Posts Tagged ‘learning’


Adaptive Learning to Personalized Learning

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Computer-driven adaptive learning has been around for decades; in its most basic form, it is simply the computer program branching the learning path based upon responses the student makes. Some learners may be best served by materials delivered in a different format — for example, case studies rather than theoretical study. Others may need refresher learning for underpinning skills, principles and theories upon which more advanced learning is built.

Computer-assisted instruction (CAI) has enabled this kind of learning program for half a century and more. I recall working with others in the 1970s as we programmed simple lessons that would quiz students and branch their learning path based on right answers as well as wrong answers. Simple coding in the PLATO TUTOR language would allow programmers to branch to different review or new materials based upon which answer was selected.

More sophisticated adaptive-learning programs that have been developed recently aggregate much more data from the learner to better adapt the learning path. These data can include stored prior learning experiences and performances; self-expressed student preferences in modes of delivery; analytical prediction of likelihood of success for the individual student through different modes of delivery; and much more.

For the past half dozen years, Khan Academy has developed and enhanced their flow-of-learning model. These and other like programs can more finely and accurately identify and address gaps in learning. Coupled with effective support modules, they can fill in the gaps on an individualized basis. “Particularly in high-enrollment classes, adaptive learning can provide tailored support and guidance to all students,” says this primer from Educause. Adaptive learning has effectively been used by many publishers for their online homework and supplementary materials.

Adaptive learning, while it has provided an important step forward in helping to assure that all learners get the material that they need to achieve learning outcomes, has fallen short in cultivating full engagement with the individual student. That’s where personalized learning takes the next step. It is defined by the Glossary for Education Reform as:

The term personalized learning, or personalization, refers to a diverse variety of educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic-support strategies that are intended to address the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students. Personalized learning is generally seen as an alternative to so-called “one-size-fits-all” approaches to schooling in which teachers may, for example, provide all students in a given course with the same type of instruction, the same assignments, and the same assessments with little variation or modification from student to student.

This takes student-centered learning to the next level. It goes beyond simply responding to requests from students. Instead, students become part of the process of defining the learning outcomes, pedagogy and practices of the learning experience. Until recently, it has not seemed feasible to meet student needs in this way. To customize learning for each of 30 or 40 students in a class, monitor their individual progress and provide meaningful feedback just is too time-consuming.

Now, machine learning can synthesize the huge volume of data needed to more fully deliver student-centered learning. It can assemble the background, take input from the individual learner regarding their self-determined needs and expectations, identify learning deficits and needs, and produce and present the learning path to best accomplish those goals.

In this case, the role of the faculty member shifts from directly delivering materials and grading based on a single syllabus to advising, assisting and assessing personalized learning that meets the needs of both the individual and the prescribed outcomes of the program. Certainly, this is a change for the faculty member. It is no longer administering a one-size-fits-all class. Instead it is a much more personal, individualized mentoring of each of the students while AI assembles the learning stack for each student.

Have you incorporated any of the adaptive-learning tools in your classes?

Are you preparing for the next step of personalized learning?

Are you preparing your faculty colleagues for this process?

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Learning Innovation, Scholarship and the Carey Article

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Kevin Carey’s April 1 article, “The Creeping Capitalist Takeover of Higher Education,” in The Huffington Post ignited an intense online debate.

Responses to the piece appeared on Inside Higher Ed (here, here, here, here, here and here), in blog posts (here, here, here, here and here) and in countless tweets.

This article is not another contribution to the debate on OPMs or Carey’s piece, though there is likely much more to say and explore. Nor is it an assault or defense of Carey.

We both tend to agree with much of his criticism of OPMs and the inequities that profit motives are creating in higher education, just as we agree that online education itself has become an underexamined straw man for Carey’s argument.

Instead, we wonder what it means to have this conversation — the conversation about institutional choices and online education that Carey catalyzed — on social media. Is social media a good platform for engaging in meaningful knowledge creation and exchange about higher education?

We wonder if discussions mediated on social media platforms can succeed in surfacing important ideas and debates.

In this specific case, one concern we have is that all the commenting and tweeting will serve to harden — rather than advance — whatever biases and beliefs that already exist. Further, we wonder if the format of the discussion — again mediated through online articles and blog posts and comments and tweets — will make it difficult for anyone who does not have strong beliefs on the topic at hand to form evidence-based views.

We are not arguing that debates on topics about higher education should not take place on social media. After all, we are ourselves active contributors to those online conversations. Rather, we’re arguing for complementing these social media debates with scholarship. We see value in discussions mediated by social media, but we also recognize the limitations of these platforms. Our goal is to lay an intellectual foundation for an academic inquiry into areas such as the growth of the online program management industry.

How might a scholarly and academic investigation on a topic such as OPMs differ from a conversation mediated by social media? We propose in the following three ways: a) hypothesis driven, b) theoretically grounded and c) evidence informed.

Hypothesis Driven

Scholarship, at least in the sciences and social sciences, is hypothesis driven, in that conclusions can never be definitively reached, only supported or discredited by the available evidence. If an idea cannot be disproved, it is not a candidate for scholarly research in these fields.

This does not mean that the researcher comes into the work as a neutral and dispassionate actor. Scholars, like everyone else, have their biases and beliefs.

What this does mean is that a researcher will energetically search for evidence in their search for knowledge regardless of whether it proves or disproves the original hypothesis. If the evidence ends up countering the initial hypothesis, then the researcher must faithfully report and actively grapple with that result.

What might be different about Carey’s piece and the responses if they were to start from a hypothesis rather than a perspective?

Theoretically Grounded

Theoretical frameworks are models of how the world works that help researchers in the sciences and social sciences develop hypotheses and interpret results. Theoretical frameworks assist in the development of testable hypotheses. In the humanities, theories serve often serve as structural models under which or in relationship to an analysis might be developed. The different approaches to theory between the sciences, social sciences and humanities is worth exploring at some point, as these differences may be illustrative of how we adopt certain perspectives.

Each of these areas, however, provides a framework in which we can situate individual events and discrete analysis. Without a conceptual framework, developments such as the rise of the OPM industry can seem disconnected from other changes occurring within higher education and across the broader economy and society.

One common theoretical lens through which higher education is often viewed today is Christensen’s disruptive innovation theory. Unfortunately, it’s rarely the case that disruption theory serves as a framework in which to test hypotheses. Instead, it more often than not serves as a talking point to help reify one’s general assumptions and opinions.

What is needed is the development or applications of theoretical frameworks that are derived from, or at least sensitive to the context of, higher education’s history and structures. We need to develop our own theories to understand higher education change, rather than retrofit existing frameworks (developed for different contexts) to make sense of the future of our colleges and universities.

Evidence Informed

The third reason that we argue that the debate about Carey’s piece playing out across social media is most likely to reinforce and harden current beliefs, rather than move the discussion forward, is the existence of evidence and data. The arguments made for and against the value of online education to students and schools, on both sides of the debate, have been mainly divorced from empirical evidence. When data are presented, they are shared to support a particular assertion.

There are a lot of data available. Social media tends not to be a great place to share these data.

Social media tends to serve multiple functions in today’s society. In our context, it’s just as (or maybe more) likely to serve as a marketing tool as it is a place for critical dialogue. Because of this complex function, it is not a level playing field for the exchange of data and evidence. Social media is too many things to too many people, and as such may not serve well as a place for disinterested scholarship.

We need better mechanisms to collect, de-identify and then analyze the data related to how colleges and universities are, among other things, moving online. These decisions involve dozens of competing factors, not the least of which include how students are learning and the affordances and constraints of an institution’s history and traditions. The objective of studying these data should be to create knowledge that can be shared widely. The conclusions about the impact the institutions make should be grounded in data, not in the preconceived biases of those who have a stake in the outcome of the research.

The question is who will do this research?

Watching the debate about Carey’s provocative story unfold is one of the reasons that we’ve been calling for a new cross-disciplinary field of learning innovation.

This field would bring together the hands-on knowledge of online program creation with the perspectives, values and methods of scholarly research.

How might we begin to evolve the social media debate on the value of OPMs to a research question worthy of serious, sustained and peer-reviewed scholarship?

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Mary Meeker’s Digital Learning Slides

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Spending some time with the 2018 edition of Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends presentation should lead higher ed people to draw the following conclusions:

  1. Mary Meeker is not hanging out with instructional designers.
  2. Higher education is maybe less on Meeker’s mind than it is on ours.
  3. Money people want to talk more about lifelong learning than they want to talk about the future of higher education.

On conclusion No. 1, all that needs to be said is that Meeker gleefully violates all the guidelines that presenters are given for constructing their slides. As presenters, we are told that PowerPoint is a poor medium for information transmission. That dense materials with many data points do not lend themselves well to PowerPoint, or at least to presentations where PowerPoint is used. We are told that slides should drive emotional connections with a few big points or ideas that the audience will remember.

Well, maybe all that advice is wrong. Meeker creates perhaps the most important PowerPoint presentation of each year.

For conclusion No. 2, I can’t help but to feel a bit — well — left out. How is that we can spend all of our energy talking about higher education, only to have Mary Meeker not talk about higher education at all?

Why is it that higher education is more interested in Mary Meeker than she is in us?

Perhaps the answer comes down to the fact that Meeker is a venture capitalist. Higher education remains largely a nonprofit business. The ed-tech sector may be too small to catch Meeker’s attention.

Still, I’d argue that in not considering the role of the internet and mobile in how postsecondary education is changing that Meeker is missing one of the big technology stories of our time.

For conclusion No. 3, that Meeker is interested in lifelong learning, I think the best thing to do is to share all the slides on this topic.

Slide 232 introduces the topic:

Slide text says "Lifelong learning equals crucial in evolving work environment and tools getting better plus more accessible."

Here, Meeker’s big takeaway is that lifelong learning is critical for employers, and that the tools to continually retrain workers are improving.

Slide 233 is all about Coursera:

Slide text says, "Lifelong learning: 33 milion learners plus 30 percent (Coursera)" and lists some top courses, including Machine Learning at Stanford, Neural Networks and Deeper Learning at, and Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies at Princeton. Chart shows number of learners increasing from 10 million in 2014 to 33 million in 2017, and breaks down where learners are located: 30 percent in North America, 28 percent in Asia, 20 percent in Europe, 11 percent in South America and 5 percent in Africa.

Meeker highlights the growth in the Coursera installed learner base — which is now up to a truly impressive 33 million. The top courses for 2017 are also listed.

Here I wish that Meeker had included data from edX. Combining the edX numbers of 15 million learners with Coursera’s would have been impressive. I also think that Meeker could have integrated the open online learning story with the growth of online learning for degree programs. These two stories are intermingled in a way that is not very well understood.

In slide 234 Meeker shares some lifelong learning numbers from YouTube:

Slide text says, "Lifelong learning: educational content usage ramping fast (YouTube). 1 billion daily learning video views; 70 percent of viewers use platform to help solve work/school/hobby problems, 38 percent growth year over year for job search video views (e.g., resume-writing guides). Chart shows subscriber numbers from 2013 and 2018 for selected education channels: eight million in 2018 for Asap Science, slightly less for Crash Course, four million for Khan Academy.

I had no idea that YouTube got a billion daily views for learning videos. This slide also shows the impressive growth of platforms such as Khan Academy and TED-Ed between 2013 and 2018.

The story here, I think, is impact. Online video seems to be where the action is when it comes to just-in-time learning. What is interesting to me is that YouTube and other video platforms are not all that important, from an instructional standpoint, for colleges and universities. Online and mobile instructional video lives in a largely separate and distinct world from higher ed instruction. Why is that?

Slide 235 highlights what AT&T is doing for work-force training:

Slide text outlines AT&T's Workforce 2020/Future Ready programs: $  1 billion allocated for web-based employee training with partners Coursera, Udacity and universities; 2.9 million emerging tech courses completed by employees, including in cybersecurity and machine learning; 194,000 employees (77 percent of work force) actively engaged in retraining; 61 percent of promotions were received by retrained employees from 2016 to first quarter of 2018.

Meeker thinks that AT&T is the model for how companies should invest in a future-ready work force. The $ 1 billion that AT&T has allocated for employee training is truly impressive.

This slide makes me wonder if a wide enough array of colleges and universities are doing enough to partner with companies. I’d argue that we know how to do education. That Coursera and Udacity provide a commoditized platform, and that higher education knows about authentic learning.

Some schools, such as Arizona State University, are doing a great job in partnering with companies for lifetime employee education. At other schools, this work with companies happens mostly in business schools, and in executive education divisions.

It seems as if the opportunity for partnerships between higher ed and companies is much bigger than most of us realize.

Slide 236 presents data on how freelancers are upgrading their skills.

Slide text says "More than 50 percent of freelancers updated their skills within the past six months compared to 30 percent of nonfreelancers."

It is an interesting question of how universities can become more relevant to gig workers. How many of our graduates will be freelancers? And what lifelong education opportunities are we offering to them?

Here is the full deck of Meeker’s Internet Trends 2018.

Internet Trends Report 2018 from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

You should also check out Bryan Alexander’s excellent synthesis and commentary on the larger trends that Meeker discusses.

What are your takeaways?

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Are the Professions (Disciplines?) of Educational Developer and Learning Designer Merging?

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

I’d like to share what I think I know about the professions of education developer, instructional designer, and learning designer. Then I’d like to ask your help in figuring out where my understanding is incomplete, or just downright wrong.

My goal is not to provide a complete description of the work of educational developers, instructional designers, or learning designers. Rather, I’m trying to make sense of where these professional (disciplines) differ, and where they overlap. I’m also trying to figure out if it makes sense to hypothesize that these higher education roles are starting to merge — and in particular starting to merge in the work of learning designers.

Understanding the profession (or is it discipline?) of an educational developer is where I need the most help.  While I work in a Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), I have not yet been able to attend a Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education (POD) conference. POD is the professional association for educational developers.

The academic home for educational developers is usually (but not always) within a CTL. Educational developers collaborate with individual instructors, academic departments, and larger campus units on a range of teaching and learning activities. This work can involve working with individual faculty members in consultations around teaching or educational scholarship (consultations and consulting), or it may take the form of designing and leading workshops or other programming.

The range of activities that educational developers include in their portfolios is too large to fully enumerate. They work at every level of the institution (and cross-institutionally), on tasks ranging from course development and improvement (through design, assessment and research) to organizational development. Educational developers may work with future instructors (grad students and postdocs). They approach the work with a holistic orientation towards human development and organizational effectiveness.

Educational developers often, but now always, come to the work with either a terminal degree in the field, or from a traditional discipline based Ph.D. program. Most educational developers that I know both teach at the university level, and conduct original scholarly research on teaching and learning. Given their administrative, teaching and research roles, educational developers occupy a liminal position between faculty and staff.

This brief description of the work of an educational developer is no doubt incomplete. I would be interested in a similarly concise but more accurate description of the profession (discipline?) of educational developers.

My main question is where and how educational developers overlap and differ from instructional designers, and if the professions (disciplines?) are coming together in the profession (discipline?) of learning designers?

The work of instructional designers shares many aspects of that of educational developers, but with many key differences. Instructional designers often work in CTL’s, but they are still more likely to be found outside of the Center for Teaching and Learning.

While instructional designers may attend POD, POD is not their primary professional association. (In fact, it is not clear to me that instructional designers have a professional association — at least one that accredits and recognizes graduate training programs and credentials).

When I think of of the work of instructional designers, I mostly think about the integration of learning theory and course/program design. Instructional designers are fluent in leveraging educational technologies to align with the research on learning, and in support of the educational goals of the instructors in which they collaborate.

Instructional designers translate well-established methods and frameworks for learning, such as backwards course design and the use of learning objectives, into course design. This collaborative course design work often, but not always, is implemented in blended or online courses — and therefore is mediated by technology.

Where educational developers work almost exclusively for educational institutions (and within higher education), instructional designers can be found wherever teaching or training may occur. Until recently, it may be the case that most instructional designers worked outside of academe (is this true?), designing face-to-face and online training materials and experiences in corporate, government, and other settings.

The growth of online learning in the past 20 years has been accompanied by a commensurate growth in the number of instructional designers on our campuses. Nowadays, instructional designers are part of the normal fabric of university life. They work on residential, blended, low-residency and full online degree and non-degree programs. They can speak as authoritatively about both Bloom’s taxonomy and the ADDIE framework, as well as about the latest developments in adaptive learning platforms, classroom response system, lecture capture technologies, and learning management systems (LMS).

A trend that I’ve observed across higher education, and one that is certainly present at my institution, is for the title of instructional designer to evolve into that of a learning designer.

A learning designer seems to do everything that an instructional designer does, save for somewhat less emphasis on managing and supporting educational technology platforms. The emphasis is squarely on learning. 

Technologies such as the LMS, simulations and adaptive learning platforms remain important tools — but their use is analogous to how a social scientist might use a statistical package for their research. They are only tools. (Professionals with titles such as “educational technologist” are now taking over the selection, management, support and training for learning technology platforms — although learning designers are certainly still closely involved in this work).

Where I’ve observed learning designers more closely resemble educational developers is with the professions (disciplines?) greater focus on departmental / school / and organizational development.  Learning designers are increasingly working across the institution (and cross-institutionally) to advance student learning.

Learning designers are also engaged in their own teaching (as opposed to only collaborating with teaching instructors), and in creating original research. Like educational developers, they not only read the SoTL literature, they are contributing to it.

My sense is that learning designers remain more likely to work in digital environments — on blended and low-residency and online courses and programs — than are educational developers. That technology remains more at the heart of the culture of the learning design profession than it is of educational developers. But I’m not totally sure this is right.

Throughout this post I’ve written profession, followed by discipline with a question mark. The reason I’m doing this is that I’m unclear if educational developers are part of an educational development academic discipline. And I’m not sure if the field of learning design is coalescing into an academic discipline. One that offers a consistent method of advanced training and accreditation, grounded in well understood and generally recognized theoretical frameworks, and which is unified by a commonly accepted set of methodological tools and frameworks.

I know that educational developers get Ph.D.s in their fields, I’m not sure if learning designers do?

Might we see a merging of the work, profession and discipline of educational developers and learning designers?

Are we seeing the profession of instructional design forking into educational technologist on side, and the academic discipline of learning design on the other? And if so, how much does this learning design discipline overlap with that of the educational developers?

Is there a sociology of the postsecondary learning professions?

Do you consider yourself an educational developer, and instructional designers, or a learning designer? (Or all 3?).

What was your path to your academic discipline/profession?

How has your role changed at your institution during the past few years?

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Where do digital learning innovation evangelists gather?

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

There is a new sort of gig in higher ed: the digital learning innovation evangelist.

Who are these people? What do they do? Are their jobs really different from leadership roles that have come before? What is their professional home? What is their professional association? And where do they gather?

These are all good questions.

One place where I’ll be trying to get some answers is this summer’s SOLA+R: Summit for Online Leadership and Administration + Roundtable.

This University Professional and Continuing Education Association event brings together folks who are thinking about digital and online learning through an institutional lens.

I’ve gotten involved in UPCEA through my work as an (unpaid) fellow for the association’s National Council for Online Education.

Where does this convening fit in with other meetings for digital/online learning evangelists? I’d classify SOLA+R as a convening that is similar to HAIL Storm (Harvesting Academic Innovation for Learners), in that the event brings together a relatively small number of digital learning innovators to share knowledge and resources and ideas.

Unlike HAIL, which is purely a grassroots effort, SOLA+R is under a larger professional organization umbrella — UPCEA.

The reason that I’m excited about participating in SOLA+R is that I’m looking for a community of practice that recognizes online learning as a powerful lever for organizational change.

Over the past few years many colleges and universities have created these sorts of roles. They go by different names. Sometimes the position is a dean, provost or a director for digital learning innovation.

Other times the role of institutional digital learning evangelist falls to leaders in online and continuing education programs. Sometimes, the push for digital learning innovation comes from units such as academic computing or centers for teaching and learning (CTLs).

While those serving in digital learning innovation roles have different titles and different job responsibilities, they do have some things in common. Mostly, this is a community that is impatient with incremental improvements in postsecondary learning, issues of access, or business models.

This is a community that looks at digital and online learning as a means, rather than as ends. The ultimate goal is not to create more online programs or digitally enhanced blended courses — although those are good — but rather to drive big changes in the way universities fulfill their mission within a rapidly changing knowledge economy.

These big changes may be about bringing quality higher education to scale, shifting the economics of both learning and credentialing from scarcity to abundance.

Or these big changes may mean leveraging the methods of online learning, such backwards course design and partnerships with learning designers, to dramatically improve learning at traditional residential institutions.

Others who work as digital learning evangelists look at digital and online education as an opportunity to improve the resilience and long-term economic viability of the institutions in which they work.

What all the folks working in the digital learning innovation evangelist role need are communities of practice, colleagues and support/resources to do their jobs (our jobs) more effectively.

The June SOLA+R convening will be an important nexus for discussions at the intersection of digital/online learning and organizational change. UPCEA’s National Council for Online Education is dedicated to convening and supporting this emerging community of practice.

One of the advantages that I’ve found in my work with UPCEA is the associations focus on federal and state policy. It is difficult for those of us outside of the Beltway to understand how policy is made that impacts our world of digital and online learning — much less how to have any impact on the process. I expect that the role of government and online learning will be a big focus at the SOLA+R D.C. gathering.

From what I understand, there is still some space available at the June 18-20 SOLA+R convening in Washington. (Although space will not remain open for long, as this is an intimate and intense gathering).

It will be interesting to see if other professional organizations in our space carve out smaller and more focused convenings/organizations to bring together digital learning innovation evangelists.

Can anyone share what is going on with OLC, Educause, WCET or others in this space?

If you, like me, are searching for your people at the intersection of digital/online learning and organizational change then I hope to see you at SOLA+R this summer in D.C.

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