Friday, April 26

Top trends in Learning Technologies: a bluffer's guide

Do you know your MOOCs from your OERs?
Are you BYOD while flipping the classroom?
Have a look at our quick guide to the top trends in Learning Technology. What they are. What they mean. And how to see through the hype enough to be able to talk confidently about them!




OER - Open Educational Resources:
OER Image
Historically, there has been an uncomfortable relationship between publishers, and educators. Who owns the rights to the content used during teaching? How much gets paid for the books and resources? Is that profit going to improved content, or happy shareholders.
Enter the OER movement. Open educational resources that an be used, modified and shared, for free. Momentum seems to be moving faster in some countries than others, but many heavyweight backers, funders and institutions are starting to put their money, and weight behind the idea that educational resources should be made available, for free.
It is still a fairly disconnected movement, with many different stakeholders, and many different definitions of "free" and "open". But a huge range of very good resources, and publications have already been freed up, and in some admirable cases teams of educators are working together to write their own, collaborative text books as open alternatives to commercial ones.
Special mention here should go to Creative Commons, who offer a very simple licensing model, to help users understand exactly how free, or open some reused content is.
Verdict: OER is very significant. If you are using government funding to generate new resources, think seriously about making them available to all.

Mobile Learning:
vuforiaMuch hyped, only moderately understood. Mobile learning is a term used when mobile devices are woven into a learning, or training scenario. Often, but not always where the learner themselves is mobile. It has found some significant success in areas where traditional training, or learning are not working that well (hard to reach learners, travelling employees) as well as triggering a rethink about traditional e-learning modules - since mobile is great for instantaneous lookup, and small snack-based learning, but a poor tool for a drawn out e-learning course.
The most important thing to bear in mind is that it isn't one things. It is a toolbox of approaches that you pick from as needed. So conversations about mobile learning "at school", are likely to be massively different from "at university", and different again from "at work".
My team have been dedicated to this niche for quite a few years - if you want to dig deeper, look around the site!
Verdict: m-learning is already making huge impact in niche areas. and will continue to do so - but don't assume it replaces face-to-face experience. Think of it more as an enricher / enhancer, and be suspicious of vendors promoting shiny equipment, or mega complex systems. Make sure they are supporting real learning.

Game based learning:
games
This has been described as the "next big thing" for at least the past 10 years. Two disastrous models, often repeated are:
  1. interesting game, often of first-person adventurer / puzzle solving variety, with really naff 2-d content quizzes scattered through it. A fun game ruined by lame learning.
  2. linear e-learning style content course, with series of quizzes and knowledge tests that have been built up into a contest / competition format. But the "game" is just proving your content knowledge
(I may be being a little cruel - since there are some examples of the latter working well, where drill and practise is useful. Like language learning. Or maths skills)
Two interesting, and more successful models are:
  1. playing a real game, designed for entertainment, but setting challenges within it that build on learning. (Tym Rylands has been doing this for years, with Myst)
  2. doing real, learning tasks. But using a badging system to show progress, and gains. (Mozilla's Open Badges framework offer goodtools for this)
Verdict: Mixing play with learning has always been effective, and will continue to be so. But rubbish-quality resources don't magically improve by adding a quiz at the end, a leader board, and some badges. Make sure the learning is right, before diving into a large, complex system

Learning Analytics:
This is Big Data for learning. Using data management tools to pull in multiple sources of information about your learners, and then using that to understand, in greater depth, what their needs are. Why just look at data from the LMS, when you can also find out about sickness records, library access, unpaid fines, club memberships and even what they eat at the canteen!
This can work. But you need seriously advanced data skills not to be misled, and robust data ethics in place not  abuse what you know.
Verdict: Very powerful possibilities. Both for supporting learners in new, and meaningful ways. And for abusing what you know about them. Resist the urge to exclude failing learners rather than investing in them. Definitely worth engaging with - but keep a firm grip on the ethics :-)

MOOC - the Massively Open Online Course:
mooc
MOOCs are learning websites - often free - designed to offer learning to many thousands of students at the same time. They have been around for quite a few years, but suddenly hit the big-time, thanks to recent backing from some big universities, and some high profile start-ups. But the hype is also slightly skewed to one specific genre of MOOC.
Why the hype: Several big universities have started offering free access to their course materials. This is extremely cool (since a poor student at an under-resourced school can now access the same content as a MIT graduate), but has caused all sorts of uncomfortable knock on effects. Can the poor student now get a degree from MIT? Is the distance experience of an equivalent quality to a residential student? Should they pay?
Unfortunately these debates have entirely skewed the public perceptions about MOOCs. They are NOT just a vehicle to distribute pre-recorded lectures. Many of the most inspired MOOCs are not modelled on a traditional lecture / classroom based experience at all, but rather built on learner centered, connectivist ideas, where the students work.
To try to distinguish between these, one of the founders of the MOOC movement has suggested renaming them xMOOC and cMOOC - with xMOOCs being the ones modelled on a traditional lecture based experience (handing over the knowledge) and cMOOCs being the collaborative ones, where learners work together to generate the knowledge.
High profile examples of xMOOCs include:
  • FutureLearn - launched by Open University in UK
  • Coursera – spun out of Stanford
  • edX – spun out of harvard & MIT
  • udacity – originated with a stanford Artificial Intelligence course.
Or examples that break away from formal university courses, but use a similar model:
  • Peer-to-Peer University (P2PU)
  • Udemy
cMOOCs would include:
  • MobiMOOC - annual event focussed on mobile learning
I suggest we add one more type: domainMOOCs. MOOCs designed for individual access to teach a specific subject. Or to make the content available for free, to be used in other platforms
  • CodeAcademy - building software programs. Dynamic marking and guidance
  • Khan Academy - custom paths through maths learning modules
  • Open Study
  • MIT OpenCourseware
  • Ted-ed – not quite the same, but TED's own open learning initiative
And if this all feels like too much - there are even sites trying to offer indexes to all of these courses: www.class-central.com
Verdict: Are making an important impact on open, shared learning. But if you get cornered by a university lecturer with strong opinions about MOOCs destroying higher education, bear in mind that he may have his head stuck in one specific debate (xMOOC vs traditional university degree) and be missing the big picture. And the real gains!

Flipped Classrooms:
If so much information is available online, and quality time with your teacher is hard to find … why waste the time you DO have together by sitting quietly in your chair, and listening to a lecture. Far better, perhaps, to watch the lecture recorded before you come into class, and then spend the face-to-face time discussing it, asking questions, doing activities. This is the idea behind the flipped classroom, and it has some great success stories around it
verdict: Simple, yet effective reminder that face-to-face time is valuable, and ought to be used to help understanding, rather than just broadcast the facts

BYOD
Bring Your Own Devices refers to initiatives to allow students / employees to use their own, personal devices at work, or at school, as an official part of their day. There are a wide range of views about this, though in most scenarios it is a useful and empowering approach. In schools, the main concerns are about classroom management, and fairness of access. In the workplace, concerns range from privacy of personal data, to security of corporate data.
verdict: BYOD is here to stay. Organisations need to adapt their policies to support them, and minimise the risks, rather than resisting the use of personal devices (which puts them into an arms-race to provide equivalent devices, and access themselves)

Coding for Kids:
coding for kids
For some reason that nobody in the tech world can fathom, very few kids today are really learning to become coders, or hackers. Rather their use of IT tends to focus on using pre-made software packages (powerpoint, office, etc). This despite the awesome work done by people like Seymour Papert over 30 years ago encouraging kids to build and create with computers, rather than just operate them. The past few years have seen a strong revival in this area, with multiple initiatives spraining up around the world encouraging kids to code.
Just google "coding for kids" for a fantastic selection of them
verdict: If we truly want our kids to be in control of technology (and not the other way around), support your local coding for kids initiative!
(Having said that, I still haven't managed to enlighten my teenage daughter. Maybe doing the same work as your dad will never be cool, whatever it is!)



I hope you enjoyed our round-up of the latest trends in learning technology, and found enough in there to help you bluff your way through a conversation about it.
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