Jane Hart, in response to my comment on Manish’s blog post, was wondering what I meant by structured construction and tracking models for teaching-learning in a Learning 2.0 world. I guess this is as good a time as any to start throwing some ideas around for discussion. Thanks Jane, for forcing me to think harder!
Let us first look at teaching-learning activities and see if we can identify some of the key components of these activities.
Goals/Object of Learning
In any learning activity, the goal is to learn. There could be other activities where learning is incidentally acquired, but that is not my focus. One of the outcomes of learning could be performance improvements in the workplace, but there could be many others. For this post, I want to focus on the former. Within these outcomes of a learning activity, there could be performance improvements in attitude, skills or knowledge. This could range from improvements such as being able to operate a software to being able to articulate strategy at varying levels of job roles and competencies.
Social learning also builds or helps build some skills by default. One of these skills is effective communication. Another one is teamwork (especially multi-cultural). These skills are equally critical contributors in performance improvements and one of the key challenges in any classroom.
In any learning activity, the second challenge is usually of time. Each learning goal needs to be accomplished in a given period of time. This time period applies equally to the construction of learning implements. If a new product is to be launched in September, the company would want it’s support staff and solution consultant (as well as partner channels) to be equipped with supporting the product when it launches. If a new ERP is to be instituted in an year, each function must, across the board, understand how to operate it before then. If a student has to appear for a degree exam in July, he has got to be ready to take the exam at that point.
Measurement (self, peer, supervisor or community) of whether the goal has been attained in the best possible manner is another critical component of any learning activity. Responsibility for the measurement may be one’s own or with the help of others in the learning chain.
No learning activity is an end in itself. There is plenty of scope to learn more in any learning scenario or any skill. Continuous on-going improvement and extension of learning is another important consideration, especially in workplace scenarios where everybody says retention and applications of learning is severely impacted by inefficiencies of page turners and traditional methodologies.
Let me define this a little loosely at this point. Content or knowledge in any form, whether structured or unstructured, formal or informal, gleaned from a social network or a web based training, is another key component of the learning activity. Stephen Downes has a great article on connective knowledge.
Can I be bold enough to state that all learning activities, formal or informal, connected or solo, web based or not will have these basic characteristics?
Traditional “1.0” learning puts all of these characteristics in context of a structured pedagogical approach. The “1.0” learning is in place all around us – it is the ubiquitous model for teaching-learning that we have all experienced. Sure enough, it has it’s limitations and known ones at that.
The challenge with “2.0” is that sure, there are powerful arguments that this mode may be more effective in teaching-learning, however, I am not entirely sure how all the basic characteristics of a learning process are handled or should be handled in a “2.0” world. This was precisely the starting point for my comment to Manish (that Jane responded to).
So now let us look at the pillars of learning 2.0? Here are some of them:
- Social Network – defined as networks of teachers, faciliators and students. These are simply roles, that is, a student could be a teacher in a particular context and a student in the other.
- Collaboration – captured by one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many interactions within the social network using new technologies and structured collaboration formats
- Content/Knowledge – captured in interactions and individual contributions
- Reviews and Rating – community defined systems for evaluation of contributions
- Administration – the promotion and management of the network and tools
Let us look at the basic characteristics of learning activities (abbreviated as they may be) in relation to elearning 2.0. When Stephen Downes talks about elearning 2.0, he states:
In the future it will be more widely recognized that the learning comes not from the design of learning content but in how it is used. Most e-learning theorists are already there, and are exploring how learning content-whether professionally authored or created by students— can be used as the basis for learning activities rather than the conduit for learning content. (read full article here)
Stephen talks about communities of practice as the closest thing for elearning through social networks – communities that are closely aligned to a domain of interest. He goes on to align collaboration tools such as blogs and podcasts, e-portfolios, multi-user gaming (Prensky, Papert, Aldrich, Gee) and simulations, mobile learning, workflow learning and ubiquitous learning.
His focus on learning activities and focus on the learner, rather than on the content itself, is, he believes, key to more effective learning. And this can be achieved by harnessing these new 2.0 “loosely coupled, discrete” components.
So, now let us look at goals, timelines, measurement, improvement and knowledge/content in an e-learning 2.0 framework.
In a 2.0 world, the learner can define the goals of learning. The learner has the autonomy to take responsibility for his/her learning activities. For example, a high school student in Utah, USA could technically and easily, get on with a high school student in Rajasthan, India and with others across the world to collect experimental data on (say) water quality if the goal of the activity was to study the pollution of water. Similarly, process managers across the world for a large corporate could collaboratively collect data on process implementation and audits. It could be an e-portfolio kind of an approach for collection, organization, interpretation and reflection on content so constructed.
The teacher (or guide/facilitator) can also facilitate the learning through defined templates for data collection and analysis, “learning paths” (sets of activities) or modes of learning unique to a collaborative environment. Ths may, if done creatively, be a quicker and more efficient way to get learners to achieve their goals.
The time constraints can be applied to e-learning 2.0 formats equally well, provided that:
- goals are set and agreed upon (as well how these will be achieved)
- the number of sources of content/knowledge is focussed (the learners cannot sift through those multitudinous posts and podcasts and slideshares to really find what they need to complete an activity)
- the individual activities have measurable and assessable end points (you may decide to leave a small percentage as open ended)
The measures for learning in the 1.0 world – taking a test, recording scores – are applicable here as well. In a 2.0 world, these measures get extended in various ways. For example, game playing to teach a bank teller how to spot an error in a cheque presented by a customer or a form filled by a customer, could have worthwhile measures to track, not only for the initial training but also for EPSS (employee performance support). These could be measures that indicate the path taken by the teller to identify the mistake/defect (how efficient was the identification in various complex and simple scenarios) or how individual role playing learners progressed through a role-play – things that are complex and not possible to track today through multiple choice questions only.
These measures, need to be redefined in the context of the community too. For example, tellers in a particular branch of a bank are “connected to” tellers in another branch of the same bank and can collaboratively and constructively learn from each others game playing progress.
Further, elearning 2.0 must be able to quantitatively measure this such as:
- quality of content through soft peer reviews
- use of collaboration tools (can we track how many posts a learner wrote or how well the learner’s comments to an existing post were rated? can we tie this into the efficacy of the learning experience and to the cognitive, social development of the learner?)
We know that traditional training provides a one-go learning experience. However, retention is a major problem. There is the case for workflow learning in a 2.0 world – made simpler by community based collaboration. The other advantage in a 2.0 world is that it prepares the learner to be able to participate collaboratively (itself a major motivator for continuous learning).
However, e-learning 2.0 must produce “incremental” learning paths. The corollary in 1.0 systems is a gradual process of improvement. However that it is not present (or structured) in a similar fashion in the 2.0 world yet. So I learn something in the context of a learning goal, then I want to improve and there is nothing or nobody that tells me the next step really!
There is serious thinking to do here. The “simpler” dimension is that teachers can be provided tools to generate collaborative learning activities (could be the capability to author learning games?). The more complex dimensions are really around how knowledge gets converted to a learner’s learning. Stephen’s post (referred to earlier) is a great starting point I think. Although it may seem a bit heretical, however, I must point out that Sir Lee’s semantic web does merit a significant look. A look at microformats as a way of sharing activities and knowledge may just yield additional help.
I hope I have been able to make sense so far. I would greatly appreciate further comments and blunt criticism for whatever I have written so far. Thanks!