The Role of Community in Learning

Defining community in a learning context

I’m a whole week behind everyone else on eLearning 3.0 and frantically playing catch up. So, that means this is probably going to be a short(ish) post.

Much of the material for “community” week has focused on consensus and the place of technology in the process for arriving at consensus. The conversation with Pete Forsyth , and Stephen’s video on the role of Blockchain in distributed decision making was an interesting exploration of this. Pete’s accompanying blog post was also an interesting exploration of how Wikipedia avoided the many issues around breach of trust and misuse of technology which have plagued social media of late.

But, rather than delve further into those areas, I want to take a look at what we mean by “community” in a learning context: What is the role of community in the learning process? Is consensus the optimum environment for learning and developing? Is technology the central issue in this area?

Is community really about technology?

Let’s start with the last question first. Whilst it’s hard to argue that the technology used to provide online spaces for communities of various kinds isn’t important. I’m not going to do a deep dive into the potential of blockchain etc in providing viable and desirable alternatives to the Web 2.0 platforms which are in the news so much these days. That focus, in my opinion, risks taking us down a parallel path to the data debate – removing consideration of people and their behaviour from the process. Let’s be clear – technology is just a tool. It’s how people use the tool which ultimately helps us decide whether the tool is beneficial to us or not.

So, I’m going to take the view that community in a learning context isn’t really about technology. It’s about people and conversations. Harking back to a comment I made in a previous post, content is everywhere. People aren’t always good at identifying the ‘good’, the ‘bad’ and the ‘ugly’, but it’s out there. What isn’t always readily available is a space to help individuals make sense of all of that content. For me, this is where community comes in. Facilitated discussion of learning with peers can be the key to helping individuals make sense of the material they are exposed to. These conversations allow us to explore the ideas we’re trying to integrate and the various viewpoints and experiences others bring can help us arrive at a deeper and more reasoned approach to building our new learning into our existing schema.

Which brings me back to consensus. I’m not sure that consensus is always the optimum environment for a community in a learning context. If we only participate in communities with others whose views mirror our own, are we not in danger of creating echo chambers? For me, strong, vibrant and interesting learning communities are those where there is diversity of viewpoint; where we are encouraged, as learners, to challenge received wisdom, not simply absorb it. In this scenario, it’s the moderators/facilitators who play the key role in creating an environment to foster debate in a safe, constructive manner. The technology is only a tool to support the process.

Making sense of learning

Sometimes we need props to help us with all of this – we need scaffolding on which we can hang our developing or changing understanding of the topic(s) we’re studying. This blog, for example, is my personal prop to encourage and enable me to reflect on the content of eLearning 3.0.

Some years ago, I worked in higher education as a lecturer and tutor on an undergraduate social work programme and part of our curriculum was set aside to help students learn how to differentiate between fact, opinion and judgement and how each would impact their future roles in social work – after all, if you are in a a position where you are making life-changing decisions about citizens, you’d better be clear for the basis of those decisions.

In the years that have followed, it has occurred to me on many occasions, that the teaching we did on this, shouldn’t be viewed solely as developing a professional ‘tool’, but rather as developing core, essential life skills (especially in light of recent issues surrounding social media).

As someone who spends all of their working life attending to the development of social service workers of all types, it also is impossible to ignore the role that reflective learning plays my work.

In human services education, this reflective style of learning is seen as one of the core learning methodologies not just for initial education, but for continuing professional development. Yes, it could be a solo effort (much like I am doing here) but, in my opinion, is best done in dialogue with others and/or in groups (ie in a community of practice). It is the analysis of the whole learning process (content, application, outcomes etc) which is seen as the optimum state offered by the reflective learning process and community can provide the wider context in which to place the individuals’ learning experience. After all, we all need to know, “Is it just me?” or, “Is my experience shared by others?”.

So, to wind this up – I’d make a plea that we don’t lose sight of the importance of conversations and dialogue in our definitions of community. I believe that it is diversity, healthy debate and discourse which pushes learning forward, not technology. It’s only a tool and though it’s clear that many of the current tools aren’t really working, I’d argue that’s down to the human element – those providing the tools and those using them. Will blockchain and other Web 3.0 tools provide the answer? Only time will tell.


Recognition, Assessment & Realising the potential of open badges

I’m so happy that eL3.0 has finally moved in to an area where I feel like I know what I’m doing. This week on eLearning 3.0 we moved on to assessment and recognition of learning. The conversation between Stephen and Viplav Baxi (Director – Product and Digital Transformation at Oxford University Press in New Delhi, India) highlighted some issues I’d like to address in this post:

  1. Using simulations for assessment of skill/competency based learning
  2. Using Open Badges for recognition of learning.
  3. Can interactive eBooks be badged and is it possible to link them to your LMS?

Using simulations for assessment of skill/competency based learning

Assessing knowledge acquisition online, if not ‘easy’, is at least something more L&D professionals are familiar with, although there is an over reliance on using quizzes to assess learning (rather than reinforce learning) which is, in my view an entirely flawed approach. As Stephen and Viplav discussed, assessing skills based/competence based learning online is an entirely different thing and needs a different approach. The suggestion of using simulations and serious games to deliver and assess skills/competence development is clearly a more appropriate route to explore, and there is a wealth of research available in this area. However, I found myself disagreeing with Stephen’s view that you need to use expensive technology and high level skills  to really exploit these approaches. This feels like it assumes that, in order to be successful, the game/simulation needs to ape the sophisticated 3D worlds which are common in the leisure industry. Whilst I’m sure this helps but, in my experience of designing four online simulations using only HTML, video and audio material, it isn’t really necessary. In the simulations we created, it was the authenticity of the situations and learner tasks (ie how close they felt to the reality of the job) which created the immersion. As Jan Herrington points out,

“the use of authentic tasks encourages and supports immersion in self-directed and independent learning” (Herrington J, Authentic E-Learning in higher education: Design principles for authentic learning environments and tasks (2006)

This is equally true of applying game mechanics to learning situations – we shouldn’t feel we have to create a ‘game’ with leaderboards and prizes etc., but rather we should look at the approaches game designers use and apply them to our learning designs. I’d suggest we could learn a thing or two from game designers around,

  1. Emotional investment
  2. Incentivising learning
  3. Using failure as a learning tool
  4. Immediacy of application
  5. Feedback

I won’t go in to each of these here – that’s a whole other post …

Looping back to making the learning experience related to real-world situations, I believe L&D professionals should make much greater use of authentic learning approaches. In the world of work related learning (and in formal education settings), there is ample evidence available that authentic learning approaches drive up engagement and, if you couple that which what you can learn from the game designers, You can create some very powerful learning experiences … and, increase learning transfer:

Authentic learning exercises expose the messiness of real-life decision making, where there may not be a right or a wrong answer per se, … Such a nuanced understanding involves considerable reflective judgment, a valuable lifelong skill that goes well beyond the memorization of content. (Lombardi, Marilyn M., 2007, Authentic Learning for the 21st Century: An Overview, Educause Learning Initiative, available from February 2010

Open Badges and recognition of learning

Before going any further, let’s be clear what we’re talking about. In my day job, we have been working with Open Badges for four years and have invested heavily in developing a badge issuing platform and implementing a strategy for designing, creating and assessing badges for a workforce and potential user base of approximately 200,000 staff. This video was created to describe Open Badges to people new to the concept:

In our experience, done right, Open Badges can be highly effective in capturing learning and linking new learning to changes in work practices. The key to this is the the criteria you set and the expectations and guidance you give regarding the evidence you will require of the learner before awarding the badge.

In our work we are keen to maximise learning transfer. Simply ‘knowing’ stuff (in case you need it) isn’t enough – we want learners’ practice skills to improve/change/develop, so we draw on the research focused on situated learning: i.e.

situated learning and situated cognition … describes learning that takes place within a culture of practice where the knowledge is deployed in the same context as the learning (Smith Peter J, 2003 Workplace Learning and Flexible Delivery, Review of Educational Research Spring 2003, Vol. 73, No. 1, pp. 53–88)

Situated learning requires authentic contexts, activities, and assessment (Dede Chris Planning for Neomillennial Learning Styles: Implications for Investments in Technology and Faculty, Eduause)

This has led us to build learner activities into our resources which require the learners to apply what they’ve learned in their working environment as soo as possible and to write a reflective account of this action in order to claim the badge. Given the very wide range of prior educational experience and capabilities, this means we often write badge criteria which ‘scaffold’ the reflective writing process – with a significant degree of success!

In our experience, our approach to Open Badges has had significant benefits for learners, e.g. Open Badges recognise and reward learning that is otherwise hidden and our system of learner owned badge accounts puts the learners in control of their own learning and helps build a sense of personal ownership of their own CPD.

For Learning & Development staff Open Badges,

  • can motivate people to learn and encourage a culture of learning.
  • will give you a wealth of qualitative evidence of learning.
  • learner evidence will give clear, demonstrable and replicable evidence of impact of learning on practice.
  • deployment, done right, will develop staff abilities in reflective learning.
  • will start staff on the road to becoming self-managing, self-motivating learners.

Of course there are other key factors in making your badge system a success. For example – making the system easy to use (think about the end user first, not last!) and using short video walk throughs to support learners and so on.

Learning occurs as a result of motivation, opportunities, an active process, interaction with others, and the ability to transfer learning to a real-world situation … The ability to transfer learning to a real-world situation enhances the application of knowledge and leads to enduring understanding. (Oblinger, D. & Hawkins B.L., 2006 The Myth about No Significant Difference EDUCAUSE)

eBooks, badges and your LMS

The final issue from the conversation between Stephen and Viplav Baxi I wanted to reference was, the discussion about whether or not interactive eBooks can be linked in to (a) Open Badges and, (b) your LMS. From the discussion, there seemed to be a view that the answer to each was up for debate.

However, from our experience, the answer is pretty straightforward. Interactive eBooks can (and in our work, do) link to/accommodate Open Badges – see the example eBook referred to below. It’s simply a matter of planning your learner activities appropriately, as described above, and linking out to the location of the badge criteria and application mechanism on your badge platform. As you know from previous posts, I’m not a fan of getting under the hood and tinkering around and in this case you don’t have to – if designed well L&D staff with limited technical skill (like me) can designing deploy highly effective badges and link to these from their eBook(s).

As for the second issue (linking eBooks to the LMS) again, this doesn’t have to be complicated. Using xAPI and the Sidgil eBook editor it’s a fairly straightforward task to add statements which will connect learner activity in your eBook to an LMS, providing it is based on Learning Record Store (LRS) technology. There are a growing number of learning record store based LMSs becoming available and HT2 labs have developed an excellent LRS including an open source version – “Learning Locker‘. I’d encourage you to take a look.

This week’s task – build a badge

The task for this week was to create an Open Badge. As I’ve said above, as part of my job, I have managed the building and development of a badge issuing platform and the development of learning resources, all of which are badged. So, rather than one badge, I’d invite you to have a look at our badge platform –

And, as one final example of how all of this can come together, I’d encourage you to have a look at one of our interactive eBooks – “Making the most of mobile learning“: each chapter covers a different aspect of using mobile technology for learning and links to an Open Badge which can be claimed from our platform once you have submitted the evidence required.

This is not technically difficult to do, you just need to make the right design decisions and, in our case, create activities for learners which encourage them to apply what they have learned to real-world tasks.

CARE: open education resources and the distributed web

Where are we today? – Open Educational Resources (OER)

Having focused on the ‘wiring’ of eLearning/web 3.0 for the past few weeks, I am delighted to now be moving into areas where we consider how that ‘wiring’ might be used in the delivery of learning and development.

In reviewing some of the material around this weeks focus, it reminded me that the notion  of royalty-free, open source material has been around for a long time. In fact my first activity in this area was several years ago when the vogue term was “Reusable Learning Objects” (RLOs) – the idea being (crudely) that learning objects (ie text/video/audio etc with general learning outcomes and interaction/learner activity) could be created and shared via online repositories, thus reducing the duplication of effort across learning environments.

But, as is not uncommon, this was of limited success. In large part, I think, due to the need to contextualise the content of these RLOs as, once stripped of their context, it became apparent that much of the content felt a bit anodyne or simply lacked the impact it should’ve had. Further, the work required to amend this material to a new context wasn’t far away from just creating your own ‘unique’ version of the subject matter.

Scottish Open Education Declaration logoThankfully this has evolved to what we know now as Open Educational Resources (OER). Arguably this hasn’t been a huge evolution, but it has led to a more organised adoption route. So, in Scotland we have the Open Education Declaration:

Building on UNESCO’s 2012 Paris OER Declaration, the Scottish Open Education Declaration calls on the Scottish Government, the Scottish Funding Council and all sectors of Scottish education to endorse the … principles. … which aims to create opportunities for organisations, teachers and learners to innovate and to ensure that educational materials produced with public funding are available to all.

You can get a sense the scope of this declaration by reading the principles it lists. As you can see, it goes much wider than OER and is something which guides the day to day work of myself and those I work with. The declaration has helped shap our digital learning strategy, including how we distribute our products, and how we enable access to our online resources and services and so on.

In seeking to make as many of our resources as possible available as OER. It became clear to us that we had to separate the product from the content. So, what does that mean? For example – we have a number of tablet apps and, whilst we most often are not able to hand over the source code for those apps to third parties, we can make the source learning materials available so that interested parties can remix and reuse our materials to create their own ‘local’ versions/products.

But, this brings me to a point raised in the conversation with Sukaina Walji and Cheryl Hodgkinson-William which formed part of this week’s material. To successfully benefit from OER we need to have the skills needed to fully reuse, remix and mashup existing open resources. The lack of such digital skills/capabilities can be a barrier to people adapting and remixing OERs to create new resources. So, how do we address this and prevent OERs from becoming the domain of the digitally skilled/adept?

There is no doubt this remains a challenge and one to which I guess there is no easy solution. We have a further challenge which absolutely must be addressed: managing the individuals’ desire to create OERs and the institution/organisation’s desire to manage its intellectual property. Again, this needs answers which are way beyond my pay grade.

But, there are some great examples of what can be achieved when there is a will and a concerted effort, Like the TESSA project.

The next evolution of OER: the “CARE” concept

Two of the key challenges of using OER and their predecessor RLOs have been (a) finding the OER in this first place and, (b) sustainability. This week introduced the concept of Content Addressable Resources for Education (CARE). In the CARE model, instead of searching for and finding resources based on their location, we can search for and locate them based on their content.

Instead of being stored on a single server, content is stored on multiple servers. And when a web user requests that content, it is served from the nearest server. The only difference is that, in the distributed web, these servers are each others’ computers. These are called ‘peers’ and the system as a whole is called a ‘peer-to-peer’ (P2P) network. … in the distributed web we use content-based addressing. In essence, we search for resources based on what it is rather than where it is.

Stephen provides a more detailed description of how this works here. It is easy to see the potential. The fact that we can not only find original versions of open learning resources, but also remixed versions based on their content could be immensely helpful – after all, it’s always easier to start by looking at what someone else has done for inspiration or hints and tips about how to remix your own version, than to start from scratch.

Another attraction of the model is the role of the distributed web concepts in its delivery (see “Introducing the dweb” by Dietrich Ayala for more information). In essence, this distributed, peer-to-peer model makes it almost impossible for open content to be corralled and locked behind a pay wall (as has happened in many cases with the MOOC concept).

The mechanics or CARE and the distributed web

As ever, the devil is in the detail. In practical terms how can you make this work? Making it work means moving away from the current Content Delivery Network (CDN) model we are so familiar and comfortable with. To be honest, we are “comfortable” because the CDN approach allows us to offload the work required to take care of the complex technical arrangements of distribution to someone else.

This week did provide us with insights into how this might work in a dWeb environment  via IPFS and the Beaker Browser. Time to own up … trying to get my head round IPFS and it’s associated technologies, did make my head hurt! It’s fair to say that for me we’re back to showing off the wiring again and as I’ve already admitted, this is not how I want to engage. I’ll leave this stuff to those more tech savvy than me.

However, Beaker Browser was intriguing – it’s the first example I’ve seen of an application which allows you to both create and consume HTML content etc. from inside a browser. I enjoyed playing with it, but wasn’t confident enough in it to use it in anger. A bit like seeing the attraction of the Raspberry PI, but preferring an iPad.

For me, there’s a layer missing. In order to be a tool that can attract critical mass of learning resource developers, I believe it needs a WYSIWYG interface. I know, I can hear the coders sneering! And, this links back to the conversation with Sukaina Walji and Cheryl Hodgkinson-William: technology provision/availability on its own is not enough, its only the enabler. We also need to address UX and skills support/development to help people to exploit the benefits of the technology if we hope to achieve the level of change the CARE and dWeb model suggest.

Are we ready to put all of this together?

So, the big question is, “are we ready to take advantage of this new approach?” For me, it still too early to jump aboard. The tools and basic infrastructure are still too immature. As I said earlier, I can see the promise of Beaker Browser, but it lacks the user-friendly UI it needs to move it from the province of the coders and into the realms of ordinary users.

Something also needs to be in place to act as a bridge when individual peer sources are offline. We know through experience that ordinary users are, on the whole, unwilling to tolerate systems which appear to be flaky. With technical knowledge of how this all works, we can see that the source serving up the content we want may be offline, but to the average user, it might just appear to be ‘broken’.

However, the big issue regarding the effective use of open resources for learning, whether the current OER or the new CARE model, is building the digital skills of our target audience to enable them to exploit these resources. Until that is addressed, I fear that nothing much will change.

In closing, I’d like to return to the issue of context. Without context, I’d argue that content is of limited value. A few years ago, Stephen spoke at an event I organised and when we were preparing for the event he made the point that, content is everywhere. Whatever you want, you can probably find somewhere online – even if you need to breach the paywall! It’s sense-making that’s the premium resource.

This has stuck with me since that conversation and it seems to me that “sense-making” is the foundation stone of a new, much richer role for learning and development professionals (whatever sector they are working in) and it will remain at a premium regardless of what form of openness you work with in developing resources for learning, and the regardless of the systems you use to access/deliver them.

Who am I? – Digital identity and Web 3.0

With a topic like identity, it’s very tempting to wax philosophical, but hopefully, I’ll be able to, if not avoid that, at least rein it in a bit and focus on the subject of the creation, maintenance and curation of digital identity. I also intend to link this to the issue of what all this might mean in for learning.

What is ‘identity’?

The primer material on eLearning 3.0 this week signposted participants to a couple of useful articles exploring perspectives on what constitutes ‘Identity’ – “What is Identity? A Sociological Perspective” by Mary Jane Kehily and “What is Identity” (Open University, Open Learn). The latter provided a fairly good summary of the issue:

“If identity provides us with the means of answering the question ‘who am I?’ it might appear to be about personality; the sort of person I am. That is only part of the story. Identity is different from personality in important respects. … an identity suggests some active engagement on our part. We choose to identify with a particular identity or group. … [the] importance of structures, the forces beyond our control which shape our identities, and agency, the degree of control which we ourselves can exert over who we are.  (source)

Image depicting context as it relates to identity

In my opinion, ‘identity’ is a fairly fluid concept. Our ‘identity’ evolves and changes over time. It can provide snapshots of who we’ve been, who we are today, and who we might become in future. But, I also think it’s context or role specific: who we are depends on our context – at home, at work, as a parent, in different social groups etc. It reflects our beliefs and affiliations (at a given time), our hobbies and interests etc and, finally, there is an ‘identity’ which is ascribed to us, defined by others’ perceptions of us and which we have little direct control over.

“identity can be seen as the meeting place between the subjective processes inscribed in the way we live our lives and the discourses that position us” (source)

I’d encourage you to read the articles detailed above and draw your own conclusions about what ‘identity’ means to you – after all, what we are (to us) is a very subjective thing.

Digital Identity

The main task for participants on eL3.0 this week was to graph their digital identity. So, building on the thoughts above, here is my example graph (click to enlarge):
Image depicting an example of a digital identityAs you can see, my graph attempts to show the contextual nature of identity as described previously (although it is not an exhaustive/complete picture – just the edited highlights) and there are aspects to online life which either fall in to the professional context, or the personal/social context. As a reflection of conscious decision, there is almost no cross over between these two domains, the exception being education/knowledge/skills as shown by the green icon in the graph. This links to my professional life and has informed my role as a parent.

Within the professional context, I think there is scope to break things down further as I believe there are aspects of professional digital identity which relate employment in a specific organisation, and aspects which relate to profession and personal professional development. The graph attempts to depict that distinction. As you’d expect, there aren’t always clear boundaries around each of these aspects of the professional context.

The connections drawn on the graph are an attempt to depict the conversations and discourses described in the Open Learn piece on identity but again, this graph shows only part of the picture as detailing all of the connections would make the graph almost unreadable.

In such a complex network, the question arises of how to manage all of this? The articles from Robert Heaton (“Identity Graphs: how online trackers follow you across devices” and “How does online tracking actually work?“) provide some useful and sobering insights into how 3rd parties create and manage digital identities from our online activities and connections, and how to circumvent some of this (editor’s note: the post is being written on a computer whose internet connection is routed via a VPN and in a browser which prevents tracking and device fingerprinting). But, how do we manage our identities?

There are some suggestions in the Heaton articles and referenced in the previous paragraph. In addition, the following video from Stephen  illustrates emerging tools to help us manage our digital identities.

But it’s also about basic online behaviours, being aware/alert and making use of the tools already available. As part of my day job, we created a resource to help non-tech minded staff develop digital capabilities and we include material on digital footprint and digital security (see The advice contained there is based on the web we have now – web 2.0. We can only hope that the tools referenced in the video above (and projects like SOLID) help us proactively manage the next iteration of the Web – Web 3.0.

Digital Identity and Learning

So, how does all of this relate to digital learning? There is the potential for technologies like Keybase and Yubikeys to provide a robust learner owned and controlled means of verifying identity for accreditation purposes. So, mediated by technologies like those, our digital identity can become the keystone for us to manage our records of learning in future – our transcripts, certifications and qualifications.

But, as has become something of a recurring theme in these posts, it all comes down to the accessibility of the technology. The tools need to be accessible to those of us who are not ‘tech’ minded. A ‘Digital Identity for Dummies’ approach would be great!

If the tools don’t move out of the techie niche, I’m afraid they’ll never reach the potential for mass adoption. The majority of the success stories in the digital world have the common theme of providing user experience which makes engaging with the product/service etc. as straightforward as possible and we need to learn from those examples.

When is a graph not a ‘graph’?

I’m sure I’m not alone in hearing the word ‘graph’ and thinking about high school maths or statistics. But, in the context of this week’s topic on the eLearning 3.0 MOOC, the meaning is totally different. In this context, when we refer to graph, we really mean ‘network’. Or at least, that’s my interpretation.

I admit, I find it confusing to refer to a network as a graph, but these quotes from Stephen’s article helped me make sense of it:

“In connectivism we have explored the idea of thinking of knowledge as a graph, and of learning as the growth and manipulation of a graph. A core proposition is that this state of affairs contained in the graph or network constitutes knowledge, and that learning is therefore the creation, development and traversal of the network that constitutes that knowledge. Yet the question can still be asked, what makes it knowledge?”

“A graph – and hence, knowledge – is not merely a representational system, but is rather a perceptual system, where the graph is not merely the repository, but a growing and dynamic entity shaped by – and shaping – the environment around itself.”

I won’t go back over the detailed information on graphs and graph theory – it’s all on the elearning 3.0 website – but rather, I’ll present my take on the activity set for this week which was,

  1. Create a model graph of some aspect of the E-Learning 3.0 course.
  2. In your model, consider how the states of the entities in that graph might vary.
  3. In your model, consider how knowledge about the changes in states in the graph might be used.

I decided to create a graph to map put the potential influences the content of eLearning 3.0 MOOC could have on my work as a manager of a small team whose role is digital learning design. So, here’s the graph:


  1. In short, my interaction (learning) with eL3.0 should be a 2-way street – I acquire new knowledge and my assimilation and interpretation of of this new knowledge, fed back into the eL3.0 ‘community’ may add to that emerging body of knowledge.
  2. I also cascade what I’m learning to the people in my team. We have a strong culture of sharing and discussing what we each learn and look for ways to apply that learning to our projects.
  3. This is turn will see this learning manifest itself in new learning resources and potentially as updates to our learning services (eg our Open Badge platform).
  4. The remainder of the graph shows the impact of that learning in the sector we serve. So the nodes (or vertices) are learners, employers (circa 3,000 in our sector + employers in neighbouring sectors), further and higher education, strategic partners (eg other NDPBs or NGOs for folks outside the UK) and, policy makers. So the links (or ‘edges’)  and mostly bi-directional to demonstrate the dialogue between my team and I and our stakeholders as we seek to influence uptake, change and/or improvement in digital learning in our sector and neighbouring sectors.
  5. Thus, hopefully the learning from eL3.0 may have the scope to travel far beyond my immediate contacts and find expression in the work of others.

This was quite an interesting activity complete as displaying the connectivity and spread of ideas and learning from one learning experiences was valuable in making me think about the connections my team and I have and the potential for these connections to effect change in a large complex system.

Of course the real trick is in how you package that change and inspire others to grasp it.

eLearning 3.0 and Web 3.0

Of course, the context of this MOOC is in the developing Web 3.0.

“Web3 ultimately represents a dissatisfaction with that solution [the use of platforms], a (well-founded) distrust of platforms, and a desire for individual autonomy and accountability. The solution proposed by Web3 (or various versions of Web3) incorporates elements of identity, immutability and community.”

This week’s speaker, Ben Werdmuller had an interesting take on Web 3.0. In short, his view was that everyone should be able to ‘own’ their own website even down to owning the server which hosts that site (perhaps the ultimate smart home device?). The challenge, from my point of view, is how do we move people from starting out on blogging on commercially owned services (like WordPress), to creating their own website? Not only does the hardware component to this need to be as simple to set up as a modern TV, so do the tools to create and update your personal website.

Having said that Ben did emphasise usability/UX and the need to reach and engage the majority who have very limited skills in using technology and, given his track record in proviso projects like ELGG, we can only hope he is in a position to support the creation of tools to make his vision a reality.

I suppose the danger in packaging up his ideas into products which people with limited technical skills leads us back down the path which lead to the platforms we are dealing with today. So, I’m finishing with a question – How do we achieve this vision without losing the ethical position which Ben describes as informing it?

Considering the Cloud

So, I know this is late, but hey, the day job sometimes takes over, so now I’m playing catch up. So here goes – impressions and take aways from “Cloud Week” …


I’ll admit, I find the whole Jupyter Notebook/Docker/Docker hub area a bit sterile for me. I provokes the same reaction in me as being shown my car engine by a mechanic and being given an explanation of what’s going on when it’s running – a profound sense of disinterest. Don’t get me wrong, I can see the potential of this and the utility of these technologies if you are either teaching programmers/computer science, or are building applications etc. But, for someone not involved in those areas it feels like the ‘wiring’ has been exposed to the end user and she/he is being expected to understand and value it.

For me, the real power in the application of cloud technologies and services is that they can hide the wiring and create a learning ecosystem for the hardware and software you use to deliver or support your learning and/or the learning of others. In other words you can create complex arrangements where devices are interoperable, sharing information across multiple devices and make the whole experience seamless for the end user. For example, I started writing this post on my iPad over my breakfast coffee this morning (yeah, I know – deeply sad!) and I’m now finishing it on my laptop.

As a Mac OS and iOS user, the system integration Apple has been able to create using Cloud computing as the ‘glue’ to connect it’s various platforms and software offerings, is probably the slickest example I’ve seen of the potential of cloud services in everyday life.

For me it’s this potential to create engaging learning experiences which exploit the power of cloud computing, whilst hiding the complexity of the inner workings of how it’s being done, which is compelling. The majority of the leaners I serve, simply don’t want to see the wiring – and most of the time, neither do I.

The data discussion

My reflections in this post have been stimulated by the conversation between Stephen Downes and George Siemens about artificial intelligence, human cognition, what it means to be human and learning; this week’s video on eLearning 3.0 of Shelley Blake-Plock and Stephen discussing data and analytics, and my observations regarding trends in my working life.

The problem with “data”

I guess that needs some explanation? I’ll own up that I do have a problem with the term “data” and specifically about how its used. Before we get to that, I’d like to pause for a moment and ask a question: When you’re in conversation with someone you’ve just met, how do you define yourself?

  • By Job title/role?
  • By relationship (married/single/in a committed relationship/parent etc.)?
  • By location (ie where you live, e.g. country of origin)?
  • By race or gender?
  • By political or religious affiliations?

All of these bits of information are deeply personal and they are all now being gathered, stored, analysed, traded and sold as “data”.

This brings me to my problem with the term “data”: in my opinion, the indiscriminate use of this term dehumanises the deeply personal information which defines us as individuals and further, makes it more palatable (to some) to commoditise us. This depersonalisation of our information and therefore of us as individuals is amplified by the terminology in use around data – e.g. “data science”. Sounds objective eh? But the information it’s applied to isn’t.

I guess my concern is that this dehumanisation of information supports the erosion of fundamental concepts like privacy and confidentiality etc. In my own working life in human services, I’m observing a growing focus on data and analytics  to measure “success”, without really thinking about who’s “success” we’re talking about, and in planning at the macro level, without the necessary attention on the aspirations of the individuals we’re supposed to be serving.

Putting information back in control of the individual

So, it’ll be no surprise, that I firmly believe that we need to put individuals back in control of information about them and support them to do this. I was interested in this speech by Tim Cook to the European Commission on the importance of privacy as a basic human right:

There’s no doubt that GDPR (the General Data Protection Regulation) is a huge step in the right direction. But, I believe that this regulation also places a duty on public services, and indeed anyone who collects user information, to provide the tools and support necessary for individuals to exercise their right to control their information.

Week 0 of eLearning 3.0, referenced the move from the Web 2.0 (the semantic web and the prevalence of platforms – like FaceBook and Twitter etc.) to Web 3.0 (the cryptographic web – see my previous post for more on this). In that context, we have to keep in mind why people use platforms like FaceBook is such huge numbers: it’s not really that that platform is seen as the best option, it’s more that it’s easy to use and, well, “everyone’s there aren’t they?” (but as David Price points out, we get the platform we deserve).

So, It think it’s vital that in this move to the cryptographic web, we need to design tools to reap the benefits of the potential of  Web 3.0 with the individual in mind, making them easy and engaging to use. Hopefully Tim Berners-Lee’s new project will take the first steps in that direction for others to follow.

xAPI and the ownership of learning

I was also interested in Stephen and Shelley’s discussion about feasibility of individually ‘owned’ Learning Record Stores (LRS) and therefore the potential for individuals to own, manage and share their own information about their learning. As Shelley points points out, there are ‘policy’ issues to be resolved around proprietary information or information sensitive to the business of the individual’s employer and/or institution, but I’d suggest they’re not insurmountable.

In my own work, we have invested 4 years in building and developing an Open Badge platform to provide micro-credentials for  people who use our learning resources (awarded on the basis of the individual providing evidence of the application of their learning to their work practices). One of they key features of this platform, is that the accounts created and the evidence submitted to claim badges, belong to the individual – not us (as the provider of the service) or their employer (past, present or future). The learning information and their attainments belong to them and their own badge account can follow them throughout their career.

I know this isn’t an LRS, or gathering xAPI statements – yet (watch this space … we’re working on it). To create this system, we had to think about the ‘policy issues’ Shelly refers to in the discussion with Stephen and build guidelines (rules) into how people can use our system, and provide a lot of support to make all of this as easy to use as possible. Have a look at the site and you’ll see what I mean.

These are our first steps to place the individual in control of their learning information (or “data”) and hopefully stimulate them to expect that control in other aspects of their online life.