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.


11 thoughts on “MOOLDs

  1. Great stuff, Amber. I think you’re absolutely correct about learning design being central to the pedagogy and production of MOOCs. It’s the 90% of the iceberg, so to speak.

    (oh, look! I’ve left a whole comment without mentioning that Moodle 2.5 has Open Badges in the core and could be used really nicely for tailor-made MOOCs!)

  2. You can guess my response! Design yes. Effective teaching and learning is _always_ designed. But “design” is a complex, nebulous term for many different practices linked through the miniumum intentional characteristic of “deliberative construction”. What is needed is:

    1. A more sophisticated understanding of design practices, learning from the diverse fields of professional designers (see the works of Bryan Lawson, Nigel Cross, IDEO);
    2. An adaption of these practices to the academic domain (including Interaction Design for Learning);
    3. An understanding of why very few people in HE have naturally developed designerly practices – that is to say, the barriers to the practice of learning design – especially how “management thinking” excludes “design thinking”.

    I’m working on all of that!

  3. Hi Amber

    Absolutely, it is not a coincidence that a lot of us who worked on learning design came from an online distance learning background. In ODL you have to plan a lot more in advance, a lot more thoroughly than for (most) face to face teaching, especially when you are operating at scale. Learning design was exciting because it gave us a language to talk about activities rather than content – a focus I would argue is crucial for effective ODL. Learning design has its issues but there is no question there has been a lot of tools, frameworks, processes etc that have come out of this work which will make the design of effective MOOCs much more achievable. It will be interesting to see how many MOOC developers use it – or discover all the mistakes made in the last several decades of ODL research and practice for themselves.

  4. I completely agree that pedagogy should lead but you highlight a challenge that many colleagues face – how do you know how to create pedagogically sound material when you aren’t familiar with the technology or production methodologies.

    I think that learning design does start to bridge the gap between these two spheres, helping to consider the issues raised by both; learning designs can offer structured frameworks to get people started within new limitations.

    Although the more I think about it I’m starting to think that as you become more familiar with the learning designs and production approaches these become internalised and instead you start designing learning, applying the production criteria implicitly.

  5. Marion’s point is very important: “In ODL you have to plan a lot more in advance, a lot more thoroughly than for (most) face to face teaching, especially when you are operating at scale.” Most face-to-face teachers hin HE will have never come up against these challenges, so there’s less of a reason for them to think and act in a designerly way. It takes some other compulsion, or perhaps a inherent personal tendency towards designerliness to add the additional motivation (well that is my thesis). My big interest is in the question of how we develop and motivate designerliness in the majority. And that’s where the Design Thinking strategies fit. Their aim is to get everyone working like designers, to facilitate a democratisation of design agency.

  6. on learning design I find the work of Conole et al helpful:
    to getting engagement in the learning design discussions needed to put pedagogy first. Tech choices should be part of those learning design discussions as investment in good tech that supports sustainable, accessible tech deployment is vial, and if I were looking to discuss tech choices with a knowledgeable individual Amber would be my first choice 🙂

  7. Pingback: Blog Spurt | fragments of amber

  8. Pingback: MOOLDs | cMOOC xMOOC review |

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