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How do MOOCs compare?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 27 Mar 2019, 16:42
From E-Learning VI

Fig.1 Unexpanded mindmap using 'SimpleMinds' on 'How do MOOCs compare'.

There are tens of thousands of Massive Open Online Courses available. Their proliferation increasingly requires some means to differentiate types, to standards, and by review. Undoubtedly branding will have a role to play: it being easier to choose because the subject is delivered on a known and  trusted platform, such as Coursera, Udemy or FutureLearn.

What are they brands though? Like a well-known publisher such as Dorling-Kindersely? Or a brand of cornflakes? Courses are often the product of a specific university, but does this help when a course will vary also by faculty, and in particular by the role and lead taken by a subject matter expert.

The variables are considerable.

There are a couple of review sites which aggregate MOOC lists, such as MOOC List and CourseTalk. These, like reviews on Amazon, rely upon participants of a course to come in a post. I think of it as the TripAdvisor for e-learning. How reliable are these? It'll take years to bed in and impact on the product.

Meanwhile, as I still do several MOOCs in parallel I am trying to think about the kind of criteria:

  1. The Platform Provider
  2. Funding
  3. The Subject
  4. Audience 
  5. Champions
  6. Objective
  7. Brand
  8. Platform (Technical features)
  9. Cost
  10. Production
  11. Institution
  12. What next?

1. The Platform Provider

There are too many for one person to consider. And ample complexity requiring parameters. Some are not, or are no longer Massive and Open because they are closed, exclusive and paid for. Udemy has many thousands of short courses online, all with a price for participation, self-paced and lacking a sizable cohort to generate valuable 'connectedness' and 'collaboration', both important, identified theories of learning that have a significant part to play in e-learning. Funded by venture capital Udemy needs cash flow. EdX comes from Ivy League US universities Harvard, MIT and Berkeley offering undergraduate and postgraduate level, term long courses at a demanding academic level. They have no UK equivalent: neither Oxford or Cambridge have come on board. Although Edinburgh is on both EdX and FutureLearn. Whereas LSE and a few other top UK players are yet to have a presence. FutureLearn is a new, though rapidly expanding player: a wholly owned subsidiary of the Open University with partner institutions from around the globe, typically the UK and Commonwealth Countries, though with three partners from China too. It is the platform I am most familiar with having complete six MOOCs with another four on the boil. They make it look easy and I love learning in conversation with others. The Khan Academy is aimed at schools, while the likes of TED lectures, iTunesU and podcasts are all lectures online in one form or another, rather than complete courses with clear steps towards achieving specific learning objectives.

I am attempting to compare platforms, approaches and institutions by comparing delivery of MOOCs on Climate Change. There are probably a dozen, all variations on a theme, though the science shouldn't be different, even if the delivery is. They are: Exeter on FutureLearn, Melbourne, San Diego, Penn and British Columbia. I studied geography as an undergraduate so feel better able to form a judgment. 

2. Funding

Funding is complex, but it matters because 'he who pays the piper, plays the tune.' Largely funded by VC money the US MOOC providers are pressured to take fees, seek donations and sell certificates and other services. To a Brit used to the BBC anything with advertising in it, especially in relation to learning, smells of hogwash. On the other hand, branding and open sponsorship may be a necessary way forward. Even Wikipedia cannot do it for free. Once again, my knowledge is in the first instance at first hand as a 'participant' who has studied 'at a distance' with the Open University and paid for it, who has taken courses as CPD the traditional way at evening and weekend workshops, though also online by subscription. I have even paid heftily for a formal assessment which gained me a distinction and 10 credits towards a university degree. 

There is no 'free' learning: it is financed somehow. Learning takes time and therefore to plan, produce, put online and support. Even where the cost is carried internally as the learning is seen to have promotional or reputational value, it is coming from someone's budget. The relationship between the OU and the BBC, and the BBC and other British institutions is an interesting one as the assets the BBC creates by definition are owned by the tax payer so should UK citizens pay twice for something they have already paid for? The BBC though, like many others, create and provide content for use in learning under a Creative Commons licence. 

Funding, in tertiary education, comes from many sources, not least government subsidy, grants for research and sponsorship. Creation of Open Learning meets criteria, especially in relation to research, to publicise and share research findings. The dry academic paper is being superseded by, or at least complemented by, online offerings: a podcast at least an Open Educational Resource (OER) at best. 

3.The Subject

Who decides on the subjects to 'publish' as a MOOC? Publishers and broadcasters make choices for commercial reasons, often based on perceptions or demands of the audience. Are MOOCs create in response to student and participant needs and demands, or the product of individuals and faculties simply wishing to 'give it a go' or develop and share their pet subject with others. Is everything suitable for a MOOC? Is the subject, title and delivery considered in the kind of editorial committee that exist in TV, Radio or Print ... or is to more piecemeal and fragmented? Individuals and departments in universities traditionally operate in silos, indeed, many chose to be in academia, especially research, in order to focus on their niche interest without undue disturbance or interaction. I can see MOOCs that are championed by an individual, by a faculty and by a university. Inevitably some will be less well received than others. In all media there are hits and misses. Understanding what works, and what does not, is fascinating. Often it is like wondering why, in a small French town, one restaurant is packed, while the others are quiet. Though they are yet to produce them, I would expect and hope for MOOCs on art from St.Martins, MOOCs on sport from Loughborough. I would expect to see a MOOC on the First World War from Niel Ferguson. Why has a world leader, such as the Oxford School of Geography and the Environment, a no.1. faculty in the no.1. university thus far stayed away from MOOCs? They have podcast. They're on iTunesU. They stream some lectures and seminars. The next step is not so great. Or is it a case of a cautious institution taking careful note of research done on MOOCs. They are no panacea and maybe the step towards something that will have a better fit: exclusive, income generating ... 

4. The Audience

I resist calling those who do MOOCs students because their profile and behaviour of those I have done and studied is not of students, whether from school, at university or postgraduate. They are older, but not 'adult learners', far from needing the education, many have a Masters degree ... it is telling that discussions are anything but deferential towards the 'young' professors and even younger PhD students who present and moderate many of these MOOCs. Often the MOOC participant, who form the kind of TV audience that sits forward and interacts, is an MA student of the subject who may have ten or twenty years applied experience of the subject in business, government or teaching. For example, the MOOCs I am looking at on Climate Change always have vocal participants who have considerable experience 'in the field' for environmental agencies or oil companies. The academics are put on the spot, always rise to the occasion, and will surely learn from the experience as much as we 'students' do. Where therefore diversity and access? As TV producers know how in a digital world to cater for audiences of different ages and interests, so educators creating MOOCs will need increasingly to engage media professionals who know better how to target, appeal to and retain specific audiences. Whilst those creating MOOCs may wish to attract potential students to their undergraduate courses, I suspect that it is at best the teachers of such students, rather than A'level students who are getting involved. 

 5. Champions

Reputations of innovators in e-learning and whose talks go viral in a TED lecture become champions of online learning. Some become a brand that tens of thousands turn to. As free courses proliferate the bluntest and most effective branding is to have a champion, the educator at celebrity. We know that those with a TV profile with a following already will attract the most interest. In TV, even in corporate learning and development, the appeal of the broadcaster or presenter speaking on behalf of the educators is common place. Not all educators are broadcasters. It matters to have someone champion the course. If you want to study, for example 'Climate Change' and can choose between a dozen providers of a MOOC, who do you go with?

6. Objective

In formal learning objectives are the goal on which the learning is designed and assessments are undertaken. You are tested on what you are taught, and if you can prove that you have learnt what the material teachers you gain a grade of some kind. This in turn goes towards a qualification, or transferable credits towards a degree or diploma. This may appear clear, but there are other objectives at play: attracting students, even dissuading them if places are hugely oversubscribed. There are obligations to publish research. There are desires to join the 'e-learning race' and gain insights through doing even if it is not yet fully understood where the movement is headed. What does the course provider want from a MOOC? More students? Establishing or developing the reputation of an educator or department? Competing with others who are 'up there'? Because they have the funding? Vanity? Not to miss out?

7. Branding

The digital world is a free for all. It is competitive. Whatever you can imagine, someone is doing it. I was staggered to learn that the MOOC providers couldn't be named on the fingers of one hand. I think there are over 50 if you're counting and include various hybrids and anomalies. Many, many more if you venture into MOOCs that are not massive, or open ... say content created for internal use across a huge multinational. Sometimes these commercial sites and platforms are the most innovative, and of course, the best funded, for example, in supporting training in investment banking for brokers. Virgin produces e-learning for internal use - it is surely a natural step to create something open and online? The OU, with the BBC and at arms length FutureLearn makes a compelling, reputational sound brand. If anyone knows how to create e-learning that is attractive, appealing and of value this is the team. There are cultural differences though with MOOCs out of North America looking more like a multi-media version of Scientific American to the FutureLearn MOOC that is 'Look and Learn' - fun and accessible. 

8. Technical aspects of the platform

My expertise does not lie in picking apart and comparing the underlying technologies that support the different platforms. I can however relate to the discussions that have, for example, explained Facebook's success compared to MySpace ... that there were, or still are, underlying technical problems on MySpace that prevented its becoming as attractive as Facebook. I have taken and followed learning online since 2000 - joining the MA in Open and Distance Learning (MAODL) in 2001 while creating online learning through a web agency for commercial, broadcast and government clients. Our understand and aspirations for what was needed or could be achieved fell short of what bandwidths and the technology then could deliver, even if we spoke about 'stickiness', collaboration, likeminds and fun. 

9.Cost

The OU boasts that a multi-million BBC production such as 'The Blue Planet' is the kind of visual extravaganza it can now incorporate into, or complement with distance and online learning, a far cry from the black and white hippy in sandals presenting in front of a whiteboard as lampooned by Smith and Jones in the 1980s. It isn't as simple as saying costs, like those in the movie business, are divided between creation and distribution, though it is a useful starting point. In this instance the means of distribution is an interactive platform, that has certain affordances because of its underlying architecture and the skills, direction and motivation of the programmers. The content that is made available for, or put into this environment will vary widely based on the experience of the educators, the team they have around them, and how this is structured and led. In TV and print, a producer or publisher is the lead, or chair of such a group ... not the 'creative' whereas in academia the academic invariably feels they are the lead and should instigate decisions, sometimes without acknowledging that they have no expertise in 'external communications' or the platforms and approaches they want to adopt. Money is not set aside to use an external producer or production team, with sometimes, the results being self evident. Fine, perhaps, in a former age, for an internal audience of undergraduate students, but no longer adequate for a far more demanding open audience.

10. Production

Multimedia, which is what this is, draws on expertise that is a combination of skills that in the past would have been more easily denoted as radio, conference, print and TV. Production values and experience in all of these is required when creating online content because decisions should be taken in the context of the learning materials as to what will work best at different times, for different kinds of content. Also recognising the need for varieties of approach and making these appropriate. I have taken, or tried to take, modules that are back to back presenter to camera, as if listening and note taking for many hours is an adequate or doable learning process. On the other hand, I have been engrossed by an entirely 'gamified' Rosetta Stone as an iPad App - rich, complex, repetitive and at times tiresome, but effective as a language learning experience. Not all, or rather few educators, are natural broadcasters. Accepting their strengths in front of a lectern and not taking them out to walk and talk or present on location unless they can clearly do it, requires production skills. There is a language for conducting interviews using a single camera, and for recording multi-camera seminars. If the technician who sets up the kit has no understanding either of framing, or of editing, the result, however good the lighting and sound, will jar. These are all production values that need have to be bought in, or developed to a suitable standard inhouse. Audiences have expectations of certain practices across the media types. Poor practice in use of PowerPoint, for example, is not simply distracting ... people will quit a course on a whim. 

11. Institution

Increasingly leading players in many fields are coming to see that to offer open learning online is a natural progression from things they have already been doing for a decade: putting content online in websites. delivering short courses face to face, even recording podcasts for release as audio or video. There is less mystery behind how to create content and less need for owning and financing the platform. What we are seeing today, is the same transition that occurred as blogs migrated from do-it-yourself coded webpages in 1999/2000 through the first readymade platforms such as Diaryland and LiveJournal, to the 'off the shelf' ease and sophistication of WordPress. Indeed, for MOOCs, the commercial platform Udemy is offering a platform to commercial players.

Institutionally could early adopters trump the laggards? Might the likes of Phoenix and its global reach of associated universities trump traditional hubs of learning like Oxford and Cambridge which are currently proving reticent to engage? Or will inertia, reputation, funding, research and expertise see them grow into e-learning and their substantial foundations? 

Whilst it may appear that the Open University was made for the digital age, can a UK institution be a global player? What happens when an Oxford or a Cambridge can do what the OU does? Or don't they ever want to? Over the last 35 years the percentage of students at Oxford from private schools has shifted from 72/28 to 48/52 .... still not representative of the national split, but moving with determination to being accessible and diverse. Ironic then that staying out of online learning is perceived as necessary to preserve their tradition of tutorial based learning that by its very nature can only be elitist and exclusive. 

12. What next?

This is the hardest question and the one everyone wants an answer to. My guess is better than many another's because I've been riding this wave for several decades through linear video-based learning, to interactive and then online. Thanks to the OU over the last five years I now have the language to explain what has gone on and so make a reasonable stab at what comes next. There are several learning theories that can explain the way we learn, but only a few that describe learning approaches that are suited to the online experience: connected and collaborative learning are what makes MOOCs work. Although there are platforms too, such as QStream and Rosetta Stone that are in effect old-fashioned learning by rote or immersion with repetition constructing meaning. There are subjects, such as medicine and languages, which are suited to this approach. There will be increased fragmentation. We are, if you like, where the printed book was five hundred years ago. The book had yet to develop into multiple printed forms from the novel to the pop-up book (!) or diversify across every subject. Though change is far swifter, the variety of forms, by audience, by subject, by approach and duration is yet to flourish into the thousands of types I can envisage until there is a plethora of MOOCs as there are, or have been, magazines in the past. Some affordances are yet to be realised: feedback into FutureLearn, by way of example, is one way to measure and act upon ideas offered 'by the crowd'. Reasoned responsiveness will see the platform they have now move in regular steps into a different, and different forms. Logic suggests, to suggest an extreme example, that the tools, approaches and affordances of a platform catering to primary school children will be different to one aimed at PhD students. On the other hand, both of these groups find something on TV. With the exception of Ragdoll's 'In the night garden' which is loved by infants and PhD students in equal measure smile 

There will be unforeseen consequences. Will 'leasure learners', a stalwart of the OU migrate to MOOCs where there are no fees, just as much learning and a far greater sense of community engagement? Will MOOCs, as the OU does with an MAODE module, be something that runs in parallel with a formal module. In this instance students in the closed learning MAODE being joined by an open MOOC audience for a period of months. I can envisage an enlightened educator using his/her MOOC to support self-directed learning online, while also acting as the backbone for a formally taught series of classes where they use the readily package content of the MOOC to support their delivery. 

Those who want and need the kind of learning the MOOCs offered do not make up the bulk of the audience. How will those young people coming out of higher education who crave a university degree learn at this level when they don't have the funds to attend in person? How, when it comes to assessment, can they afford what remains an expensive process - sitting an exam or submitting a paper for formal scrutiny and grading under stringent criteria relating to potential plagiarism and to sustain standards?

For all their openness and credentials to support access and diversity do MOOCs simply 'preach to the converted' - refreshing an interest for those with a degree, or two, already? Where might a degree taught online be achieved instead of a set of A'Levels. Will it become normal to have more than one degree so raising the bar even higher for those who simply wish to get to first base? 

Is there, as was in the earliest stage of the Internet, a language bias with most MOOCs invariably delivered in English?

What else? 

Restricted access. Poor broadband. Lack of resources to run the MOOC. Lack of means, either time or money to do them. 

 Looking at it another, perhaps more subjective way, I'd like to know about:

  • The Wow factor
  • Usability
  • Changed Behaviours
  • Whether people act upon the learning experience
  • Learning Objectives achieved or not
  • Stickiness: Are people suitably engaged to stay with it and beyond?
  • Reputational
  • Mandate
  • Fun
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What's a MOOC from FutureLearn life? It's as easy as turning the pages of a book

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 7 Jan 2015, 11:12

My interest is e-learning. A decade ago it was web-based learning and before that it was online learning ... as compared to 'offline' learning on an intranet or in a computer learning centre. Across this period, whether on Laser disc, CD-rom, DVD, or online the key words to describe a successful piece of learning might include: easy to use, intuitive, effective, measurable results, gamified and impressive. 'Impressive' for a corporate client has always been important - they want to see how their money is spent. It matters to jazz a thing up, to find a way to deliver exception creative qualities in both the ideas and the execution of these ideas. In H.E. this 'impressiveness' has been thin on the ground the experience and view of H.E. that someone talking to camera with a slide show or whiteboard will do the job; it doesn't, not any more.

At the risk of writing a list I want to think about the 'enhanced learning' experiences that have impressed over the last 15 years:

Audi Shop DVD - Gold Award Winner at the IVCA awards. Stunning animated 3D animations of the engine. Like a 3D animated Dorling Kindersley

What are you like? - Gold Award Winner at the IVCA awards. An interactive life and career guide for teenagers done in the style of 'In Betweeners' and 'Some Girls' - nailed the audience with creative tone and visual effects. This won BAFTAs, the IVCA Grand Prix and NMA Effectiveness Awards. 

Ideafisher - first on floppy discs, then a CD. It did in the 1990s what various websites do today by linking vast collections of aggregated ideas and concepts that it filters out and offers up. The closest I've felt to AI for creativity.

MMC - online marketing courses. These were, for me, in 2010, an early example of stringing the face to camera lecture together with course notes to create a course. Still more like a self-directed traditional lecture series but the volume of content was admirable and some of the tools to control the viewing and reading experience were innovative.

TED Lectures. Are they learning? Or are they TV? Are they modelled on the BBC's Annual Reith Lecture series? Top of the Pops for the lecture circuit so tasters and Open Education Resources for grander things. 

Rosetta Stone - iPad App

Pure simplicity. I love these. I gave a year to an intermediate course in French, learnt some grammar and fixed several problems with my pronunciation. Like that game 'Pairs' you play as a child: a pack of cards with pairs of images on one side that you pair up. With considered, only sometimes over art-directed photography. Repetitive, always in the language you are learning. The next best thing to being dropped in amongst native speakers as an infant. It just works.

iTunesU - The History of English in One Minute.

Not so much a course as a series of stunning and memorable cartoon pieces that galvanise your interest. The next step is to follow through with a free trial course through OpenLearn and perhaps a nudge then towards a formal course with the Open University proper. 

FutureLearn - the entire platform.

As easy as reading a book. I've done eight of these and have another three on the go (two for review rather than as a participant). Across the myriad of subjects and offerings there are differences, all gems, but some are more outstanding than others. It is no surprise that those MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) produced by the Open University are some of the very best; it's what you'd expect with their experience. Other university's shine through for their confidence with the the platform too, for example, 'How to read a mind' from the University of Nottingham. 

MOOCs I love enough to repeat:

Start Writing Fiction: From the Open University

I may have been through this a couple of times in full and now dip back into it as I get my head into gear. I'll do this as often as it takes to get the thinking to stick. It's working. I read as a writer. I will interrupt a story to pick out how a succinct character description works.  I'm also chasing up a myriad of links into further Open University courses and support on creative writing. For example: next steps, creative writing tasters, and audio tasters on iTunes. 

MOOCs I may repeat next year ... or follow similar topics from these providers:

Word War 1: Trauma and Memory: From the Open University with the BBC

World War 1: Paris 1919 - A New World: From the University of Glasgow with the BBC

MOOCs I admire that target their academic audiences with precision:

How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham

Shakespeare's Hamlet: From the University of Birmingham

Web Science: How the Web is changing: From the University of Southampton

 

 

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Review, Reflect, Repeat ...

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 4 Jan 2015, 09:05

Fig.1. My mash-up from the Start Writing Fiction, OU and FutureLearn MOOC. 

Many weeks after the Open University MOOC on Future Learn closed 'Start Writing Fiction' I find I am returning to the many activities across the eight weeks to refresh, reflect, and build on my knowledge. As well as doing my bit for that 'community' by doing a few reviews (all assignments are peer reviewed). I completed the course in early December.

I return to reflect, to develop ideas, to be reminded of the excellent lessons I have learnt there, and in particular on how we use fact and fiction, whether consciously or not. In pure fantasy writing I find, inevitably, that I ground events in places I know from my youth, or have since researched. I use the hook of reality and my experiences on which to build the fiction. While currently I am embedded in what started as 90/10 fiction to fact I find it is increasingly looking like 95/5 in favour of fact as my imagination is close to the truth about a particular character and his experience of the First World War. All this from a simple exercise in week one called 'Fact or Fiction?' where we are asked first of all two write something that contains three factual elements and one fiction, and then to write something that contains three fictional elements and one factual. There are thousands of these now, many very funny, original or captivating. In week one, I'm guessing that around 10,000 got through the week. How many posted? There are 967 comments. This happens. It is an open course. The same applies for most web content: 95:5 is the ratio of readers to writers. Many people prefer not to do what they feel is 'exposing themselves' online. Why should they.

Anyway, this gives me reason to argue that it is an excellent idea to keep a blog of your OU studies. All of this can remain private, but at least, as I know have in this blog, when the doors close behind a module you can, months, even years later, return to key activities and assignments and build on the lessons you learnt. More importantly, as we all forget with such ease, we can keep the memory of the lessons fresh.

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An exploration of the MOOC

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 17 Dec 2014, 19:37
From E-Learning V

Fig.1. My mash-up of a correct answer to a quiz in the FutureLearn course from the University of Nottingham 'How to read a mind' that ties in directly to The OU course on the same platform 'Start Writing Fiction'.

As these MOOCs complete I have a few weeks over Christmas to reflect on a busy year of Moocing about and to catch up with regular coursework on L120, assisted with a necessary business visit to France.

My MOOCing is enjoyed all the more while reading Martin Weller's new book that covers MOOCs, 'The Battle for Open'. These are interesting times indeed.

With friends yesterday I evangelised about MOOCs on FutureLearn and found that what worked was to describe a MOOC in layman's terms as the equivalent of a hefty, hardback, coffee-table book you buy because you have an interest in a thing. Let's say it is architecture. The book is written by an expert with engaging photographs, charts and maps. From time to time you indulge yourself. A good MOOC is similar, different and better. Online you have an expert who leads the course. The introduce themselves, the course and perhaps the team. And then over the weeks they drop in to say something with a pre-recorded video piece or text. They may even appear from time to time to contribute to the discussion: though you may miss them if the thread is running into the hundreds. 

I explained how threaded discussions work: that there can be thousands of comments, but you know everyone is talking about the same thing. That if you don't get a point you can ask and someone offers a response. You may still not get it. So you ask again. Once again, there is a response. You may do this a few times. Even come back to it a day or so later, but you are likely, eventually to see something that says it for you - your fellow students have fulfilled the role of the tutor that a tutor could never manage: they only have one voice and they can't give up the huge number of hours - there is one thread in 'Start Writing Fiction' that runs to 7400 posts.

These are filtered in three useful ways: activity, following and your comments. In this way you either look only at the lates posts, the posts of those you are following: say 10 out of 23,000 or, of course, you look back at your comments.

It works.

As for my graphic? Does obscuring the writing assist with anything? By making an effort to read the question are you any more likely to remember it?

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How to read a mind

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 12 Dec 2014, 15:03

 How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham[Two Weeks] Fig.1. The image I've used for a decade to represent my blogging under the pseudonym 'mind bursts'.

79% Complete

Four activities remaining to complete. A touch more academic than some. I guess this is undergraduate English Literature, but third year. Or is it pitched at postgraduate level. I have had to spend more time with the reading than I expected in order to grasp the main thesis relating to ‘Theory of Mind’. It is proving complementary to ‘Start Writing Fiction’ as it shows how we conceive of, and follow imagined and real characters in a world, in our heads, that is always part factual, part fictional.

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Thoughts on the FutureLearn MOOC platform

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The new world order, not so much the 'flipped classroom' as turned inside out then put through the blender - and brings aspects of education back where it always used to be: part of open human experience rather than locked away and institutionalised.

FutureLearn is worth exploring.

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Open Warfare and 'The Battle for Open' - E-learning gets connected

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 11 Dec 2014, 06:52
From E-Learning V

Fig.1 The Battle for Open - Martin Weller. Available free to download

Full of the latest thinking and facts on open learning with special attention paid to MOOCs. Of most interest will be the work of Katy Jordan on retention rates. Here various papers are easy to find.

Enrich your knowledge on where learning is going. 

From E-Learning V

Fig.2. From The Battle for Open. p102 Attrition rates at a glance

Here are the figures to have at your fingertips:

  • The average (median) sign up is 43,000 of whom 6.5% complete - the range is from 4,500 to 226,652.
  • Completion rates correlate to course length, the shorter the more complete. Though the variance is from 0.9% to 36.1% with a median of 6.5%. Completion rates of 5% are typical.
  • 50% of those who enroll become active students. This is vital to recognise. All sign-up figures should be halved to give a working student population.
  • Completion rates as a percentage of those who are active range from 1.4% to 50.1% with a median of 9.8%.
  • The caveat I would give is that completion rates are too generous, you only have to do 50% of the course to qualify, so these figure could possibly be halved again. For me, completion means someone who takes part from beginning to end.
  • 45% of those who sign up never turn up or do anything. By the end of week two we are down to 35%. And by the end of week 3 or 4 it is plateauing near 10%.

REFERENCE

Jordan, K 2013, Hill 2013 MOOC completion rates. Initial trends in enrolment and completion of massive open online courses. http://oro.open.ac.uk/39592/

Weller, M. 2014. The Battle for Open: How openness won and why it doesn't feel like victory. London: Ubiquity Press. DOI: http://dx/doi.org//10.5334/bam

 

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What role does the protagonist play?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 10 Dec 2014, 06:28
From E-Learning V

Fig.1. Maka Paka from 'In the Night Garden'. How would Maka Paka cope in the real world? An idea for a short story. 

From 'How to Read a Mind' a FutureLearn MOOC from the University of Nottingham

I expect a protagonist to instigate and respond to people and their world and changing circumstances in a way that is in character - even if I don't know fully what this character is until the end of the book ... or a series of books in which they might appear.

What makes them believable can be a tiny thing: a turn of phrase that sounds familiar and right for them, the detail of something they are wearing, how they eat or write, the choice of music or radio station, very particular things: if eating but engrossed in chat between friends do they keep chewing, swallow, speak with their mouthful, spit it out, choke?

A protagonist becomes believable when I recognise their traits in others, real or fictional, but in a way that gives them an original slant and so a new take on the world.

I have personal conceptions of mother, brother, father, grandfather, friend, as well as conceptions were I to be in someone else's shoes, or reading a novel. I fear that a set of criteria could be as stultifying as any of a myriad of books I've looked at or read on 'how to write fiction', whether in a novel, movie, radio or stage play. My tack will always be to take interest in one remarkable detail.

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Learning how to learn online with FutureLearn and The OU

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 12 Dec 2014, 07:18
From E-Learning V

Fig.1 My progress on The OU MOOC on FutureLearn 'Start Writing Fiction' (c) FutureLearn 2014

More than any module or exercise I have done over my four years with The OU, it is a MOOC in FutureLearn that is giving me the most thorough experience of where the future or learning lies. I'm in week seven of eight weeks of 'Start Writing Fiction' from The OU, on the FutureLearn platform. Just in these few weeks I've seen the site change to solve problems or to enhance the experience. Subtle lifts and adjustments that make a positive out of constant adjustment. Those tabs along the top: activity, replies where under a tab. I think 'to do' is new while 'progress' was elsewhere. This is a responsive platform that listens to its students.

In the final week we submit our third piece of work.

As assessments go these are far less nerve racking than a TMA. The first piece was 300, the second 500 and the last will be 1000. These are assessed by fellow students. In my case I had one, then two reviews. Most people seem to get at least two sometimes three. The system is designed, I'm sure, to try and ensure that everyone's work is reviewed at least once. Tens of thousands, certainly thousands of people are on the course.

We're here to the 19th of December or so ... if you follow the tracks as laid.  

I hazard a guess that between 20-100 have posted there final piece already. Some, I know, got to the end of the entire course a few weeks ago; I looked ahead to see out of curiosity. There have always been 20 who post comments one, two even three weeks ahead. If 20 are posting I hazard a guess knowing my stats on these things that another couple of hundred could be clicking through the pages to read and observe. They may, like me, be coming back later. They may only be following the course, but not participating. Often, it is like standing on a stage looking into the gloom of the auditorium. Someone probably out there. One or two let you know. The rest don't.

I hope those that race ahead come back ...

I find that if I get ahead then I slow down and retrace my steps. To learn in this connected and collaborative way you are far better off in the pack ... it is not a race to get to the end first. In fact, those who do this have already lost. They've missed the point. I'd suggest to people that if they have the time to do the week over. That's been my approach anyway - the beauty of these things is everyone can come and go as they please, at a pace that suits them. Skip a bit. Go back. Follow it week by week, day by day ... or not. Whatever works works?

There's another very good reason to stay with the 'pack' or to come back and do a week over - the platform depends not on tutors and moderators commenting and assessing work, but us students doing a kind of amateur, though smart, peer review. This is what make a MOOC particularly vibrant, memorable and effective. Not listening to an educator telling us what's what, but the contributors sharing, figuring it out, answering each other's problems in multiple ways. We all learn in different ways and at a pace that shifts too. I find that often a point I don't get first time round, on the second, or third, or even the fourth visit to an activity someone, somewhere puts it in a way that suddenly brings complete clarity - their way of seeing a thing, or expressing it, makes more sense than the writes of the course could manage. Because they can only write one version, not the 'tartan' that comes from an intelligent, threaded online conversation.

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As in sport, so in education - motivation is the key to success

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 12 Dec 2014, 07:20
From E-Learning V

Fig.1. Start Writing Fiction FutureLearn MOOC from The OU

I've struggled on two and three week MOOCs but like hundreds, even thousands of others I am entering the penultimate week of eight weeks studying with The OU on the FutureLearn platform. I've said here often that I wished I'd done the Creative Writing BA and if this taster is anything to go by I would certainly have done so ... but money has run out, if not the time I give to these things.

Besides writing fiction this has been the best example of many of how collaborative learning online has a significant future. It makes much else redundant; some courses here at The OU need a shake up now, not in five years time. The 'presentation cycle' of 8 to 12 years will need to be halved in order to keep up. I no longer want the traditional distance learning course of text books and DVD, even if the text and the DVD is put online. It has to be designed and written again onto a blank canvass: migrating books and video, even interactive DVD to the WEB completely misses the most valuable part of being online - interaction with others. Putting content online simply saves someone on distribution costs - not a saving that is passed onto the student.

In 1999 I was expected as a Producer to migrate DVD content to the web. It didn't bandwidth for images, let alone video, made it redundant, let alone the spread and layout of content. Its the kind of transitionary phase all industries go through. Suddenly the old way we learn is looking like the cart and horse, with first e-learning efforts looking like the horseless carriage. In due course hybrids will give way to something wholly new.

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Week 7 'Start Writing Fiction' The OU @ FutureLearn

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 12 Dec 2014, 07:12
From E-Learning V

Fig.1. My mashup from the FutureLearn App using Studio

I continue to wonder what impact FutureLearn will have on future models for e-learning platforms. I turn screengrabs into aide memoires like the one above. 

Comments on the 'Start Writing Fiction' threads are now down from 3000 per thread to a few hundred ... a fall out of 95% is usual for a myriad of reasons. It'll be interesting to find out how many make it to the end ... and in due course who ends up a published author, and most especially how many migrate from a FREE MOOC to a paid-for course with The OU. I have a sense that most on the module are over 60 and broke.

We've just listened to a handful of authors talking about the importance of reading.

I found this insightful and helpful across the board. I relate to Louis de Bernieres in terms of reading habits - different authors, same approach entering and re-entering writing/reading modes in months ... something I need to change i.e. write, edit and read a daily pattern. Patricia Duncker says she read and views everything - a philosophy of Francois Truffaut who I was a fan of, especially trashy novels in his case. And from Alex Garner I see the value of seeing a novel as a screenplay, even as a director setting scenes, something incidentally Hilary Mantel talks about in an OU / BBC interview - write in scenes. Succinct. No messing. It relates to her understanding of how we reader in the 21st century - that we are used to and know the snappiness of the movie and TV. She says that the lengthy descriptions of Victorian novels are no longer palatable. I take from this that we have far too great a vivid view of the world. We know what slums, jungles and places globally look like. We see through time in documentaries, and film and now online. You mention the mud of Passchendaele and most people can picture it from commonly shared photographs and documentaries. An editing exercise reduced 500 words to 50. Most novice writers grossly overwrite. This OU MOOC favours pithy craft. 

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War breeds hate; hate festers and breeds war.

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 17 Nov 2014, 08:18

Fig.1 At the war memorial to the Machine Gun Corps on Hyde Park Corner, 1991. I'm with my late grandfather - dark suit and beige shoes, fourth in from the right. That's me on the far left of the line in the glasses holding the standard. (Volunteered about five minutes previously) Marking the 75th Anniversary of the formation of the MCG in 1916.

I've just completed fascinating couple of weeks, often gruelling on The OU's World War 1: Trauma and Memory on the FutureLearn MOOC platform.

My love for The OU is restored. Everyone should pick a course from FutureLearn to understand where learning is being taken. You cannot go wrong with an OU lead and designed one of these - some of the others are re-versioned books, leaflets, extra curricular workshops and lecture series, not embracing the affordances of the platform at all.

An eye opener for anyone studying learning - go over there anyone studying education.

At the end of each week, which officially run for the five working days of the week, we are invited to reflect on the lessons learnt. A very significant part of this are the 'massive' conversations that follow each 'activity'. 

A week of looking at and contemplating the dead from violent conflict I conclude that 'war breeds hate; hate festers and breeds war.' Unless the population is wiped out, or dived between the conquerors. Or unless the conquerors stay put - the Normans eventually subjugated England and Scotland and 1000 years on some of them still rule and own the land.

Responses to hatred are diametrically opposed: forgiveness and peace, blame and violent conflict. Has humankind moved on that far from the tribalism of one or two millennia ago?  If young men, the typical combat soldier truly understood what could happen to them would they still go? It applies to every kind of risk, and testosterone fuelled it is more of a male thing? This willingness to take outrageous risks believing that it 'won't happen to them'. And of course, commemorating 'our glorious dead' and 'returning heroes' risks celebrating war rather than being a period of reflection and commemoration. A veteran of WW1 my grandfather never used the term 'heroic'. Do young people joining up think that if nothing else, wounded, or dead in a coffin, they will at least come back 'a hero' - making it OK? And yet, however frightful, violent conflict remains a way that peoples, people, cultures attempt to resolve their differences.

It'll continue until the world's resources and 'life chances' - are fairly distributed. I feel the awakening of a burgeoning political sensibility that may wobble towards republicanism and socialism. 

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What are MOOCs doing for learning?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 17 Nov 2014, 08:24

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are new and FutureLearn, a wholly owned subsidiary of The OU is itself adapting as traditional institutions embrace e-learning, respond to feedback and results and improve.

MOOCs will be new for a decade.

E-learning like this is not a lecture series online, TV online, a book online, quiz or a tutorial online. Whilst this is invariably the starting place for 'ground based' educators, the academics working with instructional designers, not in isolation, need increasingly to begin with a blank sheet rather than looking at the physical assets of academics, books, lectures and papers around them.

What we are witnessing today is that transition from the Wright Brothers to the World War One fighter planes. We are seeing hints of the jets to come. We are a long way from drones. I use the analogy having just completed a wonderful three-week MOOC 'World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age'.

Innovations go through recognisable phases.

E-learning in the forms of MOOCs is still at the stage of 'early adoption' - rest-assured they will become commonplace, though surely with a different name. MOOCs can be a hybrid during a transitional phase so long as this is seen as the first step in many away from traditional approaches, embracing what works online.

Academics need to come out of their cupboard, come away of their studies and welcome into their midst those of us seeking to understand and to integrate the processes involved - that combination of learning and e-learning: how and why we learn and how then scale (massiveness), interactivity (digital) and connectivity (openness) changes things. In time, when the academics themselves have reached their status of 'doctor' and 'professor' through e-learning, when we can call all them 'digital scholars' rather than simply 'scholars', then we'll be able to look down from the clouds and smile at how much things have changed.

Think evolution not revolution.

Think how long it will take to see out the current generation of academics - thirty to fifty years?

Ultimately MOOCs are about a combination of sequential activities and 'interactivities', collaboration and connection.

Gilly Salmon coined the term 'e-tivities': sadly not in common usage, it nonetheless captures beautifully what is required for students to learn online - doing stuff, alone, with other students and with the academics.

Collaboration is a long held view of a kind of learning in 'communities of practice' most associated with the academics Lave and Wenger: how working together is a more effective for of constructed learning.

While 'connectivity', often associated with the academic George Siemens, is the new kid on the 'learning theories' block. Connectedness as a way of learning is dependent on a few things: the affordances of the platform to permit this with ease: if you have the opportunity compare current student messaging and blogging platforms at your institution with those at FutureLearn which has stripped back the unnecessary and concentrated on this 'connectivity'; the number and mix of participants: massive helps as a small percentage of a group will be the front runners and conversationalists with others benefiting from listening in, out of choice not pressure and the 'quality' of the participants in that they need to have both basic 'digital literacy' skills and reliable access based on their kit and connection.

Embrace the pace of change

A lean and smart organisation will tumble over itself, re-inventing and experimenting with ways things are done until clear methodologies present themselves for specific types of learning experience: 'head work' is different to' handiwork' - academic study is different from applied practice. Subjects freed from books and formal lectures, like the genii released from the bottle will, in the cloud, form into shapes that are most suited to their learners and what is being taught: blended and 'traditional' learning most certainly have their place.

Academic snobbery is a barrier to e-learning

John Seely Brown, working out of the Palo Alto Research Centre, famous for coming up with the WYSIWYG interface between us and computers and a 'learning guru' is passionate about the idea of 'learning from the periphery' - this is how and when someone new to a subject, or team, hangs around at the edges, learning and absorbing what is going on at the heart. The wonder of open learning is the participation of equally brilliant and curious minds, some who know a good deal on a subject while others are just starting out, eager to listen, willing to ask questions that may be naïve but are usually insightful; in the two-way exchange both the die-hard academic and the newbie change for the better. Learning feeds of this new fluidity.

It is evidence of the 'democratisation' of learning.

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Future Learn WW1 Aviation

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 9 Dec 2014, 21:55

 Fig. 1 Flight Cadet John Arthur Minty, RAF Crail late 1918

A fascinating stimulus to further study, though by its title and how grouped in WW1 themes by FutureLearn I would have expected the focus to have been the rise of aviation during the First World War to the exclusuion of all else, with some introduction to aviation coming into the Great War and a period to reflect on the interwar years. There have been criticisms by fellow travellers on the broad and 'open' nature of the learning experience as if kearning should be exclusive and elitist. 'Open' should mean exactly that for a myriad of reasons. Fundamentally this is about the quality of learning through the amazing 'connectedness' of the Internet and the recreation online of a 'community of practice'. It is also about what the former Xerox Head of Learning John Seely Brown calls 'learning from the periphery' where experts at the centre attract and welcome the newcomers on the fringe and finally, it is about 'vicarious' learning, not always knowing what you are going to get - the many insights and surprises that we've had here. I'm sure people aren't making full use of the tools to filter these massive threaded discussions: by recent activity across the topics, by those you follow and where there may be a reply to your own comment. To design, write and manage a MOOC you need to do them. 

Most MOOCS and most online courses, struggle with the quizzes. These deserve as much thought and preparation as a lecture series. They are hard to do well. The very best examples I've found were created on a platform called 'Spaced-Ed' now QStream by a team originating from the Harvard Medical School supporting Junior Doctors. Multiple choice can be a stimulating learning experience in its own right: challenging participants to use what they have learnt, and adding to this knowledge by making them think through responses that are not necessarily obvious. Replies to getting the answer right or wrong need to recognise the choices made and then inform, guide or further the learning experience. For the only example I've seen across six FutureLearn MOOCs where they are getting it right is The OU's module on 'Start Writing Fiction' where the 'quiz' makes you think. They don't need to be light-hearted.

If the BBC are closely involved in the production of video sequences then I'd expect three things: ideas around presentation that work, are relevant and make you think; media training for non-professional presenters and however done to 'broadcast' standards technically and stylistically.

What a truly brilliant discussion. I need to get my head around this and my copious notes from my mechanically minded late grandfather who trained as a fighter pilot in 1918 and was fascinated by the engines and had a few near-fatal scrapes with the things when they failed mid-flight. I'll wake him up, or bring his ashes over to the computer so that he can listen in!

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The Power of Persuasion

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 4 Nov 2014, 08:17

 

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. The art of persuasion - sometimes devious, often from advertising, needed in open e-learning to get then hold your attention

Some of the most memorable classes of my school years were delivered by inspired and enthusiastic teachers. Decades on I realise that they would have made terrific salesmen. Perhaps that's what they went in to?

They used the power of persuasion to get our attention, keep it, plant some useful ideas and leave us hungry for me. I had an English teacher like that, for a term. I had an art teacher like that. Quite a keen sports coach. Geography was OK. Physics too. And most especially Maths, yet, looking at straight As in Maths and Add Maths I cannot logically see why I took no interest beyond O' Levels - incompatible with English and Art? A brother who had done Maths at A' Level and done disastrously badly? 

The power of persuasion is what is needed in e-learning too, especially if this dynamic, response human being at the head of the class isn't there to hold your attention: think Robin Williams in 'Dead Poets Society'. So turning to OpenLearn and FutureLearn are these courses not simply getting your attention, but holding on to it? Best of all 'converting you' into a student who buys the book and signs up for the course?

Anyway, once too often I've become engaged in something online that has the stickiness of a Chameleon's tongue on a bluebottle's back. You can get so drawn into these, the empathy, the survey, the sincerity ... and you are slowly reeled in like the proverbial sea-trout at the end of a nightlong vigil on the Esk.

Write a novel in a month is doing something similar, but in a less devious way. In fact, Write a Novel in a Month is a service, as well as a tool. I could imagine getting through to a 50,000 word count with it by the end of November and then feeling OK about making a donation. 

 

From E-Learning V

Fig.2 41,631 words to go to complete a first draft by the end of November

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FutureLearn

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 2 Nov 2014, 09:17
From Jack Wilson MM

Fig.1. Lieutenant Munday and Flight Cadet Green - Killed 23rd November 1918 during training, RAF Crail - photograph taken by my late grandfather, flight cadet J A Wilson MM

Especially if you are on an MAODE module you need to take a course on FutureLearn to experience for yourself how 'connected' and 'collaborative' learning works. The specialist MOOC I am doing on the development of aviation during the First World War has over 9,000 participants, the 'Start Writing Fiction' course has over 20,000. Things happen when the number of this high.

Looking at these it is some trick to find the middle path between 'lite' TV style for people sitting back on the sofa expecting some kind of introductory 'edutainment' from Channel 5, to full-on academic sitting forward activity at your desk and keyboard.

For the first time I see how this is like no other platform or medium that has gone before, so everyone, The OU and FutureLearn included, is having an enthusiastic stab at it and learning massively as a result: how to do it better, how to fix weaknesses in the pedagogy and content and where to go next - repeat, fragment, enhance ... 

Keeping it simply is key, a fabulously intuitive and well designed interface is vital, and, unlike US equivalents, not shoving the begging bowl and adverts in your face at every opportunity.

The quizzes need to become smart multiple-choice activities - though these are exceedingly hard to write well as other FutureLearn courses are finding. It is was of the areas that receives most feedback from those who hate them, those who get irritated at getting an answer wrong and wanting to blame someone and those offering ways to do it better.

And tougher 'assignments' could be offered, but this requires close scrutiny and marking by those who are academically qualified to do so and has to come with a proper fee. These produced issues of their own. If 1% of those on the First World War Aviation course decided to submit an assignment and pay a fee of £400 where would the university find the academics to do the marking of 900 essays, however good the money. I did complete an assignment for a MOOC provided by Oxford Brookes because I wanted postgraduate credits and a certificate - so that's 10 credits towards something. 

A fascinating time to be taking part in a way of learning that is in its fledgling stages ...

As it is an 'open' platform there's no stopping those of us with an interest from coming back as we do the extra reading and sharing what we find. 

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Who gets my things after I've taken my life?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 29 Oct 2014, 14:06
From E-Learning V

Fig.1. FutureLearn Start Writing Fiction

As a Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education I will give all kinds of things a go. I've done a few FutureLearn MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). This eight week course on writing fiction from the OU looks like being one of the biggest; the OU pedigree also shows - the thinking and 'broadcast quality' of the video pieces shows compared to material put up by some universities.

Activities, activities, activities I remember someone saying from the OU when it came to designing learning online. This course is a little bit of telling, a bit of doing, that a lot of sharing. You can be thinking up a comment and before you post there can be five or six posts 'land' ahead of you. There are 1000+ responses to a thread. To some this is daunting. To those not used to these environments it may be off-putting. When you get used to it its fine, like going to a huge nightclub in London that's on several floors rather than a mate's part in their front lounge.

In this exercise we watched a clip of a dozen folk going about the daily business; all had feature in the opening piece about writing, so most are 'at it' pen on paper, into the laptop or onto an iPad. We are invited to take a person or moment and invent a story from it. I had never consciously done this before and was delighted with the effect, not trying to figure out what people really are doing, but rather inventing something for them.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 2. From an activity in 'Start Writing Fiction' from FutureLearn

I have a young woman innocently keeping a 'writer's journal' who I decide is writing suicide notes to five or six people; she puts a key from the bunch in each envelope, posts off the letters then kills herself. A bit morbid. I suppose I should now figure out why, and reveal what is behind each key.

Go see.

FutureLearn Start Writing Fiction

See also how a shared, threaded forum such as this can be used to create a vibrant asynchronous conversation with several hundred, even thousands of people. Several things FutureLearn do which would work well here: word count limited to 1200 characters, 16 minutes timed out having posted to edit - then its done. A 'like' button and an easy way to keep abreast of comments left in a discussion you have started or joined without having to try to find it.

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Proud and happy to call myself a 'Master of Arts'

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 29 Oct 2014, 14:13
From E-Learning V

Fig.1. Mr Kung Fu - was he the master or the pupil?

When I completed enough modules early last year to graduate as a 'Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education' I felt like a fraud; I'd scraped through, more importantly I didn't feel I was 'fluent' enough in the subject. One module, H817 had been replaced and had felt a little dated at the time. This is why I've ended up doing a couple more MA modules from the MAODE - I have only one missing from the full set (H817 Open) which I may do in due course. I could even put it towards an M.Ed (Masters degree in Education) for which I also need the compulsory 60 point module Educational Enquiry which next registers a year from now. 

From E-Learning V

Fig.2 The forgetting curve

Confidence to call myself a 'Master' and belief by others that I know my subject led me to being asked to join the Open University advisory panel on the MAODE and in the same week to join the board of advisors for a national educational body that recently met. Now I feel I have enough of 'the knowledge' at my fingertips. I prepared for this first meeting my searching through this blog: it shouldn't surprise me to know how much I'd forgotten, studying why and how we forget is very much a part of education - it is summed up in the Forgetting Curve (fig.2) that Hermann Ebbinghaus thought up over a hundred years ago. 

From E-Learning V

Fig.3. SatNav (not me)

It intrigues me that no gadget we own can circumvent this: that in fact, take a SatNav for example, let's assume that it takes you on a journey in the correct direction. Let's say you keep using the SatNav regardless. You could probably turn it off after two or three of these trips as your brain lays down the landmarks in your longterm memory. Thinking of which, I think the SatNav makes an excellent model for e-learning; just image you need to learn 120 absolute facts as a junior doctor - you could have your SatNav 'peg' the facts to specific points of a familiar journey. When you sit the exam it's then as easy as driving this route in your mind's eye visualisation everyone of the facts along the way.

I wander, cloud like.

I'm writing up my notes from this national advisory panel and over the next four years can hopefully nod at the courses that appear on which I've had some influence. Still not there yet, but I'm one heck of a long way further on since February 2010 when I re-booted this malarkey.

The answer has to be a P.hD. And I guess the only place to do that would be with the Open University. I went off the boil on that one a year ago, though I did secure a couple of interviews but came away suitably crushed.

It will have taken by then, at least ten years, more like 12 or 13, to call myself a 'Digital Scholar'.

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What have I learnt? What do I need to reminding of? The blog review

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 21 Oct 2014, 07:08

This is the value of a comprehensive blog such as this - for its author at least.

My thoughts went into these posts. By going back through the content I can be reminded of the lessons I was learning or struggling with at the time.

It would help were I more strategic in my approach to learning - but that's not me. I like to dwell and drift. I don't know what matters so like to have it all at my fingertips.

Going through the eight OU modules I have completed is taking between one and three hours clicking through posts here. I can tap into TMAs and EMAs and feedback, much of which I have here too (on the private setting). It is revealing in two respects: how much I have covered and can now say that I know - I can speak 'E-learning' fluently; and how many links and references that I jotted down and have never gone back to - great apps, insightful papers, and moments of clarity.

To cover myself for a decade hence by which time this blog will have been wiped, I am copying, selectively, about 40% of the content of this blog into my external blog My Mind Bursts.  (tagged MMB here)

Having the MAODE is one thing. Calling myself and being a 'Master' of the subject needs to be the next step. Martin Weller believes it will take a person ten years to become a 'digital scholar' - I've got another five years to go then. 

Onwards

 

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The value to you of keeping a diary or learning journal

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 29 Oct 2014, 14:32
From E-Learning V

Fig.1. March 1975 ....

I kept a diary for twenty years: age 13 1/2 to my forties ... with a few months off from decade to decade. It is self-indulgent navel gazing to look back at its contents which I do extremely rarely. An indulgent scrapbook thing covering a teen exchange to France is fun; did a Mars Bar really once cost 3p !! And a photo journal of a five month gap year job working my arse off in a hotel in France too. And have a vibrant record of children from birth to walking and talking too. 

From E-Learning V

Fig.2. A reading list from 1978

It always amazes me should I stumble upon an old school text book or any of the above as my mind is instantly taken back and I am flooded with boyish ideas.

This blog is something else.

This is a Learning Journal and Portfolio and I've kept it since February 2010. Just about all a module's activities go in here (40% hidden). I know where to find stuff because I've tagged it all. Needing to assess how far I have come, and what themes I can see, what I know and can apply from the seven MAODE modules I have completed - five completed the MAODE, the following two could go towards a M.Ed or MSc.

It is fulfilling in itself as an aide memoire to be reminded of how much I have covered, what therefore I should know, how I learn this and in the context of the changing technology how rapidly things are moving. Learning is evolving fast and in due course we'll look back at what has happened and compare it to how we no buy books online, how we book holidays online, and how we communicate with each other. 

From E-Learning V

Fig.3. The wonders of FutureLearn

At the minute e-learning is like a firework that has just exploded; we are watching it in awe. At some moment a thousand fireballs will light up the clouds and we'll take in the whole picture and conclude that things have changed forever.

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What's in a word?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 29 Oct 2014, 14:35
From E-Learning V

Fig.1. What is a tutorial?

In my decade+ using these platforms (I first attempted a module of the Open & Distance Learning MA in 2000/2001)we've gone from 'computer-based learning' and 'web-based learning' to 'online learning' and 'e-learning' or 'eLearning'. 'MOOC' (Massive Open Online Course' is a dreadful term so 'Free Online Course' must surely be better?

It'll pan out over the years.

I have come to like 'hang-outs' (a term coined by Google) as an informal online gathering. A lecture online, is by default something akin to a 'TED lecture' surely? Webinars are a reasonable catch-all and perhaps what becomes of an OU Live moderated sessions?

Regarding tutorials, though traditionally small groups, a tutor and one or two, maybe three students for an hour - it is these asynchronous conversations that match this where the role of 'tutor' is taken by the educators, but also by well-informed contributors - this can happen here. The learning effect is, I would say the same, or very similar. You offer thoughts, these are challenged, or people agree and add or amend them and in this way you 'construct' meaning. Constructivism is one of the older 'learning theories', whereas 'connectivism' is very much a product of learning like this. 

These is called a blog platform, yet it has affordance of what used to be called a 'Bulletin Board' (I did one of these with the OU in 2001. Think text messages strung together in a kind of Excel spreadsheet). A blog, for my money, has a modicum of independence of design, tools and sharing. Go see WordPress. I wouldn't change much here though. I cherish the new things I learn from people on totally different courses, the company and support that I know is here too.

 

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Why some online learning works better than others

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 17 Oct 2014, 14:43
From E-Learning V

Fig.1 This is what a reading list looks like - too much of a good thing makes it a bad thing

I 'do' e-learning for two reasons:

  • love of a subject, or a desire to fill holes or build mountains in my knowledge
  • fascination in e-learning: what works and what does not.

FutureLearn is a magic platform

I love it's simplicity, clarity and intuitiveness. In the right hands it's the perfect cup of coffee. (and once a day takes about as long to consume)

Classy copy

The considered, edited and crafted content doesn't dick about: it is a brief talk, or walk and talk BBC documentary style opening (video), followed by a a dozen paragraphs of a succinct piece of required reading that is then opened to the 'floor'.

'Connectedness' is enabled

The threaded discussion looks more like this bulletin-board cum blog cum student forum. Perhaps, as this has developed over the last decade, is where the idea came from? As a bulletin-board each time you comment your thoughts are placed on the top of the pile: someone has to read it when they log in, or at least there's a  greater chance of that.

This connectedness is facilitated and encouraged further by alerts you get as others comment in a thread you've contributed to or started. 

Your contributions are sorted for you and so build, without you needing to do so yourself, into a threaded line of thought - you can see how you are learning, how your knowledge improves and your ideas develop.

There are parameters

There is a word count for each posting. 1200 characters I think and a time frame during which you can edit (15 minutes). 

There is a modicum of overload

We, as students, are the masters of the time we have, or want to give to a thing. We are also the ones who know and control the pace. It is too simple to say that some people read faster than others, so can consume more. We approach text in very different ways. What is crucial and done in the FutureLearn module I'm doing on the 1919 First World War Paris Treaty is the amount of reading offered. It is more than enough, but not overwhelming. It takes itself and its students seriously by saying that 'we think you can read all of this and contribute to the discussions in the time allocated - five hours a week'.

Module teams get it wrong when content is sparse or when they overload the student with that laziest of get-outs 'the reading list'. Getting it right requires effort, confidence in the subject you are teaching and a belief and understanding of the way people learn and the platforms and tools now available and how their evolving use impacts on learning. I'm doing a couple of FutureLearn modules: 'Writing Applications' at two hours a week, compares to World War 1: Paris 1919 at five hours a week. The contrast couldn't be greater. 

It's like the first offers you a small cup of coffee: no refills. Instant. You get it with milk whether you like it or not. While the second gives you a rich cup of coffee and, if you want them, a couple of refills. No more. There are parameters. 

FutureLearn keeps it simple

What matters are the words people type. There are none of the mess of unnecessary buttons provided here. Honestly. Keep it simple OU. They just muddle things massively. Where used they invariably take away from the ability to communicate. It is enough of a challenge to type on a QWERTY keyboard. Plain text does the job. In the hands of the amateur (all of us), being able to add colour, change font size and a whole lot more serves no useful purpose. 

Content is self-moderated by the group

A simple alert button allows you to flag something to let moderators know that something inappropriate is going on: hateful language, foul language, 'drunken' rants ... 

Go see

'There's something for everyone'.

 

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Without tagging this is your blog

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 29 Oct 2014, 14:53
From E-Learning V

Fig.1. The contents of your learning journal, or e-portfolio or blog could look like this

As I'm prompted to do so, or is this just a MAC thing? I now tag documents downloaded to my desktop. They can be found wherever I or the operating system has buried them.

I tag religiously here (except, since a month ago, when writing from my iPad as it crashes the page and the iPad ?!).

I tag for a number of reasons:

I jot down ideas and thoughts, facts, even grab, cut and paste stuff that may be of use later so tag it so that I can tickle it out later as the mood or need fancies.

By tagging by module, and by activity you can then regularly go back and add a further tag as you plan a TMA (tutor marked assignment) or EMA (end of module assignment). For example, L120 is my current module. I will (or should) add L120A1 perhaps or L120S1 to identify an activity or session (NOT necessarily shared at all if I am giving away answers potentially or breaching copyright too blatantly by privately 'curating' content). Potentially L120TMA1 obviously helps me pull out content pertinent to this. That's the idea anyhow. The OU used to have an e-portfolio called MyStuff, a bit clunky, but it did this and then allowed you to re-shuffled the deck as it were, to give order to the things you picked. In theory you then have a running order for an assignment.

Tag clouds, number of tags or simply the weight and size of the font, indicates the strength and frequency of certain themes and ideas. When playing with the idea of an 'A-to-Z of e-learning' it was easier for me to see, under each letter, what I ought to select ... and then immediately have a load of examples, some academic, some anecdotal, all personal to me, at hand.

I come here to find things I've lost! Amongst 20,000 saved images I know I have a set from early training as a Games Volunteer for the London Olympics. I searched here, clicked on the image and thus found the album in Picasa Web (now Google Pics). Why can't I do that in my picture/photo pages? Because I never tagged the stuff. There is no reliable search based on a visual - yet.

No one can or should do this for you.

My blog and e-portfolio is fundamentally and absolutely of greatest value to me alone. So why allow or encourage others to rummage in the cupboards of my brain? Because it tickles and stimulates me to share views, find common or opposing views and to believe that others are getting something from it.

 

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L120: Session 1 - Activité 1

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 6 Oct 2014, 07:56
From E-Learning V

Fig.1. L120. Ouverture. Intermediate French

Revelations and reflection. Activité 1

Whilst my comprehension is 90% correct the mistakes I make could be and were/are a significant problem if or when working in France. I get dates like 1936, but can too easily mistake 17h00 for 19:00 i.e. 'dix sept heure' is NOT seven O'clock of course, but by the 24 hour clock it is 7. I'm also lazy: I chance my response where I could have listened a second time and got something correct. 

It is far too easy, when only listening, to make up a meaning for a new word and therefore make major mistakes.

Translating, as if literally to English is a huge mistake. A couple of examples include the use of the word 'profiter' in French which as nothing to do with 'making a profit', but rather, a nuanced English use, 'to take advantage of ...' in this instance, the sun and sea on a holiday by the coast in the summer. 

From E-Learning V

Fig.2. Learning where, what and why 'Pondichéry' is. A bit of history and geography with L120

Lack of adequate understanding of how France has retained some of its tiniest colonies around the globe as 'French departments' had me wondering why an indian looking gentleman could possibly come from a small island in the south atlantic, actually he was taking about the south of india. And I neither knew where, nor can I still pronounce this one:

From E-Learning V

Fig.3. La Ciotat

It would be brilliant if when listening to a French person you could have their words as subtitles ... maybe this is a trick that Google glass will deliver in due course. Not a translation, but the words as text to help with comprehension until you can hear and see for yourself the words that are being used without making it up or guessing. 

I jotted down a few linking phrases, those fillers too that we use that add colour and credibility to any spoken language:

  • car
  • bonne
  • ailliers
  • plutôt 
  • ça depends

Checking the spelling was vital too, and not just figuring out how to get the French accents on the QWERTY keyboard but doing so. I had 'ailleurs' as 'yiers' or some such. 

And also a few terms and phrases that I liked, possibly because of the English derivations or equivalents and will use:

  • le rush d'été
  • tourisme en masse
  • idéale

Pronounce a word like 'idéale' correctly and you can fool them that you are French ... you can even take French words we use in English and add a French accent, though saying 'amelioration' is equally pretentious in both languages. Many French people when speaking English will trip on the word 'Idea' and pronounce it 'Idéa' even if they've lived here for decades; who'd correct them though?

A few hours into L120 and of course I crave to be back in France

I must also reflect on the learning design and platform. I've done a year of Rosetta Stone - the ultimate 'gamified' language learning platform. L120 does, understandably, feel more like being back at school. But that's what I need; it shouldn't be easy to learn anything, or how else can you learn? Rosetta Stone becomes very repetitive. You learn through tireless repetition, through immersion and ultimately by default. You won't ever be able to say why a thing is done one way or another, just that it is ... that it sounds or feels right. i.e. how an infant learns a language.

As a adult learner I think we need to be told why a thing is too i.e. have a variety of ways, even if it takes a few moments to think about it, to get something right.

A very, very different way to learn that taking a humanities module, but also exploiting many e-learning tools and methodologies in a different way. I have to wonder how such practices could translate into other subjects, that learning some things 'parrot fashion' could be beneficial whether learning history, geography or medicine: that you have to have the accurate facts and figure in your brain before you can use these facts. 

On verra.

Why blog this?

There are a number of ways to look at this: the value to me, and as I perceive it the value to others ... playing the game and my belief and understanding of how learning online in a 'connected' world works.

The value to me: as a learning journal. A record, tagged liked this, is a fabulous aide memoir. I could and nearly did do this on paper, but these get lost. I couldn't find a new exercise book anyway.

The value to others: the spirit of learning in the OU community, particularly in the student forums for your own module, is to share your thinking in order to stimulate and engage in an asynchronous conversation: had I been on a residential course much of the above would have come out over coffees and meals.

So why blog 'to the world', and in my case copy this or some if it, in due course to my external blog 'my mind bursts'?

Pride in the Open University is part of it. Why not plug something I love and would recommend to others?

Comments and contact: The stats say and I know that comments form a tiny fraction of viewers to a page, perhaps as low as 1%. Just this 1% I find of huge value; by finding a common interest, often beyond the confines of the module and this intake of students, I find the information begins to embed in my longterm memory. I know no other way of doing it as my brain is my sieve than sponge - everything gets filtered out and transformed unless I engage with it in a variety of ways.

And I am as interest in the e-learning and learning design of a module as I am in the content that I wish to learn. I have those interested in e-learning too to share with. 

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On the value of reading and re-reading the same quality book

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 24 Aug 2014, 06:52
From E-Learning IV

 Fig 1. Essential reading on British Forces on the Ypres Salient in 1917

I take back what I said a couple of days ago about a module (not OU) that comprises a reading list and set of essay questions. Sometimes I feel the OU modules I have done are too prescriptive, that all of us are passengers on a learning train that will not permit anyone to leave the service. You work from and are assessed on the content given - excellent, succinct and contained. This does not suit everyone; never does the scary freedom to read from a reading list. In many cases the variety seen in both approaches, with overlap, is how and when one comes to understand something.

Back to formal reading

It matters that you are directed to the right book. This is the right book on Passchendaele to understand from a general strategic, to operational, to tactical level what took place.

I read 'Passchendaele: the untold story' first in May for a presentation in June.

The purpose was to lay out the chronology of events and compare two battles within the Passchendaele or 'Third Ypres' conflict relating to command. I took notes: highlighted in the eBook which I then typed up in a Google Doc before creating a presentation. Over two months later I read the book again as if I had never seen the book before; on the one hand I worry about my sieve like brain, on the other I am intrigued to understand what is going on.

From E-Learning IV

Fig.2 Notes taken in Google Docs from the highlight sections in the eBook

On second reading, with the tracks and sleepers of the general chronology becoming established and retained knowledge, and with an essay title ringing in my head, the highlights I make in the eBook are, with a few exceptions, totally different. I am reading the same book, but taking something very different from it. I have a highly selective, easily distracted brain - nothing sticks if it doesn't have to. I know a few people with a photographic memory: they appear to read something once then have the entire contents at their fingertips to apply to a problem. My memory is the opposite - nothing at all that I don't deem of importance to the task at hand will be retained. I have, side by side, the notes I took in May and the notes I am currently taking - they could be from different publications; I struggle to find any common ground. 

There will be a third reading

This third reading will have different purpose as in due course I write a comparative history between Third Ypres: Passchendaele and the First Gulf War to fulfil a desire to respond to something my late grandfather said in 1992 'That's nothing compared to Passchendaele' he said as he watched the First Gulf War unfold on TV. He saw the differences between foot soldiers as unrecognisably different, whereas I saw the prospect of having a leg blown off or being gassed as more than faintly similar. Had the generals used the tactics of 1992 in 1917 they would have gained more ground and lost fewer men; something had been learnt in 75 years of war then.

Fig.3. The mud of the First Gulf War

Visualising the above I imagine a desert; the state of my brain before I read, that over time acquires an invasion of cacti, followed by ground cover plants, until eventually there are established trees and a rich ecosystem.

Hardly surprising, but on second reading you pick out more detail; you see things that you missed, or couldn't take in the first time round. I'm the kind of person who would apply this to entire modules: that the student who wants to should be allowed to, for a considerable discount, to re-sit a module they have already done. Why not even a third time if your goal is to master a subject? A' Level students with poor grades will 'cram' for a year to improve on these. Through-out life things we want to do are achieved as a result of tackling the problem repeatedly until we crack it. 

Finally, I conclude, that given how complex we are, so learning needs to offer a similar level of variety; there can be no perfect system, or learning design pattern. We learn in different ways, and educators teach in different ways. E-learning isn't a panacea, it is simply another approach the complements ones we have always adopted, not least learning directly from experts themselves through talking things through.

More of us should be able to or should have been able to retake classes we flunked - with a different teacher, if not in a different institution. It shocks me to see how a student at school can be put off a subject they enjoy as they don't relate to or get on with the teacher - so change the teacher. 

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