In recent months I’ve been in discussions, large and small, about adoption of Moodle here at Warwick (IT Services has recently started offering a moodle service), and about, you guessed it, MOOCs. It is a historical accident that these discussions coincide at my university, but the similarities in those discussions are striking and they are leading me to change my mind about something.
There are, I think, two main levels to these discussions of moodles and moocs.
- Pedagogy: what do you want to teach, how do you want to teach it, what affordances do the platforms offer, what is different between face to face and online, and what approaches work at which scale?
- Production: who agrees the course structure, who takes responsibility for materials development, who produces what, how long does it take, what tools do we use?
I have been keen to emphasise that thinking about technology doesn’t make me technology-led, that I believe the teaching should come first. Obviously, this is the approach of all good e-learning experts, especially my colleagues. But likewise, I have been acknowledging that there are practical production issues that need tackling, and that if academics want technology/content support, they need to articulate their plans for a course. Particularly when we’re talking about the effort and timescale required to produce MOOCs.
So is there a common language that can bridge the challenges of pedagogy and production? I’m slowly coming round to the idea of learning designs as a way of creating MOOCs.
I remember, many years ago, a CETIS meeting that James Dalziel videoconferenced into to showcase the Learning Activity Management System, LAMs. This was my first introduction to learning designs, probably 2002/3. In the question session I asked “isn’t this a lesson planner”, which provoked some sharp intakes of breath around me for my niaivity, but he answered, yes, pretty much, but in an executable form that the VLE can understand.
I have always been skeptical about the extent to which “learning design” approaches are used within real academic workflows. It has always seemed more of a reflective activity confined to staff development, action research, and research papers. Every mention I saw at conferences dug me in further to my perception that it is a form of critical practice that I doubted exists in the wild. In fact, I have become quite phobic about the term learning design. I am particularly skeptical about executable learning designs becoming an everyday reality.
Yet I’ve found myself increasingly talking about learning design. Because that level of explicitness comes into its own when you’re trying to operate on both the pedagogy and production levels. So maybe I’m coming round to the idea of Massive Open Online Learning Designs. A model born out of necessity rather than aspiration, not to improve learning, but to orchestrate the many skills required to run a MOOC. It’s not about the transformational agenda that often accompanies e-learning thinking, it’s just … practical.