Future Online Learning Environment


Over the past few months I have been working on a project for the NZ Ministry of Education looking at creating a set of guidelines for schools that are making decisions about the choosing a Learning Management System.

This is not a straightforward task, and we’re not the only ones who are working on coming up with a set of guidelines. BECTA, in the UK, recently released a set of guidelines they have developed for schools titled Requirements for Learning Platforms, which contains a set of recommendations as to what schools should be taking into account.

The problem is that, with an ever increasing array of products being developed in this space, it is not simply a case of simply providing a feature comparison chart, and leaving the consumer to decide which will give htem the biggest (and most appropriate?) “bang” for their buck.

The problem is more fundamental than that, and involves the convergence of two key influences. One is the changing nature of pedagocial practice – stemming from the way we regard knowledge and how we plan to “share” it. Many of the traditional LMS systems were designed to support (and reinforce) an essentially “transmissive” approach to knowledge sharing – focusing on enabling teachers/lecturers to upload course notes and students to download and read them, thus “learning”. It could be argued that this basic design concept remains paramount in most of what is being developed, even today.

The other key influence is the development of standards and specifications that allow the user (learner) a far greater degree of independence in creating and maintaining their own “learning space”. This can be seen in the emergence of so much “social software” on the web, in the use of RSS feeds between and among sites, and the increasing level of personalisation and customisation that many sites allow.

Following the influence of Scott Wilson from CETIS, I have been working on a model of the Future OLE (online learning environment) that illustrates this approach in the New Zealand context – as a means of engaging with principals and teachers about the thinking and understandings that will inform what these future learning environments may look like. To that end I’ve drafted a diagram and some thoughts in a paper titled A Learner Centred OLE which can be downloaded here. Any feedback and thoughts are welcomed.

15 thoughts on “Future Online Learning Environment

  1. Well this is surprising. I was half expecting to view yet another attempt at reinventing the wheel, or at least building a wall around it, but instead what I see is quite a close approximation to the way in which I use these combinations of environments and services myself, as a learner. So I feel well disposed towards the design, as it doesn’t appear to be trying to take something away from what we already have, namely the internet.

    I did wonder about the egg-shaped thing in the middle, the “learner centred online environment”. Could this perhaps be merged with the personal hosting? I use personal hosting as a direct bridge to interaction with most of the other components, or is the egg really the internet, perhaps.

    Finally I decided that the hub for most of this coordination is the personal web browser, with it’s collection of links and bookmarklets, cookies and keychains, and homepage set to my current jumping off point.

    So in many cases, the OLE will in fact be Firefox, or Camino, Internet Explorer etc in association with a portable bookmark(let) managment tool such as blummy. I think you may possibly have outflanked Stephen Downes with this one.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Andy
    really appreciate the insightful questions, as these are exactly the things that we’re thinking about at this end. I agree that there may be an opportunity to merge the egg in the middle with personal hosting (we’ve actually built a prototype for doing this) – or indeed it could be the personal web browser. Like you, I think this is where we may end up, as, when I think about my personal use of the web, it is my own computer, and the modifications that I have made to my trusty Firrefox browser, that help me aggregate the feeds and so on that I use everyday.

  3. I have been considering similar issues for the ECE ICT web development so it was great to see your diagram Derek.
    When I read your paper I wanted to suggest that maybe as well as chalk and talk subject content we need to move away from the “class group” idea as well. Jonathan at 7 has already decided he prefers a personalised Google homepage with all his sites bookmarked or RSS fed onto it. He spends considerably more time “playing” online skill builders and logic puzzles than he does on his drill and skill homework sheet.
    Yet most of his pretty extensive web skills are virtually invisible in his classroom.
    One of my kids in particular endures school and comes home to learn. His ability in maths, technology and science are recognised at school but they have no idea of what he actually acheives when he gets obsessively interested in something. When he was seven if he was faced with an online learning environment in the morning he would have started with what he liked least (writing) rather than what he liked most (maths) and when he got to maths he could have kept on going rather than finishing the teacher set lesson in five minutes and then getting into trouble for being “off task”. And he might have enjoyed going to school and now be giving it his best effort because he would have had the space to explore the questions he asks about the world at school.
    This is NOT a criticism of their schools or teachers but I think we forget that schools are a very recent invention in the history of humankind and the likelihood that the human child (and human brain) were designed to process science and only science at 2 oclock on Tuesday for 40 minutes is fairly unlikely!

    So I guess my interpretation of learner centred for the “egg” in the middle is the learner’s own interests and learning goals.

  4. Thanks Sonja for advocating for student choice. If this is to be a truly learner-centered environment then presumably the learners should have some say in their learning. I’d like to see a social networking tool like 43 Things or ELGG sitting in the middle (how about ELGG in the EGG!) assisting students to set their own learning goals and identify likely collaborators. (43 Things was in Scott’s original map if I recall correctly). The more teacher-centered Moodle and KnowledgeNet are forced to the side.

    I also agree with Andy’s idea of the browser as central to a student’s portable online learning environment (especially if, like firefox, it can personalised and carried with them on a USB drive).

    Actually if this represents a learning ecosystem do we even need a centre?

  5. Hi Derek, a few thoughts….

    1. I think I would clearly indicate online repositories somewhere in the mix, I am thinking of library services such as electronic journals, etc. (possibly in the website cloud).

    2. Do you see the learner-centred online learning environment as a piece of software (often referred to now as a PLE) that has extensive functionality such as the ability to edit content held on other systems, or is this ‘personal map’ generated by the individual using readiliy available tools such as browser as Andy explains.

    3. There is, I believe, an innate tension with models such as this which is that of the individual verses the community. In one breath we talk about social constructivism, the power of the internet for connectivity/community, etc. and then we also track along the notion of an individualised and personalised “learning space”.

    Is this tension real, does it matter?

  6. Good on ya for launching this discussion in the NZ context Derek, and some really insightful comments included here as well!

    I have added my thoughts as a seperate blog post, but also in relation to Andy’s response, I have posted in the past the idea of the browser as central. If by chance a Mozilla developer comes along here, I hope my idea of a FireFox plugin as the perfect LMS may be developed…

  7. By creating an OLE as illustrated in your discussion document a learner would certainly have the opportunity to construct their learning (understanding) of a diverse range of topics or to focus in minute detail on a specific topic. A link that could be added (although maybe implied in your model) is to a mentor, (guide, parent, coach, partner, teacher, guru) who accepts responsibility for supporting the learner. While the learner may be interacting with a wide number of people both locally and internationally, having a key person, who has taken on a pastoral role, adds security to the learning environment and a real link to the wider environment outside the online one. The suggested role is not a policing role, far from it, but as a sharing, balancing role of someone who takes a genuine interest in the learners?? journey.

    A learning model provides a structure for learning and the assumption by educators is that this is what learners are looking for (need) to develop their learning. It is essential that learners know what tools are available to them, can learn how to use them and can then construct their own model. (In reality they will do this anyway!) The learner will customise their learning environment to suit their learning style, expertise and priorities. While the model provides an outline of available online functionality, it is up to the learner to determine how they will utilise all or some of the available resources. Or, as is often the case, add in new tools and functionality. (as you point out the orchestrator of their own OLE)

    Your model shows very clearly some features currently available, the linkages between them and their relationship to the learner (green blue and yellow features)
    It will always be a dynamic and evolving model and very learner centered. I trust teachers can provide the context and content that will engage learners in this exciting environment.

  8. Some good thoughts here Derek, and good follow up comments. I think the personal hosting, eportfolio stuff needs to sit inside a wider personal learning space bubble, and agree with Stephen that some sort of community learning space needs to be included.

    I have posted a hacked version of the diagram and some other comments here

  9. Hi Derek,
    I think some of the tension we experience in proposing criteria for ICT environments for ??managing learning?? lies in our differing edu_interpretations of what is ??learning?? ??

    A further bewilderment comes from the differing connection/s we make between whatever we count as ??learning?? and how we believe it may be enhanced/ betrayed through ??management??.

    And then as others have noted there is the unanswered question – ??Who is doing the managing in a ??Learner centered?? environment?

    Unless we first tease out/ clarify what ??learning?? and ??management?? mean, we will never ??create a set of guidelines for schools that are making decisions about the choosing a Learning Management System??, that will be meaningful to educators.

    I tried to untangle some of my disquiet about Learning Management Systems and the promises they make and break about learning on the Artichoke blog in January – the comments from other educators suggest my bewilderment is not uncommon.

    Smeckledorfed by Learning Management Systems http://artichoke.typepad.com/artichoke/2006/01/smeckledorfed_b.html

    Dougal: ??As if by magic I can create a big crowd of invisible ducks?? http://artichoke.typepad.com/artichoke/2006/01/dougal_as_if_ma.html

    I guess I believe that the design architecture of LMS currently available to New Zealand schools betrays the potential of ICT to enhance learning environments through connectivity with multiple ??information surfaces?? ?? something akin to Leigh??s personal browser interface idea –

    Instead our commonly touted LMS systems – Knowledge[net] and Moodle -??manage learning?? through an online recreation of limited inflexible even generic virtual classrooms.

    Scardamalia and Bereiter have alerted educators to this use of ICT to reframe existing practice in classrooms. Think the same arguments about ??reframing innovation to recreate the familiar?? could be made for current LMS

    “Nobody wants to use technology to recreate education as it is, yet there is not much to distinguish what goes on in most computer-supported versus traditional classrooms. Alan Kay (1991) suggests that the phenomenon of reframing innovations to recreate the familiar is itself commonplace. Thus one sees all manner of powerful technology used to conduct shopworn school activities: copying material from one resource into another and following step-by-step procedures With new technologies, student-generated collages and reproductions appear more inventive and sophisticated – with impressive displays of sound, video, and typography – but from a cognitive perspective, it is not clear what if any knowledge content has been processed by the students.” (Scardamalia, & Bereiter, 1994).

    Anything that you might develop Derek, that helps schools make decisions about the online managing of student learning through creating a ??celebration of learning environment connectivity?? rather than an ??embracing of classroom convention and conformity?? would be great.

  10. Hi Derek,
    You might be interested in the work we’re doing at the moment in the NZOSVLE project with Elgg (www.elgg.net). We’ve been contributing a fair bit of code, actually more work on this than Moodle currently (there’ll be an Elgg plugin to Moodle)

    Have a look at the roadmap diagram at…


    Nice alignment huh? We’ve got some interesting plans working with the Elgg team, Athabasca and Utah State University are also involved in its evolution. Let’s catch up and discuss. Cheers, Richard

  11. Awesome diagram and one that I’m heavily involved in but not necessarily putting into a pictorial format…….I really should do some time shouldnt I ?!

    The OLE concept is only just kind of coming together for me so I’ll do a little more reading through your site and then get back to you on some funky stuff we are involved in here in Sydney at some time.


    Alex Hayes

  12. Hi Derek,
    How do you see the journey for our primary school children within your OLE? Currently I am researching how blogs, in particular group blogs, may encourage reluctant writers to write. I haven’t been able to find an easy blog site for us to use so we are using Blackboard at present.(Study leave from TCS)I have groups of children from NZ and Australia at present.
    I see exactly how your model works for older students and also see the tension around management of this. I wonder at what stage the learner is totally “in control”?
    How do you see the jouney for us in Primary?

  13. Hi Pamela
    I hadn’t really thought of the diagram differentiating between ages and stages – I’d imagined it more as a view of the environment within which teachers/schools would make decisions that are appropriate to the age/stage of students.
    With regards to blog software, there’s not a lot that I’ve seen that I’d call specifically designed for primary students (although I know of lots of examples of primary students using products such as “blogger” for example with little difficulty, and my own 8 year old son uses the same blog server as I do).
    You might like to look at a product called KidzBlog (http://www.haranbanjo.com/kidzblog/) which is designed specifically for kids, and is available for both MacOS or Windows

Leave a Reply