Envisioning Future Learning Environments: Melding Tools and Content

After reading this piece on e-Literate about the Unizin learning ecosystem coalition, it stirs up thoughts like: why are we still here? Content repository? It seems like these LMS and platform tools are stuck in the 90’s and early 2000’s.

Ok, yes, learning analytics hold much promise for enabling transparency to students, faculty and institutions. These systems should provide loads of information about progress, what is done and not done, learning behaviors that lead to success (and non-success), engagement, attention, interactivity, and so on. There is still much to be done in this area.

But a content repository? Ok, yes, there should be less re-inventing the wheel, more sharing, and certainly better ways to store, tag, add meta-data, license, share, and make content available to students regardless of the platform, location, system, device, etc.

But let’s delve a bit further into this “content.” Why is it that these platforms, including the newest ones (MOOCs of the last 2-3 years), still have students running around between the “content” and the “discussions” and the “quizzes” or assignments, all in different buckets? So I’m expected to view this “content” and then leave, and go to another part of the platform to find the discussion related to that content, and go to another location to find the quiz related to that content, and maybe go to an entirely different location to see if anyone else is online to chat with, and so on. Why can’t I, as a student, while viewing some online content, hit pause and then:

  1. take some notes (add a note-taking layer upon the content), that are somehow linked/connected to the content right there at that point and either sharable to others/groups I have set up (ala Clark’s Filtration Nation) or kept private? (Think of this like inserting comments in a Google Doc, but with the ability to share or not share any comment/note with my groups.)
  2. ask a question, either synchronously or asynchronously, for other students and/or the instructor(s), (this bridge between synchronous and asynchronous communication and tools in learning platforms desperately needs to be built!)
  3. start up a video chat/hangout with others who happen to be online and/or working on something similar at the time
  4. answer, interact or attempt to answer questions posed by other students, about the content,
  5. answer quiz question(s) to see if I have “gotten it”,
  6. post a tweet, Facebook post, image, etc.
  7. chat with someone else who is also viewing at that same place (and/or who is filtered based on my Filtration Nation groups),
  8. make connections between something in the content to something else I have read, seen, or created (links/bookmarks to journal articles, blog posts, tweets, hashtags, presentations, video, audio, etc.)
  9. view comments, notes, and/or connections that other students have added in layers upon the content and shared with me

and all of this WITHOUT LEAVING THE CONTENT… ? In other words, all of this type of learning activity could be layered on and integrated with the content.

Now, to their credit, a few platforms do offer the ability to create modules, and to more easily link from a piece of content to the discussion of that content, to the quiz on that content, and so on. Also, a couple of them like Coursera, have enabled an HTML5 layer on top of the content to enable something like #5 – where instructors can add a question or link, pause the video and ask students to answer it and check their answer before going on.  But this is not nearly the type of integrated system for learning and interaction that I am envisioning here.

It seems like someone needs to break these 90’s LMS, platform, and content chains, and truly innovate in this space. Someone needs to create ways for teachers and learners to more fully engage and interact with online content, by integrating the other various communication, assessment, collaboration, and creation tools (both synchronous and asynchronous) into the experience. When you read a journal article, you underline, highlight, circle, make notes, etc. – and you can’t even really do that in these systems yet.

Ok, yes, one of the greatest powers of online learning is the ability for learners to have access to good content. But the other greatest power: empowering learners with the ability to make learning connections and communicate with so many other learners could be massively enhanced by better integrating the content with the other tools.

 

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Clark Shah-Nelson
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