Open Learning Analytics or Architectures for Open Curricula?

February 12th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

George Siemen’s latest post, based on his talk at TEDxEdmonton, makes for interesting reading.

George says:

Classrooms were a wonderful technological invention. They enabled learning to scale so that education was not only the domain of society’s elites. Classrooms made it (economically) possible to educate all citizens. And it is a model that worked quite well.

(Un)fortunately things change. Technological advancement, coupled with rapid growth of information, global connectedness, and new opportunities for people to self-organized without a mediating organization, reveals the fatal flaw of classrooms: slow-developing knowledge can be captured and rendered as curriculum, then be taught, and then be assessed. Things breakdown when knowledge growth is explosive. Rapidly developing knowledge and context requires equally adaptive knowledge institutions. Today’s educational institutions serve a context that no longer exists and its (the institution’s) legacy is restricting innovation.

George calls for the development of an open learning analytics architecture based on the idea that: “Knowing how schools and universities are spinning the dials and levers of content and learning – an activity that ripples decades into the future – is an ethical and more imperative for educators, parents, and students.”

I am not opposed to what he is saying, although I note Frances Bell’s comment about privacy of personal data. But I am unsure that such an architecture really would improve teaching and learning – and especially learning.

As George himself notes, the driving force behind the changes in teaching and learning that we are seeing today is the access afforded by new technology to learning outside the institution. Such access has largely rendered irrelevant the old distinctions between formal, non formal and informal learning. OK – there is still an issue in that accreditation is largely controlled by institutions who naturally place much emphasis on learning which takes place within their (controlled and sanctioned) domain. yet even this is being challenged by developments such as Mozilla’s Open Badges project.

Educational technology has played only a limited role in extending learning. In reality we have provided access to educational technology to those already within the system. But the adoption of social and business software for learning – as recognised in the idea of the Personal Learning Environment – and the similar adaption of these technologies for teaching and learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) – have moved us beyond the practice of merely replicating traditional classroom architectures and processes in technology.

However there remain a series of problematic issues. Perhaps foremost is the failure to develop open curricula – or, better put, to rethink the role of curricula for self-organized learning.

For better or worse, curricula traditionally played a role in scaffolding learning – guiding learners through a series of activities to develop skills and knowledge. These activities were graded, building on previously acquired knowledge in developing a personal knowledge base which could link constituent parts, determining how the parts relate to one another and to an overall structure or purpose.

As Peter Pappas points out in his blog on ‘A Taxonomy of Reflection’, this in turn allows the development of what Bloom calls ‘Higher Order Reflection’ – enabling learners to combine or reorganize elements into a new pattern or structure.

Vygostsky recognised the importance of a ‘More Knowledgeable Other’ in supporting reflection in learning through a Zone of Peripheral Development. Such an idea is reflected in the development of Personal Learning Networks, often utilising social software.

Yet the curricula issue remains – and especially the issue of how we combine and reorganise elements of learning into new patterns and structure without the support of formal curricula. This is the more so since traditional subject boundaries are breaking down. Present technology support for this process is very limited. Traditional hierarchical folder structures have been supplemented by keywords and with some effort learners may be able to develop their own taxonomies based on metadata. But the process remains difficult.

So – if we are to go down the path of developing new open architectures – my priority would be for an open architecture of curricula. Such a curricula would play a dual role in supporting self organised learning for individuals but also at the same time supporting emergent rhizomatic curricula at a social level.

 

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Work Process Knowledge, Developmental Competence and rhizomatic knowledge

November 11th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

A number of years ago I did a couple of studies, funded by the European Commission on the use of technology for learning in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). SMEs are defined by the European Commission as those employing less than 350 employees. My overall conclusions were that whilst few enterprises were using Virtual Learning Environments or indeed any other formal e-learning platforms or technologies for learning this did not mean that learning was not happening. Instead many employees used computers everyday for informal learning. Learning was motivated by the need to solve problems in the workplace or surprisingly often by curiosity and interest.

The technologies employed varied but they included Google, Bulletin Boards and email. Ask-a-friend was a common pedagogic strategy.

Now several years on, the European Commission’s Research Programme on information technologies has launched another call for projects designed to crack the perceived issue of the lack of use of Technology Enhanced Learning in SMEs.

And they still haven’t got it. They seem to have an assumption that there are hard to reach sectors or that the technology just isn’t good enough. Or, often is cited, the lack of access to hardware and connectivity.

Of course, since I did my orginal study, there has been considerable changes in technology. The biggest is probably the widespread use of mobiles, (handys, GSM, cells), many of them internet enabled.

But talking to employers this week I don’t see many changes in how the internet is being used for learning. There is one big change though. The employers I have spoken to are aware that computers can facilitate learning and knowledge exchange and support those processes. Back before few employers even knew their employees were involved in learning (mind, many of the employees also didn’t call it learning!).

but the learning processes remain informal. Human communication is most valued, albeit technology mediated. There remains little take up of formal e-learning programmes.

There does seem to be an increasing awareness of the need to link learning and information and knowledge management processes. There is also intense interest in the ability of new technologies to be utlisied at or near the work process and to support the development of what I call work process knowledge or developmental competence.

The concept of Work Process Knowledge emphasises the relevance of practice in the workplace and is related to concepts of competence and qualification that stress the idea that learning processes not only include cognitive, but also affective, personal and social factors. They include the relevance of such non-cognitive and affective-social factors for the acquisition and use of work process knowledge in practical action. Work often takes place, and is carried out, in different circumstances and contexts. Therefore, it is necessary for the individual to acquire and demonstrate a certain capacity to reflect and act on the task (system) and the wider work environment in order to adapt, act and shape it. Such competence is captured in the notion of “developmental competence” (Ellstroem PE, 1997) and includes ‘the idea of social shaping of work and technology as a principle of vocational education and training’ (Heidegger, G., Rauner F., 1997). Work process knowledge embraces ‘developmental competence’, the developmental perspective emphasising that individuals have the capacity to reflect and act upon the environment and thereby forming or shaping it. In using technologies to develop such work process knowledge, individuals are also shaping or appropriating technologies, often developed or designed for different purposes, for social learning.

it seems to me that if we really want to introduce Technology Enhanced Learning in the workplace (and especially in SMEs) we have to find ways of supporting the development of work process knowledge and developmental competence. The problem is that most formal elearning programmes are tied to very traditional notions of competences, which are often only loosely connected to practice. This is one of the reasons I like the idea of rhizomatic knowledge, as put forward by Dave Cormier and currently being discussed on the #Change11 MOOC. Rhizomatic knowledge in the sense of work process knowledge is  generated by practice in communities and technology can be used to scaffold the development of developmental competence through practice (incidentally I think this overcomes many of the objections to the idea of rhizomatic knowledge as discussed on Dave’s blog).

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