Future Learning Systems

If you do one thing this week then watch the YouTube video RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms by Sir Ken Robinson.

Inspirational? – yes I thought so.

I gave a presentation to the OU community last week about future learning systems. Barbara Poniatowska, Liz Burton-Pye  and I presented the current VLE state, 1 year planned and 3-5 year vision respectively a set of short talks and followed these with a “World Cafe“. If you haven’t come across the concept before then I encourage you to visit the website and find out more about it. It’s basically a way for people to think inspirationally around issues, moving between tables where facilitated discussion takes place and there the tablecloths are used by people to write out their ideas and to link them forming a ‘web’  and evolution of thinking. I decided to adapt this a bit and instead of getting people to simply write thoughts and ideas we also asked people to go around afterwards and to add a tick next to the ideas or comments that they most endorsed.

We decided on five themes of “User Generated Content”, “Communication and Collaboration”, “Assessment”, Joining Up” and “Supporting Students Online” (Joining up was about exploring new markets, linking to OER, globalisation etc.)

This worked very well,  for example here is the tablecloth from the table  where the discussion happened around “user generated content”

User Generated Content Tablecloth

I particularly like the ‘fuzzy felt’ suggestion. I think there’s a killer app waiting just around the corner :).

Seriously though there was a good discussion around the subject and what was interesting was that on tables where the facilitators were from operational units the discussions focused around the ‘here and now’ and on tables where the facilitators were from other units the discussions were more future focussed. This wasn’t because of the facilitators themselves because they’d all been told to allow the discussions to flow between the 1 year and the longer 3-5 year visioning but for some reasons the conversations naturally gravitated in that way. I suspect that there we some ‘historical’ reasons why some discussions were more rooted than others. i.e. the legacy systems that people may love or hate but recall when thinking about what to deliver next.

Overall I really enjoyed the event we had over fifty people attend. I have noticed one or two comments on a very particular subject that are on every tablecloth, some one or two people really having an axe to grind but the method of using the ticks helped to cancel out bias as the really important things for most people got lots of ticks.

If doing it again I’d suggest the following:-

1.       Have some clear ‘feeder questions’ at each table to steer discussions

2.       Have the facilitators shape conversations (or even stop them) if they’re focussing on an area outside what we want to capture. Brief facilitators before the event to explain that.

3.       I think it’s OK to allow the personal agendas to surface as long as they’re within scope and people then construct solutions to the issues raised. So moving conversations past what’s broken and onto the ‘ideal solution’.

4.       Again around personal agendas I think these are fine as long as we provide something like the tick/cross idea which I think worked well to allow people to judge how significant they thought particular things were. This means that personal agendas can surface but may not get many ticks compared to issues which are more ubiquitous/significant to many. There’s also a point to be made here that all concerns raised are legitimate and need to be considered so should not be dismissed (Barbara reminded me of just this point recently and it should not be remembered when gathering requirements to gather them all).

So what were the big ideas? – I’ll reveal one from each topic that I think they’re worth sharing.

Big idea 1. Build widgets/gadgets that are platform neutral to provide services  that follow learners between environments, allowing for VLE and ‘small pieces’ system types. In particular these widgets should provide contextual help and online support and collaboration with other students.

Big idea 2. Provide methods to allow academics to easily leverage other OER material (produced outside of OU) so we become a consumer as well as producer. Use Learning Design to help foster this. Also provide better routes between informal (OER) and formal environments.

Big idea 3. Support (through internal research) prototyping of methods for rich web 2.0 assessment. Once established build into course design where appropriate (again course models and learning design).

Big idea 4. Provide methods to allow students to share content found elsewhere, including references. Allow methods for others to comment and annotate on these shared resources.

Big idea 5. Provide services to allow students to engage in forums and Elluminate and other synchronous/synchronous tools outside of their module (course). Including pre-registration and alumni stages. Make registration process simpler to allow the student to ‘continue discussions’ throughout their learning journey.

I think these are all great ideas and there were more like this which can’t be shared outside the OU but which I’ll be making sure the Learning Systems Visioning Group consider when they next meet and I’ll be pushing to get some of the exploratory work progressed to make sure the OU’s future learning system isn’t just an off the shelf VLE tool but rather actually meets the needs of 21st learners who quite rightly expect more from their education.

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About willwoods
I'm Head of Learning and Teaching Technologies in the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University.

3 Responses to Future Learning Systems

  1. Pingback: Personae gratae « Weblog of Will Woods

  2. Pingback: links for 2011-10-05 « Andy Tedd @ CEMP

  3. Pingback: Links 10/18/2011 « Andy Tedd @ CEMP

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