The augmented classroom lecture: engaging the learner in an online learning environment
……..some thoughts shared at WiziQ EdTech 15th October 2015
There is a well known saying ” when the learner is ready, the teacher will appear” and therefore the most important element of learner engagement has to be put in place, well before the learning session happens.
The modern pedagogy of ‘ Flipped Learning’ facilitates this, by providing access to resources before the learner comes to class. By perusing the content, attempting a few tasks and writing in advance questions to ask the instructor in class, provides a degree of engagement very supportive to the learning experience. But to be really effective, creating a ‘learner profile’ and aligning the instructional intervention to the ‘learner disposition’ is essential to learner engagement.
Such aspects of learner engagement are common to online as well as face to face learning. Some degree of learner engagement has also been possible in well written textbooks, that pose interesting questions to stimulate curiosity as well as learning. A traditional face to face teaching session also allows for learner engagement in multiple ways in the hands of an experienced teacher.
But online learning, and it’s more recent form of mobile and handheld learning, allows for completely new ways of learner engagement.
We must appreciate that in online learning, unlike a traditional lecture, workshop or seminar which is synchronous with all concerned being located within the same physical space and in the same time slot.
In the online learning environment, there is possibility of a space shift ( learners may be located in different places), there is a time shift ( learner’s access learning at differing times depending upon what suits each person), and finally there is a device shift ( we are not looking at the same screen or whiteboard, but on our own devices which may be Windows, Androids or iPhones or another platform, in a Bring Your Own Device BYOD world).
This model of learning a-synchronously is a new and limiting experience for many. But a new dimension of social learning is more easily and effectively implemented in the online world. The value of the diversity of the learning cohort that harnesses its cognitive surplus is non-linear and following Metcalfe’s law actually increases as the square of the number of learners in the cohort.
Related to this is the question of what is the right size of the learning cohort? In a 1926 essay, with the title ‘ On Being the Right Size’, JBS Haldane addressed this question, and with reference to the animal world drew attention to the fact that “for every type of animal there is a most convenient size, and a large change in size inevitably carries with it a change of form”.
Towards the last part of the essay, he extends the idea to suggest that ‘ just as there is a best size for every animal, so the same is true for every human institution’.
So what is the desirable size of an engaged learner cohort? Certainly not millions, which is the target of MOOCs, which seem to have got carried away by the possibilities of broadcasting technologies. So neither cMOOCs nor xMOOCs can grow without limits, as learning is not equal to broadcasting, and just because something has been broadcasted successfully it does not mean that it has been learnt effectively and caused the desired change in behaviour.
The quest for the right size of an online learning cohort then takes us to Robin Dunbar, who has a number named after him to describe the number of persons with whom we can maintain meaningful social interactions. The value for the Dunbar number is typically considered to be 150.
So, to have meaningful learner engagement, I have proposed the phrase ‘ the augmented classroom’ that comprises Flipped learning, mastery learning, personalisation and social learning. I have been exploring this in a variety of course topics such as ” Becoming an UberSmart Self-directed learner” and ” Learning to live a quality life with Diabetes” and have found the use of whatsApp in a group of about one hundred ( about the Dunbar number), as very satisfactory to the entire group. We evolved a protocol for maintaining the main flow of the course, sharing experiences but not getting diverted and the general feedback from a very highly cognitively evolved cohort of vice-chancellors, Professors and Principals of Schools was that this was a model that can be taken further for one credit or half credit courses.
To summarise as operational recommendations: one can use a platform like WiziQ for Institutional type needs, use WordPress site pages for static course content ( that doesn’t change during the course term) and WordPress Blog Posts for more dynamic content/readings, and finally a whatsApp chat group of about 100 for engaged learner interactions. While the group size is limited to 100, there can be several concurrent groups.
This then is the way ahead for a massive delivery of high quality engaged learning experience.
And applicable across all stages of the life-span.