Starting a new exciting project- the Open Science MOOC

It’s quiet a while since I posted last- despite or because there was a lot going on in my life recently. One of those things I want to and will share with you in the next months. It’s an initiative, completely volunteer-led at the moment, to do a Massive Open Online Course about the Principles and Practices of Open Science. It’s pursued by a group of ehnthusiastics who want to advocate and teach others about what Open Sciences is about and how it can be achieved. I stumbled upon it and now I am more than happy to be part of it. But read yourself how it started:

The Open Science MOOC Part 1 (of many)

For me, it all started with a tweet. This is actually not really surprising, me being a Twitter aficionado ever since I discovered the art of Social Learning and Working Out Loud. Both, #soclearn and #wol, stand for a mindset of networking, sharing, contributing, and collaborating in our digital world and therefore both have tight connections to what this project is about. While it is set up to later serve researchers all over the world to learn about the many aspects of Open Science, I will document its development from my very personal perspective and share this on the blog. I will “Work Out Loud” so others can comment, contribute, and learn.

So there was this tweet showing up in my timeline:

Open Science MOOC‏ @OpenSci_MOOC  Jun 27

The Open Science MOOC is entirely volunteer-led at the moment – if you’d like to get involved, just tweet it!

Open Science? I used to be an enthusiastic researcher in life science. MOOC? I already attended many MOOCs, being convinced by the format, and just had this great experience of a cMOOC– people networking online around shared interests. Both topics combined?? And if it’s only a tiny little bit I can contribute, I definitively will!! So I put my name on the list of volunteers and was very happy that I had this serendipitous finding thanks to my Twitter network.

Two months later, I lay in my hospital bed, rather bored as it happens on those days between interventions when you just have to wait. A message popped up. I read it. And I read it again. And I started to wonder if I was a bit drugged. No, it was real- an invitation to be part of the Steering Committee of the Open Science MOOC!

Of course I accepted, although I was wondering why on earth I was chosen for this job from this vast list of volunteers. And I immediately felt very well in the company of the other members. Not only because of their mindset of working together, being supportive, and contributing. It was also because of the diversity in the group. There was obviously a lot I could learn here!

It took 24 hours and all 13 invitees of the Steering Committee accepted the invitation. What a commitment! The first step was taken.

E-Learning is dead (already)!

When Andreas Wittke, founder of one of the major MOOC platforms in Europe, says „E-learning is dead“, you need to follow this up a bit.

His main points are:

Nowadays, e-Learnings are just a virtual image of an analogue thing- books turned into e-books. Analogous, an LMS is just a virtual image of a school with temporal and spatial barriers. More so, LMS often have very low usability as they were designed by teachers having methodology in mind, not usability. Therefore, e-Learnings and LMS do not change any structures or behaviours.

As long as E-learnings are designed to serve as virtual content in the context of the traditional image of school, they are way too expensive and ineffective.

In allen, wirklich in allen Wirtschaftsbereichen vermindert die Digitalisierung die Gesamtkosten, nur in der Bildung werden sie erhöht.

Only when digital education is detached from the current perception of schools and learning, which means detached from a closed group of enrolled students to whoever-wants-to-learn-this (upscaled and available large-area) and detached from temporal restrictions like hours or semesters, a real value will arise.

Taken together, he states that all the thousands of mini-e-learnings designed in companies and schools have a horrible cost-value ration. He might be right. I think he is.

But there’s another point in his article I do not agree. He states that the MOOCs are the first digital education baby, but still are restricted by their time limits- they have a starting and an end date. He wishes them to be available on demand. But then they aren’t MOOCs anymore! A major motivation in a MOOC is to attend a course together, although virtually, and to discuss content. To meet people, to comment, to support and to peer-review (which I still think is one of the best things in xMOOCs). I recently attended a MOOC with approx. 15-20 Persons. It was awful.

So maybe it’s just a thing of terminology. He wants to have lectures/resources ready for on demand (and possibly binge-like) learning with support from mechanical turks. This is not a bad idea. Still I am not sure if most people don’t prefer learning in a community of some kind, which will always restrict the anywhere-anytime.

And all the thousands of mini-e-learnings? In a perfect world, people would share them, allowing the generation of a huge content base that then supports this vision of self-directed independent learning.

Offering self-directed, motivating learning by content curation

Today it’s the start of the iMoox „Open Educational Resources“ of Sandra Schön and Martin Ebner. Educational resources you are allowed not only to use for your purposes but also to share and change according to your needs. This goes straight into the topic of content curation in teaching and learning, which I am really fond of.

Content curation does mean taking advantage of the best resources for your own learning project. Beside „not re-inventing the wheel“, content curation brings multiple advantages to a learning experience. It offers multiple views on a topic by including views of different authors or experts. It expands the content itself by giving the possibility to include sub-topics the teacher is not familiar with himself. It offers choice to the learner to select which resources (and media formats) he wants to use. And it tenders the potential to include content of different depth and length to meet students variable knowledge levels and time constraints.

Taken together, content curation fulfils many of the requirements for a self-directed, motivating learning experience. Doing so with OER is a save way to offer your students engaging and diversified content.

Picture from

The real benefits of virtual teaching

Christopher Pappas is one of the e-learning superstars- he founded the largest online community of e-learning professionals, the eLearning Industry– which makes him one of my very important teachers. Recently, he published a short article on „7 Tips to create a self-paced eLearning course“. Nothing groundbreaking, but a neat way to remember what nowadays e-learning really is (or should be) about.

  • Personalized Learning Plans: In traditional classrooms, all the students face the same content, independent of their previous knowledge, their preferences, and their learning speed. Virtual teaching allows students to pick or get delivered the content they need and work through it at their own pace.
  • Social Collaboration Activities: Learning from and with each other greatly enhances the learning experience and motivation. Virtual teaching allows for many different forms of collaborative work- asynchronous, spatially apart, and with online resources. 
  • Microcontent: Presenting the content in small pieces supports not only ubiquitous learning, but also consolidation and reinforcement of the material learned. Virtual teaching allows to learn bitesize, whenever, wherever.
  • Regular Assessment: Especially when learning at your own pace, it is important to get regular and qualitative sound feedback.  Online teaching includes an array of assessment options- self-directed online tests, online communication with the teacher, and peer-review as an important social collaboration activity. Virtual teaching allows to mix different ways of feedback, giving the learner an array of opinions on his mastery and progress.

But Virtual Teaching also asks for things:

  • Easy access: It is crucial that students can easily access and find their lectures and content.
  • Supportive Online Community: A supportive online community has to be build up in order to help students socialise, get feedback and help and be motivated.
  • Variety: Nowadays students ask for more than an online book. Only courses that take out most of the available virtual resources and offer a variety of material fulfilling students various preferences will be satisfying. Otherwise one could stick with the good old textbook.

Picture credit:

Peer Review – some lessons learned & some friendly advice – Learning Rush

After I recently attended a MOOC in which peer-review was very poor (reasons in short: wording in criteria was very strict so student assessed each other too bad and people repeatedly failed; students did not leave comments just grades, not enough students for peer review (!!- it was supposed to be a MOOC!)), I was wondering about the high and lows of peer review. Actually, I am convinced that it is one of the most valuable tools in online learning.

Why (for me) only online learning? Clare Gormely mentions it at the end of her blog post Peer Review – some lessons learned & some friendly advice – Learning Rush. Because it’s hard to assess friends.  Continue reading „Peer Review – some lessons learned & some friendly advice – Learning Rush“

Adaptive Learning for everyone?

I like the idea of Adaptive Learning. And after reading this article about Adaptive Learning in Compliance Training, I am sure thousands of employees will like it too.

Adaptive learning is a computer-based and/or online educational system that modifies the presentation of material in response to student performance.

This definition by Dreambox, a provider of an adaptive learning platform, very much nails it down. You first assess the students knowledge and then only give him the content he needs to fill his knowledge gaps. This saves time and enhances motivation. Both factors that are also extremely important in business environments with mandatory corporate training such as compliance training.

Although it sounds great, it’s not so easy to implement. Some schools or companies may be able to spend money on a platform that sophistically tests and then guides the learner through his very personal learning path. But most will not. Still, they may adapt some features of adaptive learning into their own learning management system, presupposed their learning is modular.

At the beginning, learners can be assessed through a quiz reflecting different levels of knowledge in different aspects of the content that has to be learned. What then on sophisticated learning platform the machine is doing, can also be done by a human being- telling the student that, based on his performance in the test, he has to learn these modules while he is allowed to skip others. Of course you don’t want to do this for a thousand students, but in smaller settings, it is doable, effective and motivating. You may even implement interim tests to adjust the mandatory modules, or you just finish with one big assessment.

In any case, this strategy can be applied in any LMS as long as the learning content is designed modular and you have a lecturer creating good quizzes and willing to do the additional work of assessing the initial student assessments. I am sure, it will pay out by having motivated and successful students!

Picture from Wikipedia

Microlearning- how to?

I already bothered you with a scoop about microlearning– learning in small pieces of about 10 to 15 minutes each. It meets the requirements set by short attention spans, learning by repetition, and flexibility in temporal learning. But how to translate this into a practical approach?

I guess we agree that just cutting a learning activity, e.g. an online lesson, into chunks only formally fulfils the definition of microlearning and is not really beneficial to reading smaller chapters in a printed text book. In contrast, it may result in annoyed students who feel like making only little progress in their learning paths.

Microlearning should take advantage of multimodal presentations, interactive assignments, and collaborative functioning, which are the real benefits of technology-enhanced learning.

This article from the magazine eLearning Industry highlights some activities that meet those requirements. Podcasts, infographics, videos. Branching scenarios, task-based simulations. User-generated blog posts (or wiki entries). Like to have some examples?

What about letting your students make a short video how they perform a practical task (e.g. adding a layer in their graphic design software), upload this on a platform and let fellow students comment- resulting in a reviewed library of hands-on videos?

What about presenting students short work-related situation (a customer calls you and asks…. What do you suggest to him?) and later presenting all the answers online so fellow students can learn for each others answers?

What about teaching students procedures by asking them to create checklists for each other and then let students study them one per week?

You may realise I already incorporate a collaborative learning scenario in every example. Of course you can prepare the tasks for the students and just let them study or answer. But especially microlearning, when content is small and therefore reading followed by peer-review or commenting is done quickly, provides a powerful base to include collaboration and thereby learning from each other.

Microlearning- when used for the right scenarios- is a very convenient way to meet todays need for temporal flexibility while at the same time enhancing learning by (spaced) repetition and reinforcement.

A fool with a tool…..

… is still a fool.

If you read blog posts of me before (like this one), you know I am very sceptical about using tools. Of course there are some very creative and innovative ones, and I personally like to play around. But then I often feel like they ask faculty and students to adapt to them (the tools) instead of seamlessly integrating into their (faculty and students) work flow. And this is the beginning of the end. Moreover, as I wrote in the post linked above, many of them disappear as quickly as they appeared.

I am very convinced that the essential point when creating fun /interactive /innovative /engaging /collaborative /younameit (online) lessons is concentration on the content and the design, not the environment or tools. 

The first questions should simply be „What shall my students learn?“. Is it some formal learning like basic physics? Is it a pure list of terms? Is it solving of some problem-based tasks? Is it applying what they learned before by adding their own tasks?

Of course the next question is „How shall they learn this“? By reading some text and studying some graphics? By self-generating content? By group work? By searching for online sources? By interviewing seniors? By discussing within a group of peers?

And then the time comes to first think about the „How to deliver this to the students“. And I strongly recommend to keep it simple! Use what you have– the Wiki in your LMS for example offers tons of possibilities, like generating a collection of case studies written by the students, gather additional resources found by the students, accumulate Q&As, curating a (self-made) video collection. Assignments include peer-reviews, group-compiled glossaries or text-based exams. And workshop modules provide space for group-written texts as peer-assignements. So be creative how to use the many options you already have in your LMS or other internal instrument like (micro)blogs or chat or document repository.

And if you still have this brilliant innovative idea you are not able to implement with what you have- there are more and more plugins for LMS that integrate third-party services. Just be careful that the service will not have shut down next year ;-).

Picture taken from

Using WordPress as a learning management system

Last week I had another serendipitous event letting me learn something new. I stumbled upon a job offer, had a glimpse on the company’s website, and saw that they use WordPress as an LMS (learning management system). So here I am, working with WordPress for years now, and never thought about using it to present content for learning like articles, presentations and videos, do tests and quizzes, display learning paths and personal learning progresses. Of course I immediately had to check out what LMS plugins are available for WordPress and what value they have compared to a stand-alone LMS like Moodle.

Continue reading „Using WordPress as a learning management system“

Just a scoop: Mobile Microlearning- a natural venue for spaced learning

One of my favourite sources is the Learning Solutions Magazine. It covers a wide range of topics with an emphasis on EdTech- educational technology- and learning theories. Here an article that combines both: Mobile Microlearning- a natural venue for spaced learning.

  1. Microlearning: Microlearning is learning in small pieces. We may all remember when we had to learn a vocabulary of a foreign language. What was suggested to us was learning a little chunk every day (and repeat what we learned before).
  2. Spaced learning: Spaced learning means intensive learning with breaks. Example given: An intense lecture – break – a second lecture that picks up information from the previous one and puts it into context – break – a third lecture applying the information already given to a particular problem.

It’s no rocket science to see the neat combination the two learning methods offer. Offering several pieces of microlearning units, building up on each other by including content taught in earlier units, is not only providing flexibility for the student, but in fact lets him unknowingly apply instructional concepts known to enhance learning and reduce forgetting.

Oh, and of course, nowadays the units have to be mobile. Or not….