Archive for the ‘General’ Category

The future of education

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018



I recently did a really interesting piece of work for the Open Universities Australia looking at key future trends in education. The piece was part of a larger report, which has just been released. Donna Gallagher was the lead on the project. My section focused on four key topics that are likely to shape the education sector in the next five years. The topics were:

  • The future of work and the skills needed.
  • How the needs of new consumers may change education.
  • Whether universities are accommodating the needs of older consumers in terms of their continuing education and the new skills and workflows they need to develop that will be relevant to them professionally and socially.
  • How blockchain technology will impact on the market in terms of transportability of qualifications, how will blockchain impact the market.

The intended audience is academics at all levels within a university and professional university staff such as course coordinators and learning developers. This evidence-based report will enable OUA to develop its portfolio strategy ensuring that it is built on a foundation of knowledge about the broader educational and societal context it operates in.


Future of work

By 2030 automation (robotics and Artificial Intelligence), globalisation and flexibility will change what we do in every job.[1] As technology reduces the need for workers to complete routine, manual tasks they will spend more time focusing on people, solving more strategic problems and thinking creatively. Digital talent platforms[2] have the potential to improve the ways workers and jobs are matched. Many employers say they cannot find enough workers with the skills they need.[3] This is particularly problematic in the IT and STEM industries.


Traditional, linear career trajectories are rapidly becoming antiquated. Digital technologies are creating new opportunities; in terms of digitization of: assets, operations and the workforce. These changes have a number of implications. Firstly, many activities that workers are carrying out today have the potential to be automated. Secondly, digital technologies offer a potential threat but also potential opportunities. Thirdly, we are teaching leaners for an uncertain future to do jobs that don’t even exist today. These raise a number of issues. Firstly, what skills are needed in the future and are universities addressing future requirements? Secondly, how should we design and deliver courses to meet these future needs? We need to move beyond knowledge recall to teaching learners the skills and capabilities they need to be lifelong learners, skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication and team work.[5] 

Deloitte has introduced a fully customized, interactive, game-based assessment as part of their application process.[6] The focus is on simulating real-life work scenarios that applicants can expect to encounter at Deloitte. The approach demonstrates that Deloitte recognizes that the next generation is technology savvy and expects more active and personalized learning experiences.



Learners are increasingly demanding, and want personalized and flexible learning opportunities and have been referred to as the I Want What I Want When I Want It (IWWIWWIWI) generation. This raises the question of how universities can ensure that they are meeting these needs. There is a dichotomy in that university education is becoming more expensive and at the same time information is more ubiquitous.[7] Many are arguing that we do not need a degree to acquire the knowledge and creativity required to be successful and gain meaningful employment.

New initiatives are arising to address this such as ‘uncollege’, which aims to help learners identify areas of interest and to accelerate their learning.[9] It is a social movement that aims to change the notion that going to college is the only path to success. Furthermore, we are seeing an unbundling of education.[10] Learners increasingly do not want to do full three-year degrees; they want bite size chunks of learning. They may choose to pay for: i) quality assured learning materials, ii) learning support, iii) a guided learning pathway, or iv) accreditation. Universities need to shift from offering a specific one-time experience to providing lifelong opportunities to enable learners to acquire skills useful across multiple careers.[11] Different learners will have different needs and will therefore choose different components. In addition, learners are increasingly mixing formal educational offering with free materials and courses, available through Open Educational Resources (OER) and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). As a result new forms of recognition of learning and accreditation are emerging, such as digital badges, certificates of participation/completion, and Accreditation of Prior Learning (APEL). The OpenCred project provides a summary of these.[12] It articulates a number of factors associated with non-formal learning (identity verification, supervised assessment, quality assurance, etc.).


Digital apprenticeships are an interesting new development in vocational Higher Education.[13] Degree apprenticeships combine university study and workplace learning to enable apprentices to gain a full bachelor’s or master’s degree. An apprentice has full-time employment status rather than student status, and receives at least an apprentice’s minimum wage. Degree apprenticeships are co-designed by employers ensuring that apprentices are equipped with the skills employers need and boost their employment prospects. Degree apprentices do not pay for training costs or student fees and are not eligible for student loans.


Changing ageing

We live in an increasingly ageing society.[14] People are more likely to have multiple careers and hence need to become lifelong learners to adapt to changing circumstances and develop new skills.[15] Furthermore, many choose to retire early, take part-time work, or be self-employed; prioritizing their work/life balance. Lifelong learning is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, educational investments are an economic imperative and on going learning and skills development is essential to surviving economic and technological disruption. Secondly, learning is positive for health. Research has shown, for example, that learning to play a new instrument can offset cognitive decline, and learning difficult new skills in older age is associated with improved memory. Thirdly, being open and curious has profound personal and professional benefits. Fourthly, our capacity for learning is a cornerstone of human flourishing and motivation.[16] Melbourne University have announced an initiative to offer lifelong learning opportunities for professionals across all academic areas for people at all stages of their career. Providing a rationale for the initiative, the Vice Chancellor stated that ‘radical developments in the technology landscape, primarily associated with the rise of the internet and associated digital media and tools, have opened up new possibilities in the provision of, participation in, and access to, education’.[18] A range of delivery models are being used, including campus-based intensive, online-learning and custom modes of delivery.


Transportability of credentials

To support more flexible career pathways and lifelong learning, opportunities for learning need to be available from a variety of formal, informal and non-formal settings. As mentioned earlier digital badges and certificates of participation/completion are increasingly being used to recognize learning in non-formal and informal contexts. Trying to collate learning across these different spaces is challenging. Blockchain education is being heralded by many as the next big thing in education.[19] A blockchain can be described as a digital ledge. Or more succinctly:


The blockchain is a distributed database that provides an unalterable, (semi-)public record of digital transactions. Each block aggregates a timestamped batch of transactions to be included in the ledger – or rather, in the blockchain. Each block is identified by a cryptographic signature. These blocks are all back-linked; that is, they refer to the signature of the previous block in the chain, and that chain can be traced all the way back to the very first block created. As such, the blockchain contains an un-editable record of all the transactions made.[20]


EduCoin was an education-oriented cryptocurrency. It aimed to help students, educators and third parties make secure transactions without fees, rates or long approval times. Blockchain startups are exploring things like identity management and smart contracts. In terms of education, one of the benefits of blockchains is the notion of ‘learning is earning’. The ledger tracks everything someone has learned in units called EduBlocks, each represents a number of hours of learning but it is also possible to earn them from individuals or groups.  A key benefit of the blockchain is that it can be used to better manage assessment, credentials and transcripts.

A number of institutions are exploring blockchains, including: the MIT Media Lab, the University of Nicosia, the OU UK and Holberton School.[22] The distributed, decentralised nature of blockchains is perceived as providing opportunities to disrupt traditional products and services, along with the permanence of the blockchain record and the ability to run smart contracts. The advantages of blockchains include: self-sovereignty, trust, transparency/provenance, immutability, disintermediation, and collaboration. Although still in their infancy, the implications include: accelerating the end of paper-based certificates, allowing users to automatically verify the validity of certificates, and give users ownership.


The four topics considered represent some of the key changes and associated challenges that are likely to impact on education in the near future. They demonstrate that we are operating in a complex, changing and dynamic context, with education offerings across a spectrum from free resources and courses through to traditional formal educational offerings. To meet future needs learners need to develop new skills and competences, along with digital and academic skills to become lifelong learners, enabling them to take control of both their chosen learning pathways and collation of accreditation to demonstrate their achievement of learning outcomes. Traditional educational institutions need to radically change to meet these needs. They will need to develop a more flexible and agile portfolio of offerings that are targeted at the specific needs of different learners from the IWWIWWIWI generation through to older learners. They will need to consider what is distinctive about their learner experience in a world of information abundance and free resources and courses.





[2] Connect individuals with work opportunities, examples include LinkedIn and









































OUA Marketing Opportunities Report

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018


Image source 

In January I did some work for the Open University of Australia for their Marketing Opportunities Overview. Open Universities Australia’s (OUA) focus is on the opportunities associated with OUA’s digital marketplace and growing the participation of Australian Universities to enable greater choice for more students. The document aims to: 

  • Provide insights in to what their students are looking for, as well as what is happening in the broader landscape to assist with planning and decision making around new programs for 2019.
  • Provide information on doing business with OUA and the various mechanisms we have in place?to encourage greater participation in the marketplace.

My section was on explore the market horizon and in particular how an evolving technology, combined with an increasingly sophisticated consumer, continues to shape the environment in which education is delivered. My contact at OUA sent me the proofs to the report; it is certainly substantial and has lots of interesting and insightful material. The report should be out next mouth after which I hope I can write a blog post summarizing my section. 

International Women’s Day

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018



Debbie Holley from Bournemouth University has asked me to give a talk at their International Women’s Day on 8th March. I remember doing something very similar at Bath Spa University a few years ago. In the talk I reflected on the key moments and challenges associated with my career and in particular the transition from Chemistry to e-learning. It was a really interesting talk to do; it was nice to have the opportunity to reflect on my career. Overall I have been extremely lucky; I have been involved with great project, worked with fantastic people and traveled all over the world. Talking to Debbie this morning about the focus of the talk, she asked me to articulate the challenges and opportunities associated with my work and my career. She also wants me to emphasis the importance and value of being part of an international community of peers, through conferences and relevant professional bodies. To this I would add the value of using social media effectively, and certainly I value my network of colleagues and friends through social media such as facebook and Twitter. I’m really looking forward to the event and hope there will be time to have a conversation after the talk. 

Transforming education

Friday, February 9th, 2018


 Image source

This week one of the things I have been doing is preparing for a CLICKS webinar I am doing on Sunday. The outline of the talk is:

  • The impact of digital technologies and wicked problems in education
  • 21 Century competencies and digital literacies
  • Key issues in learning and teaching
  • Future trends
  • The changing roles of teachers and learners
  • Transforming education

The impact of digital technologies and wicked problems in education

Digital technologies offer a rich variety of ways in which learners can interact with multimedia resources, and ways in which they can communicate and collaborate. Key technology trends include: the increasing importance of mobile devices and the opportunity to learn anywhere, anytime, learning across boundaries, the potential of learning analytics, emergent technologies such as augmented reality and Artificial Intelligence. A Horizon summit brought together international experts to consider the future of education. Some of the challenges the group identified included: the need to rethink what it means to teach, the need to re-imagine online learning (and I would argue face-to-face learning), the importance of allowing productive failure, and that innovation should be part of the learning ethos. I would argue that there are three key ‘wicked problems’ facing education today. Firstly that there is a gap between the promise and the reality of what technologies can offer learning. Secondly that teachers and learners lack the necessary digital literacy skills to harness the potential of technologies for both teaching and learning. Thirdly we need to change our teaching strategies and recognize that we are teaching learners to do jobs in the future that don’t even exist today. Therefore we need to shift from knowledge recall to the development of competencies and to help learners develop metacognitive skills and learning to learn.


21st Century competencies and digital literacies

RVS has developed a list of 21st Century competencies based on the principle that education must prepare students fully for their lives as individuals and as members of society - with the capacity to achieve their goals, contribute to their communities, and continue learning throughout their lives. These learner competencies are a set of intellectual, personal, and social skills that all students need to develop in order to engage in deeper learning — learning that encourages students to look at things from different perspectives, to see the relationships between their learning in different subjects, and to make connections to their previous learning and to their own experience.

  • Critical Thinker: Critical thinkers engage in reflective reasoning to build deep understanding that is supported by evidence.
  • Problem Solver: Problem Solvers identify strategies and tools to develop, evaluate, and implement solutions.
  • Innovator: Innovators put elements together to form a new pattern or structure.
  • Communicator: Communicators understand, interpret, and express thoughts, ideas, and emotional connections with others.
  • Collaborator: Collaborators build relationships and work with others to achieve common goals.
  • Globally Aware: Global awareness is the understanding of an interconnected world and a citizen’s role within society.
  • Civically Engaged: Civic engagement reflects a commitment to democratic governance, social participation, and advocacy.
  • Self-Directed: Self-directed individuals take ownership of their learning.
  • Media and Information Literate: Individuals who are information and media literate use technology to explore and build knowledge in an ethical and responsible way.
  • Financially and Economically Literate: Individuals who are financially and economically literate understand and evaluate personal and global economic issues.

Jenkins et al. list a complementary set of what they refer to as the digital literacies needed to be part of today’s participatory culture, these are:

  • Evaluation
  • Transmedia Navigation
  • Multitasking
  • Distributed cognition
  • Networking
  • Visualisation
  • Metaphors
  • Collective intelligence
  • Play
  • Digital identity management

Key issues in teaching and learning

A recent EDUCAUSE report lists the key issues facing teaching and learning. These include:

  • Academic transformation: innovative learning and teaching models
  • Accessibility and universal design
  • Faculty development
  • Privacy and security
  • Digital and information literacies
  • Integrated planning and advising
  • Instructional design
  • Online and blended learning
  • Evaluation of technology-based instructional innovations
  • Open education
  • Learning analytics
  • Adaptive teaching and learning
  • Working with emerging technology
  • Learning space design
  • Next Generation Digital Learning Environment and Learning Management Systems

Future trends

In terms of the future trends facing education that designers of learning opportunities need to be cognizant of include:

  • The changing nature of work and the fact that in the future it is likely that many people will have multiple careers.
  • We are seeing a spectrum of learners, from the demands of the ‘now’ generation who want flexible and adaptive learning opportunities personalized to their individual needs through to those who are learning for leisure reasons rather than for work purposes.
  • We are seeing the emergence of new forms of accreditation, such as digital badges, certificate of participation, micro-credentials, and most recently the potential of blockchain technology to enable learners to document and record their learning across different contexts.
  • We are seeing an unbundling of education, in the future learners may not opt to do three-year degrees, but instead pay for: resources, support, guided learning pathways or accreditation.

21st Century teaching and learning

The above has implications for how teaching and learning is adapting and needs to change.  Will Richardson argues that:


We need teachers who are masters at developing learners who are adept at sense making around their own goals. Teachers who are focused on helping students develop the dispositions and literacies required to succeed regardless of subject or content or curriculum


For teaching there are a number of aspects. Teachers need to focus on the development of higher order skills such as creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. They need to help learners develop lifelong learning habits. Technologies are increasingly important and teachers need to develop the digital literacy skills to harness them appropriately in their teaching. Finally, they need to find ways to motivate their learners by providing experiential, authentic and challenging learning experiences.


The office of Ed Tech states that:


[In the future we need] learners who master agency [which] lays the foundation for self-directed lifelong learning, a critical skill for thriving in a rapidly changing world and for our nation to remain globally competitive.


21st Century learning means that leaners now how more choice on how and what to learn. As mentioned before we are preparing them for an uncertain future to do jobs that don’t even exist and the likelihood that they will have multiple careers. As with teachers, they need to know how to use technologies effectively and more importantly how to use them for academic purposes. They need to have ownership of their learning and be able to document and curate demonstration of achievement of learning outcomes.


I have talked in a previous post about the changing role of teachers and learners, and also a critique of criticisms voices over the concept of lifelong learning.  


Churchill (2017) considers the ways in which practice is (or needs to) shifting from a focus on teacher-centred to learner-centred.




Learning of facts and declarative knowledge

Memorising information

Teacher is central

Passing exams

Drilling of right questions and routines

Learning to pass exams

Focus on information presentation to passive learning

Technology as a media channel

Learning from resources and technology


Learning of conceptual knowledge

Working with information

Activity is central to learning

Applying knowledge, theoretical thinking and demonstrating generic skills

Problem-solving, design, project work and inquiries

Learning how to learn

Focus on how learning occurs within an activity

Technology as intellectual partner in learning

Learning with resources and technology


Couros lists the following as indicates of student success:

  • Student voice – learn from others and share their learning
  • Choice – how and what they learn
  • Time for reflection – to reflect on what they have learnt
  • Opportunities for innovation
  • Critical thinkers
  • Problem solvers
  • Self assessment
  • Connected learning

Transforming education

For me to meet the needs of all the above there are two important aspects: new approaches to designing for learning and the use of learning analytics. We need new approaches to design that:

  • Enable pedagogically informed decisions that make appropriate use of technologies
  • Shift from knowledge recall to development of competencies
  • Student centred and activity based
  • Help develop meta-cognitive skills
  • Assessment: process rather than product based

We also need to harness the power of learning analytics; so that teachers can identify and help learners who are struggling and to help learners to develop learning strategies and benchmark against their peers. To conclude we need to implement innovative pedagogies that:

  • Support self-reliance, resilience, agility, adaptability
  • Encourage meta-cognition and reflection
  • Utilize the affordances of digital technologies
  • Enable technology-enhanced learning spaces
  • Develop competencies to deal with an unknown future


Churchill, D. (2017), Digital resources for learning, Springer: Singapore

Is the concept of lifelong learning a reality?

Thursday, February 8th, 2018

Conole clicks webinar 11 February 2018 from Grainne Conole


I am giving an online webinar on Sunday for clicks entitled ‘Traversing the digital landscape: reflecting on the implications for learning and teaching’. I shared a couple of the slides on fb on the changing role of teachers and learners, which provoked a ‘lively’ discussion! In particular people were unhappy with my use of the term lifelong learning. The debate prompted me to rethink my presentation and in particular to focus on the changing landscape of education, the implications of digital technologies and the changing roles of teachers and learners. The latest draft of the presentation is on slideshare. Note I have not included images as I won’t be using the slides. Any comments welcome. Gotta love the power of fb!!!

The changing role of teachers and learners

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018


As part of the preparation for a talk I am doing at Limerick Institute of Technology next week I had a discussion with the person who invited me Brendan Murphy. One of the things he wanted me to focus on was the changing role of teachers. So in this post I am going to summarise my thinking on this and also the changing role of students. A recent report by Educause lists the following as key issues in education:

  • Academic transformation
  • Accessibility and universal design
  • Faculty development
  • Privacy and security
  • Digital and information literacies
  • Integrated planning and advising
  • Instructional design
  • Online and blended learning
  • Evaluation of technology-based instructional innovations
  • Open education
  • Learning analytics
  • Adaptive teaching and learning
  • Working with emerging technologies
  • Learning spaces design
  • Next Generation Digital Learning Environment and Learning Management Systems

The shows that today’s educational environment is complex and dynamic and each of these facets has implications for the roles of both teachers and learners. In terms of peering into the future there are a number of important factors. Firstly the changing nature of work; it is likely in the future that people will have more than one career change and we are teaching students for an unknown future to do jobs that don’t even exist today. This means that we need to move beyond knowledge recall to teaching students the competencies they need to be lifelong and adaptive learners. Secondly there is now a complex array of learners from the younger generation of those who demand flexible and personalized learning to an older generation who have different learning needs to their younger counterpoints. Thirdly there is now a spectrum of learning opportunities from learning through free Open Educational Resources and Massive Open Online Courses to the one-to-one Oxbridge tutorial model. New forms of accreditation are arising, such as digital badges and micro-credentials. Finally we are seeing an unbundling of education; learners in the future may choose to pay for: resources, support, a guided learning pathway or accreditation.

So how does all of this impact on the role of teachers and learners? For teachers there are a number of aspects. Their role is shifting from one of delivery to facilitation. Furthermore, they need to harness the power of digital technologies to facilitate communication, collaboration and reflection. For this they need new digital literacy skills. Learners also need to develop new digital literacy skills, and although they are technological savvy they don’t necessarily know how to use technologies for academic purposes. They want personalized and flexible learning and need to harness the potential of being part of a connected global community of peers. In future it is likely that learners will learn across a range of contexts, therefore they need to take control of evidencing their achievement of learning outcomes through e-portfolios or more radically through the use of blockchains.>

The future of education is likely to continue to change and co-evolve with technologies and needs to meet the challenges of a complex future. Some have argued that the role of teachers will diminish as the use of technologies becomes more prevalent and as we see the impact of Artificial Intelligence. I disagree, I think the role of the teacher WILL change but will be increasingly important to help learners navigate their learning and make effective use of technologies.

Reflecting on the concept of digital literacies

Thursday, February 1st, 2018


Image source


I was recently asked to participate in a Delphi study exploring Technology Enhanced Learning and digital literacies, which prompted me to dig out some work I did in the past. I summarise some of the readings around digital literacies below.


Goodfellow and Lea (2014) suggest that by digital literacies we mean activities around textual production – texts and practices – which taken together are recognized as typical and purposeful for a community. They stressed the social character of textual communication, its complexity and diversity, and its ultimate provenance within the practices of all. The concept of literacy was originally around print-based reading and writing, but has now been expanded to include the notion of text to encompass meaning-making in and around the multiple modes associated with digital media. They suggest that there are a multiplicity of social practices involved in creating, communicating and evaluating textual knowledge across a range of modes, in other words, the use of ‘literacies’ emphasizes the multiplicity of contested and contextual, social, and cultural practices around reading and writing.


McKenna and Hughes (2013) argue that digital technologies and environments offer many affordances in terms of texts and practices. Text can be reproduced and distributed. They can be searched for and made searchable, and they can be fragments, reconstructed, and curated. Furthermore, social networking spaces are giving rise to alternative ways of articulating and responding to academic knowledge. The resultant texts tend to be open, inter-textual, and reliant upon audience engagement. They suggest it is important to look beyond texts to what people actually do with literacy (i.e. reading a map to get to a destination, looking at a map to plan a holding, using a map to plan a business trip).


Friesen, Gourlay and Oliver (2014) argue that digital literacies is a contested term with mismatching theoretical reference points and implicit views of practice. These range from New Literacies Studies (NLS) derived a view of literacies as situated social practice, through to a use of the term literacies more associated with generic skills and capabilities.


Beetham, McGill and Littlejohn (2009) state that governments are recognizing the foundational nature of digital literacies and their importance in supporting new ways of working and employability. They go on to state that increasingly the significance of digital literacy is due to socio-political, cultural, and technological changes, such as new work and learning practices, changing employment patterns, transformations in the nature of knowledge, alongside increasing fragmentation of knowledge across disciplinary and sectoral boundaries. They list a set of emerging work practices around digital literacies including: bricolage (aggregation of incongruent resources to create novel outputs), localization (adapting knowledge and expertise to a localized problem), crowdsourcing (posing problems or questions to a diffuse network of experts to generate a range of novel solutions).  Critical to all three are the concepts of open knowledge practices and co-innovation and co-creation of knowledge.


The term digital literacies is still contested and the nuances of it are adapting all the time as we co-evolve with the affordances of digital technologies. What is certain is that the development of digital literacies is essential for both academics and learners and for the later also the development of academic digital literacy skills; i.e. being able to use technologies effectively for their learning.



Beetham, H., McGill, L. & Littlejohn, A. (2009) Thriving in the 21st Century: Learning Literacies for the Digital Age (Llida Project), [online] Available online


Friesen, N.; Gourlay, L.; Oliver, M.. (2014) Editorial: scholarship and literacies in a digital age. Research in Learning =Technology. 2014. vol. 21, 23834


Goodfellow, R. and Lea, M. (2014), Literacy in the digital university: critical perspectives on learning, scholarship and technology, London: Routledge


McKenna, C. and Hughes, J. (2013) ‘Values, digital texts and open practices - a changing scholarly landscape in higher education’ in Robin Goodfellow and Mary Lea, eds. Literacy and the Digital University: researching and teaching academic knowledge in the internet age. London: Routledge.


In conversation…

Friday, January 5th, 2018



I really enjoyed the ‘in conversation’ session with Gregor Kennedy and Matt Riddle in December at Melbourne University. This post summarises the structure of our conversation and some of the key themes. Gregor was chairing the session and focused the conversation around three themes:

  • Disruption rhetoric
  • Automation rhetoric
  • And digital being both the disruptor and the solution to the disruptor

He suggested that the technological de jour are the leading lights and highlighted four important aspects:


  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Learning Analytics
  • Virtual Reality
  • Augmented Reality

However he argued that when we wander through history we can see the same tone, the same tenor, the same hype, the same hyperbole. Pointing to past hypes that failed to deliver, such as the information superhighway and the digital revolution, interactive multimedia, social media, mobile learning and most recently MOOCs. He posed the question, are we seeing something new here … is the current argument, commentary about digital disruption real and are we really on the cusp here? Or are we hearing the same again … a re-run of the digital revolution re-named as digital disruption?


He introduced the session by stating that it was about the role that technology has played in Higher Education in the past, where we have come from, and what we can learn from it. What we know about it how to design and use technology for teaching, learning and assessment. And what the future holds in terms of its future use. How do we negotiate the hype, side steps fads and move to harnessing the real value of digital technologies in higher education?


The following are the questions he planned to cover, but of course we went off task ;-)


We often hear about the transformation power of technology … Do you think technology has had a genuinely transformational impact on higher education? Now I am not interested in the technology of the pencil … or the wireless for that matter. But let’s say since say the rise of the personal computer … has there been a digital transformation in teaching and learning?


What about the whole online learning revolution … again you would both know this terrain pretty well. I remember online subjects that Matt designed in Law from when I started in this game. After decades what do we know about how online learning works and why?


In addition to Disruption we often hear about … UNBUNDLING of education … what is this and what are the implications for the way in which Universities — no departments, course coordinators and teaching staff — operate?


I hear it that leaning design is important in our use of technology and we are well-versed in the truism that we should be “pedagogically-led” with our use of technology … but taking a more techno-centric approach  … what are some of the technologies that are here now … that are being used .. maybe in early stages or in pilots … that you think are exciting … and why ?


Finally I am interested in the juxtaposition of digital technologies and notions of access, speed, anytime anywhere, mobile learning chunks – makes me feel like vomiting – binge learning. The “speed” and “networked” rhetoric is almost synonymous with the digital revolution in education. This for me … and I know for others… perhaps runs counter to ideas about education being contemplative, reflective, considered … maybe even slow. Do we need a more explicit conversation about a slow education movement akin to the slow food movement.


Below are some of the key points I made:


  • There are now a rich variety of ways for learners to communicate, collaborate and interact with multimedia resources. 
  • We are seeing the increasing importance of mobile devices and the need for technology-enhanced learning spaces.
  • We are seeing the impact of OER and MOOCs on traditional educational offerings and the unbundling of education.
  • We need to recognised the importance of utilizing Learning Design and Learning Analytics to enhance the learner experience.
  • There is evidence of the increasing impact of open practices on learning, teaching and research.
  • We are teaching students for an uncertain future to do jobs that don’t even exist today, we need to move beyond knowledge recall to teach them the skills and competencies they need to be lifelong learners, such as critical thinking, problem solving and team work.
  • Teachers and learners need to develop academic digital literacy skills to harness the power of technologies.
  • We are seeing the emergence of tools for Curriculum Mapping, such as the work being done at CSU, QUT, Deakin and Woolongong.
  • Pedagogical patterns coupled with Learning Design support tools can be used to make more effective use of digital technologies. Interesting work being done by Open Learning on this.
  • Technologies have sped up the way we interact and it is arguable that there is a need for slow learning, analogous to the slow food movement.

This was a very enjoyable and lively session, a nice relaxed format to explore some of the key challenges we face in education.

The ICAP framework

Thursday, November 30th, 2017



Last week I did a keynote at the National Conference on Technology-Enhanced Learning at the National University of Singapore. One of the other keynotes was Michelene Chi from Arizona State University. She gave a really interested talk on the ICAP framework they have developed. ICAP stands for Interactive, Constructive, Active, and Passive. It defines cognitive engagement activities on the basis of students’ overt behaviours and proposes that engagement behaviours can be categorized and differentiated into one of four modes: Interactive, Constructive, Active, and Passive. The ICAP hypothesis predicts that as students become more engaged with the learning materials, from passive to active to constructive to interactive, their learning will increase. A useful paper on the framework is available online. Her talk was entitled: ‘Implications of ICAP: a theory of student engagement for classroom and technology-enhanced practices.’ This blog post summarises her talk.


Student engagement refers to whether students are:

  • Motivationally engaged (interest in content domain, pursue degree),
  • Behaviorally engaged (attend classes, do homework: broad behavior),
  • Cognitively engaged: (Not well-defined in literature, refers to use of strategies or to motivational constructs)

 She provided the following definition:

  • “Cognitive Engagement: We refer to it as what students do (or how Ss participate or interact) with instruction or the instructional materials once they are attending classes. We assume ”greater” cognitive engagement leads to “deeper student learning.”

She suggested there are four modes of behavior:

  • Attending mode (or passive mode): Students are paying attention, oriented toward & receiving instruction. But they are not doing anything else overtly, They are not producing anything. Examples: listening to lectures without taking notes, watching videos, observing a demonstration, reading a worked-out example.
  • Manipulating behaviour (active mode): Ss are paying attention and physically manipulating the instructional materials, but not adding any new information.  Examples: copying the solution from the board, underlining the important sentences, agreeing in dialogue, selection an option, moving a slider, measuring quantities, recording amount, pointing and gesturing, repeating definitions. Outputs include text markups of a subset of sentences etc.
  • Generating behaviours (constructive mode): Ss are producing some additional information that may contain (incidentally or intentionally) small (or large) pieces of knowledge that is not in the instructional materials. -Constructive does not mean that Ss are discovering knowledge/principles novel to the domain! We only mean that Ss are adding minute pieces of knowledge beyond what was presented in the instructional materials, literally. Cumulatively, they end up constructing an understanding. Examples: drawing, explaining, posting, taking in one’s words, providing, comparing and contrasting, evaluating, predicting, reflecting, monitoring. Outputs: concept maps, explanations, questions, notes not duplicate, justifications, similarities and differences, reviews, outcomes, insights of one’s own understanding.
  • Collaborative behaviour (interactive mode): Behaviour of working with a peer (commonly through dialogs): Taking turns, sharing attention. Outputs must be dialog pattern of each person generating and building on the other person’s contributions in a mutually-and reciprocally co-generative or co-constructive way. Sometimes this has been referred to as transactive dialogues. Examples: explaining jointly, debating with a peer, discussing. Outputs: elaborated peer’s explanation, challenge peer’s claim, provide example for peer’s justification, formulate peer’s point.

There are four knowledge processes: storing (new information), activating (relating to prior knowledge), linking (new information with prior knowledge) and inferring (a new piece of information). She then outlined ways in which the ICAP framework can be used to improve: lecturing, leading a discussion, designing worksheet activities, enabling co-constructive collaboration and using digital tools.


Lectures can be improved by asking students to generate new knowledge or asking them about what is unclear to them. In terms of a discussion, you can summarise what the students said and ask them if that is what they meant, or ask them to connect the ideas that have been raised, or ask them to critique another students viewpoint. In terms of designing activities, you can show them how a teacher-generated a worksheet. She argued that verbs were important. Some do not ask the students to generate new information, such as add, identify, choose, circle, copy etc. Others are generative/constructive verbs such as ask questions, brainstorm, connect, graph.  A small subset are collaborative/interactive verbs such as agree upon, debate, share.


She then provided examples of how digital tools can be mapped to the ICAP framework, below two examples are provided: tools for presentation and tools for discussion.




Current research on pedagogical patterns

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017



I’ve just attended the Social Learning conference organized by Open Learning at UNSW. It was a two-day event; I was one of five keynotes and also ran a Learning Design workshop. I was delighted to meet and have the opportunity to talk with the companies Chief Technical Officer, David Collien. It turns out that we have a lot of shared research interests. David described to me the work he has been leading on in terms of Pedagogical Patterns.


Patterns work originated in Architecture through the work of Alexander in the late seventies. Alexandra defined 250 patterns for describing and creating building and communities. A pattern is something that addresses a problem and presents a solution. A good starting point to explore patterns work is In the mid nineties Gramma, Heln, Johnson and Vlissides applied the concept of patterns to software architecture and developed 23 classic software design patterns.


David described a number of applications of pattern work such as:


  • TV tropes
  • FanFic
  • Field specific taxonomies (such as in Biology)
  • Medical

Work in the area of Education is still relatively nascent. Wikipedia has a good site on pedagogical patterns


Open Learning have been working on developing pedagogical patterns to underpin their online software platform. David described how Open Learning saw a number of benefits of using pedagogical patterns, to


  • help improve a course or activity
  • inspire creativity and experimentation
  • iterate, improve and evaluate best practice
  • map out a domain of knowledge and practice.

David has built an impressive online tool for articulating different pedagogical patterns. This includes a database of learning activities, examples include:


  • The lazy professor – where the teacher works hard to ensure the students are the ones doing the work rather than the teacher
  • Scenario play
  • Active learning
  • Reflective blog
  • Social learning
  • Talking head
  • The pool room – a very Australian concept, where prizes or trophies are put in the ‘pool room’, the equivalent in a learning context, is that the teacher puts examples of good practice associated with a course in the course ‘pool room’.
  • Three bears – where the students are asked to consider a concept from three perspectives extremes of the concept plus just about right.

He then shared a useful illustration of different forms of assessment, for each indicating how they mapped to various assessment tools. He argued that design can occur at a number of levels of granularity: Course, Module, and Activity. Ruth Crick and Nancy Law have been doing some interesting work on pedagogical patterns.



David said that in due course he will share the resource he has been developing, I look forward to exploring it.