Archive for the ‘b-learning’ Category

Constructing learning

March 7th, 2017 by Graham Attwell













Interesting report in the Jisc email. They say:

“Blended learning (the merging of technology and face-to-face) involves learners in the construction of their own learning. But a recent survey by Sheffield Hallam University showed that there’s inconsistency in learners’ experiences of this – a concern likely shared across the country.

Students also said that they expected the majority of their learning to be supported by an online platform. As a result, Sheffield Hallam University has created a set of “minimum expectations” for their teaching staff to encourage them to publish learning resources online, give online assessment feedback and use social media for student-staff collaboration.”

Without having read the full report from Sheffield, I wonder how much learners on blended learning programmes really are involved in the construction of their own learning and how they are supported in that process. It is also interesting to see the university turning to social media for student staff collaboration. Guess I need to read the report!



What we’ve been doing

April 10th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

the last three months have been pretty hectic. So much that I have been somewhat lackadaisical in posting on this blog. Partly it has been due to the sheer volume of work and also traveling so much. For some reason I always find it difficult to blog when I am on the road. Another reason is that a lot of the work has been developmental and has naturally generated a series of notes and emails but little writing. Its time to make amends.

In this post I will give a short run down on what we have been up to. Over the next couple of weeks I will post in a bit more detail about the different projects and ideas. All the work shares a series of ideas in common:

  • The work is based on the ideas of open education and open data
  • The projects seek to enable practitioners to develop their own learning materials
  • Most of the project incorporate various elements of social software but more importantly seek to utilise social software functionality to develop a shared social dimension to learning and knowledge sharing
  • Most of the work supports both face to face and online learning. However we have been looking hard at how learning and knowledge development is socially mediated in different contexts.

Open Data

Over the last year we have been working with a series of ideas and applications for using open data for careers guidance. Supported by the Mature-IP project, by Careers Wales and Connexions Northumberland and more lately UKCES, we have been looking at how to use open data around Labour Market Information for careers advice and guidance. Needless to say, it has not proved as easy as we thought, raising a whole series of issues around target users, mediation,  and data sources, data reliability and data interpretation, amongst others.

We have encountered a series of technical issues but these can be overcome. More important is understanding the social uses of open data for learning and decision making which is much harder!

Webquests 2.o

The original idea of  Webquests was based around a series of questions designed to encourage learners to search for new meaning and deeper understanding using web based tools and resources. Although Webquests have been used for some time in schools and colleges, we have been working to adopt an updated Webquest 2.0 approach to the needs of learners in Small and Medium Enterprises. These inquiry–oriented activities take place in a Web 2.0–enhanced, social and interactive open learning environment (face to face and/or on–line) that combine at the same time collaborative learning with self–paced learning.

Once more, this work has posed a series of challenges. While we have been pretty successful in using webquests 2.0 with SMEs, it has proved harder to enable practitioners to develop their own online learning materials.

Work based learning

We have been continuing to explore how to use technology to support work based learning and in particular how to use mobile technologies to extend learning to different contexts in Small and Medium Enterprises. We are especially interested in focusing on work practices and how technology can be used to support informal learning and practice in the workplace, rather than the acquisition of more formal knowledge. In order to finance this work we have developed a number of funding applications entailing both background research and (more enjoyably) visits to different companies.

We are fairly confident that we will get support to take this work forward in the near future.

Social media and social empowerment

We have been looking at how to use social media and in particular internet radio, not for promoting social inclusion, but for giving a voice and opportunity for expression to those excluded form access to traditional education and media. Once more, we are confident that we will be able to launch a new initiative around this in the next couple of months.

We will be publishing more about this work over the next couple of weeks. If you are interested in any of these ideas or projects please get in touch.

Beyond blended learning- towards a fluid discourse of educational conversations

April 25th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Steve Wheeler has written an interesting bog post, which deserves unpacking and discussing.

Steve says:

Blended learning (in the established, traditional sense) means a mix of learning activities that involved students learning both in the classroom, and at a distance from the classroom, usually mediated through technology. I am claiming that this type of blended learning – in concept at least – is now outmoded because the boundaries between local and remote have now been substantially blurred.

I think I would largely agree with him although I am not so sure it is due to the blurring of the boundary between local and remote. Reading older papers on technology enhanced learning, there was great emphasis placed on the divide between synchronous and asynchronous communication and how to provide a proper ‘mix’ of technologies facilatating such modes. Today we flip between different modes without thinking about it. Take Skype – if I text someone they may reply straight away or may reply the next day. I may have a series of short episodic conversations with a colleague throughout the day. I may switch from text to audio or video for parts of these conversations. They may be one to one or we may invite others to participants for particular parts of the conversation. Instead of a divide between synchronous or asynchronous communication, tools now support multi modal communication and multi modal learning.

Steve goes on to say:

The new blend is to blur formal and informal learning

Of this I am less convinced. I am in a few problems here because I have often written myself about informal learning. But in truth I am unconvinced of the value of the concept. Indeed there is little agreement even on what the terms formal, informal and non-formal learning mean. If you are interested in this debate there is an excellent literature review by Colley, Hodkinson and Malcom who explore different definitions and uses of the terms. I have tended to use the idea of informal learning in two ways – to refer to learning which takes place outside the formal education system or to learning which takes place in the absence of formal teaching. The problem with the first use of the term is that it refers only to what it is not, rather than to what it is. And in the case of the second, it tends to ignore the influence of what Vykotsly called a More Knowledgeable Other. The More Knowledgeable Other is anyone who has a better understanding or a higher ability level than the learner, particularly in regards to a specific task, concept or process – a friend, a peer, a colleague, who can support the scaffolding of  learning. Technology is playing a significant role in blurring boundaries here. If I read Steve Wheeler’s article, think about it and write my own ideas then surely I am learning, and in this case Steve is playing the part of the More Knowledgeable Other in guiding my thinking. Recently one of my computers was overheating. I searched for and found a web site telling me at what temperature the Northbridge chip should be running (it was running much hotter). I then found a YouTube video showing me how to take my computer apart and clean the filters. Is this formal or informal learning? Do I have scaffolding and guidance in my learning? I would suggest I do.

Even more problematic is Steve’s idea of “informal technology”. I think this may just be careless use of terminology. Of course technologies are not informal or formal. However what is certainly true is that most young people today own various technology based devices, which can be used or as John Cook calls it “appropriated” for learning. And as we move towards near ubiquitous connectivity, at least in richer countries, then these devices provide constant access to all kinds of learning – including contact to those with more knowledge than we have. It is interesting to note that most of this learning takes place in the absence of purpose built education technology, rather we appropriate applications designed for business or enterprise use or for entertainment, for learning.

I think more useful than setting a dichotomy between the formal and the informal is to explore the different relationships and contexts in which learning takes place. Last year Jenny Hughes and I made a slidecast called Critical Literacies, Pragmatics and Education as part of a Critical Literacies course being run by Rita Kop and Stephen Downes as part of their ongoing research project on Personal Learning Environments.

In this we referred to the relationships in which learning take place. These include the relationships between learners and teachers, between the learners themselves and between the learners and the wider community.

We went on to look at context. Obviously this includes place or physical context, which could be described as the learning domain. This might be a school or college, the workplace or at home. Important here is the distance between the different domains. Sometimes this distance will be short (say in the case of an apprenticeship involving workplace and school based study), but sometimes there may be a quite broad seperation between the different domains.

A second context is the social, cultural and political environment in which earning takes place. A third – and to my mind critical – context is the idea of what is legitimate learning – what is learnt and how it is learnt. Obviously this involves the idea of control.

Especially important is the context of how we recognise achievement – how outcomes are defined, what value is placed on learning, by whom and how.

We also raised the idea of discourses – the sum total of the conversations around education. In the past, we suggested, education has tended to be a top down discourse with prescribed and structured strategies  for learning. This is changing and now leaners may be more likely to start from practice without a predetermined strategy for learning.

Thus relations and context or learning are becoming fluid and are contently changing. Technology is playing a major role in these changing relationships and contexts. Such a fluid discourse inevitably leads to conflict with an educational structure based on top down educational discourses.

Are we still getting e-learning wrong – how can we get it ‘right’?

August 25th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I have written many posts about what I consider wrong with approaches to e-learning based on attempts to ‘manage’ learning through Learning Management Systems and Virtual Learning Environments. I have also written about the promise of alternative approaches based on Web 2.0, social software and Personal Learning Environments.

But are we still getting e-learning wrong? Not the technology but what we are trying to use ot for and with whom.

As with most technological innovation, first attempts at implementation tend to mimic previous social paradigms. This the idea of the virtual classroom and the on-line university. Teaching and learning  through technology have changed with the idea of blended learning and the increasing integration of technologies within curricular and pedagogic  approaches. But the main thrust of use of technology for learning remains the delivery of ‘traditional; curricula or bodies of knowledge to translational students groups – albeit extended through distance learning to a wider student cohort.

I have long thought that the transformative potential of Technology Enhanced Learning is the ability to support explorative (I am desperately trying to avoid that vague ‘constructivist’ word?) learning for anyone, anywhere. And, in a developmental perspective, the most interesting work may be the use of technology for supporting work based learning and informal learning outside traditional courses. In this respect, it is interested to see the increasing interest of projects funded under the European Commission Research programme and Education and Training programme in competence based approaches to education and training.

However, this approach remains problematic. attempts to develop standardised  taxonomies of competence tend to ignore the importance of context, especially or work based learning and Continuing Professional Development. Recently, I have been involved in a number fo projects looking at how we can use internet based technologies ot support learning, knowledge development and knowledge maturing for Careers Advice, Information and Guidance practitioners in the UK. Of course, ‘training’ is important for such a group of knowledge workers. But even more important is the ability to learn, everyday from the work they carry out, both individually and collectively. Within the Mature-IP project we have developed an approach to knowledge maturing aiming at the development and implementation of tools for Personal Learning and for Organisational learning. In reality it has proved difficult to separate out the two. Individual learning rests of more collective learning processes, within a community of practice, and equally organisational learning is largely dependent on the individual learning of the practitioners. it is possible to look at the roles and tasks carried out by Careers professionals and then to develop tools to assist in carrying out such tasks. such an approach has the merit of supporting everyday work, thus meaning that potentially learning is integrated within the work process. However, there is no guarantee that merely using technologies for task management results in significant learning and knowledge development at either individual or organisational level.

One answer appears to be to integrate more social software functionality into platforms and tools designed to support learning. this autumn, we will launch two platforms: one for policy makers within the careers field based on a mash up of WordPress and the excellent Open University Cloudworks software, and the other a professional development site for careers practitioners based on Buddypress. with both we are attempting to encourage and facilitate peer group learning based on social interaction.

Whether or not these approaches will be successful remains to be seen. But, overall, I am convinced that such projects are key to developing a more transformational direction to the use of technology for learning. In undertaking this work we are lucky to have the support of the Mature-IP project which allows a more focused examination of teh relation between theories and practice in learning and the development of Technology Enhanced Learning tools and platforms. One issue that has become apparent is that research into Technology Enhanced Learning is truly inter-disciplinary – needing at a very least a bringing together of expertise in pedagogy, education, organisational learning, work sciences, design and psychology as well as computer science. Such interdisciplinary research provides a challenge in terms of methodologies.

Projects like Mature-IP and the JISC funded Emerge project offer the basis for rethinking what we are doing with e-learning – and perhaps even for getting it ‘right’ this time round.

Organising Blended Events

November 28th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

Its been a bit of an event week. Cetis and Emerge held conferences. MirandaNet and the Amplified people held events. I took part in them all to a greater or lesser extent. Online.

Emerge was by invitation. But I turned up at the rest by following urls on shout outs on twitter. Twitter is becoming a professional and social calender.

So far so good. But opportunities for participation and interaction varied greatly. This is partly due to the technologies. From one extreme to the other – Emerge used the Elluminate platform which allows a high degree of particaption whilst MirandaNet had a hand held vdeo camera linked to u-stream. Cetis had no video feed but the event was intensively covered in Twitter and live blogged as well. The Amplified people ambitiously tried to provide four different video streams. With both the MirandaNet and the Amplified event the audio quality was poor. These things happen and I am sure the technology will get better. My only observation would be that whilst people invest a lot of energy into video feeds they seem to ignore the need for high quality micrrophones. Indeed, a preamp to pick up the audio directly would seem a worthwhile investment if people really want to get their event out on the net.

But it is the event organisation or pedagogy which concerns me more. Organising a Blended Event is like organising a belended learningc ourse. You cannot just replace the nromal face to face elements of the course with the smae pedagogci approache son the ineterent. It requires thought and design. And if you really want such a blended prohgramme – rather then just pushing out a video feed of the face to face event – then the design of the event will have to be changed. For Emerge, it was diifcult to see what added value there was for the Face to Face participants. For MirandaNet and Amplified the opportunities for active partication by on-line participants was limited. In some ways the Cetis people who did not stream their conference may have got more interaction through the use of Live Blogging and Twitter than those who did provide a video stream.

We do not really seem to know how to do these things at the moment.

If I get a little time to think about this, I am going to try to start writing some guidelines on how to organise Blended Eevents. But better still, has anyone out there got any ideas?

Hairdressing, Serious Games and Learning

May 22nd, 2008 by Graham Attwell

At a session at the Scil conference on serious games. Hope it is not too serious.

First up is Frederic Aunis on hairdressing. He works for L’Oriel. Kids end up doing hairdressing because they do not know what else to do or have failed at school. Hairdressers, he says, all over the world learn by doing. they need techncial and artistic skills, life and communication skills and a business understanding. But in schools business skills are not taught. Managers train apprentices in technical skills but not business skills.

Frederick has been developing a business game. His organisation is developing programmes for 20 million students (seems unlikely?). The game is called Hair Be12. It is translated into 13 languages and implemented in 10 countries. Now we get a demo. Choose a character and customise it. Then twelve episodes to the game. The first is on customer relations. A series of multiple choice questions. Then according to answers skills levels indicator moves up and down and turnover for business changes. No correct answers in game says Frederick. It’s like in real life. No-one complains but your turnover is hit. And there are bonus games. design your salon etc. At end get classification on the web based game – compared to others.

interesting that it did not really work as an individual self-learning game but took off when it was used in groups – it created, he says, “a wow effect.” And it has gone on to be used for facilitating meetings and organisational development within hair salons.

The topics have been ‘flattened’ to ensure game is applicable in different cultures.

Hm – not bad – looks quite fun, teaches something hard to learn any other way. At least it feels like a game. Maybe a bit limited in scope though. Big plus – he says it was relatively cheap to develop. My rating – cool. And a great presentation.

Contact url seems to be – definitely worth a look.

Levi-Strauss, Bricolage and eLearning 2.0

February 18th, 2008 by Graham Attwell


Some time ago I read the transcript of a speech by John Seely Brown on Learning, Working and Playing in the digital Age. In the speech Seely Brown talked about how young people used the web as bricolage.

I have cited this in quite a few papers. Jenny Hughes was reviewing one of the papers for me and objected to my citing the idea of bricolage to Seely Brown. Bricolage, she said, was a key idea in Levi- Strauss’s thinking amongst. I had fogotten about this but Jenny had not. She gave me a copy of a book called “Introducing Levi Strauus and Structural Anthropology” by Boris Wiseman and Judy Groves. It is a great book and it has pictures and cartoons – I love these easy introduction books. And indeed there is a section on bricolage:

“To describe the functioning of the logic of the concrete – the essence of a pensee sauvage – Levi-Strauss usesd an unusual analogy. The logic of the concrete he says is the mental equivalent of bricolage – intellectual D.I.Y.

Levi-Strauss’s notion of briclolage has many different applications for all of those from anthropologists to literary critics and philosophers, who have recognised themselves in his portrait of the bricoleur and drawn their own lessons from it.

Levi-Strauss contrasts the work of the bricoleur to that of the engineer, and uses this opposition to characterise the two modes of understanding which underlie, repsoectively, primitive science and modern science.

At the same time, he also applies his concept of bricolage to myth, thus opening up the whole question of its specific reference to an understanding of the processes of artistic creation.

This is how the bricoleur works.

Unlike the engineer who creates specialised tools and materials for each new project that he embarks upon, the bricoleur work with materials that are always second hand.

In as much as he must make do with whatever is at hand, an element of chance always enters into the work of the bricoleur.

Levi Strauss draws two analogies with myth. First, considered in its genesis, myth, like bricolage, is an assembly of disparate elements: it creates structures (i.e. narratives) out of events.

Second, myths are always constructed out of the disarticulated elements of the social discourses of the past. In this too they resemble bricolage.

The bricoleur is in possession of a stock of objects (a “treasure”). These possess “meaning” in as much as they are bound together by a set of possible relationships, one of which is concretized by the bricoleur’s choice”.

I have been increasingly interested in unearthing alternative design principles to that of instructional design. It seems to me Levi-Strauss has written the definitive guide to using Web 2.0 and learning. I have an aspiration – to be a true bricoleur.

Talking about practice

January 2nd, 2008 by Graham Attwell

The first post of the year. And practice seems as good as any a subject for short entry. For the last couple of hours I have been searching the internet for examples of appropriate and effective (or good, but I never liked that term) practice in blended learning. It is for a European funded project producing a guide for teachers on blended learning. And although the subject may seem a little old fashioned for UK based e-learning researchers, in many European countries this is a new concept. I also like the project because of its focus on pedagogy and pedagogic practice rather than on technology and platforms as is all too common.

It should be easy, I thought. Most e-learning in the UK is, in reality, a mix of different modes and forms of learning. But it was to prove not so – or perhaps my search strategies were uninspired. Whilst it is relatively easy to find research articles about blended learning – and tehir are a number of handbooks etc. these tend to focus on rubriucs of curriculum and technology design. It is much haredr to find anything which really dives into the practice of deisgn and delivery of blended learning.

I started wondering why. Perhaps it is because we still seem to have problems in evaluating effective and approariate learning using technologies. Is it because we do not know what we are really looking for? Is it because we have inadequate understanding of what makes for effective learning? Or is it because we do not understand the processes of inetraction in teaching and learning.

I was talking about this with my friend and colleague Jenny Hughes. Jenny has worked for many years in training teachers and trainers. We were discussing the difficulty in recognising and researching effective teaching practices. In truth we know little about what actually happens behind the closed classroom door. Of course teachers and trainers exchange experiences – mostly, I suspect, through telling stories. Some teachers and trainers exchange materaisl they have found to be useful. We have some pretty good programmes for school managers. Yet we still have great difficulty in explaining what makes for effective teaching – even more so in passing that on to others. Indeed it sometimes seems that teacher training colleges teach everything else except how to teach. Jen and I went on to talk about how we might design a research project to identify effective teaching practice based on observation and developing shared metadata for describing practice.

More on this next week. And I will give you my list of examples of effective and appropriate practice when I finish it. In the meantime, if you have any examples, I would be very happy to hear from you.

Happy new year.

Personal Learning Environments

November 19th, 2007 by Graham Attwell

OK – I screwed up on the export with the title. But still – I think – some useful ideas in this presentation on Personal Learning Environments.

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