Research publications on Massive Open Online Courses and Personal Learning Environments

by Rita Kop

People interested in Massive Open Online Courses will probably be aware of the research by Helene Fournier and me on Personal Learning Environments and MOOCs. We carried out research in the MOOC PLENK2010 (The MOOC Personal Learning Environments Networks and Knowledge that was held in the fall of 2010). The data collected on this distributed course with 1641 participants has been massive as well. Its analysis has kept us and some fellow researchers busy over the past year. The research has resulted in a number of publications and I thought it might be useful to post links to all of our journal articles, conference papers and presentations that were published  in relation to PLEs and MOOCs in one space. Each publication looks at the data from a different perspective, eg, requirements in a PLE, self-directed learning, learner support, creativity.

Kop, R. (2010) The Design and Development of a Personal Learning Environment: Researching the Learning Experience, European Distance and E-learning Network Annual Conference 2010, June 2010, Valencia, Spain, Paper H4 32 (conference paper) conference presentation

Kop, R. (2011) The Challenges to Connectivist Learning on Open Online Networks: Learning Experiences during a Massive Open Online Course. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, Vol 12, No 3 (2011): Special Issue – Connectivism: Design and Delivery of Social Networked Learning  (journal article)

Fournier, H., Kop, R. and Sitlia, H. (2011), The Value of Learning Analytics to Networked Learning on a Personal Learning Environment, 1st International Conference on Learning analytics and Knowledge 2011, Banff, February 27-March 1st, 2011. Paper 14 (conference paper) conference presentation

Kop, R. and Fournier, H. (2011) New Dimensions to Self-directed Learning in an Open Networked Learning Environment, International Journal of Self-Directed Learning, Volume 7, Number 2, Fall 2010, page 1-18  (journal article) – conference presentation

Kop, R. and Fournier, H. (2011) Facilitating Quality Learning in a Personal Learning Environment through Educational Research, online session at the Canadian Institute of Distance Education Research, May 2011. The link gives access the the Elluminate recording, an Mp3 and Powerpoint slide.

Kop, R., Fournier, H. and Mak, S.F.J. (2011) A Pedagogy of Abundance or a Pedagogy to Support Human Beings? Participant support on Massive Open Online Courses, International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, Special Issue – Emergent Learning, Connections, Design for LearningVol. 12, No. 7, pg. 74-93 ( journal article)

Fournier, H. and Kop, R. (2011) Factors affecting the design and development of a Personal Learning Environment: Research on super-users, in the International Journal of Virtual and Personal Learning Environments, Volume 2, Issue 4, 12-22, October –December 2011. (journal article) conference presentation conference paper

Kop, R. and Carroll, F. (2011) Cloud Computing and Creativity: Learning on a Massive Open Online Course, European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, Special Issue on Creativity and OER (journal article)

Some of the background data of participants and the course cause a little overlap in the papers, but we think the diversity of subjects covered in the papers will shed light on the learning experiences on MOOCs and make for a varied tapestry of information on MOOCs. PLENK2010 provided us with rich in data and we are still working on the analysis of the dataset as a whole for a paper on motivation and one on research methods, in collaboration with Guillaume Durand, using some challenging research methods. We will let you know when these papers will be published.

Interview with Dan Pontefract on the Future of Training

by  Janet Clarey

Dan Pontefract, currently Head of Learning & Collaboration in corporate sector at TELUS, talks about the the future of the training department or whether there is a future. This video was shown at the Bersin & Associates IMPACT 2011 conference.

Janet Clarey is a senior analyst for Bersin & Associates, and conducts research for their learning practice.

Lawrence Lessig and Creative Commons

Lawrence Lessig is a Professor of Law at Stanford University and the chairman of the Creative Commons project. He talks about the purpose of Creative Commons, the licenses offered, and how the licenses are secured. Lessig also mentions the relationship between Creative Commons and Flickr, Movable Type, and Wilco. Gilberto Gill and his connection with the sampling license and Lessig’s hopes for the future are covered as well.

Permission to reuse content is a challenge we have with editing this blog calendar with multiple blogs and permissions. Jenny Ankenbauer noted that copyright is one of the major barriers to open ed and transformation in post secondary level:

Two Worlds Colliding

by Bonnie Stewart, Inside Higher Education, with thanks to University of Venus for permission to publish here:

So, I’m having the learning experience of a lifetime. I’m in doctoral student heaven.

With the context of my course structure this fall, there’s lots to read and lots to do. I interact and grapple with ideas from multiple perspectives. I mentor and teach; I am mentored and taught in return. I work through my ideas in writing and in casual conversation, and in video or podcast or any other modality I choose. I publish. I get critical feedback. On a variety of platforms, my fellow learners and I talk about theory and educational applications. We speak across disciplinary boundaries.

It’s heady, and challenging. It’s also not a course in my program. Or my university. There is no recognized channel by which to represent its value on my academic CV.

It’s a MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course: specifically, it’s #change11, a 36 week exploration of the theme of Change: Learning, Education, and Technology, worldwide.

There are 36 facilitators. I’m one, though my week of leadership comes near the tail-end of the course. I’m also a participant, with over 2000 other registered people. It’s free and unregulated: a chance to engage in coordinated conversations about learning and connect with folks whose interests intersect with and enhance my own.

It’s the largest and most ambitious in a series of MOOC-style courses offered over the last three or four years at the intersections of education and technology. And it’s a model that’s catching on: Stanford is running a muchhyped massive open online course on Artificial Intelligence this fall, with tens of thousands of reputed registrants.

It’s likely that only a few participants – in either the Stanford course or #change11 – will complete all the assignments set out by instructors. That isn’t the point of this kind of radically open learning experience. There are weekly topics, some with suggested activities, but the majority of engagement is what Axel Bruns calls produsage: a networked system in which participants both create and consume content.

Learners in #change11 essentially do what people have been doing on social media for years, within a loosely-organized structure: they write blog posts, create video, and expound on discussion questions, and then comment on the posts and videos and contributions of others, amplifying what they find most engaging. Conversations erupt, ideas are debated, and ties are formed between participants, all at once. With hundreds of posts coming through the #change11 course feed every week, taking it all in isn’t possible: I choose and contextualize, focusing on applications to my own practices and research. I’ve been involved with MOOCs for awhile, as both a participant and a researcher, and the repeated lesson for me has been that it’s what I do focus on that matters: the questioning, the exploring, the connecting with others.

Now, #change11 is not my only learning environment. I am also a conventional grad student, researching social media and identity in an Education faculty at a small university with a fledgling Ph.D. program. Three of us completed our residency last June. Two more are immersed in the coursework this fall. Obviously, for sheer numbers, the face-to-face experience can’t compete: the overlap of interests in my tiny cohort is minimal, especially when compared with an experience like the MOOC. But I like my faculty, and my colleagues. And I value the learning experiences I’ve been offered in this traditional environment.

Nonetheless, in an emergent and participatory field like social media, it goes without saying that I need to do some of my learning outside traditional academic structures. The publishing cycle is too slow to account for social media’s changes. My advisors’ expertise in theory and pedagogy and research doesn’t necessarily extend to Twitter practices. Luckily, the MOOC fills in. It’s perhaps closest to a regular, ongoing conference experience, in academic terms. Except, of course, it has no formal status in academic terms.

Thus I stand with feet in two worlds, trying to make use of each to enhance the other. This series, Postcards from the Participatory, will explore the benefits and challenges of both sides of the experience as I go.

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada

Bonnie Stewart is a Ph.D. student at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada. In higher ed since 1997, Bonnie has lived and taught on all three coasts of Canada and in Eastern Europe and Asia. Her research explores social media identity and its implications for higher education. Published at and winner of the 2011 PEI Literary Award for creative non-fiction, Bonnie blogs ideas at and identity and parenthood at Find her on Twitter at @bonstewart

Elevator Groupthink: A Psychology Experiment in Conformity, 1962

by Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

What vintage Candid Camera can teach us about the cultural role of the global Occupy movement.

The psychology of conformity is something we’ve previously explored, but its study dates back to the 1950s, when Gestalt scholar and social psychology pioneer Solomon Asch, known today as the Asch conformity experiments. Among them is this famous elevator experiment, originally conducted as a part of a 1962 Candid Camera episode titled “Face the Rear.”

But, while amusing in its tragicomic divulgence of our capacity for groupthink, this experiment tells only half the story of Asch’s work. As James Surowiecki reminds us in the excellent The Wisdom of Crowds, Asch went on to reveal something equally important — that while people slip into conformity with striking ease, it also doesn’t take much to get them to snap out of it. Asch demonstrated this in a series of experiments, planting a confederate to defy the crowd by engaging in the sensible, rather than nonsensical, behavior. That, it turned out, was just enough. Having just one peer contravene the group made subjects eager to express their true thoughts. Surowiecki concludes:

Ultimately, diversity contributes not just by adding different perspectives to the group but also by making it easier for individuals to say what they really think. […] Independence of opinion is both a crucial ingredient in collectively wise decisions and one of the hardest things to keep intact. Because diversity helps preserve that independence, it’s hard to have a collectively wise group without it.”

Perhaps the role of the global Occupy movement and other expressions of contemporary civic activism is that of a cultural confederate, spurring others — citizens, politicians, CEOs — to face the front of the elevator at last.

UK education minister calls for open source curriculum!

by Graham Attwell,

The fundamental model of school education is still a teacher talking to a group of pupils. It has barely changed over the centuries, even since Plato established the earliest “akademia” in a shady olive grove in ancient Athens.

A Victorian schoolteacher could enter a 21st century classroom and feel completely at home. Whiteboards may have eliminated chalk dust, chairs may have migrated from rows to groups, but a teacher still stands in front of the class, talking, testing and questioning.

But that model won’t be the same in twenty years’ time. It may well be extinct in ten.

Technology is already bringing about a profound transformation in education, in ways that we can see before our very eyes and in others that we haven’t even dreamt of yet.

Nothing too remarkable here, and any regular reader of this blog will recognise similar ideas spouted on these pages. What is remarkable is the person who said it – the unpopular Minster of Education for England, Michael Gove, in a speech at the opening of BETT, the UK education technology exhibition.

This was a long awaited speech, given that Gove has said little about educational technology since the Con-Dem coalition government came to power. In a speech which seemed to go down well with the ed-tech community on twitter but was criticised by teachers union leaders, Gove went on to say:

  • The present IT national curriculum for schools would be abolished leaving schools freedom to design their own curriculum. From September this year schools will be free to use the “amazing resources” that already exist and will exist on the web.
  • Games and interactive software can help pupils acquire complicated skills
  • He wants to see the introduction new courses of study in computer science
  • We should “look at the school curriculum in a new way, and consider how new technological platforms can help to create new curriculum materials in a much creative and collaborative way than in the past
  • Rather than concentrate on hardware procurement we should focus on improving initial teacher training and continual professional development for teachers in educational technology

Gove said three main things that technology can do for learning:

  • Disseminate knowledge incredibly widely.
  • Change the way teachers teach, with adaptive software personalising learning.
  • Allow teachers to assess pupils in more complex and sophisticated ways.

Gove went on to talk about an open-source curriculum saying:

Advances in technology should also make us think about the broader school curriculum in a new way.

In an open-source world, why should we accept that a curriculum is a single, static document? A statement of priorities frozen in time; a blunt instrument landing with a thunk on teachers’ desks and updated only centrally and only infrequently?

It all seems a bit too good to be true. And of course a lot depends on how these chnages mucght be implemented and vitally what support and funding is avaiable to schools.

A website – – has been launched to discuss the new proposals. Bernadette Brooks
General Manager of Naace and Seb Schmoller Chief Executive, Association for Learning Technology (ALT) explained the reasons for the consultation:

The effective use of technology has great potential to support better teaching and learning, but there are important questions arising from the opportunities presented by new technologies. For example: how teachers can best develop the right skills; how learning is organised and delivered; and how education can be agile in adapting to new technology developments. This is an important opportunity to discuss and understand the implications.

The site contains, initially, some “stimulus questions” suggested by DFE, which can be discussed by the posting of comments. During March Naace and ALT will work together to produce a report which we will share with DFE that draws on the discussion that we hope will now ensue.

We hope that parents, teachers, technology developers and practitioners, policy people, researchers, students, people from industry and any others with an interest in and experience of this field will join the conversation.

You can add your ideas on the consultation web site. Or of course you can just add a comment here :)   I will be coming back to some of the issues raised by Gove’s announcement in further blog posts over the next week.

Interview with Koreen Olbrish on New Approaches to Learning

by  Janet Clarey

Koreen Olbrish, who founded Tandem Learning, talks about new approaches to learning including alternate reality games (ARGs) and virtual worlds. Koreen also gives three examples from recent projects she completed.. This video was shown at the Bersin & Associates IMPACT 2011 conference.

Janet Clarey is a senior analyst for Bersin & Associates, and conducts research for their learning practice.

Sea Change in Knowledge and Education

by Leslie Poston, Magnitude Media

In this post Leslie discusses the relationships between return on investment in education, college and expected employment and highlights examples of how schools are moving beyond initial adoption of social media so that

“access to knowledge in your pocket can break the institution of “school” out of the concrete, rigid shell it lives in and turn it into organic knowledge that students yearn for”

Are we moving towards plugging into the matrix and learning like Neo?

Talking while the teacher is talking: learning in the back channel of #change 11

by Joe Dillon

I’ve experimented with back channels in my 7th grade language arts classroom. On occasion, I used it as a way to focus students’ attention during Socratic circles. The outer circle of students, three times larger than the inner, armed with netbooks, had to respond on a wiki page discussion thread to the participants’ comment during the discussion. The outer circle recorded questions, reactions and quotations from the one participant they tracked. Since I was working with adolescents, the silent social opportunity during the Socratic circle kept everyone active and engaged, which can be a challenge when the outer circle has to sit quietly and record on tally sheets or some other paper record to track the conversation.

So, I believe in the potential of back channels and was excited to participate in the chat room during both of Howard Rheingold’s live sessions for the MOOC this week. From past experiences in Blackboard Collaborate, I’ve grown accustomed to the webinar format and I bounced my attention from the chat thread to the video feed of Rheingold’s presentation. It was interesting to participate this way in the context of our learning that there is no such thing as multi-tasking, just task switching. According to Rheingold, we pay attention costs with each switch.

With that learning in mind, I reflected on my participation. Between the two sessions I felt at times engaged, rewarded and distracted by the chat.

I wonder: What are the implications for teaching and learning in back channels, when participants effectively talk while the teacher is talking?

I’m thinking of ways participants might revisit the back channel transcript to support ongoing thoughtful participation and so that we might better understand the potential. Here are three possibilities I see for using the back channel transcript:

1. Have participants search through a transcript of the back channel and code their responses based on how they feel their participation impacted their attention to the session or their learning.

2. Ask participants to connect the small, quick discussions with other discussions online. For example, search for discussion forums and comment threads elsewhere online where participants might extend their conversations. (A quick teacher discussion in a chat room might easily connect to some of the larger group discussion threads on, for example.)

3. Ask each participant to identify the most important post in the back channel and blog about that immediately afterward.

Please add any suggestions you might have in the comments.

Sailing the Shift in 2012

Ships in harbour are safe, but that is not the what ships were built for. 
John Shedd

Throughout 2011, anyone who spends time online will have witnessed the increased focus on leadership in education, creative thinking, the spreading of Open Education Resources (e.g. MIT Open Course Ware ,  Open Culture, among many others) as well as the growing tide of free education, especially at post-secondary level. And of course, technology, technology, technology – in all its forms and areas of influence. Gaming in education is taken seriously as are other multimodular forms of presenting and engaging learners.

Which brings me to ask about the role of social media in education – is there a place for it? If so, why?

Let me begin by highlighting what I agree to be essential skills for today:

  • Sense-making. The ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed
  • Social intelligence. The ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions
  • Novel and adaptive thinking. Proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based
  • Cross-cultural competency. The ability to operate in different cultural settings
  • Computational thinking. The ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning
  • New-media literacy. The ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms and to leverage these media for persuasive communication
  • Transdisciplinarity. Literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines
  • Design mind-set. Ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes
  • Cognitive load management. The ability to discriminate and filter information for importance and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques
  • Virtual collaboration. The ability to work productively, drive engagement and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team
More than only for an unknown distant future, these are skills which learners today need to be comfortable and confident in. It is when they are at school/college that they can practice them in  a safe,  peer-level environment. From learning how to conduct efficient and effective online searches, being able to sift through the never-ending data available, to learning how to blog and use Twitter as a collaborative learning platform, educators have the responsibility to teach these skills, not only to motivate and engage learners, but to help prepare them for their futures.
painting of girl with blonde hair in pink dress, on grey stoneI have frequently been confronted with the time-consuming argument that not all learners need to learn about social media and that  “successful education” is really about passing exams.
Although I may understand this limited view of education (after all, it is an opinion among many other attitudes and approaches to education), it has certainly never been one that I share or practice. Not all skills may necessarily be labelled as “21st Century Learning Skills” – collaborative learning is how humans learn, after all. Throughout my life in classrooms and staffrooms, collaborating in teams, with partners, with the local community,  has always taken place. What is different today is how much broader and wider these collaborations can effectively occur. From the above list, sense-making, social intelligence and adapting to new ways of thinking are also not unique to “21st Century Learning”. They have always been required as they are inherent features of what it means to learn.