Friday, March 25, 2011

Describing ICT-based learning designs

Chapter 5 in the Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age book looks at describing ICT-based learning designs, by Ron Oliver et al. The authors make the observation that there now appears to be a proliferation of reusable learning resources available but little in terms of guidance or workflows of effective pedagogical practice in using these learning object and it is this that teachers in fact are craving.

These workflows are more generally defined as learning designs. Learning designs have four key elements - learner engagement, acknowledgement of the learning context, learner challenge and provision of practice, as defined by Boud and Prosser.

The chapter attempts to establish a framework for defining learning designs. A learning design topology is defined consisting of four key kinds of learning designs - Rule-based, incident-based, strategy-based and role based. Each of the learning designs are described first generally in terms of a Domain Specific Modelling Language and then shown how this language can be used in an example use case.

I think the ideas here are good - it is very similar to what people like Davina Hern├índez-Leo have been doing  with the IMS LD specification - creating best practice templates for specific pedagogical contexts.

Coming from modelling background I am still trying to figure out how this would fit into a metamodel hierarchy. I suppose it would have been good if the authors based their Domain Specific Modeling Language on some well defined generic language (e.g. MOF or BNF).

Monday, March 21, 2011

What are learners looking at in Moodle?

Today I came across a paper by Gergely Rakoczi from the Vienna University of Technology. The paper investigated what students look at on the Moodle User Interface using eye tracking technology.

First thing to say about the paper is that I found it great that this kind of work is going on. Second thing to say is that the study was quite limited in that it addressed only a vanilla Moodle instance (how many production moodles out there use the vanilla styling?) and the sample was tiny - 10 people. In assessing something as complex and with as much variance as a LMS the sample size would have to be a multiple of this sample size before we would be able to derive any interesting conclusions. Anyway here is some of the key findings:
Hide Functionality
  • How do students navigate - many participants uses the breadcrumbs and the "my courses" block, but the majority are still going for the trusty browser back button.
  • How do I logout - A lot of participants had difficulty finding the logout button initially - surprising because its in a pretty standard position - top left. The author equates this difficulty to the fact that the user's name (which links to the profile page) is beside the logout button.
  • Confusion over the hide functionality - the study found that there is a lot of confusion with new users with regard to the hide topic/week functionality. This is presented as a white box to the user. I have to agree with the authors here. The presentation of this functionality is poor. A lot of people thought the box was for checking off when a topic is done. Well thats kind of what the white box infers. I think we need to rethink this icon.
The author goes into detail on how to create eye-catching material. These guidelines are pretty general and I am not sure how it relates to the findings in the paper.

The paper was a nice light read - I look forward to the next installment with a much larger sample size and some statistical analysis - please!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Jay Cross - Working Smarter

I came across Jay Cross's new Working Smarter iniative today - Jay is setting up a new service that will bring together posts that around the working smarter theme. So what is working smarter, well Jay outlines it as:

Working smarter begins with a holistic view of performance. The bottom line is getting more done and doing it faster. 
Working smarter involves trusting individuals to do what’s right and giving them the latitude to do it. Empowering people to take action rests on clearing obstacles out of the way and incorporating next practices into workflow. Motivation, respect, and aspirations play a role. It’s about cultivating a healthy learning ecology.

Nice post Jay - I left you a comment:

I have a similar problem – I subscribe to nearly 100 feeds on google reader and some of those are aggregations of feeds that google reader is all ready capturing. When I have time to read whats in my google reader account I generally spend my time filtering out what I want to read later (later rarely comes) from the hundreds of items captured each day. I have known for a long time this isn’t sustainable but just when I think about deleting a feed, a gem appears in that feed and I change my mind.
I am not sure what is the correct way to go here – perhaps some sort of service that knows what is important and not important to me would be good. Thats not here yet, so in the meantime perhaps I should just use aggregator services – Working Smarter, OLDaily, Elearning learning (top rated items) etc.
I look forward to your new service Jay 

Designing courses for e-learning

Chapter three in the Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age book, Rhona Sharpe and Martin Oliver take a look at the fundamentals in designing a course for e-learning.

Sharpe and Oliver firstly look at where you are going to start when you are faced with the mountain that is course development. Typically all that lands on your desk are the learning outcomes for the new course. Okay its not all that bad - learning outcomes do have a lot of information squeezed into them. Information can range from the topics to be covered, the type and level of knowledge and can also specify how students demonstrate competency.

Armed with learning outcomes we can start to think about designing our course. For this Sharpe and Oliver outline Bigg's term constructive alignment as a way to align outcomes to learning activities and assessment tasks. Another important note made regarding the course development is that students will only learn what is being assessed, they are exam driven. Ramsden notes 'from our students' point of view, assessment always defines the actual curriculum'. If you have ever lecturered you will know the most common question is "will this be on the exam?", answer no and no matter how well you dress the "interesting" topic up you will see student brains switching off.

Models guiding course design are examined, Salmon's five-stage model recieves particular attention:
  1. Assess and motivation 
  2. Online socialisation
  3. Information exchange
  4. Knowledge construction
  5. Development
More details can be found at

One aspect noted in the chapter regarding course design is the amount written about how a course designer should create a course and very little on how it is actually done. They note in looking at design decisions by actual practioners that decisions are generally made based on pragmatics (e.g. class size has got too big for one on one tutorials - technology is used to provide some teaching support).

Sharpe and Oliver look in detail at the a typical scenario when creating an e-learning or blended learning course - this is typically a redesign of a course which include:
  1. what was a success on the current course?
  2. Analysing how to integrate face-to-face with online
  3. Course design should make explicit their underlying principles
  4. Course design is an iterative process
This was an interesting chapter - with a lot of good links. It is very much an overview of the literature on designing a course but a good starting point to learn more about designing e-learning courses.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Designing Learning Activities

I am doing well - I read the second chapter of Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age last night and I am all ready blogging about it. Lets see if I can keep this up.

This chapter is by Helen Beetham (also an editor of the book) and looks at designing learning activities around how people learn, which was a central theme of all the perspectives of learning looked at in the previous chapter.

Beetham identifies issues in Activity design that must be considered when considering the activity to suit a learning context include: authenticity of the activity, formality and structure, retention/reproduction versus reflextion/internalization, role and importance of other people and who is in control of the learning event - is the instructor directing learning or can the learner go on a voyage of self-discovery.

The chapter mentions an interesting learning activity classification defined by Jonassen that fits in with the learning perspectives discussed in the previous chapter - rule-based (help learners recall rules), incident-based (constructivism - devise own rules for dealing with incident), strategy-based (also suits constructivism) and role-based (situative).

Typically learning activities will be designed for learning outcomes and (in an ideal world) designed for needs of learners. A learning outcome will typically define the kind of activity that the learner must be able to undertake. Designing for learners looks to design the activity around the learner and their differences. A challenge here is knowing which differences affect learning and should be considered when designing learning activities.

One aspect of the chapter I did really like was the that Beetham looks at the question around we should design learning activities that adapt to facilitate the learners or should we challenge the learners to use different learning methods. Personally I think we should facilitate the learner as much as possible at the beginning of the learning process and if the learner is having difficulty. As the learner becomes more of an expert in the subject material the scaffolding should drop away challenging the learner more and more with diverse types of learning activities developing their meta-learning skills. One might challenge this saying - is it important how a surgeon learned how to do a procedure or is it just important that he has learned it the best possible way he or she could have to do that procedure. If I want the surgeon to learn a procedure in the most effective and efficient way I should provide the learning activity that best suits the surgeon's learning needs ensuring the most efficient and arguably the most effective learning. This might be true, but the medical profession makes technological and methodological advances all the time. What happens when a new procedure is developed and learning it is only provided through one medium - a medium that doesn't suit the surgeon. As the surgeon has such limited experience learning using this alien medium it may lead to ineffective and inefficient learning. I would consider this a problem if I was the surgeons first patient.

The chapter believes in thinking of the learning activity outside of the medium for delivering it first. Then looking at how technology can facilitate the activity - this may indeed involve using technology in a way that was not envisioned by the designer.

A nice follow on from the first chapter - now on to chapter number three.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Learning and e-learning - Mayes & DeFreitas

Bad blogger, bad blogger. I have been a bad blogger of late, not posting anything in many months. I have been pretty busy with work and life in general. I needed something to kick start my blogging again - I think I have found it.

Last week I got a delivery from amazon, in it was two books that I really was looking forward to reading - the first one is Jay Cross's Informal Learning and the second is Rethinking Pedagogy in for a Digital Age by Beetham and Sharpe. In reading these books I thought - I really should practice what I preach and engage in a bit of reflection - so I turn to my trusty blog and I want to tell you all about the first chapter in the Beetham and Sharpe book - Learning and e-learning - the role of theory, written by Mayes and De Freitas.

The fundamental question asked at the start of the chapter is; 'are there really e-learning models or is the e of e-learning just a enhancement of traditional learning much like paper and pen was in the end of the nineteenth century?' e-Learning does bring some value to the learning process, providing for learning opportunities that would otherwise be impossible but is the actual way we learn different than say how we learned twenty years ago? Mayes and DeFreitas argue what we see with e-learning is a new model of education rather than a new model of learning.

One of the central messages of the chapter is that although there are a variety of learning theories out there, they are essentially complimentary. The authors nicely categorise the theories into the following perspectives:

  • Associationist Perspective - learning through the gradual building of patterns of associations and skill components. This perspective encompasses associationism, behaviourism and connectionism. It is this perspective that Gagne's task hierarchy fits nicely into - tasks get increasingly complex and build on others. In the task hierarchy a learner doesn't move on from one level until that component is understood.
  • Cognitive Perspective - This perspective sees knowledge acquisition as moving knowledge from a declarative form to a procedural form. As a learner becomes an expert the component skills become automatised - conscious attention is no longer needed to monitor low-level aspects of performance. Key activities here are interactions with material systems and concepts, and discussion with peers to develop understanding and competence. This perspective highlights that new knowledge must be built on something the learner all ready knows - educators cannot simply get the learners to memorise expert knowledge. Building knowledge structures from solid foundations must be done using problem-solving activity and feedback.
  • Situative Perspective - This perspective embraces social learning and the fact that learning must be personally meaningful. 
The authors see these perspectives as complementary but a different perspective needs to be applied to a given e-learning context.  Each perspective addresses a different learning need as the learner looks to gain mastery in a given topic. e-Learning technology can support the pedagogical approach.

Okay so that is chapter one down. Hope to get a few more chapters done over the next week. Comments most welcome.