Monday, February 06, 2006

Modular and Iterative Discussions

If it is true that online discussions offer substantially new affordances for learning (reflective-recorded-thoughts-in-progress ... if I have to put it into one word) then we need to start asking about how these discussions link in to the online resources we put up on the 'net, and how the discussions function within teaching and learning.

In my view the spectrum stretches from completely modular links on the one side, to iterative, folded, cumulative links on the other side.

Modular Links:
This is when you design and produce modular resources (with sub-modules too) which are discrete, and even disjunct from the other learning objects. There is no prescription on how they will be used - although the sequence may be suggested by their position within an online resource. You depend on the resourcefulness and creativity of the teacher/ facilitator to use, weave, relate, and sequence the learning objects, and to link them to various discussions - online, and potentially offline too if the space is available. A highly efficient administrator's dream.

Iterative Links:
Similarly, you start on the design of individual (iterative) learning objects, but you weave into their design the activities and discussions, and the way these are going to build up. So the essence of the iterative learning object is that you expect the learner to do something, rather than to abstractly 'learn' something which they might or might not apply, and you expect their facility to do this to improve iteratively and cumulatively.

This is, at one level, activity-based learning (or even a soft version of problem-based learning). At another, more important level, its actually "applications-based" learning - which is more than "applied learning", as its heart lies in the application; the application is not a bolt-on, or add-on afterthought.

Applications-based learning is by definition more context-based than purely modular learning, but there is a whole school of thought that says that there is no such thing as context-free learning.

The next level of value in iterative discussion links is that the discussions (on the activities) should also be designed to be cumulative. This can of course be done by astute management and faciliation of the discussion boards, but I would make a case for including iterative, cumulative activities and discussion links in the design of the teaching and learning material itself.

Good, creative teaching will always add, fold, and build the iterative and cumulative loops and links into learning, and it will always be flexible enough (so dont forget the modularity entirely) for this to incorporate the learners' prior knowledge and experience.

But the materials and the learning will be less rich, and less elegant (two vital qualities of good online learning) if the cumulative and iterative elements are left out of the core design process, no?

Roy

2 Comments:

At 12:21 pm , Blogger Frank Lyons said...

I am not convinced that online learning affords something new in the way Roy suggests.

When I have written and run simulation based learning events the model used followed the "reflective - recorded- thoughts in progress" model Roy suggests.

For example, one simulation started with the following scene being set (ie. the resource rich introductory module): Three competing HEIs are competing in a pure market place world in which students have education vouchers to spend and money will thus follow student choice. This afforded the opportunity for the participants, who played directorate staff from the 3 Universities with their very different cultural traditions, to explore the subject and create possibilities.

Activities and discussions were created by the logic of the simulation: the directorate had to write curricula, recruit students, develop research bids and survive. As simulation facilitators we prompted students (played by drama students) to feel and exercise their spending power. Attempts to appeal to this student market wove in learning loops. Asynchronous communications occurred as mission statements and prospectus were written and published at different times. Learning on both sides was cumulative as the scenario played out over 2 years. We also wove in "Government" announcements about new Widening Participation Policy etc. to keep the simulators on their toes. Learning was also iterative and creative: the students organised a takeover of the most vulnerable university and set up a model to suit their needs (to the surprise of the facilitators and the University "directorates").

So what does online learning afford that simulation doesn't? In my view the opportunity to provide workshop,or simulation or activity based learning without the need to bring the learners into the same physical space. But in my view Roy is right to pursue the affordances issue and it is sad that conventional teaching isn't scrutinised using the concept.

 
At 9:47 pm , Anonymous living online said...

Thanks, that was worth noting.

Steve @
living online

 

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