Sunday, August 21, 2011

EduMOOC; Online Learning Tomorrow 2011-2021

The final week at EduMOOC was a time for forecasting (the future of online learning) based on the logically coherent discussions and documents we went through during the past seven weeks, and of course, based on further references as well.

I firmly believe that Open Distance Learning, with the support of Open Educational Resources (OER) and Information and Communication Technology (ICT), is going to build an inclusive higher education system in the immediate future. The world has already started to view online learning and e-learning synonymous to Open Distance Learning (ODL). But I see online learning as an ICT enabled method of Open Distance Learning, which is fast becoming predominant of all methods of ODL. Therefore I prefer to call it online ODL, rather than calling it e-learning or online learning.

As we have discussed many times earlier, how long we can keep on building infrastructure for traditional classroom type higher education? Whether such efforts can cater the ever increasing demand for higher education? The information from various sources tells us that further expansion of traditional setups for higher education is becoming almost impossible in majority of places and such traditional setups alone cannot cater the ever increasing demand for higher education. Hence, while asking for a solution, all pointers are now turned towards online ODL.

Necessity of the online ODL is made further pressing by the struggles of common man to find a living, the environmental issues etc. In good old days spending decades in higher education institutions for never ending studies were considered as a privilege. But nowaday, people want to join some job immediately after undergraduate studies or even after higher secondary education. At the same time, as part of their struggles for existence, they also want to pursue higher studies along with their career. This is further endorsed by the raise of knowledge economies. In short, providing perfect lifelong learning systems has already become the primary role of any higher education system. How can our higher education systems address this responsibility? I think online ODL is the only solution.

While looking around we are also able to see supporting statistical data to substantiate the shift in higher education systems as discussed above. Reports say many higher education systems record higher enrolment rate in online ODL courses than conventional programmes.
In the policy and framework side, 2011-2021 is likely to witness the evolving of a Transnational Qualifications Framework that is largely accepted ( if not fully accepted), by combining the initiatives like European Qualifications Framework and Transnational Qualifications Framework for VUSSC etc. TQF is essential to provide right direction to the technological advancements as well.

In the technology side we will be having the next generation of Learning/Course Management Systems, which would be competent to converge Collective, Collaborative and Cloud based learning environments. Technology will further progress to address connectivity issues including low bandwidth issues. I also foresee tremendous scope and hectic efforts in Research and Development in both hardware and software domains specifically to support online ODL...Yes, the R&D initiatives that are befitting to  Knowledge Economies!

Online ODL systems will be able to provide excellent (border-less) learning along with universally approved credentials. Initiatives like FOSS movement, Creative Commons, Moodle, OpenCourseWare Consortium, VUSSC, MOOC, OERu etc. and many others (it includes individual, institutional, national and international initiatives) together create ideal ecosystem for this to happen. The energy being pumped into this transition by Google with its wonderful bundle of services, social networking service providers, etc  also deserve special mention.

I am sure, during 2011-2021, as the title of the weekly topic suggests, the world will witness landmark changes in the higher education systems all over the world in favour of ‘online ODL’ becoming the mainstream education system.

License: CC-BY

Monday, August 15, 2011

EduMOOC; Collaboratives, Collectives and Clouds

Hi friends,

Topic for the seventh week at EduMOOC was “Collaboratives, Collectives and Clouds”. Giving simple and easily understandable definition to all the three words in the topic name seems to be  very important to approach the subject from the right angle.

A collaborative means working together to achieve a common objective (s), whereas collective means collective works in a domain with individual goals. Now what is a cloud? In simple terms, cloud computing is a comprehensive online store of various digital services, that include operating systems, application programs, hardware (like server) and various related services that will be made available online (just-in-time) on demand. Clouds also  let the end user free from all the technical complexities of Information and Communication Technology systems like configuring, customizing etc.

I think it will be rather easy to explain collaborative and collective efforts in a corporate context. For example, corporates have managing partners,  line managers and work force in its organization structure. The managing partners constitute the policy making body for the organization. The managing partners set the objectives of their business and they work for the declared objectives. Therefore their work is collaborative in nature. Whereas the line managers have their own individual roles and targets to achieve. They work for their individual targets. Therefore, for the organization, the works of the line managers are collective in nature.

While replicating the same in the e-learning process, let us consider the scenario wherein a group of academics decide to run an online course, sets the objectives of the course, actively engages in planning and developing the course and runs the same. In the said context, their work is collaborative in nature because they work for common objectives. These collaborators during the course of their course development may seek the assistance of their colleagues or assistants to develop content on specific topics or sub topics, design a quiz, some graphics works, assist with online tutoring and evaluation process etc. Thus these people who provide assistance/help to the collaborators together presents a collective work.

Okay, the above scenario is chiefly related to teaches or course developers. Now what about the learners? In the learners’ context collaboration mostly happens during researches and project preparations. A group of learners can select a common research topic, set its objectives and go through the remaining procedures of research. So we can call the group members as collaborators of the given research. The same approach is applicable in the case of preparation of projects/assignments as part of a study.

Now when does collective learning happen? I think EduMOOC is an ideal example for collective learning. People can join the learning activities  at their convenience and receive information or add information and navigate away to other sources of information they get through such interactions, of course with frequent or infrequent revisits.

We can conclude from all the above contexts that, ideal collaboration happens when two or more people engage in shared thoughts, decide to work together, define objectives of their work, agree on the objectives  and work together to achieve such objectives. In short they work together from the inception to realization of the shared objectives.

Coming to the cloud, we know that modern networking technologies provide us with limitless possibilities for learning and working in cloud environments. Paid or free online LMS services being availed by academic institutions are best examples. Now with the advent of open technologies, open educational resources and free network services, with some planning, any learner or teacher can create a cloud. For example, you can use google bookmarks to map resources, google docs for storing/developing documents, google sites or blogger to link them all together. You can also use Picasa and Youtube to create amazing multimedia content for your learning/teaching cloud. You can also use social media and podcast services to make it very much live!

The most important aspect is that, collectives, collaboratives and clouds together break the institutional barriers in teaching and learning. You are getting tremendous opportunities  to have experts from any part of the world as your academic collaborator or collective supporter. Similarly, as a learner you will be able to find enthusiastic learners as your learning partner. However, as  a HR man I see policy barriers ahead during our efforts to break institutional barriers :) Still we have sufficient reason to be optimistic. In this era of transborder education, how long our academic institutions can keep policy barriers working?

License: CC-BY

Sunday, August 7, 2011

EduMOOC; Personal Online Learning Networks

I think, in the sixth week at EduMOOC, we touched the core of online learning - the Personal Online Learning Networks.

We can find that every thing in this universe transmit some kind of information and It is eternal. Again every living being has some facility to receive and store information that are vital to their existence. But in the human context, owe to  the genetic peculiarity, human beings collect all sort of information, whether it is vital to their existence or not, and build knowledge by connecting this information sequentially and logically. This knowledge building process happens in every minds. Therefore the easiest way to acquire knowledge is connecting with people. In the distant past, man traveled by foot many months in search of knowledgeable people to acquire knowledge as well as knowledgeable people traveled a lot in search of learners. Therefore the hypothesis is that man cannot goes on without acquiring as well as sharing knowledge.

In the history, man has always tried and most often succeeded in finding out innovative methods for acquiring and sharing knowledge. Open Distance Learning and the use of ICT in ODL are the continuation of such innovations. I consider Social Networking Platforms are also a part of this developments, because the very existence of social networking platforms is  heavily indebted to man’s genetic trait to collect and share information. Perhaps it might be that trait which prompt us to use the term ‘Personal Learning Networks’.
Personal Learning Networks consist of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a Personal Learning Environment. An important part of this concept is the theory of connectivism developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Learners create connections and develop a network that contributes to their professional development and knowledge. The learner does not have to know these people personally or ever meet them in person. Connectivism was introduced as a theory of learning based on the premise that knowledge exists in the world rather than in the head of an individual. (From Wikipedia)

In this era of ICT, Personal Learning Networks are online networks facilitated mostly by social networking platforms like facebook, twitter, google+, other email and chat platforms, social bookmarking, blogs etc. All this together create the Personal Online Learning Network environment. Now, how one can effectively make use of these networking facilities to address  his/her learning needs? Will Richardson, the author of the highly ranked and read edublog Weblogg-ed, has rightly pointed out in the short introductory video talk on the weekly topic page  that the important success factors of online learning are building personal learning network, flourishing with in the network and finding trusted sources.

Whether you are an online learner or a conventional class-room learner, with some planning you can make use of Personal Learning Networks for your studies. For this, as pointed out above, you have to create a network. How is it possible? One commonly used method is joining the network of known experts in your subjects of study and watch the updates of your new friend as well as the friends of the new friend. It will give you opportunity to select connections from among the friends of your friend. Thus you can keep on building your network. In your network you will be able to seek additional or supportive information for your studies, you can actively participate in debate or discussions on the topics of your studies, and many more.

Said that, it does not mean that Personal Learning Networks are useful only to learners, it is equally useful for the teachers to interact with learners and interactions between teachers, interactions between institutions etc. Teachers can supplement their lectures with supplementary notes on the social networks. Similarly teachers can answer more learner queries on the network than the same in the class rooms. They can also facilitate online seminars and encourage student blogs instead of handwritten assignments. Nowaday, it is not a new thing, many teachers and institutions have  already recognized the potential of PLNs and started to make use of it. For instance, a report titled "Learning 2.0: The Impact of Web 2.0 Innovations on Education and Training in Europe" brought  out by the Joint Research Centre of European Commission in 2009 identifies, after studying 250 cases, following five general approaches in deploying social computing tools in primary, secondary, vocational and higher education in Europe.

  1. Opening up to Society: Many educational institutions appropriate social computing as a means of facilitating access to information by current and prospective students, making institutional processes more transparent and facilitating the distribution of educational material. 
  2. Embracing Diversity: In a number of cases,social computing applications are used as a means of integrating learning into a wider community, reaching out to virtually meet people from other age-groups and socio-cultural backgrounds, linking to experts, researchers or practitioners in a certain field of study and thus opening up alternative channels for gaining knowledge and enhancing skills.
  3. Networking: In many cases, social computing applications are primarily conceived of as communication tools among students or teachers and between students and teachers.
  4. Achieving: Learning 2.0 approaches can be used as a means to increase academic achievement.
  5. Learning: In many cases, social computing tools are used to implement pedagogical strategies intended to support, facilitate, enhance and improve learning processes.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) calls the learners who require and use above facilities as “New Millennium Learners” , that is,  the generation of young people born after 1982. When the PLNs of these new millennium learners link one another we will  get an enabling environment for an Online ODL ecosystem.

License: CC-BY-SA