the web. 

I read this as

These are activities, including webinars, which replaces face to face lecturing.

However it should be read as

This is activity which replaces face to face lecturing time and webinars.

If you read the Provider Support Manual from the SFA which has more detail it states:

333. The following are examples of online learning:

  • Learning materials that the learner accesses on a college virtual learning environment such as Moodle
  • Video demonstrations or Powerpoint presentations accessed outside the classroom
  • Structured learning packages that are not facilitated by a lecturer.

334. The following are examples of activities that do not constitute online learning and should not be included in calculation of the Percentage of online delivery:

  • A video of a practical demonstration that is shown in the classroom with the lecturer present
  • Work undertaken on a computer with a lecturer present
  • An online webinar delivered by a lecturer
  • Homework assessments that are undertaken on-line
  • Email/telephone or online tutorials or feedback discussions.

Webinars would include using tools such as Adobe Connect, Blackboard Collaborate, Big Blue Button and Google Hangouts.

The SFA responds to FELTAG

Tablets and phones by Zak Mensah

Following the publication of the FELTAG report and the somewhat confusing response from BIS, across the FE sector there has been a lot of discussion about the implications of FELTAG, the 10% online delivery particularly getting a lot of attention.

I have attended a lot of events and meetings where we have discussed FELTAG, and though there was a lot of positive comments about ensuring our learners gained the necessary digital skills for future employment, the challenges of ensuring our staff have the necessary skills and training to deliver on this often came to the fore. In addition the 10% dominated many of the discussions, partly as it wasn’t clear what was online and what wasn’t? Most people were sure that “searching the web for information” was not online delivery, whereas computer-mediated content and assessment probably was. What was less clear was if discussion forums or webinars counted towards the online 10%.

This week the SFA released their response to FELTAG, and as one of the major funding bodies for Further Education this has been eagerly awaited in the anticipation that they would clarify and clear up the implications from FELTAG.

We now need to record on the ILR for the proportion of the Scheme of Work which is delivered “online”.

The 2014 to 2015 individualised learner record (ILR) includes a field which asks for the proportion of the curriculum design (scheme of work) delivered by computer-mediated activity rather than by a lecturer. This is activity which replaces face to face lecturing time including webinars, but not time spent on researching information on the web. 

It is good to see the clarification that webinars are considered to be online and as expected that researching on the web isn’t.

However it will be interesting to understand in more detail what is included and what isn’t. I consider all the following could be used to replace face to face lecturing time.

  • Having a discussion online using a forum on a VLE, or within a Google+ community.
  • Researching using online and digital collections, ie not using Google and the web, but using specific digital resources, such as an e-book library; the British Library Newspapers Archive; a collection of online journals.
  • Creating a blog and commenting on the blogs of others.
  • Having a discussion on Twitter, using a single hashtag.

The SFA also clarifies what they understand by the 10%.

We are not expecting providers to convert 10% of learning delivery in each programme of study ‘en bloc’ to online to meet a ‘directive’. Rather, we are encouraging providers to establish a strategy to determine where the adoption of a greater ‘blend’ of delivery and assessment types adds most value to a learning programme…

There was some discussion that the 10% could be an aggregated 10%, however the statement from the SFA implies they are expecting every programme to adopt blended learning in some format.

The challenge will be designing, developing and delivering the computer-mediated activity to meet this 10%. Unless the staff have the necessary skills, it will be a difficult process. It is one thing to use learning technologies for the odd activity here and then, it’s another thing to plan and schedule in 54 hours of online delivery into a 540 hours programme. The response from the SFA does indicate that colleges shouldn’t just convert the 10%, but it is clear they are expecting providers to strategically establish processes for implementing 10% (or more) where it “adds value” to a programme.

In many cases I would suspect that some courses already are meeting the 10%, it’s just that it isn’t part of the formal scheme of work. In this instance, the challenge will be for the teaching staff, how they will reduce their face to face time by 10%.

The other response from the SFA is that they will be looking at current use of online delivery this year, combine with the IRL information from 2014-15, to then get the data that “will be used to gauge the current volume of online delivery and establish a baseline to inform funding policy development and implementation for future years.”

The response to this has to be either, start now, don’t wait… make sure you train the staff. Though I am sure some providers may think that if they don’t start the process of change, the policy might disappear in the future…

It is good that we are getting clarification and the real value of FELTAG is getting the message out that the use of learning technologies should be used where it adds value to learning and improves the learning experience.

Image Credit: Tablets and phones by Zak Mensah

Taking the time for ALT-C 2014

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Last year I missed ALT-C, the Association of Learning Technologies annual Conference, as I had literally just started at Activate Learning. Though the conference coincides with the start of the academic year in FE, I did manage this year to attend the second day at the conference.

This has been for me for over ten years one of the best conferences on learning technologies, the topics, issues and subjects that are covered are inspiring, informative and certainly make you think about what you do and what you are going to do.

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The sessions at this year’s conference have been just as inspiring and as good as I have seen in previous years. I particularly enjoyed Catherine Cronin’s keynote and the session from Dave White.

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As well as the informative sessions, it is also good to make contact with fellow learning technologists from HE, FE and other sectors. Sometimes the conversations over coffee are as useful and interesting as the sessions in themselves.

It’s a pity that I could only make one day this year, but I certainly am going away with lots to think about and follow up over the next few weeks.

news and views on e-learning, ILT and tech stuff in general…

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