Sunday, February 3, 2013

What MOOC designers can learn from online dating

When I attend a course or event there are three types of people I want to meet:
  1. people I have something in common with (to share ideas on a particular topic), 
  2. people I want to have something in common with (they know about a topic that interests me and I want to learn more about), and 
  3. people who have knowledge and skills that complement mine (who may be interested in collaborating on projects).
In a room of 30 people, the facilitator usually gets everyone to introduce themselves, which means I can identify people who fit into my three types. Even if there are no introductions, it is a manageable size to get to know a bit about each other during breaks.

In a room of 200 (a lecture, a conference) this becomes much more challenging, and I have to rely on my own networks within the room (if I have any) to introduce me to people who fit into my three types.

In a virtual room with 100,000+ people, the exercise becomes near impossible.

The growth of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) provides wonderful opportunities for learners to access quality content with minimal barriers to entry. But how – amongst so many participants - can I identify those I want to connect with?

“Introduce yourself” discussion boards become overwhelming with tens of thousands of posts. Even adding tags (eg: areas of interest) results in thousands of people with vaguely similar interests.

I can view others’ activity in the MOOC – their posts, blogs, assignments (if peer review is being used) – but again volume is an issue.

So what I want is for MOOC designers to help me find the people I want to connect with.

Give me a profiling tool. A tool that allows me to outline my knowledge and areas of expertise, areas that I am interested in and want to know more about, and the knowledge and expertise I am seeking for collaborative projects. Then send me suggestions of people I may want to meet. Show me what they wrote about themselves on the profiling tool.

Help me find my three types of people so we can meet up for a coffee (real or virtual), and further explore our mutual interests.

It may seem a bit like online dating, but haven’t education and dating always gone hand-in-hand?


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Informal learning design - a metaphor

Learning design is always a challenging undertaking. The growing trend towards informal, just-in-time, and pull (versus push) approaches to learning present new and greater challenges for learning designers. We must now create engaging environments where learners can immerse themselves in exploring and creating content in a manner which enables them to solve their authentic, real world problems.

Metaphors can help us to clarify our thinking in terms of learning design. Here is one I use when considering how a purpose-built learning environment can support the key characteristics of informal learning.

The metaphor is that of a ‘home’. A home is a central part of our everyday lives (just like learning). It is one of the places we go to for specific purposes. In the home are a variety of individuals who whilst having strong connections, also have strong individual interests, traits and values. The individuals both develop within, and bring to, the home the knowledge, skills and attitudes that they have developed over their lifetime.

A home consists of a structure of various rooms and spaces which people move between, depending on their purpose at the time. The dining room is a place for community, discussion and debate; the kitchen is a place of creativity, of making something (individually or collaboratively), of trial and error; the living room is where we access new ideas and information through mediums such as TV, books, internet, etc; the bedroom is a private space for personal reflection and rest; and so on. The yard links us to the real world - to our wider community and to new potential community members. Some activities are structured, such as meal-time, study-time and recreation-time, others are determined by the individual’s preferences. The design of the house – walls, doors, stairs, open spaces – provides the links between the different activities within. In the home, the individuals are (largely) able to control their movements and approach different activities in their own unique way. The structure of the house – although not top of mind - support the individual’s endeavours.

Using this metaphor to think through informal learning design, I want to create an environment where individuals have access to curated content which they can explore, experiment with, and reflect upon. I want to create an environment where individuals can come together, driven by a common interest (the content), and co-create content which is then shared within the environment. I want to create a structure for this environment which supports these activities, but which is unobtrusive. And I want to provide an environment which is nurturing, to support development both individually and in the collective community.

Your thoughts?