Networked Learning Environments

So are LMSs now part of a technology trend that is headed south? Will incorporation of Web 2.0 features make them more enticing? Will learning really become more effective if Web 2.0 happens to these LMSs? Will they start working on a networked learning SCORM advanced API soon, maybe by defining standard runtime Web 2.0 interactions with services such as Facebook and Twitter? Do we bid adieu to learning objects?

These are uncomfortable questions that must be asked. Scholar360 attempts to be one effort to move away from LMSs as we traditionally know them by keeping the social network at the core.

Let us try and visualize what would really happen if the network really was the core and learning, the process of making connections.

Firstly, the definition of what constitutes content would change. It would become highly personal. This is because it would be pieced together from every learner’s perspective from the content already available to her.

Secondly, content would generally come from connections, which is to say that each learner would share her raw or synthesised perspective with her network and those who have access to that network will learn through evaluating the content and perhaps engaging in discussion. Perhaps rather than a learning object with pre-filled content, it would become a network map of ideas and concepts peppered with individual insights. So a “course” written by an “expert” would become a “network of ideas” weaved together by a “weaver”.

Not only would it be personal, but it would also be dynamic with very little control by the “weaver” in determining the boundary or tone of the ideas, once it is “out there”.

So a new learner who “enrols in the course” (read, “decides to learn”) would, around the broad parameters of the learning experience, start building certain types of awareness.

The first awareness would be of the mass of ideas. The second would be of the people. The third would be of the technology that enables her to navigate between people and ideas. The fourth would be a growing awareness of the learning process itself.

This awareness would continue to grow through the “course”. The process of learning as mandated by the “weaver” would be a responsible contract between the learner and the “weaver”, as would be unwritten rules of conduct in collaboration and communication in the network. Certain technological  peculiarities may also need to be learnt or adapted to.

Imagine walking down a road all times of a day and night over many different seasons. Imagine watching a kaliedoscope of people, houses, shops, all change over time. Imagine recognizing something new in the landscape that has changed since you were last there. That is how the network of ideas that the learner creates will change in response to the evolution of the learning experience that is being woven as the “course” progresses.

The weaver’s job will be to acclimatise the learner to the changing landscape, provide an understanding of the environment through initial idea networks and through an empowerment in terms of tools, technologies, processes and social conduct perhaps. It will be the learner’s job to practice and reflect.

The job of technology then transcends the social network provision or the provision of Web 2.0 tools such as blogs and wikis. Technology should now be harnessed “network” each dimension of the learning experience, to help the network really become the core.

For the weaver, technology should provide a way to negotiate the changing nature of interaction/collaboration, of the explosive network of ideas that she set the seed for, of the mechanisms for maximum impact of these ideas on learners. Not only that, it must allow for her the ability to derive a measure of her effort.

For her, the “weaver”, the experience will repeat multiple times. But each time, her network is enriched by the thought processes of her learners – past and present, so that it is never the same experience.

Technology’s greatest challenge will be this immersion into the network, both visually and conceptually. It will not be simple. Atleast not as simple as pushing Web 2.0 collaboration over a social network or inserting a social network (and tools) into a course.

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