Week 2  focused on the relationship between context and learning design. It was introduced by Rose Luckin, and facilitated by Joshua Underwood, Yishay Mor and Katerina Avramides.

OLDSMOOC Facilitation

My hat goes off to the facilitators. A number of things stand out for me:

  • their superb daily summaries, without which, given that I am simply ‘observing’ this MOOC, I would not have been able to follow. It would be interesting to have a discussion about 1) their strategies for summarizing from such the hugely diverse resources generated by the MOOC – I’m sure we could learn a lot from them 2) the wisdom of going down the provision of daily summaries route in a MOOC… which leads to my next point
  • the hours of work they have put in. Josh Underwood highlighted a post by a Chris Basson  – saying he was exhausted – but I thought Josh himself looked exhausted in the Tuesday Google Hangout. I have noted that the design of the course (like many other MOOCs and online courses) doesn’t allow for any days off. There is something programmed for 7 days of the week, although the weekend activities are lumped together. I wonder if this pattern of expecting people to participate in what is effectively CPD work in their own time is the best way forward for quality learning
  • their subject knowledge and expertise
  • their openness to new ideas, different ways of working and even criticism. They have not sanitized the summaries and talk freely of the challenges they face in the Google Hangouts. Very impressive.

Week 2 content

Questions for the week were

  • What is learner context?  How to characterise it
  • How do learners’ contexts affect the ways they interpret and enact learning designs?
  • How can we use context in learning design?
  • How can we personalise designs to individual learner’s needs and contexts?

Participants were asked to use scenarios , personas , forcemaps and the Ecology of Resources  to consider how the designer’s context impacts on the learner’s context and how we can sensitize ourselves to important aspects of context. Do any of these methods provide new insights into learner design? Evidently Josh did not use personas, but did use the Ecology of Resources Framework in designing Week 2 for OLDS MOOC, but Yishay did use force-maps, personas and scenarios. How does the fact that in a MOOC it’s difficult to anticipate who the audience might be, impact on this?


Concerns about Cloudworks continue, although committed participants appear to have found ways of managing. The platform is thought to be very hard to navigate and a participant in the Google Hangout commented that ‘Cloudworks as a structure is falling over’.

From the facilitator perspective, Cloudworks is thought to be an excellent platform for sharing resources as OERs and for commenting on these resources (assuming you can find them), but has limitations and in this MOOC is definitely being stretched to a scale which hasn’t been used before.

One participant feels that Cloudworks is not sufficiently social. She can’t see people helping each other enough or feel a stream of conversation. She finds it a lonely place in need of some social glue. Some think this might be due to discussion being too distributed across the web. It was suggested that we approach the MOOC in the same way as attending a big conference, i.e. be selective about what to attend and who to connect with. And it was nice to see that one participant who appeared to feel isolated in Week 1 and was finding it difficult to form a team , seems to have made connections in Week 2

Some other interesting outcomes

  • A different approach to scenario creation – by Penny Bentley  (Click on the link to see the Slide Presentation) – But I did note that she has copyrighted her slides and this has made me wonder about the copyright implications of all the work that is being done in this MOOC.
  • Great thoughts about context by George Hobson –  In particular he writes – ‘There is a lot that we take for granted in schools. Context is one of them”. I wonder if this is true – or is it simply that after many years of teaching, context is integral to everything we do. Does that necessarily mean we take it for granted.
  • Finally I noted that David Jennings – whose original design intention interested me –  has had to change tack due to life circumstances overtaking him – see David Jennings Review of Week 2  –  I wonder how many other people this has happened to. I suspect that those who have a project that is directly related to their daily work will find it easier to see this course through to the end.

Week 3   is already half way through. Led by Gráinne Conole and co-facilitated by Rebecca Galley it is intended to introduce a range of representations that will help participant to conceptualise, share and critique their initial designs.


There is lots of evidence that there was plenty of activity in Week 1. There is even evidence that participants who really dislike Cloudworks are hanging on in there!

I am observing OLDSMOOC rather than participating. From my perspective, it seems that quite a bit was achieved in the first week.

  • There were plenty of project proposals posted to the Dream Bazaar and evidence of groups forming and projects being started.

Also interesting this week was the Google Hangout meeting.

OLDSMOOC Week 1 Google Hangout

I watched the recording . I had wondered how they were going to manage this given that I think only a very limited number of people can attend a Google Hangout (10?).  In the event only one participant joined the event in Google Hangout. Others participated by posting questions to Twitter. Was this sufficient to help people feel connected to the course?

Comments that I noted from the Hangout recording were:

  • OLDSMOOC assumes a high level of connectivity and technical competence. Was this stated in the initial ‘blurb’. I’ll have to go back and check.
  • More needs to be done to understand what we mean by accessibility when learning in MOOCs. It’s obviously more than, for example, being able to access Cloudworks
  • What are the constraints of designing for an invisible audience? I wonder how many of the project designs will tackle this problem.
  • A vibrant community is forming in OLDSMOOC despite the difficulties people are having with the distributed platforms. Its interesting to reflect on what it is that is motivating people.
  • Finding a project team is recognised as a challenge.  I’m not sure that the default position of – if you can’t find a team you can work on your own – will satisfy those that can’t. I wonder what could have been done to support this process – or whether it is necessary to support this process. Should we simply accept that MOOCs are ‘sink or swim’ environments?
  • It’s accepted that some participants (like me) will be dipping in and out, but those working on a project (particularly if in a team) will have an incentive to stay the course. There seem to be enough people diving in and getting their hands dirty to allow many to simply put their toes in the water and project leaders seems to be emerging. Again, its interesting to reflect about the design characteristics of OLDSMOOC that are enabling this process.
  • It’s the job of the facilitators to put people in touch with each other. I’m wondering how much this has been done and whether its even realistic in a MOOC.
  • There seems to be a slow recognition that many skills are required for participation in a MOOC and that group formation is a messy process. Perhaps more mentors are needed. How do we design for messy learning?
  • There is a tension between a nicely designed experience and the mess of reality, but the more structured the process the less democratic.

I liked the honesty with which the OLDSMOOC conveners discussed the challenges they are facing and once again I really appreciate the daily summaries – see Announcements to catch up.

Week 2 which is already underway is being led by Josh Underwood and is focussing on the influence of context on learning design.


Despite the launch hiccup, OLDSMOOC  appears to be off to a flying start. There is a lot of activity in the Google group discussion forums and on Cloudworks.

These are the links I have so far gathered:

OLDSMOOC HOMEhttps://sites.google.com/a/olds.ac.uk/oldsmooc/home 

These are my observations so far.

This MOOC requires significant navigation skills, because discussion is widely distributed. There is plenty of help on how to navigate if you can find it.

The daily summaries are very helpful, but must require so much work. The team must already be exhausted – either that or they have a lot of people working on this MOOC to distribute the load, which of course raises the investment cost.

These summaries remind participants on a daily basis what they need to do, should be doing, and where they should be doing it and urges them to do it right, for example, to post in the right place etc.

A lot of participants are fully engaged and have completed the ‘dream bazaar’ activity – where participants are asked to

‘Describe a learning situation you are involved in, a change you would like to see in that situation, and how you think you can bring about that change.’

The next stage is for people to team up and work on design projects together, which might be difficult for those who have entered the MOOC as individuals rather than as a team, or alongside colleagues. As Helen Whitehead (@helenwhd) has tweeted:

No idea how to “form a team” in #oldsmooc. Feels like choosing sports teams at school! Be the one left over, lol

All this leaves me with a couple of questions

  1. Does this MOOC need the amount of prescription that is a significant part of its design?

Diana Laurillard has commented on my last blog post

‘….the basic MOOC is ok for CPD, but still needs some good learning design. It’s not really enough to say ‘here are the concepts, now go and discuss among yourselves’. I’ve just experienced a MOOC a bit like that, and it’s just not enough.’

And she distinguishes between ‘professional’ and ‘student’ MOOCs

‘an important distinction could be between the ‘professional’ MOOC and the ‘student’ MOOC. The former requires facilitation and can be lighter on design, but the latter definitely needs design as well as facilitation. The former is a good model for CPD, the latter would be more like an undergraduate course (which then needs an awful lot more learning design than the basic MOOC usually provides).

For me, it’s not a question of professional or student. My understanding of MOOCs (cMOOCs) is still that they are intended to exemplify the principles of autonomy, diversity, openness and connectedness/interaction. Diversity means amongst other things, a mix of novices and experts (professionals and students) who learn from each other.

A cMOOC (or the original intention of cMOOCs) is about a personal learning journey – not about a required/intended/desired outcome – and in that sense I am interested to see the extent to which this highly structured MOOC, with a clear requirement for an intended outcome (a project design), supports personal learning journeys.

2. Which leads, community or curriculum – in this MOOC?

For me at the moment it feels like the curriculum is leading, in the sense that the ‘course’ is highly structured and this structure is very much in the control of the MOOC designers. It will be interesting to see how it develops as participants start working on their projects. If the MOOC is successful in facilitating the formation of teams, I suspect that that is where the negotiation of learning will happen and where the community will begin to lead.

These questions are of interest to me in relation to my work on emergent learning with Roy Williams and Simone Gumtau. See Footprints of Emergence for a discussion of emergence and prescribed learning if you are interested – and anyone is welcome to join our wiki  for further information and sharing of thinking/ideas.

Finally, a question that I am mulling over at the moment, and I don’t think anyone has discussed so far in this MOOC, but I have certainly not read everything, is

What is the difference between learning design and planning for learning?

I have spent many hours in my teaching career planning for learning, at macro and micro levels, but I have never thought of myself as a learning designer.


OLDSMOOC was launched today and as you would sort of expect, Cloudworks crashed under the load of people attempting to join the event. I was fortunate. I got in early enough to be one of the 100 people who could view the OU hosted event – but those arriving later, or trying to get in via Youtube or Cloudworks were disappointed. Much frustration was vented on Twitter, which the OLDSMOOC team, to their credit, did their best to contain.

It’s worth noting though that this is not the first MOOC to start in this fashion. Change11 was the same and that turned out to be a very worthwhile MOOC from my perspective. So it is early days for OLDSMOOC, although I do wonder why they have gone for such a complex and prescriptive design. We now know from other connectivist MOOCs that simplicity is the key to MOOC design – or at least apparent simplicity for the participant, which is not easy to achieve. I know from experience with FSLT12 that it is certainly not simple from the designer’s perspective – and of course the more people you get signing up, the greater the risk of the system crashing. So hats off to Stephen Downes and George Siemens for managing more than 2000 participants in the first connectivist MOOC in 2008 (CCK08), when they didn’t even anticipate the numbers who attended. An amazing achievement looking back on it.

The OLDSMOOC Launch was presented by Yishay Mor – who spoke to this Prezi presentation http://prezi.com/b44jwdgvs8nl/olds-mooc-introduction/

OLDSMOOC is thought by the conveners to be different because it is a project-based MOOC. The intention is that participants will work together in groups to produce a learning/curriculum design.

This of course raises questions such as What is curriculum? What is learning? What is design? and the presentation took us through various definitions of design. Perhaps the most recent definition of design quoted was from Grainne Conole’s forthcoming book:


And another recent definition from Mor and Craft

Mor and Craft

A point worth noting for our US colleagues is that learning design is considered to involve different thought processes to instructional design, which is thought to be a more linear process. (09-01-13 See Update from Yishay Mor at the end of this post)

According to Diana Laurillard teaching should be seen as a design science….


…..which prompted George Roberts on Twitter to ask the question

What is a “scientist” in the sense used in ‘learning as a “design science”‘ by @yishaym in #oldsmooc launch? Broad, narrow, or commonsense?

There was only one comment made in the presentation that I felt I could strongly resonate with and that was by Yishay Mor when he said

‘Design practice helps teachers share their practice’

This makes sense to me in terms of the work I have been doing with Roy Williams and Simone Gumtau on emergent learning, where we believe that drawing footprints to describe the relationship between prescribed and emergent learning in any given course, helps to raise awareness of learning issues and establish a dialogue around those issues. For further information see Footprints of Emergence.

I will probably not be working on a project for OLDSMOOC. My interest in curriculum design at the moment is related to prescribed, emergent and embodied learning – perhaps there is some overlap, but I think we (i.e. Roy, Simone and I) are probably coming at curriculum design from an alternative perspective…….but I will be following OLDSMOOC from the sidelines and am interested to see how it works out in terms of its own design intentions as a MOOC.


090113 Re Instructional design – this is a message from Yishay Mor via Twitter

Hi @jennymackness, I actually claimed that #instrcutionaldesign is more linear, and #learningdesign more messy / iterative #oldsmooc

Emergent learning: the designer’s role, the learner’s experience

Discussions about our recently published paper, Footprints of Emergence,  continue, particularly with respect to the relationship between curriculum design intentions and the learner experience.

We have been discussing the paper with the CPsquare community, a group of academic colleagues from FH JOANNEUM, ZML-Innovative Learning Scenarios  and others. These discussions are ongoing and we share our current thinking on this wiki . Anyone who is interested in Footprints of Emergence is welcome to join.

The following points in our recent discussions have caught my attention:

Our experience (i.e. the authors of Footprints of Emergence) is that drawing a footprint from the design perspective and from the learner experience perspective can result in very different images for the same course. This raises the question of whether designer intentions and learner experience can be aligned.

If they can’t, then to what extent can the learner experience be validated by anyone other than the learner?

At this point I need to explain that the learner experience in terms of ‘identity’ development, is for me what learning is all about, but whether or not this can or should be ‘assessed’ is another question.

I can’t see that the curriculum/course/learning environment designer will ever be able to ‘control’ the learner experience, however prescribed the curriculum or however heavily assessed. So what then is the designer’s role?

A number of teachers talk and write about the need to first ‘create the space’ in which the learner can grow and develop their identities, and then facilitate learning within that space. If this is true and learners need ‘space’, why do we still see the design of heavily prescribed, content heavy courses? In addition, online learners seem to need and take/create more space than f2f learners, i.e. contemplative learning space. What does the need for ‘space’ mean for the design of blended learning, integrated online and f2f learning, and a prescribed curriculum?

Another point that keeps cropping up in discussion is the extent to which learners need to be pushed out of their ‘comfort zone’ to promote significant learning – possibly through providing a non-prescriptive, less structured learning environment. At what point does the learning environment become so chaotic and ‘unsafe’ that learning is compromised/jeopardized?

Should we expect learners bend to fit the curriculum/learning design or should the learning design bend to fit the learner? This is a difficult question if you don’t know who your learners are going to be, e.g. in MOOCs.

So finally, at what point is a mismatch between design intentions and learner experience constructive and at what point is it destructive and how might this affect emergent learning?

OLDS MOOC Learning Design for a 21st Century Curriculum

OLDS MOOC   is due to start in January 2013.

The course has been funded by JISC as part of a benefits realisation programme and is intended to build on the success of the Open University Learning Design Initiative (OULDI) and other JISC funded curriculum design and delivery projects.

I am struck by how very prescriptive this MOOC seems to be – a far cry from CCK08, for example.

On the page about how OLDS MOOC works and where it is described as ‘semi-structured’  even ‘Your Space’ appears to be prescribed and on this page where Week 1 is described , we are told that…

During this week, committed participants will also initiate their own learning or curriculum design project in their domain of practice.

…. and then given activities  for each day.


You can complete this MOOC on your own, but we believe your experience will be much more fruitful if you have some friends for the journey. We strongly encourage you to form a local study circle. This could be based on your project team, a group of participants in your institution, or participants you identify as having similar interests or living nearby. You can use services such as http://www.meetup.com/ to set up your local study circle. Please list your circle at: http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloudscape/view/2456 (or join an existing one).

The course  is structured to reflect a proposed process for design, and combines a number of design thinking methodologies (see http://www.ld-grid.org/resources/methods-and-methodologies/ideo-toolkit and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design_thinking), inquiry learning (see http://www.pi-project.ac.uk/) and educational design research (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design-based_research).

My interest in Learning Design for a 21st Century Curriculum is from the perspective of ‘open’ learning environments and emergent learning (see Publications on Emergent Learning).

The question for me in relation to what I have read so far about OLDS MOOC is just how much prescription is needed to facilitate emergent learning, or indeed, any learning.