Communities more important than models in developing learning design (thoughts on the Mod4L final report)

The final report from the Mod4L project is now available online. The project is part of the current JISC Design for Learning Programme.

The aim of Mod4L was to “develop a range of practice models that could be used by practitioners in real life contexts and have a high impact on improving teaching and learning practice.” The project adopted a working definition of practice model as “common but decontextualised, learning designs that are respresented in a way that is usable by practitioners (teachers, managers etc).”

The report is structured into six main categories covering issues of representation (which I talked about in a previous post), granularity, an evaluation of several types of representation, the sharing of learning designs and the role of taxonomies.

The report highlights the difference between design as a product and design as a process. It questions the current metaphor for learning design (particularly IMS learning design) as being too product driven and reliant on stable components and the linkages between them, which often don’t accurately reflect the unstable process that take place in most teaching and learning situations. It goes on to suggest that we may be better off thinking of design for learning as a loosely coupled system, which can provide access to the stable components of a design but also allow for the richer, more adaptive process that take place within a learning context. An analogy to a map of the London underground is given as an example. The map can show you (the learner) the entry points and how to get from point A to point B (even giving one some degree of flexibility of route or personalisation on how to get there) but what the map doesn’t give you is other information which could make your journey much more successful i.e. by letting you know that it might be quicker to get off the train one stop earlier, or (as a teacher) how to drive the train.

A detailed evaluation of a number of practice types are contained within the report, however it does also point out that “providing support for communities may be more important in changing practice, than developing particular representation types which will, inevitably, have limited audiences, and have prescribed forms.” Let’s hope that the current projects within the programme can help to build and sustain these types of communities.

BBC Jam suspended

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about BBC Jam after they presented at the Intrallect Future Visions Conference. Today the BBC Trust have announced they are suspending the service from 20th March after after complaints from commercial companies received by the European Commission. It’s always been controversial project, with many commercial vendors complaining about the amount of funding being put into the project and the impact it may have on their business.

I know that this doesn’t really have direct relevance to us in the HE sector, however I do think there are similarities between the BBC and British universities. Neither were set up as commercial companies, but increasingly they are having to adapt their structures to become more and more commercially viable. They are both affected by changes in technology – particularly the web.

Call me old fashioned, but I do believe in the Reithian values of BBC to educate, inform and entertain and I’ve never minded paying my licence fee as I do believe the BBC give incredible value for money. There have been some arguments that the BBC’s online development is pushing out new start ups – which I’m not sure I totally agree as I think, that mostly the BBC webpresence has helped to set standards for web design and usability. I just hope that now considerable work has been done in producing resources (not all done in-house either) that the suspension is temporary and people will be able to access the content again soon.

Impact of Open Source Software on Education series launch

Earlier this week (12 March) Penn State announced the launch of a new series of biweekly postings on the impact of open source software on education on their Terra Incognita blog. Although the series is based around open source software, other related topics including open educational resources and open courseware will be discussed too, and all contributions/discussions will be made freely available:

” our intent to not only provide a rich resource on the theme of this series, but to also contribute to the larger movement of free content by making the resources that we create widely and freely available. In an effort to do so, a few days after each posting, the articles, discussion, and a brief summary will be reformatted and made available on WikiEducator as Open Educational Resources. It is our hope that these resources will take a life of their own as they are reused, modified, and returned to the community.”

The first article is from Ruth Sabeen (UCLA) about their evaluation process which resulted in them choosing Moodle. More information about the series including the schedudule is available @

A couple of future contributions which caught my eye include Wayne Mackintosh on Bridging the educational divide with free content and free software (7 April) and James Dalziel on pedagogy, technology and open source -experiences from LAMS (16 May).

Maybe this kind of approach would be useful for JISC/DEST to help with the development of the eFramework initiative.