E Learning, without the E

It’s as if putting the letter E in front of the word ‘learning’ has in some way created a brand new concept, it of course has not. If that were the case we should have B learning to show that you have learned from a book or maybe P learning to indicate what you learned from your parents. In fact a search of the Internet reveals some degree of uncertainly as to exactly what E learning is, the common denominator however is that it involves the use of electronic resources. I personally favour the term ‘online learning’ as it seems somehow more descriptive.

The classroom trap

In trying to more closely understand E learning it is easy to fall into the classroom trap, that is clarification by comparing with classroom. This is largely unhelpful because it ultimately leads to the question as to which one is best, and that very much depends on what you want, how you learn and the circumstances in which you find yourself. So let’s avoid the trap and accept that they are both methods of delivering knowledge or skills using a formal process, as apposed to an informal one.

Different experience

‘Learning online’, sorry but it just sounds better……is not the same as learning from a book or in a classroom. Classroom, online and text books are all structured to take the learner from a point of ignorance to one of being informed, but the way, and environment in which you learn is different. Let’s explore these differences with the top three positives and negatives of online learning.

Positives of online

– this is perhaps one of the biggest advantages of online, I am in fact writing this blog sat on a sun lounger surrounded by blue sky, the only interruption being a welcome breeze, and it’s the technology that allows me to do this. That same technology gives you the ability to learn on your terms, which means when you want and where you want. This has great advantages in maximising time, utilising moments in a busy day that might otherwise be lost. For example, when traveling to work by train, spare time in your lunch hou r or even making the most of the rush hour by choosing to stay at work and study rather than sit in a traffic jam.

Self paced
– another very important one. Referring to individual learning styles is often picked upon by academics as being something of an urban myth. But few would disagree that knowledge acquisition is personal, with some people able to pick up a topic quickly whilst others might take longer. Online learning allows the individual to study at their own pace, quickly when something is easily understood and slowly for the tricky areas, oh and you can keep going over the topic again and again.

– with online, personalisation is far more than working through the content at your own pace, it offers the ability to truly personalise the experience. But be careful with this one, many courses will headline with the term personalisation, yet not deliver, it’s very much a spectrum. At the one end it is little more than a standard pathway with tests that direct you back to content to be studied again.

In the middle is the same process but the direction as to what needs studying is far more precise. It can include specific tips and hints bespoke to that topic written in a different way to the original text even using new and more suitable instructional techniques e.g. video, diagrams, interactive activities etc. To add something truly personal it might also provide an opportunity to speak to real people with access to your prior learning experience and academic record

We have yet to see what lies at the other end of the spectrum, an online learning experience that can adapt the pathway using big data and analytics, learning both from you as an individual as well as all other students with one objective, to offer the best personalised learning experience possible.

Click this link to find out more about adaptive.

Negatives of online

Motivation and procrastination
– recently we have seen that having more choice is not as desirable as you might imagine. Studying when you want is great, unless you keep putting it off. This is contributing to students taking longer to pass exams. And of course procrastination goes hand in hand with a lack of motivation, another problem often associated with online. There have been partial solutions to this for online students but they are rarely as effective as having your own personal trainer, a teacher who you meet with face to face to put you through your paces.

Isolation – learning is ultimately a solitary experience, yes you can learn with and from others but to develop a deep understanding you need to reflect on what you have learned, manipulating the knowledge until you make it yours . But doing this on your own can be uninspiring and leads to a sense of isolation, which makes the whole process seem a lot harder than perhaps it is.

Learning style – this is a simple one, some people just don’t like learning using a computer. I think its possibly because they have never given it a go or if they have, it wasn’t a very good online course in the first place. That said it is a reason, and needs to be respected.

Is Online for you?

1. Read through the pros and cons above and give them all a number between 1 and 5, for example if you think flexibility is very import give it a 5. On the other hand if you find it very hard to motivate yourself, give that a 5, etc. Add up your scores and if the positives come out higher than the negatives, online is probably for you.

2. Look to the quality of the learning provider, new innovations require both investment in terms of time, money and experience of learning. Initially at least go for the bigger companies with a solid reputation.

3. Try before you buy, ask if you can have a trail period to see if this type of learning works for you.

One last thought, this is not an irreversible decision, if you don’t like it change your mind. Also why not study different subjects in different ways, some online, others maybe in the classroom or simply from the book?

27 Million People per day can’t be wrong – Gamification

League of LegendsThe statistics are astonishing, as of January 2014, over 67 million people play League of Legends per month, 27 million per day, and over 7.5 million concurrently during peak hours. And if your good at it the prize money for winning the world championship might get you to question your chosen profession, it was $2.3m in 2014 and 2015. Playing an on-line game is part of daily life for many people.

This blog is “of course” not about League of Legends. In fact I have to admit I had never heard of it, just shows how far out of touch you can become with popular culture. It’s not even about the gaming industry which is said to be worth £3.9 bn to the UK economy, it’s about a growing and fascinating area of learning called gamification.

Gamification is the use of game mechanics (rules, design and tools) in a non game context to better engage and motivate learners to achieve a desired objective. There are two types, structured, where you are looking to propel a learner through content and reward them for the desired behaviours and content driven where the game is the content i.e. the learner is a character in the game and is required to undertake tasks that are in turn rewarded.

Gamification techniques – Game mechanics

Games are not of course all the same but they do have similar characteristics, these “techniques” can then be used in a non game context i.e. a learning context. The idea being that if they engage and motivate the gamer, they will do the same for the student.  Games need some form of measurement to assess performance and a reward to act as an incentive.  Below is a note of some of the measurements and rewards used in gaming but could be adapted for learning.

  • Points – Used to keep score
  • Badges – visual stamps that are awarded to users on certain achievements and are normally displayed in their header and profile page
  • Levels – shows ranking and progress
  • Leader boards – a high score that is displayed for all to see
  • Rewards – not a badge but something tangible e.g. money….

Personal gamification

You don’t need to spend millions developing a game to get the benefits from gamification, and its not all about beating others, here are a few tips.

  • Set up a points system – identify the activities that will help you achieve your goal e.g. spend 2 hours each evening studying, 10 points. Answer 2 questions each evening, 20 points. Attempt the mock exam, 40 points. Score 50%, 80 points etc. Keep a running total of your points in a place that you can see when you study
  • Levels – Only move onto the next chapter or session when you have the desired points
  • Leader board – Keep a note of your highest score from the other subjects
  • Rewards – The best part. Set up a series of rewards e.g. a night off, go for a run, have a glass of wine, bar of chocolate etc. Increase the rewards as gaining the points becomes more difficult. If you beat your leader board score, then your rewards can be even greater, maybe a day out shopping/at the football etc. Why not ask others to contribute to the reward, if I get to the top of my leader board how about you buy me dinner. You will be surprised how many people, friends and family will effectively sponsor you.Other brands are available....

And finally tell your friends what you have done, “just eating a massive bar of chocolate which was my reward for scoring 80 points on my study game.”

Of course you might get fat doing this, but don’t worry there is another game that can help – it’s called weight watchers…..

Technology can help

As ever technology can help, check out this app HabitRPG – Click 

A Nostradamus moment – Predicting learning in the future

Top-5-Nostradamus-Predictions-That-Came-TrueLast year along with a colleague I looked into some of the key trends that were shaping the world of Professional Education. The result was the production of a Learning Strategy completed in December 2014. The document highlighted some of what we thought might impact our organisation in the future. Taking the technologies, attitudes and resources of today and guessing how they might change is certainly brave, possibly foolish, but reading what others think is always interesting.

Tomorrow I will be visiting the Digital Education show in Earls Court; guest speakers include Sugata Mitra, Richard Gerver and Sir Ken Robinson. The topics up for debate are current, wide reaching and of course equally prophetic.  Add to this the publication of the 2015 Horizon higher education report and you get an irresistible mix of views on the future, some of which I have highlighted below.

The measurement of learning will increase

Good teachers have always tracked student performance. It may have been in their head, summarised at the end of term in the form of a report but measuring student performance is certainly not new. The difference is now the results are more public, displayed in league tables showing winners and losers. In addition we have data not just on one student but thousands and once you have data, big data in fact, you analyse it, learning analytics is born. This allows you to make recommendations for improvement and predictions based on the observed trends and patterns. Given that new technologies make the gathering of data relatively easy, measuring student performance and the methods by which they learn will only increase.

All classroom courses will become a blend

The genie is out of the bottle, learning in a classroom complimented by the use of instructionally sound online resources offers so many benefits. It enables a more personalised learning experience, makes effective use of student time outside the classroom and is often mobile resulting in greater convenience.  It is hard to see why you would ever have just classroom only courses again. Yet not all courses are a blend or to be precise although they have online resources they are little more than a classroom course with some online PDF’s or links that are not used due to poor quality, relevance or support from the teacher, so we still have some way to go.

Informal learning will emerge from the shadows

So wrong!

So wrong!

Informal learning or as it sometimes called student/curiosity led learning has always existed but is now more easily recognised. Teachers and educators are also beginning to invest time into using it more effectively.  Once again technology is playing an important role by making knowledge more accessible and facilitating greater collaboration via online forums and social networks.

Video is an incredibly successful example of social learning, it’s hard to imagine but YouTube didn’t exist before 2005, that’s only 10 years ago. It now has 1 billion users, 300 hours’ of video are uploaded every minute and is available in 61 languages. A very practical example of learning with video can be found by clicking the banana – trust me you won’t be disappointed.

And that’s just three

I could equally have mentioned:

  • More money will be spent on personalisation and adaptive technologies
  • Greater acceptance of BYOD – your own devise that you take from home to class to work
  • Wearable learning technologies – think how wearable sports devices have expanded recently
  • Internet of things (IoT) – a network of connected objects that link the physical world with the world of information through the web could provide a wealth of new ways of learning

How did I do?

A similar blog from 2011


And the cow said – MOOOOCS

MOOOOCIn October I decided I would find out first hand exactly what it was like to study online so I joined a MOOC. For those that don’t know what these are, a Massive Open Online Course is a free or at least normally free online course that has the capacity to have thousands of students in the same virtual classroom.

In fact only last month the British Council launched its first MOOC on English language attracting over 100,000 students. In essence a MOOC provides “education” at scale, accessible globally for free, and what could be wrong with that? Well in essence nothing, having a well educated society not only helps with social mobility but as has been well documented adds significant economic value.

Problems with MOOCS

But as you can imagine not everyone is happy, most of the concerns centre around quality.

If MOOCS are so good why is it that despite the large numbers of students enrolling there are very few, around 8% who actually complete the course.

Is this the result of poor instructional design, the fact that some MOOCS have very little student/ teacher engagement and are simply a series of videos linked together with reference to materials available elsewhere on the web. Is it because no one person is accountable for the students, there is no “teacher” to motivate the student if they fall behind. And due to the scale, feedback has to be automated or assessed by peers who are clearly not experts.

Well it might be all of the above and the course completion rate is clearly of concern yet some would argue that having a less teacher centric course is exactly what you need for students to develop a much deeper understanding. This is something *George Siemem’s argues.

Making sense of the chaos is what learning is all about, if teachers plot the route it reduces the value of what is being or could be learned.”

 “The great thing about MOOCS is that the learning does not end when the course ends, because the students have built their own communities, the learning becomes life long.”


People talk about MOOCs in so many different ways, in fact the name itself can be confusing when trying to understand exactly what a MOOC is.

  • Massive – A MOOC works on a platform that enables thousands of students to see and hear the same thing at the same time. The technology behind this is impressive and using one tutor to deliver the course enables the most to be made of the expertise.
  • Open – its open to anyone, there are no prior learning requirements. It is also open in the context of being free, and the learning not being restricted to the views of one person, the community are also teachers.
  • Online – it is online but is not what some would class as an online course. An online course unlike a MOOC would be instructionally designed to ensure the learning is consistent with the learning outcomes and incorporates the latest developments from the field of learning science.
  • Course – It has a cohort, a subject matter and a beginning, middle and end. But as outlined above, at its simplest it could be little more than linked video with no overall instruction and some would argue this is not a course.

A MOOC on one level is the next generation text book

Listen to Anant Agarwas on TED 


It is important to say that as MOOCs are so new, the first ones established around 2011, it is hard to pin them down as they are constantly changing. But if you are interested here is a note of the key providers.

  • Future Learn – owned by Britain’s Open University Offers MOOCs from many UK Universities. The newest of the MOOCs with approximately 750,000 plus users.
  • Coursera has around 10 million users and is by far the biggest, a for-profit founded by two Stanford University Professors.
  • edX  have around 3 million users, a not for profit MOOC founded by MIT and Harvard University.
  • Udacity have around 1.6 million users.  A for -profit backed by Sebastian Thun (co founder) and two Venture capitalist. It is currently repositioning its offering to be more vocational, targeted at professionals. Listen to Peter Norvig early observations in 2012 on TED. Peter taught one of the first classes with Sebastian Thun on artificial intelligence with over 100,000 online.

My MOOC – conclusions


My edX course with MIT

The course I chose was with one of the leading provider’s edX and is called Design and Development of Educational Technology. Okay not for everyone but so far I have found it very impressive.

The course was delivered over 6 weeks. It consisted of video lectures with a designated tutor Professor Eric Kloper introducing many of them himself.

There were links to further reading and sessions requiring a hands on approach, in some instances “playing” with software to find out how it works. In addition there were tasks and projects to complete, all recognised by the awarding of a certificate at the end. And yes it was free. Like my students however I have already fallen behind, but I do plan to complete the programme as so far I have found it both engaging and rewarding.

But what of the future – What we can say is that some MOOCS have responded to the criticisms and are now delivering first class courses to thousands of students, online and for free. But MOOCS are still evolving; blending MOOCs with traditional face to face courses is gaining in popularity for example.

There is however still the big question as to how they are funded, and for me this is about quality. Anyone can put information that is already freely available online in a thoughtless way and leave it for the students to curate. But a well thought through MOOC takes considerable time and skill to design and deliver. This is of course no different to an online or classroom course. A good course needs good people and they cost money. But I see no reason why MOOCs can’t charge, I would gladly have paid for mine. The cost would be low given the volumes, say £1 – £500 but the reach would still be global. And the monies would enable the providers to continually invest in order to deliver the best courses possible.

Bill Gates talks about MOOCS well worth watching, its only 4 minutes “the information has been in the textbook for hundreds of years….online does not enhance knowledge…” 

Ps I promise no more animal pictures next month.

*Author of Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age


Appy Christmas – Apps for learning

appsIt’s always interesting writing a Blog in the holidays, maybe it’s because you have more time than normal so think you should come up with something different, dare I say original. The reality is that when you have such a large canvas on which to think, you can’t think of anything!
The answer is to narrow it down, give yourself something specific to think about. So whilst staring at my ipad for inspiration, I stopped thinking about “everything”, focused on what was on my ipad and then it happened, an idea… ..Why not write about the apps I use most and how you might use them to improve your studying, so here goes.

It’s not about the technology stupid
First a disclaimer, although technology can be all absorbing, learning is a human quality, technology in many circumstances only makes learning more convenient, you still have to work at it. What it does do is provide you with the ability to study when you want and where you want. Time that would be wasted waiting for or actually on a train/bus etc can be much more effectively used learning. How good would it be if you had finished studying before you got home?

Google CalendarGoogle calendar – Helps plan your studies
I have written before about the importance of timetables and calendars. Sitting down and planning what you will study and when not only helps you become more organised it is essential for setting targets and challenges. And remember target setting is key to motivation.

Evernote Evernote – Organise and store notes
I am finding that I am using Evernote more and more. It is in effect a cloud based folder system. Consider setting up a folder for each subject you are studying. Then within each subject folder you can type notes, attach PDF’s, photos, maybe of places/objects/people relevant to that subject. You can even attach video. And if you want to collaborate with others just share the link. Maybe have a folder for revision with the questions you want to attempt linked via PDF, comment on what you found difficult and share with your friends. Evernote has so many uses.

PenultimatePenultimate – for making hand written notes and drawing mind maps
If you prefer to write rather than type, penultimate is for you, although I don’t think there is an android version at the moment. It is part of the Evernote family and links with Evernote so is easy to use. It is just like a paper based note book with a front cover showing the subject, page numbers and has a nice page turning feel. Unlike a paper based note book however, you can change the paper, plain/lined etc, save your work, add photos, and share with others. It also has a very clever way of making sure your hand when resting on the screen does not interfere with what you are writing.

Put simply it’s the best handwriting software I have come across, and comes close to replacing paper, close but not just yet….

DropboxDropbox – for file storage, back up and file sharing
Many of you will already be familiar with dropbox, it is free simple to use cloud based storage. Dropbox is great for saving/backing up all your files. This means that as long as you can get electronic versions of your text books and question banks you will be able to have them with you anywhere…

And you can share folders with friends.

Adobe ReaderAdobe reader – keep all PDF notes in one place and you can write on them!
This is just for Adobe PDF’s but as most documents can be turned into a PDF format that should not be a problem. Imagine having your notes in a PDF file, opening them up wherever you are and then updating them either by typing or writing on top of the PDF. You can also make margin notes that open up in a speech bubble, little reminders of what you were thinking, or additional work you need to look at.

Explain-EverythingExplain everything – become a teacher and teach yourself
Explain everything is a white board that you can add in pictures, shapes etc, and then the really clever part, record what you are doing in a high quality video. What makes this so good is how easy it is to use.

This would be ideal for working through a question, talking out loud explaining your thoughts (Explain everything will record your voice and your white board actions) and then when you get to the part that is difficult or simply don’t understand, ask your question out loud….? Then send the Mp4 file to your tutor/teacher or study colleagues for an answer. Unfortunately as with Penultimate I don t think there is an android version just yet.

twitterTwitter – limitless knowledge and support
Twitter can get a bad press when it comes to studying, it can be very distracting! But if used properly it can be great. The key is to follow people that have answers to your problems or are like you. If you are studying accountancy for example you will find lots of tweets from experts providing you with up to date news and information often linking to more in depth guidance, websites/PDF’s etc. Twitter is the most up to date text book you can get.

Okay a word of warning; just make sure you are not too far ahead of you teachers and the exam. Also that the people you are following are credible.
The other use is to follow fellow students who are studying the same subjects as you, it can be very reassuring that you are not the only ones who doesn’t understand something.

The big secret to twitter is is very selective who you follow, delete people that are not helping and keep the list down to about 200.

Most of these are accessible on all mobile devises and for me that is the real benefit of the technology.

Happy 2013 and more apps
Hope you are all having a good Xmas and here’s to 2013, what will be new this time next year I wonder?

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