Earlier this evening I met with a good friend of mine after a day of meetings to put the world of educational technology to rights. The caveat of this post is that most thought provoking discussions I know have taken place in the presence of either caffeine or alcohol. In this case the latter as ironically it’s caffeine I’m unable to handle.
Midst the discussion that moved from recommendation engines (a given with his role), MOOCs (a given with my role), mobile learning and OER (a given in both our roles), we moved to the subject of adaptive learning.
In education we are often thinking in the mindset of putting the learner at the centre of their own learning. With SocialLearn I worked on exactly that, and now with MOOCs I’m researching how a variety of learning designs can be adapted for a particular demographic of learners most likely to take that MOOC to provide positive engagement. A number of academics I know would advocate whole heartedly to this approach of adaptive learning.
However, my esteemed colleague-from-another-company played the role of devil’s advocate and asked:
“What is it that we are adapting them for?”
He proceeded to explain that if we concentrate our entire efforts to providing learner-centred learning that though we are adapting the learning to them we aren’t actually adapting the learners themselves to the outside world. And isn’t that what education is for?
What if we adapt our learning to be delivered for example in mobile format and podcast as their learning preference, but when they reach the outside world their in-workplace learning is a printed/pdf manual or training workshop – where are the learner’s adaptive learning skills now? How will they engage?
It poses a question that I haven’t considered much before, and frankly don’t have the full answer to yet (as I pen this from my train home), but I’m more than happy to open the debate to the wider community. No doubt we will broach this topic once more when I’m next in town.
The quandary with open online courses (OOCs) is that at times there is far too data (if you can access it) and so far too many avenues to wander down. Great for my academic career, publications and conference submissions, but not so much for my doctorate where focus is key.
However, one of the themes emerging from the literature reviewed to date, and from the feedback given is that there has been an expression of academic interest in the retention and completion figures of a range of OOCs. Very little literature has been dedicated to the engagement of the learner with the content, why they initially engaged with the course (much emphasis is placed on ‘free’ rather than the content, the Lead Educator, the university facilitating the course, how it is delivered and how it can be studied). Thus creating a gap in the academic literature.
A further emerging theme is the emphasis on learning design. Research is growing in the field of formal learning design in the form of modules and qualifications (Rienties, Toetenel, and Bryan 2015), however very little research has been conducted to date on the learning design of OOCs in the same way.
Understanding the attraction to engage and then the elements that maintain engagement to completion need addressing as there is a distinct gap in the literature regarding this, and would be of benefit to academics and learning design teams in the creation of open online courses. Hence the research questions for the main study and thesis are:
Why do people engage, and remain engaged in free open online courses?
What elements of the design of the free open online courses increase or maintain learner engagement?
Addressing these questions should guide the understanding of these issues. The development and distribution of a survey to OOC learners will aid to address the first research question with questions specifically around reasons for attraction and engagement with OOCs.
With regards to the second research question it is possible to undertake a study at The Open University of OOC learning design as all OOCs created for the FutureLearn platform in the academic year of 2014/15 underwent a formal learning design process. Since these OOCs have also undergone a number of presentations each on the FutureLearn platform since their launch it is possible to review learning performance data from these presentations to ascertain whether the learning design had a positive or negative impact on learning performance.
Rienties, B., Toetenel, L., and Bryan, A. (2015). “Scaling up” learning design: impact of learning design activities on LMS behaviour and performance. In: Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge – LAK ’15, ACM, pp.315-319
(Also introducing Toby, my adventure hound and now blog poster boy)
This is my first blog post in a little while after stepping back from the online world for a few months over the summer due to personal reasons. I’ve reflected over the summer on my use of social media and online accounts and have made changes to most of them, this one being my last to address. Quite possibly because it is frankly the one that I used the least, but moving forward plan to use the most.
As I entered my final year of my doctorate at the beginning of September I made a number of cutbacks to avoid distractions from the now remaining three D’s in my life – Dog, Doctorate, and Day Job (if my boss and supervisors are reading this, these are listed in no particular order. Thankfully Toby (the dog in question) can’t read though if he could, he would think himself number 1 regardless).
But today I made an exception to such exclusions of distractions as an old friend and colleague was in town from the land of down under, and so popped over to mine for a spot of quintessentially British afternoon tea. This being an academic reflective blog post, I had to shoe horn in the reference to cake somewhere.
Having not seen her since the beginning of my doctorate we had much to catch up on, and she made reference to how purposefully stressful I seem to make my life, and how in return I seem to thrive upon on as an energy source. So though each time she sees me I’m more stressed than before, I seem to look the better for it.
So this has given me reflection for my latter D’s – Doctorate and Day Job. Last week I found myself deeply unhappy, over the past few months I had got into a position of sedation that caused a ripple effect far greater than I had expected. For the past two years I have been privately unwell, which has resulted in having to undergo surgery twice whilst working and studying. The first surgery I managed to hide from pretty much everyone by scheduling it with my consultant to coincide with a Christmas holiday (I really know how to spoil myself), but the second needed an 8 week recovery so my absence from campus was more apparent. Resting and lethargy is not something I am good at. But, in this situation I had no choice. Out of the public view for two years I had been increasingly battling with summoning energy to get up in the mornings and get through the day which due to imbalances in my blood levels I was also having increasing issues with my memory. This resulted in planning of elegant outfits to distract from my tiredness (bright clothes and lippy works every time) and copious note taking and list making on my iPad and phone for even the smallest of things.
Though I put all my energy into my day job – my bank manager and my boss will be happy to hear that, I felt that I couldn’t always replicate the same at the end of the working day with my doctorate. Thankfully I’m blessed with exceptionally patient and understanding supervisors who were fully in the know. Also thankfully my consultant was sympathetic to my needs so scheduled surgery for the summer, between academic years for my doctorate and day job.
For the squeamish of you (and because I do like to maintain a level of privacy in my life) we roll forward to the present day, where my friend is commenting on my purposeful mission to make my life stressful. Why do I do that? Some would stick to the day job, others would do full time into their doctorate, most would definitely stay away from additional freelancing and publishing – why would I do all of these at the same time?
And so after when I was left to my private contemplation, I reflected upon the fact, I don’t think I can cope *without* stress.
Stress is not a recent addition to my life. At the exceptionally young age of two it was discovered that I was born with an illness that would most likely result in my infant death. In later years I always remember the grave concern on my parent’s faces when they recall this event. Thankfully (and some in my family would see as miraculous divine intervention) I was able to undergo surgery privately through a random act of kindness to address the illness (given my allergic reactions to all anesthetics I’m amazed at the number of surgeries I have had in my life). But the consequences of that early surgery affected me throughout my childhood and do to an extent even to this day, as I engineer my life to accommodate. My skills at doing this have turned what should be a negative, into my most positively commented feature about me. Irony hey. Stress continued to multiply in my life, ending my childhood in some respects when I was 12 when my father became ill. Being a daddy’s girl my whole life turned on a pinhead and I felt as though I was in another parallel universe. This continued until I was 23 when he passed away suddenly and unexpectedly (though if I am honest subconsciously I expected it). Roll forward a few years and I was undergoing stress from within my marriage and at 29, I left him after 13 years without taking a single day of leave from my day job (which at the time was project managing the development of SocialLearn…let’s not go there). A few months later I started to form a proposal for my doctorate whilst continuing to advance my career. As I said sitting still really isn’t my forte.
My doctorate started well, I enjoy studying immensely even to the point that in my final year of my MBA I was also studying my first year of my MSc whilst working a 70 hour week on a global project. Glutton. Punishment. But then I became ill, and I have felt that I allowed myself to become distracted, creating too many research avenues to go down – academic curiosity is a bitch sometimes. So now I find myself regained in health, but lost in direction. Then it happened. Complete loss of confidence in everything. Given my life (Inside Hollywood would never believe the full unedited story) this was actually a complete first for me.
So what would most people do? They would hibernate, shut down, close off, quit, reduce activities. What do I do? Do what I do best, pile on the stress, allow the fear of failure to get to me, snap out of it, and then focus.
I’ve burnt the midnight oil all week on my doctorate after the day job and dog walks are complete. Slept 4-5 hours a night as I used to two years ago and then dress (maintaining the style I’m now known for) and got straight back to the day job. I’m back to burning the energy I get from stress that I love that most. I can finally see how my final year of my doctorate is going to be and what I can get from that in my master plan moving forward (day job and dog will also be affected, both have been consulted). And I finally feel that I can breathe again. Big breaths of fresh energising air.
In the very essence of the application of stress, I plan to turn my piece of rough academic coal into a doctorate diamond.
As a result this blog will be used more regularly than before for my captured thoughts as I work through my plans to fruition.