Issues in education studies

February 1st, 2016


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I’ve just marked the second assignment for the Issues in Education Studies course  (ED5001) that I am a tutor on and I thought that whilst it is fresh in my mind I would write a blog post, summarising some of the key themes that have been developed in the course, along with tips and hints for the students to improve their assignments in the future. In order to do this I went back over the material to date to draw out the key themes. The course builds on a previous module, ED4001, which was underpinned by the following key questions:

  • How does education change people?
  • How ought education change?
  • How do we change education?
  • What is learning?
  • Do all pupils have equal chances of success or otherwise in school?
  • What is the problem with ‘inequality’?
  • Why is gender, ethnicity and social class of interest to educationalists?
  • What international/ global issues are important?

In relation to these the students have been encouraged to draw on the following sources: their own experiences, the media, personal accounts by teachers/students, Government publications, the grey literature and peer reviewed journal articles.

Education in England - particularly since the 1980s - has been heavily influenced by neoliberal ideology - this is reflected in both education policy and the largely meritocratic schooling system that has emerged from it. In the course we have explored some of the consequences of neoliberalism in terms of educational inequalities e.g. brought about by parental choice policies, social stratification and the stratification of schooling. Finally we have looked at some of the government (policy) responses to these inequalities in particular policy around inclusion e.g. pupil premium, post-16 education and training.

Near the beginning of the course the students were provided with an overview of schooling in the UK and in particular that there are currently the following main types of schools:

  •      Maintained schools -they are overseen, or ‘maintained’, by the Local Authority. These schools must follow the national curriculum and national teacher pay and conditions. These include: Community schools (typically secondary), Foundation / trust schools (typically secondary non-faith schools), VA – Voluntary aided (Primary Faith schools), and VC – Voluntary controlled (Primary controlled by the Local authority.
  •     Academies - Academies are publically funded, independent schools, held accountable through a legally binding ‘funding agreement’. These schools have more freedom and control over curriculum design, school hours and term dates, and staff pay and conditions. These include: ‘traditional’ – schools that  were underperforming, and ‘new converts’.
  •       Free schools - New state schools (which includes independent schools becoming state schools for the first time). These are set up by teachers, parents, existing schools, educational charities, universities, and/or community groups. 
  •       Grammar schools (selective) - State funded schools,which select their pupils on the basis of academic ability. Grammar schools can also be maintained schools. 
  • Independent schools (not government funded) - Schools that charge fees to attend, rather than being funded by the government, and can make a profit. They are governed and operated by the school itself. They are lightly regulated by government and inspected by a range of bodies.

Key milestones in Education were covered, including: the 1944 Education or Butler Act, the more permissive society in the 1960s, 1976 Act requiring LEAs to reorganise school systems on comprehensive lines. Comprehensive schools provide an entitlement curriculum to all children without selection (academic or financial), the marketization of Education under Thatcher around Neo-liberalist principles such as economic liberalization, privatization, free trade, deregulation, reductions in government spending and the enhanced role of the private sector and the 1988 Education Reform Act which included the introduction of the National Curriculum, new rules on religious education and collective worship and the establishment of curriculum and assessment councils. This was augmented during the Blair years in terms of encouraging competition between schools (through league tables, postcode lotteries and selection by house prices), resulting in a diverse and unequal secondary school system. Finally the 2002 Education Act gave schools more freedom to manage their own affairs, with 85 per cent of a school’s budget directly controlled by the head teacher, and a lesser role for LEAs. Also more involvement of the private sector in state provision, greater diversity in secondary education, with more specialist schools and city academies attracting private sponsorship and the development of a more diverse 14-19 curriculum with more early entries for GCSE and much greater choice of vocational and work-based courses.

The table below compares Keynesian economics with Neoliberalism:

Keynesian Economics


       The market should be regulated

       Government should ‘manage’ economies by influencing aggregate demand(total amount of demand) e.g. through fiscal policy: taxation and government spending

       Unemployment solved by government intervention


       Economy works best when left alone (Laissez-faire economics)

       Belief that there was a market solution to economic problems such as unemployment

       Produces efficiency, growth and widespread prosperity

       ‘dead hand’ of the state saps initiative and discourages enterprise

       State bad – market good


The course also considered the implications of operating in an increasingly globalised educational context. It also considered particular instances of inequality, in particular: class, gender, race and religion and how more inclusive policies can be put in place to address inequality.

The students had a choice of essays:

  •  Education is a public service and should not be treated as a marketable commodity. Discuss.
  • The purpose of education is to enhance equality of opportunity. To what extent should all education policy be critically judged in terms of how it meets this aim?
  •  Inclusion is an assault on the schooling system as we know it. In discussing this statement identify some of the key principles and assumptions underpinning inclusion and consider what inclusive schools of the future would look like.
  • Schools should be engines of social mobility (Gove 2010). Discuss with relation to recent government policy.

The following is a summary of some of the generic feedback given to the students:

  • It is important to structure the essay and to have a clear introduction outlining the focus of the essay and a clear conclusion.
  • Key concepts and terms should be articulated, and backed up with relevant references. Wherever possible a number of different perspectives on the key concepts and terms should be provided.
  • It is important to adopt a critical stance in relation to the literature, as education studies is a contested area.
  • Where possible it is important to draw on the key themes of the course (neoliberalism, marketization, globalisation, inclusion etc.) in relation to the topic being discussed.
  • Arguments made should be backed up with relevant references and examples. 
  • References should be in the appropriate format.
  • The style of writing should be clear and concise and academic. It is important to avoid using a chatty style.

I really enjoyed reading the essays, the student worked hard to relate the topics to the key themes of the course, such as marketization, globalisation, neoliberalism and inclusion. They backed their arguments up with relevant references and examples. Key terms and concepts for the essays were defined and references, often with more that one example, to demonstrate the nuances and contested nature of these terms.

 I would like to thank Alan Howe and Catherine Simon for their comments on a draft version of this blog.  

New Learning Design book is out!

January 26th, 2016


I got my copy of ‘Learning Design: conceptualising a framework for teaching and learning online’ through the post recently. It’s always nice to see your work in print! This book is the product of a group I have been part of over the past few years. The group was headed by James Dalziel; who had a national fellowship, which enabled him to bring us together a number of times, to articulate what we mean by Learning Design and how it is distinct from but complementary to the more established field of Instructional Design. We had a series of excellent meetings and the result was the Larnaca Declaration on Learning Design. In addition we agreed to write this book to flesh out our various research interests.

The first chapter is co-authored and describes the Larnaca Declaration on Learning Design. In the second chapter I describe the theoretical underpinnings of Learning Design, and how in particular it draws on socio-cultural perspectives and the concepts of mediating artefacts and the affordances of digital technology. James Dalziel and Eva Doboozy reflect on the role of metaphors for Learning Design in chapter three. In chapter four Simon Walker and Mark Kerrigan argue that Learning Design has the potential to offer ways of representing, communicating and critiquing learning ideas, patterns and experiences across different subjects and from multiple perspectives. In chapter five Eva Dobozy and Chris Campbell explores Learning Design from the much cited Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge (TPAK) framework. They present a conceptual framework that helps to analyse Learning Design and TPACK research. I describe the 7Cs of Learning Design framework in chapter six and the associated resources and activities and how this can be used to help teachers rethink their design practice to make pedagogical informed design decisions that make appropriate use of technologies. Sue Bennett, Shirlet Agostinho and Lori Lockyer describe their research on investigating University educators’ design thinking and in particular the implications for design support tools in chapter seven. In chapter eight Sandra Wills and Chris Pegler argue for the need for a deeper understanding of reuse. Eva Dobozy and James Dalziel, in chapter nine, consider the use and usefulness of transdisciplinary pedagogical templates. Emil Badilescu-Buga discusses the social adoption of Learning Design in chapter ten. Matt Bower presents a framework for adaptive Learning Design in a web-conference environment in chapter eleven. The final chapter looks to the future, ‘Learning Design: where do we go from here?’.

This is a must read for anyone interested in Learning Design, its origins and uses. I really enjoyed being part of the group and feel proud of the Larnaca Declaration and the book. I want to thank James for enabling this to happen and I look forward to seeing how the area develops in the coming years. 

Games, play and learning

January 5th, 2016


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Yesterday I took a class for a colleague, for a module called “Games, learning and play”. The session was a chance for the students to describe a series of games that they had produced and an opportunity to play them. They had been working in teams to produce the games. The session began with the students explaining the nature of their games, the objectives and the rules. For each group I completed a feedback form round the following themes: the equipment list, the objectives and the rules/instructions for the game. I also asked them if they drew on any theory they had covered in the module. In the second half of the session there was an opportunity for the students to try out and play the games, followed by a discussion.

It was an excellent session, the students had produced some really interesting games and there was a good discussion about the ways in which the games could be improved and how the analogue versions they had produced could be digitised.

The teams came up with some imaginative games, these included the following. A scavenger hunt, where the teams had to find and take pictures of things, difficult points were awarded depending on whether the clues were easy, medium or difficult. So examples included: someone drinking a starbucks coffee, someone getting stuck in a revolving door, or a picture of a dog. Another game consisted of two sets of cards. Each player received one card; four were the same, one was different. The objective was to find the odd one out. Each person described their picture in two words, and then at the end of the round the players voted. Another game had teams finding clues to identify a location. Some clues were very generic, for example ‘there are lots of them’, others were more specific, for example ‘a place to study’. Another game had pictures of patients hidden around the building, teams had to find the patients and bring back, depending on the number on the back of the picture, they were awarded a number of coins.  Finally, one game focussed on the use of social media (such as Twitter, blogs, facebook and YouTube), where the players followed the links to collect clues.

These are some of the points that arose from the discussion. Firstly, there was the issue of the length of the game, too short and it might be frustrating, too long and the players might get bored. The timing obviously also depended on the nature of the game. Some games had elements of speed associated with them, whilst others were more about strategy or thinking skills. Secondly, there was the issue as to whether or not the players should work in teams, we discussed how if team-based there had to be a purpose to working together, perhaps through division of labour. Thirdly, the students needed to think about the age range of the players; i.e. was the game for children or adults. Playing the games enabled the teams to see how the games could be improved and digitised. Fourthly, if clues are involved in the game, it is important to challenge the players, so that if they get something right they feel they have achieved something, in other words it is important to strike the right balance between being too easy and being too hard.

In terms of theory, they mentioned the work of James Gee (2011). I think the following list from Gee is useful as a checklist for guiding games design:

  • Experiences are most useful for future problem solving if the experience is structured by specific goals. Humans store their experiences best in terms of goals, and how these goals did or did not work out.
  • For experiences to be useful for future problem solving, they have to be interpreted. Interpreting experience means thinking—in action and after action—about how our goals relate to our reasoning in the situation. It means, as well, extracting lessons learned and anticipating when and where those lessons might be useful.
  • People learn best from their experiences when they get immediate feedback during those experiences so that they can recognize and assess their errors and see where their expectations have failed. It is important too that they are encouraged to explain their errors and why their expectations failed, along with what they could have done differently.
  • Learners need ample opportunities to apply their previous experiences—as interpreted—to similar new situations, so they can “debug” and improve their interpretations of these experiences, gradually generalizing them beyond specific contexts.
  • Learners need to learn from the interpreted experiences and explanations of other people, including both peers and more expert people. Social interaction, discussion, and technologies—all of these flow from the values, established practices, knowledge, and skills of experienced SWAT team members. They all flow from the identity of being or seeking to become such a person.


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They also mentioned the work of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi on flow. Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterised by complete absorption in what one does. Csíkszentmihályi argues that happiness is not a fixed state but can be developed as we learn to achieve flow in our lives. The key aspect to flow is control: in the flow-like state, we exercise control over the contents of our consciousness rather than allowing ourselves to be passively determined by external forces. He states (Csíkszentmihályi 1990) that:

The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something we make happen.

He identifies the following elements involved in achieving flow:

  • There are clear goals every step of the way
  • There is immediate feedback to one’s actions
  • There is a balance between challenges and skills
  • Action and awareness are merged
  • Distractions are excluded from consciousness
  • There is no worry of failure
  • Self-consciousness disappears
  • The sense of time becomes distorted
  • The activity becomes an end in itself.


Csíkszentmihályi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York, NY: Harper and Row.

Gee, J. P. (2011). “Games and Education Scholar James Paul Gee on Video Games, Learning and Literacy.” from , last accessed 14/1/14.


The argument for slowing down…

November 4th, 2015

I’m preparing for my keynote this afternoon at the AECT conference in Indianapolis and it got me wondering about how ‘new’ each talk should be. For normal talks I think it is good to focus on something, report on new findings from a project, etc., but a keynote has a different purpose. It is more about providing a big picture of currant issues, for me these are around the use of digital technologies for learning, teaching and research. It’s good to align the talk to the conference themes, my talk is entitled ‘Slow and fast learning with contemporary digital technologies’, which aligns, I hope, with the conference theme on ‘Accelerate learning – racing to the future’. My outline is:

       Education 2020

       E-learning timeline and emergent technologies


       Facets of e-learning


      Mobile learning

      Social media

      Digital identity and literacies

      Distributed cognition

And then I conclude by arguing that we need to slow down; digital technologies offer us a multiple number of ways of interacting, communicating and collaborating, resulting in a speeding up of our connection with materials and others. Access to rich resources, tools and expertise is great for learning, there is no doubt about that, but a core facet of learning is the need to appropriate knowledge, to align with existing understanding, to apply to new contexts and perhaps most importantly to reflect on our learning. This, I would argue, takes time and is at odds with the nature affordance speed of digital technologies. So I end the talk by making an analogy between the slow food movement and slow learning.

Slow food movement

Slow learning movement

     Reaction against the increase in fast food

     Defending regional traditions, good food, gastronomic pleasure and a slow pace of life

     Reinvigorate people’s interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us


     Promoting deep learning in the context of a broad curriculum that recognises the talents of all students

     Quality of the educational engagement between teacher and learner is more important than judging student ability by standardised tests

     Importance of quality, creative teaching which enables students to think independently and cope with the challenges of life today


We need to figure out as teachers and as learners how to harness the affordances of digital technologies and make the most of being part of a rich global community of resources, tools and peers, as well as fostering the best aspects of learning. I would welcome thoughts on this! A version of my slides are on slideshare. 

Using iPads for learning, teaching and research

September 9th, 2015


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I did a show and tell session today for our monthly team meeting on how iPads can be used for learning, teaching and research. It was a useful session, here are some of the resources I mentioned.

Resources for writing a dissertation

September 1st, 2015

I have recently been teaching our Masters students. I was planning on providing them with an overview of using technology in education, but it was clear that what was uppermost on their minds with their dissertation. So we ended up having an open session of questions and answers. I really enjoyed it. Here are the list of resource I collated as a result.

Referencing social media

Reliability and validity

How to cite a hashtag

How to write a thesis

How to write a PhD thesis

Writing tips


Learning theories

Education theories

Writing your dissertation

How to write a dissertation

NVIVO tutorials

Research methods

Research methods in education book


Rhizomatic learning

Flow concept

Ken Robinson


Survive your PhD course

Herrington, J., McKenney, S., Reeves, T. C., & Oliver, R. (2007). Design-based research and doctoral students: Guidelines for preparing a dissertation proposal. In C. Montgomerie & J. Seale (Eds.), Proceedings of EdMedia 2007: World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications (pp. 4089-4097). Norfolk, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education.·     

Ten essential articles all PhD students should read

From Professor Tom Reeves

o   A good literature review is a key component of a solid foundation for a dissertation. Here are ten tips I share with my students:
1. A Good Literature Review is organized around a coherent set of questions. A Poor Literature Review rambles from topic to topic without a clear focus.
2. A Good Literature Review includes the major landmark or classic studies related to the questions guiding the study. A Poor Literature Review omits landmark or classic studies or mixes them with trivial studies without making distinctions about quality or relevance.
3. A Good Literature Review acknowledges the author’s biases as well as the limitations of the review process. A Poor Literature Review assumes an omniscient voice without acknowledging biases and limitations.
4. A Good Literature Review critically evaluates the quality of the research according to clear criteria. A Poor Literature Review simply summarizes research findings without critical evaluation.
5. A Good Literature Review uses quotes, illustrations, graphs, and/or tables to present and justify the critical analysis of the literature. A Poor Literature Review simply lists studies without presenting any critical evidence in the form of quotes, illustrations, graphs, and/or tables.
6. A Good Literature Review takes the form of a logical argument that concludes with a clear rationale for additional research. A Poor Literature Review does not present a logical argument and fails to build a clear rationale for additional research.
7. A Good Literature Review is interesting to read because it is clear, coherent, and systematic in its organization and presentation. A Poor Literature Review is boring or obtuse because of the overuse of jargon and pretentious language and the lack of organization.
8. A Good Literature Review presents research evidence in a meaningful chronological order. A Poor Literature Review mixes studies from different decades without acknowledging chronological developments.
9. A Good Literature Review has an accurate and up-to-date bibliography that adheres to APA (or other accepted) Guidelines. A Poor Literature Review has inaccurate or missing references that are poorly formatted.
10. A good literature review is publishable in a respectable journal. A poor literature review is unlikely to be shared beyond the thesis proposal.


Designing effective MOOCs

July 10th, 2015

I am currently writing a paper which I hope to submit to Educational Multimedia International which looks at effective ways of designing MOOCs. Here is the draft to date, comments welcome!


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have expanded significantly in recent years and are challenging traditional educational fee-paying offerings. The advantages of MOOCs are cited as the fact that they are free, that they enable participants to be part of a global community of peers and to have the experience of learning through social media, and that they offer the potential for opening up educational and facilitating social inclusion. Nonetheless there are challenges associated with MOOCs. Firstly, most have very high dropout rates. Secondly, there are challenges with approaches to recognition of learning and issues with learner authentication and cheating. Thirdly, there are issues with providing support at scale. This paper argues that effective design of MOOCs is key. It focuses on the description of a twelve-dimensional classification schema for describing and designing MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).  It then uses the schema to describe five MOOCs, which are respectively based on associative, cognitive, constructivist, situative and connectivist pedagogies. It then describes the 7Cs of Learning Design framework and discusses how it can be used to design MOOCs.


A Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is an online course taken by a significant number of participants.[1] MOOCs have gained traction in education in recent years and a number of evaluations have been undertaken to ascertain how learners are participating in them and how they are learning. The Open Education Europa ‘European MOOCs Scoreboard’,[2] indicates that there are currently over 800 MOOCs being offered by Europe-based institutions.

The original vision behind MOOCs was the idea of harnessing the potential of digital technologies to learn at scale through a network of peers. The original MOOC, Connectivism and Connected Knowledge (CCK08),[3] promoted a Connectivist approach to learning. Learners were encouraged to create their own Personalised Learning Environment and to engage in dialogue and exchange of ideas with their peers through appropriate social media. There was no formal learning pathway or correct set of prescribed tools; each learner adopted their own approach. This type of MOOC has been labelled a cMOOC. More recently we have seen the emergence of more individually focused, didactic MOOCs, where the emphasis is on learning primarily through content and videos, supported by e-assessment elements. These MOOCs have been labelled xMOOCs. The number of MOOCs increased dramatically following the first MOOC. Providers include: edX, Udacity, Coursera and FutureLearn. MOOCs are very much a disruptive technology (Christensen 1997), as they re challenging traditional educational business models. The rapid growth in the number of MOOCs lead to the New York Times naming 2012 ‘the year of the MOOC’.[4] A recent survey[5] suggests that MOOCs are supplementing traditional Higher Educational offerings and democratising learning. The survey looked at 13 MOOCs offered on the Coursera platform. Findings included:

  • Students in the younger group often reported taking MOOCs in topics not taught in their schools.
  • Students in the youngest group also reported taking MOOCs to explore different disciplines to help weigh academic and career choices.
  • Those in the over-65 group reported taking MOOCs to pursue lifelong learning, to keep their minds active and to mentor younger students in their own professional field.
  • Students who said they enrolled in MOOCs because of limited access to higher ed chose them because MOOCs were available despite their financial or mobility limitations.

Veltsianos et al. (Veletsianos, Collier et al. 2015) argue that in order to fully understand participation in MOOCs it is important to look at more than just log files and online interactions. They were interested in how people experience MOOCs and why they engage in particular activities in the way they do. The findings of their study included the following:

  • Successful learners have highly developed study habits.
  • Students take notes, if they take more than one MOOC on a similar topic they combine the notes.
  • There is evidence of off platform participation via social media or face to face.
  • Online learning is an emotional experience; both in terms of excitement and disappointment.
  • Life’s daily routines shape the way in which people participate in online courses, in other words the courses need to fit in with other activities individuals are involved with.
  • Finally, drop out rates are not necessarily negative, some learners choose to only do part of a course for a reason.

Opinions as to the value of MOOCs are divided. On a positive note they are free and hence are seen as potentially supporting social inclusion and providing an opportunity for participants to experience being part of a global community of peers. Kopp et al. conclude that there are good reasons for HE institutions to offer MOOCs in such a context: firstly, to ‘fulfil their obligations in the field of lifelong learning by providing scientific content to the general public’ (Kopp, Ebner et al. 2014) and secondly to enable students to accumulate credits towards their qualifications in a more flexible way by learning online.

On a negative note, many point to the high drop out rates and low levels of participation and some feel that MOOCs are more about ‘learning income’ rather than ‘learning outcomes’, and that they are merely a marketing exercise. Indeed many institutions who have developed MOOCs state that their main reason is to get a feel for the MOOC experience and look at how it sits alongside their traditional educational offerings.

A key issue with MOOCs is the way in which participants can achieve recognition for their learning. A number of models have emerged. Participants might pay to get a certificate of attendance or participation. Alternatively they may be awarded digital badges for an achievement or the gaining of particular competences. The OERu[6] is an international consortium of institutions. Learners can approach one of the members and ask for recognition from that institution of their learning for studying through OER or MOOCs.

The OpenCred project explored the range of ways in which non-formal open learning could be recognised. Non-formal learning is defined as learning which is embedded in planned activities not always explicitly designated as learning (in terms of learning objectives, learning time or learning support), but which contain an important learning element. Non-formal learning is intentional from the learner’s point of view. The OpenCred project developed a typology around four characteristics of open educational courses:

  • Formality of recognition
  • Robustness of assessment
  • Eligibility for assessment/recognition
  • Affordability for learners.

The executive summary of the final OpenCred reports states:

The development of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in the Higher Education sector is reaching a point of maturity, where they are no longer an experimental form of learning but moving towards being mainstream. Although few providers of open education have so far awarded credentials, this is beginning to change.

The key findings from the project were:

  • Robust assessment is central to recognition of open learning, and that the need to pay for robust assessment leads institutions to either pass on the cost of assessment to learners, or require learners to enrol at the institution – in both cases reducing the openness of the assessment and recognition process.
  • The recognition of open learning is, at present, limited to components of programmes rather than full qualifications. Some organisations are working towards this objective but such initiatives are in their infancy and, as yet, there are no examples available of an individual receiving a full qualification via open learning.
  • There are some common perceptions which impact on the sector’s ability to provide recognition. These relate to the way online learning in general is perceived, and online assessment in particular; the value of ECTS credits as a currency, and the value of badges as motivational tools in open education.
  • There are pockets of experimental practice in workplace settings, but these are currently very limited.

Another issue is how to support learners participating in a MOOC, with often tens of thousands of participants, providing tailored individual support is not possible. There are a number of alternatives. The first, prevalent in cMOOCs, is to encourage participants to create their own Personal Learning Environment (PLE) of tools and peers to support their learning. This might include use of hashtags on social media to filter information or the creation and use of a network of peers to interact with. The second is to provide tutors, who summarise key elements of learning at key points in the MOOC.

EFQUEL facilitated a 12-week series of blog posts exploring the issue of quality and MOOCs.[7] Selwyn and Bulfin (2014) did a meta analysis of the MOOC literature and identified the following themes: the fact that MOOCs vary in size and scale, the issue as to whether they are free or not, how they sit alongside traditional educational offerings, the issue as to whether they are transformative, the way in which they are challenging traditional educational business models, the types of pedagogical approaches that are facilitated, the nature of the content and degree of interactivity and communication, the relationship between the participants and the tutors, the forms of recognition of learning and assessment, and the ways in which technologies are used.

A classification schema for MOOCs

The classification of MOOCs as either xMOOCs or cMOOCs is arguably too simple given the diversity of MOOCs we are now seeing. Conole (2014) has developed a classification schema for MOOCs, which consists of twelve dimensions (Tables 1). Each dimension can be seen as a spectrum, from little or no evidence of that dimension through to a significant amount.

Table 1: A twelve dimensional classification schema for MOOCs





The degree to which the MOOC is open, ranging from closed Learning Management System courses which require the users to login and potentially pay for access through to completely open courses that use open source tools, where participants are encouraged to share their learning outputs using a creative commons license.


How large the MOOC is in terms of the number of participants, which may range from a few hundred to thousands.


How diverse the participant population is; a small specialised course for local doctors for example is likely to be fairly homogenous in terms of the background and experience of the participants, in contrast a large MOOC on Art Aesthetics is likely to have a diverse participant population



In terms of how much and what type of multimedia is used. Some MOOCs are primarily text-based whereas others make significant use of multimedia and have a high degree of interactivity.


This dimension describes the way in which participants are encouraged to communicate with their peers and their tutors. This might range from limited use of discussion forums (which may or may not be moderated by the tutors), through to significant use of communication through a variety of social media tools.


This dimension refers to the ways in which participants are encourage to collaborate together, this might range from no collaboration (particularly in xMOOCs where participants primarily work through the materials on their own) through to significant collaboration with participants working in groups on a shared set of activities.


Reflection is an important facet of learning (Dewey 1916). This dimension reflects the extent to which participants are encouraged to reflect on (and perhaps apply) their learning. Some MOOCs will not explicitly state this, whilst others might include statements such as ‘reflect on what you have learnt to date’ or ‘apply your understanding to your context’. Alternatively the participants might be encouraged to write reflective blogs and comment on the blog posts of other participants.

Learning pathway

Some MOOCs, such as cMOOCs, deliberately do not have a specified learning pathway through the materials; the emphasis is on participants creating their own learning pathway and Personal Learning Environments. Other MOOCs may have a prescribed learning pathway to guide the learners. Other still might have alternative learning pathways through the materials for example in the form of a ‘MOOC-lite’ route or a more extensive route through the materials.

Quality Assurance

This dimension evidences the degree to which the MOOC, when it is being designed and in the evaluation of its delivery, has an associated quality assurance process. This might range from no quality assurance, where the MOOC is developed by an individual teacher, through to some form of relatively informal peer review through to high quality assurance through a formal review process and a number of iterations and improvements.


This ranges from no certification associated with the MOOC, through to the assignment of badges on completion or different aspects of the MOOC or achievement of particular competences, through to certificates for participation or completion.

Formal Learning

This is concerned with whether or not the MOOC is linked to a formal educational offering. This can range from the MOOC being informal and optional through to perhaps being part of a formal educational offering, where MOOC participants learn alongside fee-paying students on a course.


This is the extent to which participants are expected to work individually through the MOOC and take control of their learning with little or no tutor support through to the participants being given a certain degree of tutor support. This might include forum moderation, or formative assessment on artefacts the participants produce.

This classification schema has a number of uses. It can be used to describe a MOOC in terms of these twelve dimensions, and hence provide a mechanism to compare different MOOCs.

Using the classification schema to describe different MOOCs 

This section describes how the classification schema can be used to describe five different MOOCs. Each MOOC is based on a particular pedagogical approach; namely: associative, cognitive, constructivist, situative or connectivist. Pedagogical approaches (Mayes and De Freitas 2004, Conole 2010) can be classified as:

·           Associative – where the focus is on the individual. It is about associating a stimulus with a response or in other words operant conditioning. Examples of ways in which technologies can facilitate associated pedagogies include drill and practice, and e-assessment. An example of an associative MOOC is a course on Chinese provided by the Open University UK.[8] The MOOC is based around a series of podcasts and interactive assessment elements to test knowledge and understanding.

·           Cognitive – where the emphasis is on learning by experiencing a stimuli, with learners encouraged to contemplate on their learning. An example of a cognitivist MOOC is a coursera’s course on songwriting.[9] The MOOC starts from the learner’s current level of experience.

·           Constructivist – where the emphasis is on building on prior knowledge; i.e. applying a meaning to and building on what the learner already knows. This is more active and task orientated. Example of ways in which technologies can facilitate constructivist pedagogies include: problem-based or inquiry learning. An example of a construcivist MOOC is a course on Learning Design run by the Open University, UK.[10] The course begins by examining participants existing level of knowledge of teaching and of design and builds on this as the course progresses.

·           Situative – where the emphasis is on learning in a context and through dialogue. Examples of how situative pedagogies can be facilitated include learning through virtual worlds. An example of a situative MOOC is a coursera course on Clinical Neurology.[11] It is an applied, contextual course, intended to provide continuing professional development to professionals working in the field.

·           Connectivist – where the emphasis is on learning in a networked context, through a distributed community of peers. Learners create their own personal learning environment and repertoire of digital tools. This encourages reflective, personalised learning. An example of a Connectivist MOOC is the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge course.[12]

Table 2 provides a comparison of these five MOOCs using the twelve dimensional classification schema, with quantification along each of the dimensions to indicate the degree to which they are present.


Table 2: Comparison of five different MOOC courses

The classification schema can also be used to design a MOOC, using the criteria for each of the dimensions as a starting point. This can be used in conjunction with the resources associated with the 7Cs of Learning Design framework, which considers seven aspects of the design process.

The importance of Learning Design 

Designing for learning is arguably one of the key challenges facing education today. Digital technologies offer a plethora of ways in which learners can interact with rich multimedia resources and ways in which they can communicate and collaborate with peers. Despite this technologies are not used extensively and teachers lack the necessary digital literacies (Jenkins 2006, Jenkins 2009) to make effective use of technologies in their teaching. A 2014 survey[13] of the effective use of learning technology in education lists the following as key barriers to the uptake of learning technologies:

  • Lack of resource to provide release and support for staff to enable them to incorporate technology in their practices.
  • Reliance on individuals to champion innovation and exploitation of their willingness to support colleagues.
  • Lack of direction at a strategic level resulting in fragmentation of practice across provider curriculum areas and levels of work.
  • Lack of credit and recognition for innovative uses of technology by key influencers such as government agencies, awarding bodies, governing bodies.
  • Lack of headroom for managers to support innovation and risk taking.
  • Focus on omission and error in inspection and quality assurance, which does not encourage experimentation and exploration of the potential of technology.
  • Little recognition that learning technologies are diverging between central sensitive data for administration, and independent and collaborative use by teachers and learners.
  • Lack of funding to purchase technology.
  • Lack of guidance on what would constitute outstanding and good practice across the range of technology use.
  • Funding methodologies that are inimical to technology supported learning e.g. focusing on classroom activity.
  • Staff not encouraged to use technology so many focus on the mandated administrative processes (e.g. quality assurance requirements, registers, outcomes, summative assessment).

In other words the key barriers can be grouped under the following five themes: lack of staff time and support, lack of support at senior level, lack of leadership in effective use of technology, lack of incentives, and lack of funding for technology.

A survey by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt surveyed more than 1,000 teachers and administrators on the use of technologies,[14] and found the following were the top needs in classrooms:

  • More engagement from parents of students
  • More time with students to cover the curriculum
  • Training on the use of technologies devices in the classroom
  • More money for classroom materials
  • More training on technology implementation
  • New standards aligned to instructional materials
  • More job embedded professional development
  • More stand alone professional development.

Key findings were that 97% of teachers use some form of digital content, 51% of teachers use Apps/digital games in the classroom, only 36% use laptops or desktops and 61% do not use tablets, 60% of teachers stated that they saw increased student engagement when using technologies such as digital content, online applications and games.

Learning Design aims to help bridge this gap and guide teachers in their design practice. Learning Design as a research field has emerged in the last fifteen years or so, driven mainly by academics in Europe and Australia. It is an alternative to the more established field of Instructional Design. It aims to provide an holistic overview of the whole design process and helps teachers make more effective design decisions that are pedagogically informed and make appropriate use of digital technologies. Conole (2013, pg. 7) defines Learning Design as:

It is a methodology for enabling teachers/designers to make more informed decisions in how they go about designing learning activities and interventions, which is pedagogically informed and makes effective use of appropriate resources and technologies. This includes the design of resources and individual learning activities right u to curriculum-level design. A key principle is to make the design process more explicit and shareable. Learning Design as an area of research and development includes both gathering empirical evidence to understand the design process and the development of a range of Learning Design resources, tools and activities.

There are three facets to Learning Design: guidance (to help the teacher make design decisions), visualisation (to help teachers represent their designs visually from different perspectives) and sharing (with peers). It is based on a socio-cultural theoretical approach, and in particular the concept of what mediating artefacts teachers use in the design process (Conole 2013). Learning Design helps teachers think beyond content to the activities learners will engage with and the learner experience. The Larnaca Declaration on Learning Design provides an overview of the emergence of Learning Design and the key concepts.[15]

Frey[16] suggests that a:

Good Learning Experience Design can create relevant, engaging and memorable educational experiences that successfully address the specific challenges of these adult learners.

He suggests the following facets of design:

  • The importance of designing a purposeful journey and making this clear to the learners.
  • Making efficient use of the limited time available to learners.
  • Directly linking learning goals to activities.
  • Building on existing understanding and addressing any gaps in understandings
  • Providing immersive, real-world simulations or experiences. 

MOOCs provide an alternative to campus-based courses, and emphasis the power of harnessing a global, distributed community of peers for learning. However, the design of MOOCs is challenging and to date most have been developed on a fairly ad hoc basis. This paper describes how Learning Design can be used to design more effective MOOCs and in particular the use of the 7Cs of Learning Design framework, which is described in the next section.

The 7Cs of Learning Design

This section describes the 7Cs of Learning Design framework, which can be used to help teachers/designers to make more informed design decisions. Figure 1 illustrates the 7Cs of Learning Design framework. For each C there are a range of resources and activities, some of which are described here.[17]


Figure 1: The 7Cs of Learning Design Framework

The first C, Conceptualise, is about creating a vision for the course or module being designed. It helps the teacher/designer think about the nature of the learners who are likely to take the course or module, their age range, diversity, characteristics, skills, perceptions and aspirations. It is also about articulating the core principles associated with the course or module. In terms of a MOOC this is about identifying the type of learners who are likely to participate, along with some understanding of their perceptions about MOOCs and their reasons for wanting to participate. It is also about establishing their level of experience with using technologies and their educational background. This can be achieved through the creation of ‘personas’[18] describing the types of learners who are likely to take the course. Personas are a tool for the MOOC designers to articulate their understanding of expected participants, as a starting point for design. In addition the Course Features activity helps the designers to articulate their vision for the MOOC in terms of:

  • The pedagogical approaches used
  • The core principles of the MOOC
  • The nature of the guidance and support provided
  • The types of content and activities
  • The forms of communication and collaboration that are encouraged
  • The ways in which reflection is encouraged and how the participants can demonstrate achievement of the learning outcomes.

The next four Cs are concerned with designing the resources and activities that the learners will engage with.

The Create C helps the teacher/designer articulate what learning materials need to be created, whether these are text-bases, interactive materials, podcasts or videos. In addition, it covers the use or repurposing of Open Educational Resources. Finally, the teacher/designer might also create some activities, which require the learners to create their own content. Depending on the subject nature of the MOOC there may be many existing OER which can be reused; for more specialised MOOCs it is likely that the designers will need to create the majority of the resources.

The Communicate C is concerned with methods to facilitate communication, between the learner and the tutor, the learner and their peers, and the broader community through social media. This might range from effective mechanisms for fostering discussion in a forum, through effective moderation, or looser communication through social media. In cMOOCs there is likely to be a significant emphasis on communication and encouraging participants to communicate with their peers, particularly through social media. This might include the use of a hashtag for the MOOC on Twitter or the setting up of a facebook page for the MOOC. In xMOOCs the focus is more on the individual so communication might be mainly restricted to interaction with the tutors via email.

Similarly, the Collaborate C is about fostering mechanisms to enable collaboration or group work. Again this is likely to be more prevalent in cMOOCs than xMOOCs. This could include the use of the jigsaw pedagogical pattern (Hernándex-Leo, Asensio-Pérez et al. 2010). In this participants are put into groups of four. Each person is given a topic to research, they then get together with others who have been researching the same topic and pool their collective knowledge. Finally, they return to their home team and share their combined understanding of the four topics assigned.

Finally, the Consider C, is concerned with ways in which reflection can be encouraged and the ways in which the learners can demonstrate the achievement of learning outcomes. Assessment might be diagnostic, formative or summative. Reflection in cMOOCs might be through interaction with other participants or might include encouraging participants to write and share reflective blogs on their learning. xMOOCs usually include formative assessment elements, through for example interactive formative quizzes. Participants might also get recognition of their learning through certificates of participation or attendance, or the awarding of digital badges for particular achievements or development of competences.

The Combine C enables the teacher/designer to step back and reflect on the design process to date and look at the design from different perspectives. This includes creativity an activity profile[19] showing how much time participants are spending on the following types of tasks:

  • Assimilative activities – such as reading, listening or viewing
  • Information handling – such as finding and collating resource or manipulating data in a spreadsheet
  • Communication – for example in forums or through social media
  • Productive – creating learning artefacts, for example a chemical compound or an architectural model
  • Adaptive – interacting with modelling or simulation tools
  • Experimental – such as drill and practice or practising skills in a particular context or undertaking an investigation
  • Assessment – recognition of learning through either formative or summative assessment.

It is also possible to create a Course View Map which describes in details the nature of the MOOC in terms of:

  • What guidance and support is provided
  • The nature of the content and activities the participants will engage with
  • The way in which communication and collaboration is encouraged
  • The way in which reflection is encouraged and how participants can demonstrate achievement of the learning outcomes.

The storyboard enables the designer to map out what the participants are doing over time. Figure 2 shows an example of a story board. At the top the weeks and topics are listed. On the left hand side the learning outcomes are listed. In the centre are the activities the participants will engage with. For example in week one they are reading an article and listening to a video. In week two they listen to a podcast and read a document. In the final weeks they listen to a podcast, read a document and watch a video. In week one, the output is for them to write an essay. In week two they write a blog post. In the final week they do a group presentation and write a reflective essay on their learning. Under this the assessment elements are listed. So in week one the tutor provides formative feedback on the assay. In week two participants provide feedback on some of their peers’ blog posts. In the final week there is a summative assessment of a group presentation and a reflective review of their learning. Finally, the learning outcomes are mapped to the assessment elements, to ensure constructive alignment (Biggs n.d.).



Figure 2: An example of a storyboard

Finally, the Consolidate C is about implementing the design in a real-life context and evaluating its effectiveness. This might include the development of an evaluation rubric. Evaluation methods might include analysis of participants’ interactions with the MOOC, a survey or interviews.[20] In addition the MOOC classification schema can be used to evaluate how effective a MOOC is in terms of the extent to which the design is effectively implemented.


This paper has described a twelve dimensional classification schema for MOOCs, which can be used to design, describe and evaluate MOOCs. Five examples of different pedagogical MOOCs have been mapped against the schema. 

MOOCs represent a sign of the times; they instantiate an example of how technologies can disrupt the status quo of education and are a forewarning of further changes to come. Whether or not MOOCs will reach the potential hype currently being discussed is a mote point, what is clear is that we need to take them seriously. More importantly, for both MOOCs and traditional educational offerings we need to make more informed design decisions that are pedagogically effective, leading to an enhanced learner experience and ensuring quality assurance.

The key value of MOOCs is that they are challenging traditional educational institutions and having to make them think, in particular on their educational business model and the distinctiveness of their offering. As a recent article states MOOCs are challenging traditional institutional business models about what they are offering, how it is distinctive and what the unique learner experience will be at their institution. As Cormier (2013) states:

When we use the MOOC as a lens to examine Higher Education, some interesting things come to light. The question of the ‘reason’ for education comes into focus.

Furthermore, UNESCO estimates that more than 100 million children can’t afford formal education.[21] MOOCs provide them with a real lifeline to get above the poverty line. This, and the fact that MOOCs provide access to millions.

As Creelman (2013) notes:

Whatever you think of them they are opening up new learning opportunities for millions of people and that is really the main point of it all.

So for me the value of MOOCs to promote social inclusion, coupled with them making traditional institutions reconsider the educational offering they are providing and what is distinctive about their institution. These factors signify the importance of MOOCs as a disruptive technology, challenging existing educational business models and, hence, whether they survive or not is not important, if they result in an opening up of education and a better quality of the learner experience that has got to be for the good.


Biggs, J. (n.d.). “Constructive alignment.” John Biggs

Christensen, C. (1997). The innovator’s dilemma: When new technologies cause great firms to fail. Harvard, Harvard University Press.

Conole, G. (2010) “Review of pedagogical frameworks and models and their use in e-learning.”

Conole, G. (2013). Designing for learning in an open world. New York, Springer.

Conole, G. (2014). “A new classification schema for MOOCs.” INNOQUAL 2(3).

Cormier, D. (2013). “Week 3 – Forget the learners, how do I measure a MOOC quality experience for ME! By Dave Cormier.” MOOC Quality Project

Creelman, A. (2013). “Make hay whilt the sunshines.” The corridor of uncertainty

Dewey, J. (1916). Experience and Nature. New York, Dover.

Hernándex-Leo, D., J. I. Asensio-Pérez, Y. Dimitriadis and E. D. Villasclaras-Fernández (2010). Generating CSCL Scripts: From a Conceptual Model of Pattern

Languages to the Design of Real Scripts. E-learning design patterns. P. Goodyear and S. Retalis. Rotterdam, Sense Publishers: 49-64.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide, NYU Press.

Jenkins, H. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century, Mit Pr.

Kopp, M., M. Ebner and A. Dorfer-Novak (2014). “Introducing MOOCs to Austrian Universities: is it worth it to accept the challenge?” The International Journal for Innovation and Quality in Learning, INNOQUAL November 2014.

Mayes, T. and S. De Freitas (2004). Review of e-learning frameworks, models and theories, JISC e-learning models desk study.

Selwyn, N. and S. Buffin (2014). MOOC research initiative - final report.

Veletsianos, G., A. Collier and E. Schneider (2015). “Digging deeper into learners’ experiences in MOOCs: Participation in social networks outside of MOOCs, notetaking and contexts surrounding content consumption.” British Journal of Educational Technology 46(3): 570 - 587.




[1] A video describing the original idea behind MOOCs can be found here and provides a list of MOOCs

































[17] The full set of resources and activities associated with the framework are available from here




[19] More information on the Activity Profile can be found at, this includes an interactive widget to create an Activity Profile


[20] The LTDI evaluation cookbook is a useful resource describing different evaluation techniques – see




Internationalisation, cross-border education and e-learning conference

June 19th, 2015


Image source 

A few weeks ago I did a keynote at the internationaalisation, cross-border education and e-learning conference in Nicosia. Here are some notes on some of the other speakers. Michael Gaebel (head of the higher education policy unit, European University Association), gave a talk entitled ‘Trends in Higher Education Internationalisation’. He pointed to a number of useful reports on trends including the e-learning and HE, and argued that internationalisation and digitisation are two key priorities for institutions. He said that there was a wide range of activities around these across institutions and that most did have some form of international strategy, less had dedicated e-learning strategies. A key issue was mobility in terms of quality and the development of student skills. A recent e-learning survey indicates that more and more institutions are developing blended learning and online learning offerings, as well as the development of MOOCs. George Veletsianos reported on some recent studies he has been involved with on learners’ experience and perceptions of MOOCs. The focus was on how students are using social media for scholarship and what challenges arise in new learning environments. Part of the work has recently been published (BJET, 46(3), 570 – 587).


Researchers describe with increasing confidence what they observe participants doing in massive open online courses (MOOCs). However, our understanding of learner activities in open courses is limited by researchers’ extensive dependence on log file analyses and clickstream data to make inferences about learner behaviors. Further, the field lacks an empirical understanding of how people experience MOOCs andwhy they engage in particular activities in the ways that they do. In this paper, we report three findings derived by interviewing 13 individuals about their experiences in MOOCs. We report on learner interactions in social networks outside of MOOC platforms, notetaking, and the contexts that surround content consumption. The examination and analysis of these practices contribute to a greater understanding of the MOOC phenomenon and to the limitations of clickstream-based research methods. Based on these findings, we conclude by making pragmatic suggestions for pedagogical and technological refinements to enhance open teaching and learning.

The results of the studies included the following:

  • Successful learners have highly developed study habits
  • Students take notes, if they take more than one MOOC on a similar topic they combine the notes
  • There is evidence of off platform participation via social media or face to face
  • Online learning is an emotional experience; both in terms of excitement and disappointment
  • Life’s daily routines shapes the way in which people participate in online courses, in other words the courses need to fit in with other activities individuals are involved with
  • Finally, drop out rates are not necessarily negative, some learners choose to only do part of a course for a reason

George, Pambos Vrasidas and I took part in a symposium on ‘design issues and participation in MOOCs’ in the afternoon. Pambos highlighted the following challenges of MOOCs

  • High student-teacher ratio
  • Assessment
  • Less contact with instructor
  • Learning Design issues
  • High drop out rates
  • Lack of a real college experience
  • The increase of Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs)
  • Return on investment 

And he listed the following as some of the opportunities

  • Democratisation of education
  • Providing ivy-league courses to everyone
  • Creating a vast pool of data
  • Marketing and recruitment
  • Making quality education available at a distance for a large population
  • New business models are emerging 

TELL-OP survey

June 15th, 2015


I am current involved in an exciting EU project called TELL-OP being coordinated by Murcia University. The project focuses on the development of mobile Apps for second language acquisition. We are currently undertaking a survey and would be grateful if you could take the time to complete if this is of interest to you.

Here are the details: 

Dear Colleague,

TELL-OP is a EU-funded Strategic Partnership that seeks to promote the take-up of innovative practices in European language learning by supporting personalized learning approaches that rely on the use of information and communication technologies and open education resources.

Our aim is to promote cooperation in the field of language learning and we hope to foster the use of already available web 2.0 services to facilitate the personalized e-learning of languages in the contexts of higher and adult education, in particular, through the use of mobile devices. To learn more about us, you can visit our website at

In the framework of our project, we intend to create a mobile application for foreign language learning that includes a selection of language processing technologies.

We have designed a survey to help us learn more about the current use of these technologies and mobile devices in the European teaching context. Our survey seeks to explore the spread and take-up of language, and/or text, processing technologies for language learning.

Completing the survey should not take more than 10 minutes.

By answering the questions, you will be taking part in a European project that seeks to foster the use of new technologies in adult and Higher Education for the learning of languages. You will similarly have the possibility to be among the first teachers to test our TELL-OP app as soon as it becomes available  (during the first half of 2017). Please make sure you leave your e-mail so we can get back to you.

Survey in English

Survey in French

Survey in German

Survey in Spanish

Survey in Turkish


Thank you for your time, support and feedback!


The TELL-OP team.



June 10th, 2015

1.    cyberstalking.jpeg

Image from

As many of you know I am pretty open on social media and on the whole the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. It’s great to get comments on blog posts, get people replying or retweeting my tweets, participating in debates on fb or remotely following a conference. But recently I have had some experiences that have made me rethink my open policy. In general on fb I accept friendship requests if we have mutual friends or I can see that they are in the same line of work. Recently I have had quite a lot of friendship requests from people I have no connection with, furthermore when I look at their fb page, there is nothing there… Needless to say I don’t accept their friendship request. Another recent incident was that someone I did accept a friendship request from started fb messaging me, for some reason I felt uneasy about this and didn’t respond. Then this morning he started liking literally hundreds of my posts, so naturally I de-friended him. What on earth did he think he was doing? Cyberstalking can be defined as “Cyberstalking is the use of the Internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual, a group, or an organization.” Bonnie Stewart and George Veletsianos are doing an interesting study at the moment about disclosure online, people who are being staked, or victims of identity crime. I think given the openness of the web and the potential dangers of adopting open practice this is a timely and important study. I look forward to seeing the results.