Archive for the ‘MOOCs’ Category

Reports on ECER’15 Budapest – Part One: The symposium of LL, Kompetenzwerkst@tt and Employ-ID

September 15th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

My recent posts have been reports on the Bremen International VET conference (2.9.-4.9.2015). The very next week many of the participants met again in the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER’15) in Budapest (8.9.-11.9.2015). Here again, I will start my reporting on the session that was initiated by our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. Then, I will give reports on some other sessions that were based on similar intervention research projects. Finally, I will make some comments on the conference (or on the program of the VETNET network) as a whole and on the general assembly of the VETNET network.

Learning Layers works together with Kompetenzwerkst@tt and Employ-ID

This year our plan was to have a joint symposium between the LL project and two neighbouring projects – the German project “Kompetenzwerkst@tt” and the European project “Employ-ID” with which we already had a joint session in the Bremen conference (see my previous posts). We also took into attention the conference theme “Education and transition – contributions from educational research” and developed our own ideas, how this could be applied to the three projects that we brought into joint session. For us – in this session – transition was related to evolution of project ideas and conquering new terrains for research & development work.

Originally we had submitted another proposal for a research workshop to discuss evaluation issues in complex European projects that promote users’ competences in digital media, web tools and mobile technologies. Due to clashes with other duties we had to withdraw this session (with the hope that we can get back to this topic some other time).

Kompetenzwerkst@tt proceeds to e-learning software and e-portfolios

We started with the Kompetenzwerkst@tt project that has the longest history to build upon. The literal translation “Competence workshop” hardly reveals the project idea and the connotative meanings of ‘competence’ in German language. Initially, the project started as a curriculum development project to base vocational learning on holistic approaches to occupational fields of activity (Handlungsfelder) and characteristic Working and Learning Tasks (Lern- und Arbeitsaufgaben (LAAs)). The process of analysing the fields of activity and specifying characteristic WLTs had been practiced in different occupational contexts and in transitional training contexts. This had led to the phase of preparing a series of handbooks covering the conceptual foundations, the methodologies, different spin-off innovations and the occupational fields that have been piloted so far.

In the presentation of Falk Howe and Werner Müller (both from ITB) the main thrust was given on the development of e-portfolios in the context of the Kompetenzwerks@att approach. They gave a brief overview of the previous stages of the project and then illustrated, how the previous work (on the fields of activity and working and learning tasks) was reflected in the structure of software and in the pedagogic support for learners. In this way we got an idea, how the e-portfolio can be used in retrospective sense (for documenting already acquired experiences and learning gains) and in prospective sense (for shaping and illustrating learning scenarios).

Learning Layers proceeds from apprentice training to continuing vocational training

In the case of our LL project we had a shorter project history as our starting point. In our case  we had started with our pilot activities in the construction sector with the training centre Bau-ABC with special attention on apprentice training. Therefore, the co-design processes that we initiated were firstly focusing on digitisation of training/learning materials. Then, in a further iteration we shifted the emphasis to Learning Toolbox – a framework for managing contents, apps, web resources and communications via mobile devices. Now, in the current phase of project (when we still have to do a lot of field testing and exploitation of results) we need to look for spin-off projects.

In our joint presentation I covered firstly the work within the LL project and gave a picture of its evolutionary phases. Then I gave some insights into the Learning Toolbox and its functionality and into the search for appropriate spin-off projects with emphasis on continuing vocational training (CVT). In the second part of our presentation Ludger Deitmer gave an overview on the CVT framework in the German construction sector with three different levels: Foreman (Vorarbeiter), Specialised site manager (Werkpolier) and general site manager (Geprüfte Polier). In our current project initiative we focus on the new training regulation of the general site managers. In addition to their traditional introductory courses they are required to complete situational tasks and a comprehensive project report. With these last mentioned tasks they are expected to demonstrate their occupational and managerial competences. In the third part of our presentation Werner Müller discussed some restrictions, barriers and challenges to our project work in construction sector (in general) and in the learning contexts of apprentices and more advanced craftsmen. He concluded the presentation with an innovation map (to guide us) and with some open questions.

Employ-ID piloting with  MOOCs for Public Employment Services – lessons for others?

The third project in the symposium – Employ-ID – focuses on the changes in the public employment services (PES) in Europe (with major pilots initiated in the UK). The background of the project is in the changing role of PES organisations due to changes in working life and occupations. Whilst the previous model was to select and guide the right people to appropriate jobs, the current changes have shifted the focus completely. Now these services are required to produce and process data of changing labour markets and employment prospects for different target groups and stimulate initiatives for employment and self-employment. Moreover, they are required to prove their efficiency and to cope with policies towards privatisation or semi-privatisation. Yet, they are to comply with the strict guidelines of data security and data protection.

In the light of the above Graham Attwell had to give us a lot of background information to bring us to the central theme of his presentation – to pilot with adapted MOOCs (Massively open online courses) in the British public employment services (as the first pilot). This mode of staff training was selected since the time pressures and financial constraints are making it difficult to implement traditional forms of staff training. Moreover, it appears to be difficult to make use of (individual) learning gains in an organisational context. From this point of view the project team participated in external MOOCs and then designed a pilot MOOC with a more interactive and discursive nature. In the implementation the number of participants and the openness of pilot were reduced. Yet, the technology of the major British MOOC provider Futurelearn was used. Altogether the pilot seemed to have been well received by the participants due to its actively interactive character. Yet, the participant’s report by Jenny Hughes (who had been involved both as a trainer and as a learner) indicated that the current technology still is far from mature stage.

Altogether, it appeared that we had gathered into a joint symposium three projects that have a lot to learn from each other. This is even more striking since the persons are working side by side or (as some of us are) crossing the boundaries of the two projects. We noticed that the e-portfolio application of Kompetenzwerkst@tt very well complements the Learning Toolbox. We also noticed that the functionality of Learning Toolbox may essentially enhance the Kompetenzwerkst@tt. And the lessons from the pilot MOOCs are important insights for the forthcoming pilots in vocational education and workplace training.

I think this is enough of our symposium. In the next blog post I will focus on similar sessions with interactive research and ‘stealthy’ interventions.

More blogs to come …

Crossing boundaries at the Bremen International VET conference – Part One: Learning Layers and Employ-ID work together

September 13th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

My recent blog was about a field visit to training centre Bau-ABC (2.9.2015) in the context of the fieldwork of the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. The very next day the ITB and Pontydysgu teams, together with Raymond Elferink (RayCom) presented Learning Toolbox at the Bremen International Conference on Vocational Education and Training (VET). This post will focus on this session, the next one on other sessions of the conference.

Insights into the Bremen Conference

Firstly, it is worthwhile to say some words of the Bremen International VET Conference. This conference has been initiated as part of an international project of ITB that has been launched by the University of Bremen (in the context of its Excellence University framework). The project studies transfer of the dual VET model by German companies working abroad (in China and in the USA). As a part of its work program the project has committed itself to organise international conferences. This one was the first of its kind and focused on crossing the boundaries and learning from each other. The conference was designed to keep it rather small (about 100 participants at the maximum) and to enable more discussion and more participative sessions (see below). I will give more information on the contents in my second blog post on this conference.

Presenting Learning Toolbox in the Bremen Conference

For the Bremen Conference we had prepared a Research Workshop session to avoid the typical impression of ‘talking heads’ in the front and passive listeners in the audience. Therefore, we kept the presentations rather short and then divided the audience into two working groups to discuss the presentations and to have some hands-on exercises. Here some snapshots on the contributions and activities:

Firstly, I gave a quick introduction to the Learning Layers project and to the script of the session. In this context I emphasised the continuity of themes between the participative design of Learning Toolbox (LTB), the functionality that is coming up in the LTB, the capacity building measures initiated in the training centre Bau-ABC and the lessons to be learned from the parallel European project Employ-ID (and its piloting with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

Secondly, Werner Müller (ITB) gave a presentation on the co-design process that led to the development of the LTB. He referred to the starting points in the sectoral pilot contexts (construction work not having the reputation of high-tech occupations). Then he gave a picture of the co-design activities, different phases of work and a general characterisation of LTB as a framework for tools and apps linked to each other in mobile devices.

Thirdly, Raymond Elferink (RayCom) gave a live demonstration on the LTB Beta version that we had just presented and tested on our field visit to the training centre Bau-ABC the day before (see my previous blog post). Alongside the general presentation (of the tile structure of the framework and of the process of creating focused stacks) he drew attention to the newly created stacks of the Bau-ABC trainers for their respective trades.

Fourthly, I (as a replacement of Melanie Campbell from Bau-ABC) gave a presentation of their training programs for their staff. This presentation drew attention firstly to the project-initiated training that equipped the Bau-ABC trainers with general know-how on multimedia and web tools and enabled them to produce and edit video material for their training. In the second part the presentation outlined the new training model initiated by the Bau-ABC trainers themaselves. In this new model they tried to ensure a flexible training arrangement that enables all trainers to work their way through parallel “theme rooms” that make them fit to use the LTB in their own training activities.

 Fifthly, Graham Attwell informed of the parallel European project Employ-ID and its work to support professional development and mastery of changes in Public Employment Services (PES). In this context the research & development worked with development of labour market data for guidance and counselling purposes. At the same time the project developed new training models for staff members in PES with limited possibilities to participate in traditional training measures. For this purpose the project developed an adapted version of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) with limited participation and limited openness but with similar technologies for online learning. Crucial for this pilot was the emphasis on interactivity and changing roles between trainers and learners. Here, the key point in this report on this recent pilot is to demonstrate the usability of these technologies for well-thought pedagogical pilots that emphasise the use of MOOC platforms as Social Learning Platforms.

After the presentations we split the audience into two working groups. In one group the participants had the opportunity for hands-on tests with the LTB (with Raymond Elferink and Dirk Stieglitz as tutors). In the other group we discussed possible success factors and criteria for acceptance in the above presented training models (of Bau-ABC and Employ-ID). Since we had half an hour for these sub-sessions, the participants could engage themselves in the testing and/or give freely their views on the training models. This was very much appreciated by all parties involved.

I guess this is enough of the main session of the Learning Layers project in this conference. In the next blog post I will give insights into other sessions in the Bremen International VET Conference.

More blogs to come …




Workplace Learning Analytics

June 16th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

EmployID is an EU-funded, four-year project which aims to support Public Employment Services staff to develop competences that address the need for integration and activation of job seekers in fast changing labour markets. According to the official flyer: “It builds upon career adaptability and resilience in practice, including quality and evidence- based frameworks for enhanced individual and organisational learning. It also supports the learning process of PES practitioners and managers in their professional identity development by supporting the efficient use of technologies to provide advanced coaching, reflection, networking and learning support services as well as MOOCs.”

One of the aims for research and development is to introduce the use of Learning Analytics within Public Employment Services. Although there is great interest in Learning Analytics by L and D staff, there are few examples of how Learning Analytics might be implanted in the workplace. Indeed looking at research reported by the Society for Learning Analytics Research reveals a paucity of attention to the workplace as a learning venue.

In this video, Graham Attwell proposes an approach to Workplace Learning Analytics based on the Social Learning Platform model (see diagram) adopted by the Employ ID project. He argues that rather merely fathering together possible data and then trying to work out what to do with it, data needs to be sought which can answer well designed research questions aiming to improve the quality of learning and the learning environment. socialllearningplatform


In the case of EmployID these questions could be linked to the six different foci of the Social Learning Platform, namely:

  • Support for facilitation roles
  • Structuring identity transformation activities
  • Supporting networking in personal networks
  • Supporting organisational networks
  • Supporting cross organisational dialogue
  • Providing social networking facilitation
  • Supporting networking in teams

For some of these activities we already have collected some “docital traces” for instance data on facilitation roles through within a pilot MOOC. In other cases we will have to think how best to develop tools and approaches to data gathering, both qualitative and quantitative.

The video has been produced to coincide with the launch of The Learning Analytics Summer Institute, a strategic event, co-organized by SoLAR and host institutions and by a global network of LASI-Locals who are running their own institutes.

Researching MOOCs

April 24th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

In February we held the first annual review meeting for the EmployID project, which is focused on identity transformation and continuing professional development in European Public Employment Services. As part of the review process we have to deliver a series of (substantial) reports detailing the work we have done in different work packages in the project. Pontydysgu are involved in a range of work across the project and additionally coordinate work on Networking, Structuring and Coordination Tools. Having authored the report on this area I am now checking back through it to make sure there is nothing confidential before we publish the reports. And at the same time I thought I would publish selected highlights on this blog.

One focus for our work is around MOOCs. The following section summarises our background research into MOOCs. A future post will outline how we are taking this forward.

MOOCs continue to feature highly at conferences, seminars and events in the Technology Enhanced Learning community and are a subject of some debate and contention. Given the fast moving discussions, this section can only aim to summarise some of the subjects of debate.

There are now hundreds of open online courses available through branded MOOC platforms such as Coursera, Udemy, FutureLearn and Iversity along with self‐hosted courses direct from Universities and even individual lecturers offering open courses outside of their institutions. The vision of the MOOC is exactly that, Massive ‐ anyone can join in, Open ‐ materials available free of charge for all to use and repurpose, Online Course. The extent of the openness of many courses branded as MOOC is questionable, most materials are locked behind logins, passwords and time limits. Some courses come with a fee. As described above, a MOOC is not always a MOOC.

Research by the UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) in 2013 highlighted two conflicting strands of thought amongst MOOC professionals.

A strand of enthusiasts welcomes the shake‐up and energy MOOCs bring to learning, teaching and assessment. They report positively on learning experiences and innovative formats of pedagogy, and spotlight themes such as access, empowerment, relationship building and community. This strand is particularly prevalent in the general press. Examples include Shirky and Legon.A strand of sceptics tempers the general enthusiasm along two themes. The supposed benefits of MOOCs were already realised in previous generations of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) innovation – and the innovations of MOOCs are the victory of packaging over content. The MOOC format itself suffers from weaknesses around access, content, quality of learning, accreditation, pedagogy, poor engagement of weaker learners, exclusion of learners without specific networking skills.

The themes emerging from both sides of the argument are those of access and inclusion of learners, quality of content, teaching and learning, networks and communities, and accreditation.

A recent study of MOOCs run by MIT showed that the most typical registrant in the courses were males aged 26 or older with a Bachelor’s degree. However, when the data is viewed in context it is notable that this demographic accounts for less than one in three registrants. Other statistics collected from 17 courses comprising over 600,000 registrants showed that 33% had high school or lower levels of education, 6.3% were over 50, and 2.7% had IP or mailing addresses from countries on the United Nations’ list of least‐developed countries (Rutter, 2014, Ho, 2014, DeBoer, 2014).

The formulaic structure of the branded courses such as Coursera make it easy for a course provider to quickly create an attractive looking sequence of lessons with video, text and assignments. One downside to this method is that there are now hundreds of identical looking courses consisting of video lectures, further reading and the occasional multiple choice quiz. The format has been referred to by critics as “The sage on a stage” and pedagogically reflects the paradigm that teaching is a one‐way process of giving knowledge to another. It is of course possible to use such a platform without being a slave to the formula, but more interaction with students requires more input and more time on the part of the course providers. The issue for the course facilitator is that online courses take time; a survey of professors running MOOCs recently reported that over 100 hours of work occurs before the course has started with a further 8 to 10 hours a week on upkeep (Kolowich, 2013). Factor in that the number of enrolled students on a MOOC can be as high as 160,000 (Rodriguez, 2012) and it becomes evident that dealing with individuals can be an almost impossible task.

Research carried out by MIT into 17 courses on the edX platform suggests that course completion may not be a valid success criteria for online courses or learners. “Course completion rates, often seen as a bellwether for MOOCs, can be misleading and may at times be counterproductive indicators of the impact and potential of open online courses.”

The researchers found evidence of large numbers of registrants who may not have completed a course but still accessed substantial amounts of course content.” (Rutter, 2014)

One of the most contentious debates has been dropout and completion rates. MOOCs in general have a very high dropout rate when compared to conventional courses (both face to face and online). Critics have pointed to this as evidence of the poor quality of courses and the lack of support for learning. Proponents of MOOCs have countered by pointing out how easy it is to sign up for free and open courses and that many learners join only wishing to undertake part of a programme. Openness, they say, is allowing more learners to embark on courses and that conventional measurements of quality such as completion rates are inappropriate for MOOCs.

The openness and availability of the resources will have some impact on the uptake of an online course by students. Participants can be put off by long registration processes or constant requests for login information. It is interesting to note that when materials are easy to access a number of students continue to access, study and participate in online courses beyond the official synchronous running times. Campbell (2014) describes these participants as “archived‐learners”;

“Despite the lack of a defined cohort, deadlines, strong instructor‐ presence, and the ability to earn a Statement of Accomplishment, archived‐learners indicate similar intent and exhibit similarbehavior to live‐learners. And this behavior extends beyond watching videos to completion of assessments and interaction on the discussion forums.” (Campbell, 2014)

The way in which students interact with online course content can be compared to the way in which people interact with other Web‐based media such as video or social network sites. (Rutter, 2014).

Research shows that students tend to navigate a non‐linear pattern through course content with students deemed successful (in that they achieved the certification available for the course) skipping around 20% of the content (Guo & Reinecke, 2014).

BIS (2013) summarises that “Learners who have completed MOOCs emerge from the literature as relatively enthusiastic about the MOOC format. Different kinds of learner experience have been identified, and passive consumption or lurking in a MOOC is a common pattern. The consensus is growing that lurking and auditing have validity as a learning activity within MOOCs, and that non‐completion is not a significant problem in this learning format.”

The early cMoocs were developed using a mixture of Open Source and homegrown software and some providers continue to follow such an approach. The last two years have seen the rapid emergence of MOOC platforms, driven in part by the need to ensure scalability and in part by attempting to standardise and facilitate MOOC design. Most, although not all, of these platforms have been developed by private organisations, often backed by venture capital funding and working in partnership with academic organisations for providing content. There have been some innovations, for instance in allowing designers to annotate video.

There has been some criticism by course developers of the limitations of platforms, particularly the xMooc platforms.

It is likely that more platforms will be released over the next two years and that some will be available as Open Source Software

Preparing for the LL Design Conference – Part 3: Paying attention to “Datenschutz”

March 6th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

My previous posts have focused on the forthcoming Y3 Design Conference of the Learning Layers (LL) project. In the first post I compared the situation of the project before the Y1 Design conference (two years ago) and before the Y3 Design Conference (currently).  In the second post I gave an overview how we have been working with the Learning Toolbox (LTB). This third post focuses (with reference to the LTB) to a general issue for the whole LL project and for all pilot activities. In English there several parallel concepts that refer to this problem context – data protection, data privacy, confidentiality …. I German this is all covered with one word: “Datenschutz”.

When discussing the next steps in the piloting with the Learning Toolbox we noticed that we do not have a coherent policy for Datenschutz. In this respect I wrote the following paragraph in the input on LTB to a wiki page of the LL Design Conference:

” (…) we need to develop a clear policy for data protection/ data security (Datenschutz) that covers the Layers Box (LB), the Learning Toolbox (LTB), the social semantic server (SSS) and linked platforms ( Firstly, we need urgently a brief Users’ Guide for the pilot phase. This is necessary to assure our pilot partners that they have control of their own data when using the LL tools and related services. Secondly, we need to develop the policy for the continuation phase beyond the funding period of the LL project. This is an essential element of the exploitation plans.”

As a response to this apparent need Graham Attwell started looking for documents that could be helpful for us. We all agreed that we need to pay attention to the legal aspects (with sufficiently detailed documents) but we also need to prepare short user-friendly documents that we can use with our pilot partners. From this perspective we started looking at the  Datenschutz policy documents of FutureLearn (a consortium of British universities that organises MOOCs). FutureLearn has developed the following set of documents:

  • Terms – the overarching framework agreement that covers in detail all possible policy issues.
  • Openness – A short list of openness principles.
  • Privacy – Privacy policy declared by the organisation FutureLearn.
  • Cookies – Policy for using different type of cookies.
  • Accessibility – Accessibility policy (including the responsibilities of different parties).
  • Code of Conduct – A short list of principles as the commitments of users to which they agree when signing up.
  • Data protection – A short document declaring the policy for data control, data collection and responsibilities of different parties.

We are most certainly aware of the fact that the policies of a provider of MOOCs are different from the ones that the LL project needs to develop. So, there is no prospect for easy one-to-one translations. BUT what inspires us is the nicely differentiated set of coherent documents – some for ordinary users, some for experts – within a common framework. Also, what inspires us, is the fact that FutureLearn – like the LL project – is committed to Open Source software. So, there is a lot in common to work with.

More blogs to come …



Changing perspectives on VLEs/PLEs, eLearning and MOOCs

March 4th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

My recent posts have been reports on my efforts to catch up with debates in EdTech communities and with recent pilots with MOOCs. I made use of a relatively quiet period in our work for the Learning Layers (LL) project to read what Graham Attwell has recently written on these issues. (With quiet I don’t mean that we would have had nothing to do. My point was that we have been more occupied with preparatory tasks – not much to blog about them.)

Now it seems that I have to move on to the actual preparation of the forthcoming Design Conference. Therefore, I have to postpone my further reading to some other time. At this point I make only few comments and notes for myself what to read next.

1. Changing concepts – changing perspectives

It strikes me that in the long run several changes in terminology in EdTech (and before EdTech became a big number) have paved the way from teaching-centred to learning-oriented approaches. Just thinking the changes from ‘distance teaching’ to ‘distance learning’, ‘remote learning’ and finally to ‘open distance learning’. In the beginning phase ‘eLearning’ was hyped as an alternative paradigm – the new promising mainstream to push into periphery the traditional academic teaching and learning culture. Gradually the initiatives with ‘eLearning in practice’ have brought into picture far more realistic approaches (with emphasis on technology enhanced learning TEL).

A similar transition seems to have taken place in the debates on Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) vs. Personal Learning Environments (PLEs). As Graham put it a quote that I have picked from his earlier blog: “At a development level, there is little point in trying to develop a new PLE to replace the VLE. Instead we need to provide flexible tools which can enhance existing technologies and learning provision, be it formal courses and curricula or informal learning in the workplace or in the community.”

To me, the above repeated quote might be also the key to understand adequately the potential of MOOCs. I have the impression that the early phase of the MOOCs has been misused or misinterpreted to create a picture of a renaissance of e-teaching (by global missionaries) in the form of massively open online courses. What I see coming up in the newer blogs is increasingly a picture of scalable learning opportunities via which professional communities reach new dimensions. If I have understood it correctly, the initiative LangMOOC is looking for opportunities to develop language support practices for transnational cooperation activities. To me, the pilots in the employment services point to a similar direction. But I am eager to learn from those who are involved.

2. What should I/we look more closely

Even with the risk that I will not have that much time I will list some blog articles that I should try to go through in the coming time. I have sadly neglected a most valuable resource – the blog Wilfred Rubens over Technology Enhanced Learning – but with these issues I must catch up with some topics. My priority issues will be the following ones (published quite recently but to the very point I want to catch up with):

Vormen van e-learning (February 25th 2015)

Here Wilfred gives a differentiated view on different forms of e-learning (I think he identifies 11 variants).

Nieuwe EMMA MOOCS van start #EUMOOCS (February 27th 2015)

Here Wilfred gives insights into European cooperation intiatives to develop MOOCs.

Hoe lerenden binnen MOOCS opereren? (March 2nd 2015)

Here Wilfred reports on a study that has analysed the activities of learners of MOOCs.

So let us see when I get to deepen my understanding of MOOCs and similar learning arrangements that transform the perspective from ‘courses’ to social learning in professional communities.

More blogs to come …

What can we learn from pilot activities with MOOCs?

February 24th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

As I told in my previous post, our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project is preparing itself for the Design Conference of the Year 2, which will take place in March in Espoo (next to Helsinki) in Finland. And as I also told, I have looked over the fence and explored, what our colleague Graham Attwell has been writing recently. In my previous post I was looking at the points he has made in debates on VLEs, PLEs and MOOCs.

Now I am trying get an idea, what Graham and his colleagues have been experiencing with the pilot activities of the neighbouring EU-funded project Employ-ID (that focuses on Employment services in Europe). As I understand it, they have started as learners in MOOCs, then to develop a medium-scale pilot arrangement, and now they are harvesting their first results. I am not trying to tell the news myself, but I am fascinated by the way that Graham has worked his way in this pilot (and covered it with his blogs).

 1. Stepping in as a participant of MOOC (Graham’s report May 13th 2014)

“We are planning to run a series of MOCCs as part of this project (Employ-ID) and the project partners have agreed themselves to do a MOOC as part of our own learning project. So why did I choose to do a course of digital curation? I have spent a lot of time working on the development of Open Educational Resources (OERs). Open Educational Resources are resources for learning and teaching that are open to use. But resources means not only content and materials but also tools for content creation and sharing as well as intellectual property licenses for using these resources freely and openly.” (…)

“It strikes me that many of the digital objects being grated by participants in this course could be a very rick source of learning. more than that it also seems that many of the issues in digital curation are very similar to those round OERs – for example

  • how do we classify and structure resources
  • how do we ensure digital resources are discoverable
  • how do we measure the quality of resources
  • how can we encourage people to interact with resources.

And finally I think that the best answers to these questions may come through an interdisciplinary dialogue.”

2. Heading to pilot with adapted MOOC (Graham’s comment April 29th 2014)

“Within the European Employ-ID project, (which is researching employment adaptability and the use of technology for supporting coaching and continuing professional development for Public Employment workers in Europe), we have promised, for better or worse, to organise a MOOC. In fact, I think this was promised for the final year of thee project, which has only just started, but with plenty of enthusiasm from the public employment services and from project partners, we are planning to bring it forward to next year.”

As Graham has reported it several months ago, the idea to organise an adapted MOOC – not necessarily massively open and not yet so open, but based on the same pattern – was well received by their counterparts. As I hear from the echos, it appears that this pilot experience helps us to overcome the EdTech perspective on MOOCs and to turn the concept back on its feet. Instead of putting the design issues into centre, Graham has pushed us to think about the social learning in organisational and professional communities. We are looking forward to hear more on this.

More blogs to come …

What do we learn from debates on VLEs, PLEs and MOOCs for workplace learning?

February 24th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

Currently our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project is preparing itself for the Design Conference of the Year 2, which will take place in March in Espoo (next to Helsinki) in Finland. We will be discussing issues of Co-Design, Evaluation and Exploitation. Surely, our work with the Learning Toolbox will be high on the agenda. But, as the name of the event says, we should consider, what is important regarding design, transfer of innovations and scaling up of innovations.

From this perspective I have looked over the fence and explored, what our colleague Graham Attwell has been writing recently on the debates on Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), Personal Learning Environments (PLEs), and Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on his blog Wales-Wide-Web. Of course, his blog articles are available on this same Pontydysgu site. But sometimes it is worthwhile to highlight some points that we may pass too quickly when reading his flow of posts. Here some of the highlights that I have picked as lessons from the debates:

1. Graham’s comment on the optimistic prediction on the impact of mobile technologies on workplace learning (July 6th 2014)

Prediction (formulated by Graham): “the workplace becomes part of the Personal Learning Environment and conversely the PLE becomes part of the work process. At the same time, such an approach can bring together both formal and informal learning.”

Comment (by Graham): “It hasn’t happened yet and it is worth thinking about why. One reason maybe that only recently has seen the spread of sufficiently powerful mobile devices and applications. Another is the suspicion of employers about the uses of such devices in the workplace. Most importantly may be the failure to develop pedagogic approaches for mobile learning.”

2. Graham’s comments on trends and fashions in Educational Technology (June 15th /April 29th 2014)

What is floating, what is sustaining: ” Ideas and trends emerge, peak and die away as attention moves to the latest new thing. At the time of writing MOOCs dominate the discourse. Yet the developments around Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) have not gone away.  It could be argued that the development and adoption of PLEs is not so much driven the educational technology (…) but by the way people (…)  are using technology for learning in their everyday lives.”

Managerism/Consumerism/Prosumerism: “Even when Learning Management Systems were in their prime, there was evidence of serious issues in their use. Teachers tended to use such environments as an extended file storage system; forums and discussion spaces were frequently under populated. In other words such systems were used for managing learning, rather than for learning itself.  Learners expropriated and adapted consumer and productivity applications for their learning.”

Contrast between VLEs/PLEs: “At a development level, there is little point in trying to develop a new PLE to replace the VLE. Instead we need to provide flexible tools which can enhance existing technologies and learning provision, be it formal courses and curricula or informal learning in the workplace or in the community. It can be argued that whilst most educational technology development has focused on supporting learners already engaged in educational programmes and institutions, the major potential of technology and particularly of Personal Learning Environments is for the majority of people not enrolled on formal educational programmes.”

Open learning/Open Educational Resources/ MOOCs: “Such changes are reflected in the growing movement towards open learning, be it in the form of MOOCs or in the increasing availability of Open Educational Resources. The popularity of MOOCs has revealed a vast pent up demand for learning and at least in the form of the c-MOOCs has speeded the adoption of PLEs. MOOCs are in their infancy and we can expect the rapid emergence of other forms of open learning or open education in the next few years.”

MOOCs – only hype?: “MOOCs are now set on the downside of the hype cycle and it is not difficult to find critics – or even those predicting their immanent end. I can’t see much sign of them going away = if anything there seems to be more and more MOOCs appearing – although that may be just a result of better discoverability. However there does seem to be huge variation in design, duration and above all quality although we do not really have any agreed criteria for measuring quality.”

So what: “Despite the issues of design and quality, the sheer numbers of learners signing up for MOOCs deserves some reflection. I interpret it as a vast pent up demand for opportunities for learning. (…) MOOCs have enabled a massive expansion in the scope of subjects on offer as Open Education. So, even though I sympathise with the critics, particularly as to the quality of pedagogy, I think we should see MOOCs in that light. MOOCs are one iteration in the use of technology to greatly expand Open Education and to make that education available to everyone.”

OK, here I have picked some thoughts that Graham has brought forward in the course of debates and as candidates for ‘lessons from the debates’. However, these are still at the level of educational debates. What we in the Learning Layers are looking for, is something to put into practice and something that sustains in the hard test of practice. I think Graham has something more to say in this respect – I will continue my reading.

More blogs to come …

Back at work – facing the challenges of the new year 2015

January 22nd, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

So, after a lengthy holiday break I am back at work. As usual, when being one of the last ones to return from the holidays, you get overwhelmed by things that are on the move and you have to jump into running trains. With the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project we are doing the homework that we got from the Year 2 review meeting – preparing a Critical path Analysis. Partly within this process and partly alongside it we are finalising our plans for the year 2015.

The Critical Path Analysis was recommended by the reviewers to clarify our priorities (what is taken on board in the critical paths) and to specify our approach to less critical activities (sandboxing them as reserve activities). In many respects this has pointed out to be useful since this is not merely a routine updating of the work plan. Instead, the analysis has pushed us to become more aware of the key activities for the whole project and to find synergies between them. Due to this task we are getting clearer about the synergies at the level of software development, technology packages, linked services and framework tools etc.

While we are working with this task we are preparing proposals for conferences and plans for field activities. Furthermore, it is one of the key features of the LL project that we are looking for opportunities for transfer projects and opportunities to exploit the results alongside the project work. So, this all keeps us busy at the moment.

More blogs to come …

Personal Learning Environments, Self Directed Learning and Context

June 15th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

Ten days ago I had an email from Alexander Mikroyannidis from the UK Open University. “Together with some colleagues from the EU project ROLE (” he said, “I’m preparing a book to be published by Springer. It will be entitled “Personal Learning Environments in Practice” and it will present the results of applying PLEs in different test-beds in the project.

For each chapter, we have invited an external expert to provide a 2-page commentary that will also be published in the book. Would you be available to write such a commentary for the chapter that describes the vision of the project?”

How could I refuse? And here is my contribution:

Research and development in learning technologies is a fast moving field.  Ideas and trends emerge, peak and die away as attention moves to the latest new thing. At the time of writing MOOCs dominate the discourse. Yet the developments around Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) have not gone away.  It could be argued that the development and adoption of PLEs is not so much driven the educational technology community but by the way people (and not just students) are using technology for learning in their everyday lives.

Even when Learning Management Systems were in their prime, there was evidence of serious issues in their use. Teachers tended to use such environments as an extended file storage system; forums and discussion spaces were frequently under populated. In other words such systems were used for managing learning, rather than for learning itself.  Learners expropriated and adapted consumer and productivity applications for their learning. Such trends became more pronounced with the emergence of Web 2.0 and social software. Social networking applications in particular, allowed the development of personal learning networks. Rather than go to the institutionally sanctioned LMS or VLE, learners communicated through Facebook or Whats App. PLNs were not longer limited to class or course cohorts but encompassed wider social and learning networks. Wikipedia has emerged as a major open resource for learning.

As mobile technologies have become increasingly powerful and, at least in some countries, internet access has become increasingly ubiquitous, learners use their own devices for learning and are not confined to institutional facilities. Regardless of trends in educational technology theory and research, learners are developing and using their own Personal Learning Environments.

At the same time, the ongoing rapid developments in technologies are changing forms of knowledge development and leading to pressures for lifelong learning. Universities and educational institutions can no longer preserve a monopoly on knowledge. Notwithstanding their continuing hold on accreditation, institutions are no longer the only providers of learning, a move seen in the heart-searching by universities as to their mission and role.

Such changes are reflected in the growing movement towards open learning, be it in the form of MOOCs or in the increasing availability of Open Educational Resources. The popularity of MOOCs has revealed a vast pent up demand for learning and at least in the form of the c-MOOCs has speeded the adoption of PLEs. MOOCs are in their infancy and we can expect the rapid emergence of other forms of open learning or open education in the next few years.

Learning is becoming multi-episodic, with people moving in and out of courses and programmes. More importantly the forms and sources of learning are increasingly varied with people combining participation in face-to-face courses, online and blended learning programmes and self directed and peer supported learning using different internet technologies.

These changes are reflected in discussion over pedagogy and digital literacies. It is no longer enough to be computer literate. Learners need to be able to direct and manage their own learning, formal and informal, regardless of form and source. In conjunction with More Knowledge Others (Vygotsky, 1978) they need to scaffold their own learning and to develop a personal knowledge base. At the same time as the dominance of official accreditation wanes, they need to be able to record and present their learning achievement. Personal Learning Environments are merely tools to allow this to happen.

All this leads to the issue of the role of educational technology researchers and developers. In research terms we need to understand more not just about how people use technology or learning but how they construct a personal knowledge base, how they access different resources for learning, including people and how knowledge is exchanged and developed.

At a development level, there is little point in trying to develop a new PLE to replace the VLE. Instead we need to provide flexible tools which can enhance existing technologies and learning provision, be it formal courses and curricula or informal learning in the workplace or in the community. It can be argued that whilst most educational technology development has focused on supporting learners already engaged in educational programmes and institutions, the major potential of technology and particularly of Personal Learning Environments is for the majority of people not enrolled on formal educational programmes. Not all workplaces or for that matter communities offer a rich environment or learning. Yet there is vast untapped potential in such environments, particularly for the development and sharing of the tacit knowledge and work process knowledge required in many tasks and occupations. PLE tools can help people learning in formal and informal contexts, scaffold their learning and develop a personal learning knowledge base or portfolio.

At both pedagogic and technical levels, context provides a major challenge. Whilst mobile technologies recognise the context of place (through GPS), other and perhaps more important aspects of context are less well supported. This includes time – how is what I learned at one time linked to something I learned later? It includes purpose – why am I trying to learn something? It includes the physical environment around me, including people. And of course it includes the social and semantic links between places, environments, people and objects.

The challenge is to develop flexible applications and tools to enhance peoples’ PLEs and which can recognise context, can support people in scaffolding their learning and develop their own Personal Learning Networks and enhance their ability to direct their own learning and the learning of their peers.

Two major European funded projects, ROLE and Learning Layers are attempting to develop such applications. They both have the potential to make major inroads into the challenges outlined in this short paper.


Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.




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    The future of libraries

    The NMC Horizon Project, an ongoing research project designed to identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have an impact on teaching, learning, and creative inquiry has released its library edition. Six key trends, six significant challenges, and six important developments in technology are identified across three adoption horizons over the next one to five years, giving library leaders and staff, they say, a valuable guide for strategic technology planning.

    The NMC Horizon Report > 2015 Library Edition identifies “Increasing Value of the User Experience” and “Prioritization of Mobile Content and Delivery” as short-term impact trends driving changes in academic and research libraries over the next one to two years. The “Evolving Nature of the Scholarly Record” and “Increasing Focus on Research Data Management” are mid-term impact trends expected to accelerate technology use in the next three to five years; and “Increasing Accessibility of Research Content” and “Rethinking Library Spaces” are long-term impact trends, anticipated to impact libraries for the next five years or more.

    Online Educa Berlin

    Are you going to Online Educa Berlin 2014. As usual we will be there, with Sounds of the Bazaar, our internet radio station, broadcasting live from the Marlene bar on Thursday 4 and Friday 5 December. And as always, we are looking for people who would like to come on the programme. Tell us about your research or your project. tell us about cool new ideas and apps for learning. Or just come and blow off steam about something you feel strongly about. If you would like to pre-book a slot on the radio email graham10 [at] mac [dot] com telling us what you would like to talk about.


    Diana Laurillard, Chair of ALT, has invited contributions to a consultation on education technology to provide input to ETAG, the Education Technology Action Group, which was set up in England in February 2014 by three ministers: Michael Gove, Matthew Hancock and David Willetts.

    The deadline for contributions is 23 June at

    Social Tech Guide

    The Nominet Trust have announced their new look Social Tech Guide.

    The Social Tech Guide first launched last year, initially as a home to the 2013 Nominet Trust 100 – which they describe as a list of 100 inspiring digital projects tackling the world’s most pressing social issues.

    In  a press relase they say: “With so many social tech ventures out there supporting people and enforcing positive change on a daily basis, we wanted to create a comprehensive resource that allows us to celebrate and learn from the pioneers using digital technology to make a real difference to millions of lives.

    The Social Tech Guide now hosts a collection of 100’s of social tech projects from around the world tackling everything from health issues in Africa to corruption in Asia. You can find out about projects that have emerged out of disaster to ones that use data to build active and cohesive communities. In fact, through the new search and filter functionality on the site, you should find it quick and easy to immerse yourself in an inspiring array of social tech innovations.”

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