Open Learning Structure Part 1

Open learning is becoming the new social learning – a “well-used” term that may quickly become a cliche if too many companies keep over-using it to hype their agenda. MOOCs are all the rage now, but sometimes you get the sense that few people really get what is going on. I have been following MOOCs from the beginning and I still don’t get what is going on fully – so I kind of sit back and wonder who all these “experts” are that different companies pull out to support their newest money making venture. Funny how money can suddenly drum up a whole slew of experts ex nihilo….

But, reservations aside about who might hijack the idea, open learning still has a grand hint of promise that just can’t be denied. Jim Groom has a great post about the architecture and structure needed to run open courses. This brought me back to the time when “social learning” was still a new, interesting concept and Harriet and I came up with the Social Learning Manifesto. The basic idea of the diagram that we put out there is still a good illustration of what is happening in education, so I thought I would pull that out, dust it off, update it a bit, and use it as a good starting point to show a bird’s eye view of what is needed. So, instead of a Social Learning Network, I bring you…

Open Learning Structure

(and it is mainly just “structure” because I didn’t feel like typing ‘architecture’ over and over and over again)

When I think of open learning, I get a basic idea of three separate arenas: the school/institution space, the instructor space, and the student space. All three are connected to each other, but the nature of those connections are slightly different.

First of all, you have a institutional server of some kind that replaces and institutional LMS. Yes, I said replaces. If you look at everything on the diagram, there is just not much need for a centralized LMS. The institutional server provides a hub for authentication, grade storage, identity protection, objective repositories, and archiving.

Students have their own Personal Learning Environment or Network. This is already pre-existing, but can be expanded or upgraded as needed depending on the class. Students can use the PLE to protect their privacy if wanted – they can be as anonymous or personal as they want to through their own network (and that can change from day to day or even course by course). This is the ultimate realization of FERPA – giving students control over what they share and don’t share. This is where the student creates their objects to be shared with the instructor and/or world. You can see from the diagram or the social learning manifesto how that would work.

Sitting between these two hubs is the most important part – but also the one that is the least realized as far as existing software is concerned. The instructor space would be where authentication happens, where assignments and activities are posted, where students submit work, and where students also protect their privacy. Students would authenticate through the instructor space – where they have the option to connect to their work through their name or through an alias. They can also submit unlisted or private links that only the instructor is granted access to. The red circle running through the diagram is the privacy line (FERPA line if you are in the U.S.) – students connect over that line how they want to, using the instructor space as a secure tunnel to do so and a firewall to protect anything they want.

We don’t have that piece fully yet – but it probably won’t be long. An important idea to also note is that this diagram shows only one school as a hub – but that doesn’t have to be so in every instance. Students from different schools could authenticate through the same instructor space just by having an additional drop down of schools to pick from. The software would then route the authentication through to the appropriate institution. But the main idea is that we can stop thinking of courses as belonging to one school.

So, if you think of this diagram in a three-dimensional sense, with lines running in all directions and connecting all pieces – you get the idea of how beautiful open learning could end up being in the future.

(Note: after getting several good questions here and on twitter, I am going to expand this post with 2-3 more parts. This post looks mainly at Authentication and Privacy/Admin issues. Based on Alan Levine’s comment I think the “Instructor Space” will be turned into a “Learning Space.” Part 2 will look at the Learner Space in more detail, and then Part 3 will examine the Student PLE. I am also considering a Part 4 to look at why we need to examine this and what is the use of this structure over an LMS. The diagram above will also evolve as more pieces are added in future posts.)

3 thoughts on “Open Learning Structure Part 1

  1. I totally agree that structure is a better word than architecture ;-)

    While I understand the concept with the location of the “instructor space” where it is, but is it really associated with a person? I’d rather see an “instructional” or a “learning space” with also feeds in from an instructors own PLE too.

    And if this about open learning, are there options for open participation from someone not affiliated with the school server?

  2. Alan – those are some great questions. To answer the last question first, yes – there would be the option to have anyone participate. This particular post was focusing more on the number one question I always see asked – what about FERPA? (read that with a little growl in my voice because it gets a little tiring :). So I focused a bit on that and probably will go back and make a note at the end about that. The arrows just show possible flow of information, but they don’t show what has to happen. So an instructor COULD close it off, but to be truly open they shouldn’t.

    “Learning space” is a much better term for the instructor space – I agree. The arrow going in between the squares would represent how information could flow in from the instructor’s PLE, or maybe even from shared learning objects or guest appearances from outside experts. The learning space could ideally be any service that the instructor(s) want to use – a blog, an RSS reader, even an installation of Moodle or Drupal or a mixture of many. That was in my head when I designed that, I just neglected to point it out.

    Now that you have me thinking, I will probably need to do at least another 2-3 posts to highlight these other aspects so that they don’t get left out, probably with their own diagram with different arrows highlighted. For example, there are also arrows going between student PLEs, highlighting how students could work together on ideas that aren’t “turned in” per se. They could just discuss topics outside of the class that would help them learn. All of these would be interesting aspects to explore.

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