Archive for October, 2011

Chapter 16 Conclusion

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

And I am nearly there! Here is a draft of my concluding chapter!


In this final chapter I want to summarise the key messages conveyed throughout the book, along with considering the implications of each topic. I will critically reflect on the implications of each of the topics and, in particular, what impact the Learning Design methodology described in this book is likely have on learning and teaching and how it can help to change the way learning interventions are designed. The central thesis of this work is that we need  new approaches to design in order to make more effective use of new open, social and participatory media. 

This book has argued that designing for learning is the key challenge facing education today. To make effective use of the affordances (Conole and Dyke, 2004; Gibson, 1977; Gibson, 1979) of open, social and participatory media, learners and teachers need guidance and support. They lack the necessary digital literacies skills (Jenkins et al. 2006; Jenkins, 2009) needed to embrace the full potential of these technologies. The book has described a new learning design methodology, which aims to provide this support, through: visual designs (to enable teachers to think beyond content to learning activities and overall learner experience), pedagogical planners (which guide the teacher through the design process and provide templates that they can adapt and repurpose) and effective use of social networking tools (so that learners and teachers can be part of a global, distributed Community of Practice (CoP) network) (Wenger, 1998). The visual designs, pedagogical planners and social networking tools, are essentially Mediating Artefacts (Conole, 2008) that can guide practitioners’ design practices and make them more explicit and sharable with others. A key intention of the learning design approach is to shift teachers’ design practice from being implicit and belief based to one that is explicit and design based. 

As discussed in Chapter 3, the learning design research work described in this book is located alongside related research fields, such as instructional design, the learning sciences, pedagogical patterns and research on Open Educational Resources (OER). It has shown how learning design is aligned to these, but is also distinct from them.

Open, social and participatory media

New open, social and participatory media clearly have significant potential to transform learning and teaching. The emergence of these technologies has shifted practice on the Internet away from passive, information provision to active, user engagement. They offer learners and teachers a plethora of ways to communicate and collaborate; to connect with a distributed network of peers, and to find and manipulate information. In addition there are now a significant range of free educational resources and tools. However despite this, technologies are still only used marginally in an educational context. Learners and teachers lack the necessary digital literacy skills to harness these new technologies. 

This new learning context raises some thought-provoking issues. In a world where content and services are increasingly free, what is the role of formal education? What new teaching approaches and assessment methods are needed? How can we provide effective learning pathways to guide learners through the multitude of educational offerings now available? How can teachers develop new approaches to the design of learning activities and whole curricula that takes account of this new complex, technologically enhanced context? What assessment strategies are appropriate?

Falconer and Littlejohn (2008, p. 20) argue that there are three challenges facing teachers: i) the increasing size and diversity of the student body, ii) the increasing requirement for quality assurance, and iii) the rapid pace of technological change. Conole (2004) has argued that there is a gap between the promise and reality of the use of technology in education and that there is little evidence that education has changed fundamentally. Much use of technology appears to simply replicate bad classroom practice resulting in simple Web page turning (Oliver, 2000). Similarly Masterman (2008a, p.210) argues that the lack of uptake of technologies is due to a number of factors: lack of awareness of the possibilities, technophobia, lack of time to explore the use of technologies, aversion to the risks inherent in experimentation and fear of being supplanted by the computer. Agostinho et al. (2008: 381) suggest that the uptake of the use of high-quality ICT-based learning designs in higher education has been slow. Factors include: low levels of dissemination of ICT-based learning projects, lack of ICT-based learning examples to model, lack of time, support and training. Sawyer (2006, p. 8) argues that the impact of the significant investment in computers in schools has been disappointing. There are few studies that show that computer use is correlated with improved student performance. Similarly Koedinger and Corbett (2008, p. 61) write that as new technologies have emerged, many hoped that they would have a radically transformative effect on education, but in reality the impact has been much less than expected. 

The gap between the potential and actual use of technology is a paradox and this is at the heart of the growth of a new area of research that has emerged in recent years. Learning design research aims to better understand this mismatch. It focuses on the development of tools, design methods and approaches to help teachers design pedagogically effective learning activities and whole curriculum, which make effective use of technologies. 

Therefore there is little doubt that open, social and participatory media enable new forms of communication and collaboration for both learners and teachers. They can provide us with mechanisms for sharing and discussing learning and teaching ideas. However, as discussed in Chapter 14, the nature of online communities and interactions in these spaces is complex, evolving and distributed. Learners and teachers need to develop new digital literacy skills to effectively participate in these spaces, as well as an understanding of the nature and form of their digital identity. How do they want to be represented in these spaces? To what extend do they want to adopt open or more closed practices? The implications of fully harnessing new technologies in an educational context are profound. We are seeing a blurring of boundaries: learners and teachers, learning and teaching, formal and informal modes of learning, and real and virtual spaces. We need to rethink all aspects of learning and teaching; how courses are design and delivered, the ways in which learners are guided and supported, and the mechanisms for assessment. Old practices of assessment strategies are no longer appropriate and indeed are woefully inadequate in terms of providing learners with the necessary skills and competences to participate in an increasingly complex and global societal context. Institutions are also being challenged by these new technologies. 

Firstly, increasingly researchers are opting to make their research publications publicly available, often via institutional repositories. Some are going further by making their actually data available. Initiatives such as the Open Access Movement (OEM) and tools such as the ePrints repository  (Harnard and Hey, 1995; Harnard et al., 2004; Hey, 1997, Hey, 2004) have changed the ways in which researchers are distributing their findings. Indeed, many institutions now require academics to deposit their outputs in institutional research repositories and national level research assessment exercises add an additional pressure in terms of academic accountability and measure of the impact of their research.

Secondly, sites such as iSpot

 and Galaxy Zoo

 (discussed in Chapter 11) demonstrate that researchers are beginning to harness the collective wisdom of the crowds (Surowiecki, 2004), through use of distributed networks of users to collect data on a global scale. Such sites play a dual function; in terms of raising awareness of science and as a mechanism for researchers to gather data on an unprecedented scale.

Thirdly, as Weller argues (2011), digital scholarship is becoming increasingly important and is changing the way in which academics communicate, as well as how they disseminate their teaching practices and research findings. All of these are challenging traditional publication mechanisms. Publishing houses need to develop new business models to take account of this. 

Fourthly, more open practices (in terms of the use of Open Educational Resources and the growth of ‘free’ courses such as the Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) discussed in Chapter 11) are challenging traditional educational offerings. In a world where content and expertise is free, what is the role of traditional educational institutions? As with the publishing houses, institutions will need to develop new business models. Nascent work is already occurring in this respect. For example, in terms of OER, Downes (2007) has described a number of new business models that have emerged in recent years. Arguably, institutions need to shift away from a focus on content as a commodity, to providing effective learning pathways for learners, along with flexible accreditation models. A number of new types of organisations are beginning to emerge that adopt more open and flexible offerings. For example, the OER University,

 a consortium that provides a mechanisms for members to flexibly accredit learners who are using OER and the peer-to-peer university,

 which has developed a peer-support ‘badging’ system to recognise learners’ competences. 

Fifthly, learners are also changing (Sharpe et al., 2010), embracing new technologies to support their learning and adopting more just-in-time and collaborative approaches to learning. However, despite the fact that today’s learners are indeed technologically immersed, it is not evident that all of them have the necessary skills to make effective use of technologies to support their learners. Many are confused by the plethora of resources and tools, and lack the necessary academic skills to make effective choices about which resources and tools to use. They need guided learning pathways to help them and this is clearly a role that educational institutions can provide. 

Sixthly, legacy institutional systems are at odds with the tools and services that are now available in the cloud (Katz, 2009). What services should institutions be providing and what should they be outsourcing? What is the relationship between institutional Learning Management Systems (LMS)  and freely available tools and services? Learners are now creating their own personalised digital learning environment, mixing institutional systems with their own choice of tools. 

The learning design methodology introduced in this book aims to address the challenges described above. A number of recommendations can be made for the key stakeholders involved in education. 

For learners, institutions and teachers, in particular, need to provide appropriate support mechanisms to enable learners to develop the digital and academic literacies they will need to effective engage with new technologies. Enabling them to see the opportunities that social and participatory media afford in terms of adopting more constructivist and socially situated pedagogies. In this respect, teachers need to facilitate more learner-centred approaches. Also we need to think of how technologies can be harnessed to encourage communication and collaboration amongst learners and their peers. Finally, we need to shift from a focus on content to activities.

For academic staff, we need to recognise that these new technologies provide a plethora of new approaches to learning, teaching and research, and hence we need to be aware of and take account of these. Academics need to adopt more explicit and reflective practices and embrace the full potential of the notion of digital scholarship. Engagement with new technologies cannot be at arms length; it is only through technology immersion - learning by doing and through the technologies - that academics will come to understand how they can appropriate their technologies to support all aspects of their practice. We need also to use the technologies to encourage a networked community of academics, sharing and discussing learning, teaching and research ideas. 

At an institutional level, we need to put in place appropriate strategies and policies that reflect the changing context of education, and that take account of the implications of using technologies for learning, teaching and research. We also need to have adequate resources and support to facilitate the shift in practice needed. Strong leadership, with an understanding of the issues (pedagogical, technical and organisational), will be needed, along with a re-visioning of institutional structures and processes. Alongside the strategic directives, institutions will need to have in place appropriate  professional development and incentives for academics, to help them make more effective and increase use of technologies. 

Finally, at a national level, we need to develop an infrastructure to support the growing range of free resources, tools and research outputs. We need also to facilitate the creation of a distributed professional networks and communities to promote and share case studies of good practices. As at the institutional level, nationally there will also be a need for appropriate strategies and policies (and associated funding) around using technologies. Finally, we need mechanisms to support the an ongoing horizon scanning of technology trajectories, so that we can future proof how emergent technologies might be used for learning, teaching and research and what might the implications be for individuals and organisations.  

On a positive note, social and participatory media provide learners and teachers with a rich set of multimedia representations of content and multiple communication challenges. Learning resources can be accessed anywhere, anytime to support flexible and personalised learning. There is now an abundance of free tools and resources that learners and teachers can use. Access on a truly global level means that learners and teachers can connect with each other on an unprecedented scale and for researchers the new media mean that their research outputs can have far greater impact to a wider audience almost immediately. 

On a negative note, the digital divide (Warschauer, 2004) is still present; narrower but deeper; whether this is because of lack of access or skills or through personal choice not to engage with these technologies, it is a reality and needs to be taken account of when designing for learning. The very richness of the online digital space means that is is complex and difficult to traverse, it may be true that everything a learner or teacher might need is on the Web, but finding what is appropriate for a specific purpose is far from trivial. There are also access, privacy and ownership issues; whilst licenses such as Creative Commons have gone some way towards addressing the copyright issues associated with resources, it has not answered all the concerns many still have. Many social networking sites are using personal data in convert ways, unknown to the users. Furthermore, this form of re-appropriation of data and digital surveillance is only likely to increase as the data mining tools behind such services become ever more powerful. A digital equivalent of Foucoult’s Panopticon (Foucoult, 1977) is now very much evident. 

Future research directions

Arguably we are now at an important watershed in terms of learning design research. Over the last decade or so, research in this area has given us rich insights into practitioners’ design practices, along with an indication of the barriers they face. A number of distinct sub-research areas have emerged (principally on design languages and visualisations, pedagogical planners and the use of social networking tools to share and discuss learning and teaching ideas and designs). There is now a need to build on this work and develop a more coherent learning design framework, which will enable practitioners to use all of these approaches in a seamless and holistic fashion. Achieving effective uptake of these approaches, beyond the early adopters, will require systemic change. Therefore, learning design approaches will need to be embedded in institutional systems and processes; in particular; the course approval process and course quality assurance mechanisms. This is the only way that wide scale change in practice can be achieved.  Learning design needs to address the needs of all stakeholders involved in education; learners (in terms of the way in which the intended design can be made more explicit to them, in order that they can use this effectively in undertaking their learning activities), teachers (in terms of guiding and making the design process more explicit and hence shareable with others), institutional manages (in terms of design being an embedded part of institutional systems and process) and policy makers (in terms of future directions for policy and strategy to promote effective and innovative pedagogical processes and associated funding and initiatives). 

A series of themes are interwoven across the book. These include: the nature of openness, promoting creativity, new ways of thinking about design, issues around social inclusion and exclusion, and new practices and pedagogies. So what might an agenda for future learning design research look like? Here is a list of some of the key questions I think as a research community we should be addressing in the coming years:

  1. What might a coherent learning design language look like and how might it be shared?
  2. What other Mediating Artefacts do we need to develop to enable learners and teachers make more effective use of technologies to support learning? What are the different ways in which learning interventions can be represented?
  3. How can we foster a global network and Community of Practice to enable learners and teachers to share and discuss learning and teaching ideas? How can social networking and other dialogic tools be used to enable teachers to share and discuss their learning and teaching practices, ideas and designs?
  4. What tools do we need to guide design practice, visualise designs and provide a digital environment for learners and teachers to share and discuss?
  5. What are the implications and likely impact of social and participatory media for education and how can they be harnessed more effectively to support learning?
  6. What will be the impact of new emergent technologies on the stakeholders involved in education? 
  7. What new pedagogies are emerging as a result of these new technologies?
  8. What are the implications for learners, teachers and institutions of new social and participatory media?
  9. How will the processes of supporting learning (design, delivery, support and assessment) change as a result of new technologies?
  10. What social exclusion issues are arising with the increased use of new technologies? How can we promote more socially inclusive practices?
  11. How are Open Educational Resources being design, used and repurposed?
  12. What are the implications for formal institutions of the increasingly availability of free resources, tools and even total educational offerings, such as Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs)?
  13. What digital literacy skills do learners and teachers need to make effective use of these technologies and resources? To what extent are they evident and how can they be developed?
  14. How are the ways in which learners and teachers communicate and collaborate changing with the use of these technologies?
  15. How can we create effective new digital learning environments to promote the use of social and participatory media and OER?
  16. How can informal learning using OER be assessed and accredited?
  17. What kinds of policy directives are in place to promote social inclusion through the use of OER and how effective are they?
  18. What new methodologies and theoretical perspectives will be needed to address these research questions and to interpret the findings?


Applying the learning design methodology described in this book, I argue, will enable teachers to harness the power of new technologies, resulting ultimately in a rich, learner experience. This aspiration is echoed in the National Science Foundation Cyberlearning report (Borgeman et al., 2008): which begins with a scenario of a learner of the near future:

Imagine a high school student in the year 2015. She has grown up in a world where learning is as accessible through technologies at home as it is in the classroom, and digital content is as real to her as paper, lab equipment, or textbooks. At school, she and her classmates engage in creative problem-solving activities by manipulating simulations in a virtual laboratory or by downloading and analyzing visualizations of real- time data from remote sensors. Away from the classroom, she has seamless access to school materials and homework assignments using inexpensive mobile technologies. She continues to collaborate with her classmates in virtual environments that allow not only social interaction with each other but also rich connections with a wealth of supplementary content… (Borgeman et al., 2008: 7).

These are exciting, but also difficult times for education. Learners and teachers have a wealth of tools and resources to draw on to support innovative and effective pedagogies. But education is operating in a climate of increasing financial straits and it is becoming more and more evident that traditional educational offerings are inadequate and do not provide learners with the necessary skills they need to be part of an increasingly complex, globally networked society. Educational establishments therefore, I would strongly argue, must change; the way in which we support and assess learning must change. We need to recognise the implications of social and participatory media and harness their potential. The learning design methodology presented in this book aims to help teachers make effective use of these technologies and to rethink there design practice. We cannot predict the future, but we can say with certainty that technologies will continue to develop at an exponential rate and that change is the norm. Let’s see what the future brings.


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