Stephen Downes: The MOOC of One: Personal Learning Technologies



thank you it's a pleasure to be here today in Valencia thank you for the invitation and thank all of you for taking time out of your busy schedules to attend my talk today and I'm challenged by the talk that just preceded this talk isn't anything lights that talk I want to talk about the MOOC of one what I mean by that is I want to talk about the development of the MOOC or the massive open online course I'm one of the people who designed the concept originally in 2008 I want to explain myself so that you know what we did and why we did it and I want to lead into a discussion of what will follow what the next-generation technology will be to follow after the move but I want to do a bit more than that I want to begin this conference challenging you to rethink some of your perceptions about what it is to teach what it is that an education is supposed to provide we have this picture in our mind that an education is to shape or transform or in some way make somebody something whether that somebody be a doctor whether that somebody be a responsible member of society whether that somebody be employed or an entrepreneur and I want to begin by asking the question what does it mean to be one person what does it mean to be say Valencian what does it mean to be a doctor we have this intuitive idea that we think we understand when we begin to educate someone we're gonna make somebody a doctor but what does that mean I'm not sure we even know and a major part of the reason we developed the MOOC is to challenge our thinking around some of these ideas in the traditional course and that includes the traditional online course as well as the traditional offline course in traditional education and pop talked about it as well we have this idea that there is the authority at the center who will throw content at you lots of content piles of books piles of video and hope some of it stick sticks and even the Moops the mass of open online courses that have followed the MOOCs that were developed by george siemens and myself the course is offered by Kahn economy Coursera Udacity udemy and arrest these are all based on the idea of some body of content well let me ask now is being one being the same that's kind of a hard question it's not even clear what I mean when I ask that well let's take doctors is being a doctor does that mean having exactly the same knowledge as every other doctor well know pop told us quite reasonably different people work in different contexts if they all had the same knowledge they might be useful in one place perhaps New York City General Hospital but not useful in another place like Moncton General Hospital where I live to context to ideas of doctor just throwing content at people cannot be sufficient to create doctors it's the same with being a Valencian or being a Pinetree or being anything else right it's not just being the same thing is everybody in Valencia the same well I walked all around the city yesterday I can tell you they are not so what is it to be a Valencian think about that if we're trying to promote cultural awareness say what does that mean do you have everybody memorized the Valencia song well no so George Siemens and I created the mood the massive open online course to challenge some of these ideas people often ask us well what do you mean by MOOCs and we said well massive open online course and they said well no what do you mean by MOOC what I mean is massive not massive in the sense that we send over we reach a thousand ten thousand a million people anything can be massive in that way seaweed is massive in that way what I mean is massive by design massive in the sense that it can continue to scale without losing its essential shape in in a typical course the more you scale the more you begin to depend on the central professor and the more elevated the central professor gets and at some point you have this icon figure at the front of the room talking to all of the masses and that become something very different from education where it was just you and your friends figuring out how to put a truck together education changes typical education changes when you make it NASA fight we wanted to design a system that could scale without changing the nature of learning open by open we man free gratis for our set and Libre free as in beer free as an open free as in the doors aren't closed free as in you can do what you want with it buy online we met online and the reason why we mint online is because we understood that if we required somebody to actually physically attend our classroom that people in Africa and people in India and people in Europe would not be able to take our course and we wanted them to and in courses sort of an odd thing but of course is something really very simple courses something that begins something that ends something that has a topic and that's about it you might ask well why courses why not communities video collections whatever we wanted to have something small that you can involve yourself in without committing yourself to for the rest of your life you know you join the community you're stuck with it with a course you have the happy knowledge that eventually this course will land and you're out of it so this is what our massive open online course looks like our massive open online course has a little website in the middle but mostly what the massive open online course is about is the set of interactions between the participants and what we've done very deliberately in our open online courses is to create this kind of network structure so that the promotion of information the distribution of content is a very very minimal part of what the online course is we've done a number of courses in this model we began with a course called connectivism and connective knowledge 2008 and that's popularly called the first MOOC it became massive only by accident we set it up we expected about 22 students we got about 2200 students we were very surprised by this particularly since the topic isn't exactly widely popular I mean connectivism and connective knowledge who signs up for that artificial intelligence yeah I can get it but we did more courses we did one called personal learning environments networks and knowledge plank George named that course I had nothing to do with it we had a 30 week marathon course called chained in which we learned that 30 weeks is too long to have a massive open online course we had one on the future of higher education we did that one with the Chronicle of Education educause and the Gates Foundation that was a very short course it was over before it even started right now we've just in the past week launched a course in French – French language course called arielle resource educate Keith Libre open educational resources 2014 and we have about a thousand people attending this course so we've got some experience behind this we're beginning to figure out what it is that makes a MOOC work what it is that makes a move to not work and we've applied these lessons to open online learning generally one of the things I've learned to expect in the first weeks of every single course that we offer our complaints also many complaints the first week reading this course is like reading a dictionary they say an orange and there's always someone I can't find anything where's the nice easy navigation or there's always someone I don't know what to do tell me what to do I don't know what to do tell me what to do always people complain there's too much content to read I said we'll pick something that I read that no there's too much content to read just pick them no oh yeah and innocent I don't blame them I get it it's confusing it's hard it's awkward oh it would be so nice if we just gave you a series of videos and told you follow this path do this thing this is the process right that's what we all want instead we give them this look at that mess that's the course that we designed out-of-the-box and then we told our students our participants as I prefer to call them to take that and add on to that however they wanted we did not want to tell them what to do so we had people create groups in Second Life this was back in 2008 Second Life was still a thing we had people create Google Groups in in the RVL course that's happening right now there are Google Groups set up there's a Facebook group that's set up there's a Twitter hashtag that people follow people spin off and create their own communities their own version of this course I try to convince robear who's my partner robear Gregoire in presenting this course people never go to the web site and it's true they don't go to the web site they're too busy taking the course to go to the web site when people want process right now let's think about that is that how we become one is that how we become a doctor if we do the right things in the right order that'll make us a doctor does that seem right now there's a there's a whole school of thought there's multiple school a thought out there in the world in the history of philosophy different ways of defining identity operational you are such and such if you do this kind of operation in this way telephone operators are like that right the well I guess they don't do that anymore but there used to be people in telephone offices that connected lines for you and they did everything very precisely in the right way I show my age hair hair sometimes people define somebody in terms of the function or the purpose or the similarity of method that they use but you know we sort of wonder is that what we mean is a doctor just a person who does things in the doctor method no really that's not really what we're training them to be so there's got to be something more to learning to being a doctor than just serving the right function what about teleological we hear this a lot the core should have objectives and if you satisfy those objectives you will have thereby become a doctor or a Valencian or a pine tree or whatever but that doesn't work either right you can have all the objectives in the world and take all the steps to fulfill those objectives but still not be the thing that you wanted to be why not well I mean philosophers have worried about this long before I have the guy called Thomas Nagel he looked at theories of identity based on operation or function or objective or goal he said these are empty because they miss the aspect of what it feels like I think that's pretty important right to be a Valencian is to feel like to volunteer I don't really know what that feels like because I know I'm not one he wrote a paper Nagle did called what is it like to be a bad that's really interesting because we could do everything a by it does and still not know what it's like to be a bat because there's a certain sense in which it feels like something to be a bat well and there's a whole basis for definitions of educational method based on feel like this it's the idea of creating the experience of being such and such you want to teach somebody to be a doctor you create the experience of being a doctor you want someone to be an entrepreneur you create the experience of being an entrepreneur that sounds very much like we what we just heard and there's a lot of merit a lot of validity to that and this is where we see theories like discovery learning and experiential learning coming into play and I happen to think that there's a lot to the idea of having the experience Thomas Kuhn who wrote the structure of scientific revolutions when when he asked you know what is it to be a physicist he said well it's not knowing a whole bunch of things it's it's seeing and feeling the world in a certain way it's knowing how to answer the problems at the end of the chapter the problems at the end of the chapter never have anything to do with what's inside the chapter if you've ever taken physics you know what I mean they are tests of a way of seeing the world not just a reciting of facts so yeah I see that so what is it to create a doctor what is it to create a valencian where you create the experience and you know I saw them doing that in Valencia yesterday I walk around the city and there they are the throw firecrackers and how to firecrackers and and having celebrations and eating in this in the in the sidewalk cafes and great big pans of paia and people are in the city learning what it's like what it feels like to be Valencian so okay we have that aspect since it's a really important aspect in our MOOCs the idea of creating this underlying network or layer of support gives people the interaction and the experience that they need to have in order to feel like what it is to be such and such our first course team activism and connective knowledge 2008 it was about being an educational technologist we loved recursion we're teaching people how to be like us and so what we tried to do is create this experience of what it's like to be an educational technologist and so we built the resources and we have people create their own resources we set this whole dynamic web up and from a provider perspective this all makes a lot of sense if you're seeing this from the perspective of the institution giving the learning we're really onto something here we have the student students create content they have students who are receiving content we have some course content that we're throwing into the mix we have maybe events recordings all the elements they're in our course of well the whole community really our course could be valencia it isn't obviously but it could be all the structures are there the the experiences the ways of speaking the con sation with each other the doing things the making things of finding your path around the city all of that we've created the experience of being an educational technologists that's what we tried to do in the course there's not enough it turns out our feelings are notoriously unreliable I feel like I'm a doctor I'm not you know think about personal identity what makes you you well most people say well I just have my memories I have my thoughts my stream of consciousness and of course the first question that comes up is well what happens to you when you're sleeping then where do you go you know the feeling of something disappears our memories go away what happens to them when we're not having them do they no longer exist you know I just simply our sensation of the experience is not enough so we need to build more into it now I'm glossing over a lot here but there have been over the twentieth century two major approaches to this question which I'll call the big answer and the small answer and yes I made those terms up at about 2:00 a.m. last night and I'm very sorry now you know what I do the day before talks the big answer is this we have the experience so here's this is a think of it as a movie screen or a computer screen right it's in my head we have the experience and what creates that experience is we turned the camera out into the world and our experience is of the war and so what we're doing as students is trying to make sense of that experience that's an approach to education based in semiotic s– in meaning in context in representation and it's an approach to education based on not just what we feel but objective external facts and there's a lot of sense to it and this is where we get things like social constructivism or even empiricism and logical positivism what is learning we are trying to construct or make sense of or make meaning out of the perceptions that we have out there of the world ok that's the big answer and again I'm glossing over very quickly here but this is fun right what's the little answer well instead of the camera pointing out there you turn the camera in and point it in here well why not here's our experiences whether we were pointed out there are pointed in here we're gonna see the same thing so the legal answer is we're trying to make sense of our own awareness our own cognition our own understanding the legal answer is based on a primacy of reason it's based on critical or digital or whatever literacies it's based on the idea that we can look at whatever our mental contents are I make sense of them and so education is a process of making sense of these things sounds great social constructivism neural constructivism is a very poor our approach to learning so much better than dumping contents on people so much better than trying to make people just do the right functions so much better than just experience because now our experience has a context and a frame and a significant part of the educational world is an agreement with this and they have the reason to be but and and and frankly and this is where I think George Siemens is I think George Siemens is smack dab in the middle of the big answer I think that his version of connectivism is social constructivism of some sort with a network overlay I take it a step further because here's my problem there's no one to do the constructing think about it here's my screen here's my camera pointed out pointing in who's doing the making meaning there isn't some other little guy looking at all my perceptions figuring things out because then he would have to have a camera to write to look at my perceptions that's the problem with social constructivism there is no constructor there's no person other than the balloon or themselves to do the constructing they're no little man there is no camera that that picture I just gave you the big answer and the little answer take the camera away there is no camera there's no one to construct our representations for us okay so now I've just destroyed every educational theory there is what's left I'm very sorry about that well what's left is this screen except it's not just a screen you know that's an idea from the 1600s this idea that there's this tabula rasa on which you have impressions that make little her senses that make little impressions but actually this is a very special kind of screen we have which is our mind our brain it is in fact a self-organizing Network and interestingly so is Valencia and interestingly so is a group of crickets and indeed pretty much any large number of things that can interact two together are self-organizing networks they are at once perceptual systems and reasoning systems there is no constructor the thing that has the feelings is also the thing that organizes the feelings that makes sense doesn't it oh I know I've got to tell you more of a story than that I've got to prove it with numbers and logics I've got to show you working examples I get that it's a half hour talk you have to give me some slack so how do these self-organizing networks work well there are some design principles that make good ones as compared to bad ones now what's a good one what's a bad one we talked about that but in general human neural networks student educational experiences cities ecosystems and anything else you want to create a network out of worked better if they satisfy the following four criteria autonomy the individuals in the network makes their own decisions diversity being one isn't about being the same let me repeat being one isn't about being the same being a Valencian isn't about being the same being a Pinetree isn't about being the same being a doctor isn't about being the same diversity in fact is what makes being doctors possible interactivity the knowledge created by a network is created by the interaction between its members and as we would say is emergent from its members and is not simply the propagation of one person's opinion to another to another to another to another everybody contributes together to make knowledge there's no one person out there who's the person in charge of what it is to be a Valencian this concept is ridiculous right this is when PAP says everybody has something to contribute everybody has something to contribute because what it means to be a Valencian is determined by the totality of activities thoughts expressions being of every single person in that city that's you know you take one person away Valencia is different it's kind of an important realization your approach to learning changes when you realize that and then finally open this because networks cannot work if they're closed network to not work if there are barriers to communication if there are barriers to entry if only some kind of messages are allowed so these are the design principles you don't have to like them it's an empirical matter as to whether or not networks that have them function better my proposition is take a bunch of networks test them against these principles you will find that they work better if they instantiate these principles don't trust me go test it so that leads us to this concept of personal learning so what is personal learning well we talked about a MOOC talking about open online learning all of that now I'm gone all the way full-scale away from massive open online courses to talk to about individual personal learning well why because the approach of a MOOC is based on the idea that individual people as defined by that screen that self-organizing screen are taking the course this is this is the thing when we design these MOOCs we realized every single person taking our course is going to be different they want yeah some of them use Internet Explorer some of them use Firefox some of them use opera who knows why some of them even use Safari and nothing works in Safari different languages different cultures some people want to get the knowledge some people want to socialize some people want to meet other people we had one person in our first court in our first course this whole purpose of their membership in the course was to call George and I techno communists that's what they wanted to hear well that's cool they gave them their chance and they did that and then everybody went on their way so the whole idea of the MOOCs the way we built it is based on the idea that each person is a self-organizing perceiving and reasoning system Noah Munck so there's no some structure of things they are a self-organizing network that perceives and organizes those perceptions in a natural automatic way given that they are provided proper nutrition diversity openness autonomy and the rest from the students perspective they're still green sorry okay I'm just kidding from the students perspective even if they're taking a MOOCs and reflect on your own experience your first act then right the center and goodness they might even be taking more than one milk at a time from different institutions at the same time I know it's heresy but they might be doing that they might be communicating on WordPress or on Flickr delicious posting videos on YouTube but you know they're always at the center of their internet sphere so that's basically how we in developing the next phase remember I promised a new technology after MOOCs but here's what it looks like it's really mucked marks tooth but now we're telling the story from the perspective not of the education provider but from the perspective of the individuals who are participating in the learning we understand that they are perceiving and reasoning self-organizing networks they will be coming into this with that capacity but with those needs and therefore what we're attempting to do we're creating something called learning and performance support system I'm really sorry about the name to provide that measure of support in practical concrete terms technological terms and I can only gloss over this at the center is a personal learning record where a person keeps their learning records and everything related to do with their learning we have support for a resource repository network to access all of these resources out there in the world a personal cloud to allow them to store their photos videos etc or wherever they want a personal learning assistant no I don't mean an eye and no I don't mean a nap what I mean is a way of projecting the capacities of this system of the personal learning environment and of the associated learning resources MOOCs etc into whatever environment they find themselves in so maybe it's into a mobile phone maybe it's into a computer maybe it's into a car I like to tell the story of the fishing rod the fishing rod is very smart it's connected to your in well opss to your personal learning environment and your fishing law your fishing rod will help you learn how to fish and it will complain if you do it improperly fishing rods are known for having short tempers and for what we call an automated competence development and recognition which is a long way for understanding and again we'll come back to pap here understanding what the gaps are in our knowledge what resources we need in order to obtain the knowledge obtain the resources become the kind of person we want help us self-organized into being whatever it is that we're trying to be here's some more organized description of the same project the blue things there are the are the circles that I just showed you resource resource repository Network and the rest we're working with different organizations and companies to provide extensions of the service and we're working with education providers and the rest of the internet in order to connect up the learning resources that are available around the world from different MOOCs and different learning providers into each individual person's personal learning environment so what is it to be one after all that well in a sense to be one is to know that you are one to know that you're a doctor to know that you're a Valencia what does that mean that's well if you look at how these self-organizing perceiving reasoning networks work basically what they are and I'm glossing their pattern recognizers that's that's a simple two-word explanation with more complex functionality but it'll do so if your Valencian or any of you Valencian here how many of you are Valencian one two three you recognize that building don't you I assume you do this is a really bad example if you don't right and the point the point here is that there isn't some sort of set of conditions set of sameness functionality all big long long definition etc you look at the building you recognize how does that happen because you're so for organizing perceiving reasoning neural network is the kind of thing that recognizes things how does one doctor know that another person is a doctor the doctor recognizes another doctor to be one is to know to know that one is a doctor of Valencian whatever is to recognize that they are it's it's a matter of pattern recognition a perceptual property and finally to be one is to be you everybody talks about massive open online learning I don't care about the massiveness of open online learning I mean it's important there are seven billion people on the planet whatever we do is got to work for every one of them but it's only gonna work for every one of them one person that there's no other way of doing it because there's no other way that's going to be genuine there's no other way that's going to be effective what makes the MOOC special is that each person taking the MOOC makes it their own they create and shape their own learning according to their own needs and their own interests their own values their own objectives and that to me is what learning and education is all about so I hope you're thinking about these things the different ways of knowing how something is won the different ways of knowing whether you've trained someone to be a doctor enculturated them into being a Valencian or just persuaded them to recognize pine-trees think about these things as you hear the presentations and think about the views of learning and education underlying the different presentations that you'll hear over the next three days these slides and way too many more presentations are all available on my website and I thank you for your kind and patient attention

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