The Long Road To Re-Thinking Everything In Online Learning

As many of you know, I have been trying to come up with something new. I’m not even sure what it is supposed to be. I just know I haven’t seen “it” yet. I see parts of “it” here and there, but I still just don’t know what “it” is I am looking for.

But the LMS-based mentality of online learning has got to go. Even the newest version of Blackboard still makes me feel like I am in AOL circa 1995.

I’m not necessarily talking about course design or structure. There are some great ideas out there, everything from MOOCs to information foraging are popping up all the time. The biggest hurdle for all of these great open / social / connectivistic / whatever you want to call it designs is that technology is just not there yet to make them work perfectly. You can do a lot of great things with the whole DIY mentality… but often I get the feeling there could be so much more if we could just stumble on the right technology.

I read today about Google possibly starting another “structured web programming” language called Dart. Some are thinking that it will be just a language that solves “Googlecentric” problems.  In some ways, maybe this something that education needs – education-centric technology to solve educational problems.

Maybe not our own programming language… but that is not a bad idea either. I used to dabble with Moodle extensions, and it was always frustrating to figure out how to “trick” php and javascript into doing what I needed it to do.

I have previously discussed how Rockmelt made me wonder if we could make a similar browser for education… basically, make the LMS become a browser instead of a web silo.  That could be interesting, but kind of leaves mobile learning a bit out of the picture in some cases.

Does the technology behind EdTech need to go the app route? Does the LMS need to leave the confines of “website” and evolve into a new form of technology? I’m not sure yet.  But whatever happens, we need this new idea to meet several criteria:


  • Integrated. It needs to integrate into our everyday web activities. When we have those a-ha moments on Facebook, or find a great article that would be useful for our group project, or whatever the case make be… sharing it with our class needs to be just few clicks or swipes away while we stay on the object. Not a few clicks, surf to a different site, log in, copy-and-paste, click, click, click, submit, log-out, surf back to reality.
  • Open. Education is going the open route. You can’t share what is closed, and surprise… people like to share!
  • Flexible. Every feature that you use on a desktop would also be available in a tablet, a smart phone, or whatever comes along next.
  • Search-able and Easy To Organize. I know some would say that we could just use Facebook or Google+ for all of this. The problem with those approaches are that it is really hard to find anything older than, say, 2 hours there. With learning, you need to go back and examine what you have shared and tagged. you need to dig into it and see what else you can find. There are a hundred reasons why… but you need to be able to go back and find everything. That is tedious at best on social networking sites.

There are some interesting projects out there that I think are doing great work in many of these areas, but no one has a product (or even a DIY solution) that meets all of these criteria.

6 thoughts on “The Long Road To Re-Thinking Everything In Online Learning

  1. Hi Matt!
    I think you’ve got a great idea here. Would you consider presenting it as an Ignite session at DevLearn 2011?
    I think the eLearning community needs to hear your thoughts on this.
    You can contact me at the email address I left in the comment form.

  2. @Stephen – if you read this blog, you should know that I know what a PLE is. PLE is more of a concept that different people assemble in different ways. But it is about time that we get some technology behind it, under-girding it, making it easier to connect in educationally valid ways, instead of us having to re-purpose things made for other purposes and just coming up with the best fit. I’m seeing a lot of PLE burn-out out there – people just getting to the point that they can’t keep up with it all and they run back into the LMS box. They hate the box, but don’t have time for the PLE route.

  3. IT is education. IT needs to be integrated into our real lives. We must be flexible to adapt to the learners and to help them build and enrich their personal social learning environments. Our expertise must be made open to learners everywhere. Resources – human whether they be interfaced or not by technological means must be searchable and easily organisable by learners. We are no longer limited by industrial metaphors for learning. WE ARE IT.

  4. I do agree with what you say Simon, the problem is that technology is still in the way when it should be helping this happen. I love PLEs personally, but the concept doesn’t have the technology yet to make them practical. I’m thinking we need an iPhone moment for education. There were many smart phones before the iPhone, but they were often confusing and clunky. The technology got in the way of the average user embracing them. The iPhone came along and made the technology disappear so that people could easily embrace the functionality without a confusing users manual. Then others followed and you have millions using essentially the same apps to do all things on different devices. Whether you use an iPhone or a Droid or whatever, they all have a Facebook app so that you can post any thought to Facebook wherever you are at. The PLE as a concept needs that game changer tech to come along and make it accessible for the masses. A game changer that will make the tech issues disappear.

  5. @Matt Crosslin:

    I agree, an”iPhone moment” is necessary for more people (educators and students alike) to embrace PLEs. As a student, I work with the BlackBoard environment constantly. While I have to say it’s gotten better over the years, it still feels too clunky and cumbersome. What makes matters worse is that it’s not very intuitive, which makes it all the more difficult for some teachers to navigate it.

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