Data, personal learning and learning analytics

This week’s topic for Stephen Downes’ E-Learning 3.0 MOOC is Data.   From the synopsis that Stephen provides for the week we read that…

…. there are two conceptual challenges associated with this topic: first, the shift in our understanding of content from documents to data; and second, the shift in our understanding of data from centralized to decentralized.

The first shift allows us to think of content – and hence, our knowledge – as dynamic, as being updated and adapted in the light of changes and events. The second allows us to think of data – and hence, of our record of that knowledge – as distributed, as being copied and shared and circulated as and when needed around the world.

To try and make sense of this topic I have watched three videos this week.

Personal Learning vs Personalized Learning: What Needs to Happen Oct 24, 2018 Online Learning 2018, Toronto, Ontario, Contact North. This special briefing explores personal learning as the future of learning, explores why it’s important, the tools which enable personal learning and the significant potential of personal learning as a key to life-long learning and the skills agenda. URL:

This was the video that most resonated with me and related most to my personal interests. What I like about Stephen’s work is that he doesn’t forget to ask the question ‘why’, i.e. the ‘why’ of learning analytics for learners, rather than just the ‘what’ and ‘how’. In this video Stephen tells us that there are two approaches to learning, personalized (formal learning, which accounts for about 20% of our learning) and personal (informal learning, which accounts for the rest). This slide (7) from his presentation ( ) provides a clear overview of the differences.

Stephen then considered how we can support an approach which promotes personal learning through discussion of three major themes: choice, ownership and community. In this video Stephen says of learning analytics that it should be for learners so that they can track and understand their own progress. This would mean, in terms of the three major themes, that we can choose what to work on (create our own learning paths), where to store our data and what data to store; that we own all our data and have control over how it is used; and that we are free to work openly and create our own learning communities with whom we can share our data and from whom we draw support. Learning analytics will help us to keep track of our data (which will be distributed over various locations on the web) and self-monitor our personal progress. Personalized learning, whilst still useful and necessary in certain contexts, does not allow for the autonomy necessary for personal learning. The big question raised by Stephen was ‘how can we make this happen?’ i.e. how can personal learning be promoted and recognised in today’s education contexts.

AI in Education Symposium – Introduction: Oct 24, 2018 Artificial Intelligence and 21st Century Education in Ottawa, my brief introduction and posing of a problem. URL:

In this 6-minute video, Stephen introduces the AI in Education Symposium in Toronto. He asks can AI solve the problems of society, since society has now become too complex for its problems to be solved by a few elite, privileged groups? He says that as society gets more complex it becomes increasingly difficult to govern. In the future we will need to teach each other and govern ourselves as a society. We will have to move from a society based on identity, nationalism, religion and language to a society based on consensus and collaborative decision making. The question posed was – Does AI offer us lessons into how to do this? I can see how this is related to the themes developed in the ‘Personal Learning vs Personalized Learning: What Needs to Happen’ video.

Conversation with Shelly Blake-Plock Oct 24, 2018 Week 1 of E-Learning 3.0 with Shelly Blake-Plock, Co-Founder, President and CEO – Yet Analytics. URL:

This third video was the E-Learning 3.0 MOOC course video for the week. In this conversation Shelly Blake-Plock described his work in Yet Analytics, a company which focusses exclusively on learning analytics and works with the K-12, corporate and military sectors in the US, to help improve learning content and instruction, and improve the management of data. The system they have developed for tracking learning experiences and performance is known as Experience API (xAPI). Shelly claimed that this system goes beyond how a traditional LMS is able to analyse content and activity. xAPI is able to pull data from the physical world (sensors etc.), mobile devices, games, etc. This data is stored in a secure Learning Record Store, which can then provide automated data visualisations to support learners in understanding their progress.

In watching this third video, it seemed to me that there is a mismatch between Stephen’s aspirations for learner autonomy and the learning analytics systems being developed by Yet Analytics. Questions that were asked by Stephen and others on the course, were:

  • How would this work with distributed data (remembering that distributed data allows for choice, ownership and community, as well greater security)?
  • Who owns the data/records?
  • What are the ethical implications of these developments?
  • What are the privacy and governance issues?
  • How will the data tell us what learners have learned/understood, as opposed to what they have ‘done’, in terms of number of views, clicks on documents etc.

These are important questions for Yet Analytics to answer if they are really going to provide a system that goes well beyond what a traditional LMS can do and recognises a ‘personal’ learning approach to education.

Finally, as a result of watching these videos and thinking about learning analytics this week, I have wondered what might be the implications of measuring and monitoring everything we do. Is there a danger that it could be taken to excess, such that we treat our bodies like machines, become super-competitive, self-centred and self-absorbed?

Update 31-10-2018

Shelly Blake-Plock has pointed out that there are some errors in what I have written about his work, and has responded to the questions listed above. Please see his comment below.

Related blog posts

There have been some interesting posts from other course participants related to all this. See for example:

Geoff Cain – Week 0: Seimens and Downes on AI –

Roland Legrand – An Experience API for learning everywhere (also in virtual worlds) –

Matthias Melcher – #EL30 Alien Intelligence AI –

Laura Ritchie – #el30 Notes Week 1 –

#NRC01PL Personal Learning MOOC Week 3

personal learning

There have been a few interesting goings on in the open ‘Personal Learning Conversation’ that Stephen Downes is running. I don’t get the sense that this is a MOOC, i.e. I don’t see a lot of evidence of more than 150 people being actively engaged, but there could be a lot going on behind the scenes that I am not aware of, and since I haven’t been very active myself, there could be a lot going on visibly that I am not aware of.

The Open EdX site went down at the beginning of the week, which I haven’t missed and nicely makes the case for distributed learning and learners having a distributed personal learning network to call on. But I wonder how many people who signed up were relying solely on the EdX site for interaction and resources and I wonder what the impact of the EdX site going down has been on the numbers of people following the ‘conversation’. I think it is fairly well established now that what might start as a MOOC often ends up as a small group. Unfortunately diversity, one of the key principles of the original cMOOCs is then lost.

But for me – it’s all fine, because at the moment I can’t devote my full attention to the course, so I am more of a ‘window shopper’ and ‘sampler’ – two of the labels which have been used to define MOOC groups by some researchers.

Most interesting for me this week have been two videos by Stephen and an aggregation tool that is new to me that is being used by Vanessa Vaile and Matthias Melcher. See for Matthias and for Vanessa.

The video that I most enjoyed from Stephen was not created for this course, but for a talk that he was giving in Istanbul bearing the title The Future of educational media

In this he responded to Contact North’s ideas about the Future of Online Learning, expanding on the ideas and saying where he agreed and disagreed.

A 2016 Look at the Future of Online Learning – Part 1

These ideas related to

  • Machine learning and artificial intelligence
  • Handheld and mobile computing
  • Learning Analytics
  • Internet of things
  • Games – simulations and virtual reality
  • Translation and collaborative technology

Stephen said that his own ideas about the Future of Educational Media are based on his own ‘inflexible law of learning’ , which he explains as

‘We have to do things to learn. We can do things now with the internet that we could not before. It’s when we do stuff that we learn, not when stuff does something for us’.

These statements form the foundation of his ideas about personal and personalized learning. In personalized learning something is done for you, you are given the content. In personal learning you do something for yourself, learning is driven by what the learner wants and needs. Here is a really good slide explaining the difference.

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 16.56.38

Source of image – Slide 14

In terms of this view of personal learning, learning becomes context sensitive to me, my needs and interests. I want to be there. I am free to leave if I wish. Assessment will then be a recognition process not a standards-based process. We will be recognised for our performance.

There was a lot more in the talk, which I don’t have time to go into here, but one final important take away for me that really resonates with my own thinking was:

Learning happens in the cracks between everything else that is going on in formal education systems, so we have to make sure that those cracks/spaces are there.

The second video that I enjoyed was The MOOC Ecosystem in which Stephen takes us from meso to macro and back to micro views of the MOOC ecosystem. I think I have seen this video, or something like it presented before, but it was good to be reminded of it.

Final Note: In the absence of the Open EdX site Fredrik Graver  has set us a Google+ group –

which is a great help in following what is going on

– and of course there is Twitter #NRC01PL 

#NRC01PL Personal Learning MOOC Week 1

personal learning

I have registered for Stephen Downes’ 7 week Personal Learning MOOC – Here is the text, advertising the course, from the first part of Stephen Downes’ Half an Hour blog.

This course explores the topic of learning in three ways: first, through an examination of research and development issues related to the topic; second, through interaction with a personal learning environment (specifically: LPSS) to take the course; and third, through activities supporting the development of a personal learning environment at a conceptual level.

Course objectives: participants will develop an appreciation of different models of online course delivery, ranging from the traditional LMS through connectivist MOOCs to potential future models of personal learning and performance support.

Course environment: NRC01 Personal Learning will be delivered using OpenEdX and will include text-based content, videos, discussion, and exercises. Participants will be also invited to explore additional learning environments, including the gRSShopper, and Arke prototypes developed by NRC. In addition, participants will be encouraged to explore and work in online environments related to the topics covered in the course and report their findings in the discussion area or their own website. Participants may also be subscribed to a daily newsletter for the duration of the course.

Course Tag: #NRC01PL

Course Registration:

Week 1 is coming to a close and has been simply an introduction to the EdX environment. This is the first time I have participated in an EdX course. We have been asked to comment on the environment in terms of ease of use. Yes, it is easy to use, but I did need Stephen’s video to ‘open my eyes’ to a few things. I am not interested in technology for technology’s sake, so I don’t naturally click every button to find out what’s what. For me, a short video pointing me in the right direction always helps. So for example, I ignored the tab ‘Courseware’ because it sounds like ‘software’ and I incorrectly thought ‘that’s not for me’. But in fact the Courseware tab is where the course content is – including the video (a further layer down), whereas I was expecting it to be in Course Info and was wondering where the course content was. I wasn’t worried, because I have participated in enough online learning and MOOCs to know that I would find it on Twitter or via the Daily Newsletter, or via a participant.

I think if I had designed the site I might have had a Home page link above the Week 1 ‘Learning through Practice’ link and had the video there and immediately visible. I would also have the links in a different colour, so that they can be easily identified as live links – but that’s just me.

Otherwise the site is very easy. Some people have questioned the day by day drip feed approach, but it’s fine by me. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly I get a sense of feeling overwhelmed. I haven’t even managed to watch the three videos mentioned on OLDaily yet . Here are the links below.

Beyond Instructional Design: Open Spaces and Learning Places

The MOOC Ecosystem

Design Elements in a Personal Learning Environment

….. or read the recommended article

Downes, S. (2001) Learning Objects: Resources for distance education worldwide. 2(1) IRRODL

although I have read Stephen’s helpful blog post – Personal and Personalized Learning

There are just not enough hours in the day at the moment. But again, I am not worried about this and I’m certainly not rushing around from city to city like Stephen himself is doing. I’ll just pick and choose, as and when. I know that this MOOC is really for research purposes (the first survey has already been conducted and the results posted Personal Learning MOOC Survey 1) but my interest is to see what I can learn about recent developments in how learners experience and manage their own online learning spaces. I’m not sure how active I’ll be, but I’ll be tagging along.

One final thing about the Edx Environment – and this is a personal observation. Although it’s very straightforward to use, I found myself immediately wanting some more colour, i.e. I wanted it to be more aesthetically pleasing. Perhaps we’re not supposed to be attracted to it, and we’ll be encouraged to move somewhere else. Time will tell!