Thursday, May 20, 2010

Online Learning

I've been asked to contribute to a research project by answering questions about online learning. I'm not sure yet how much I'll be able to add to the sum of human knowledge by taking part but I'm willing to contribute as best I can and I must admit to being curious as to what they'll ask about.


Crossville Treehouse
Originally uploaded by Chris Shiflett
It is an Higher Education focussed project, so I wouldn't be surprised if they concentrate on Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) such as Blackboard and Moodle. Now, I may be being unfair here but it seems to me that universities are comfortable with VLEs like that because there is a good fit with the content delivery model that is (probably) still the dominant teaching model in Higher Education.

As I was thinking about it, I realised that, although I have some experience of teaching using "traditional" VLEs, I have never been a learner in that kind of environment. A bit more thought lead me to consider that most of the online learning I have experienced has been through informal online networks formed around tools like blogs, wikis and, most recently, Twitter. For me, it is these informal, conversational, learning networks that currently seem the most interesting from a learning and teaching perspective.

However, I wonder how well informal tools lend themselves to formal learning? If universities adopt social networking, do they end up creating creepy treehouses instead of places of useful learning? It may be that universities don't even get VLEs and content delivery right. For example, I heard of one group of students who were so disgruntled with the university system, they wrote their own!

Therefore, I'd be really interested in your opinions: especially if you have experience of formal, online learning in a university setting.

Questions

What makes an online learning environment successful and/or useful? Can you describe good examples of the use of either VLEs or social networks in Higher Education? Can universities adopt or adapt social networking tools without creating creepy treehouses?

Answers to these questions, or any thoughts in this area will be greatly appreciated.

4 comments:

David said...

I've had a couple of responses via Twiter. This one is from mclaughlin_aj:

@DavidDMuir VLEs are only as good as the content-loader's organisation... we struggle often to find content because folders are not labelled intuitively in WebCT. Great article called "Are you ready for m-learning?" - worth googling

Chris said...

I recently launched a private ning network for a group of adults in mid-Argyll undertaking a course which should lead in the end to certification with York St John university. As it is hard to arrange sufficient face-to-face meetings to meet the course requirements, we rely on a mix of telephone conferencing, face-to-face meetings (the most recent of which one person attended via Skype on a very good broadband connection - we and she felt she was actually there) and the ning site. The students put their work in progress online for peer and facilitator comment before submitting the required essays for marking (on paper), as well as using the forum for questions about ideas, resources and so on.

After only a short time of use, all have agreed that it'll be worth paying the new costs for ning to keep it going, as it has been a revelation to them all.

And I feel just a little smug!

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