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So what *is* eLearning? March 11, 2014

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, TELIC.

“… the use of new multimedia technologies and the Internet to improve the quality of learning by facilitating access to resources and services as well as remote exchanges and collaboration”

Bringing knowledge within reach, European Commission, 2005.

I’ve now been in my new post of Head of eLearning for a month. It was created as part of a restructuring process designed to marry the changing needs of our school with changes in the provision of technology to support learning. Whilst I welcomed the the emphasis of my role morphing to one putting ‘learning’ at the centre, the actual term ‘eLearning’ sat less comfortably with me. The reason is the historical baggage that eLearning drags along with it. A quick Internet trawl offers:

Put simply, the definition of e-learning is training delivered via digital technology in order to help us learn.


Quite simply, e-learning is electronic learning, and typically this means using a computer to deliver part, or all of a course whether it’s in a school, part of your mandatory business training or a full distance learning course.


eLearning is electronic learning, in which the learner uses a computer to learn a task, skill, or process. It is also referred to as computer-based training, web-based training, and online learning.


future learning

By Jean Marc Cote (if 1901) or Villemard (if 1910) http://publicdomainreview.org/2012/06/30/france-in-the-year-2000-1899-1910/ [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hardly inspiring! But then these definitions are perhaps based on how eLearning was originally conceived, rather than what it has become more recently? Put simply, the ‘e’ stood for electronic – electronic learning, which somehow seems separate from plain learning.

Increasingly however, the expression ‘technology enhanced learning’ is being substituted for eLearning and I feel semantics are crucial here. Rather than trying to envisage a new and perhaps distinct form of learning – eLearning, we retain the central focus on learning, but indicate that technology brings something new to the table. Technology provides additionality, opening new possibilities. In effect, the ‘e’ no longer stands for electronic, but enhanced … which set me thinking. Could the ‘e’ actually stand for anything else? Are there other terms beginning with ‘e’ which also describe how learning might be affected by technology? I’ve often heard people say how technology ‘enriches’ the learning process and how it can ‘extend’ learning, so suitably inspired, I started listing a few other ‘e’s, which eventually led to:


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Ian Guest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/13091533985/

Having proposed and defined each of the terms, I then started to provide an illustrative example of each … but pulled up short. Rather than specify examples taken from my experience, I thought it might be more meaningful for anyone interested to interrogate the terms for themselves. What do the terms mean for them, in their contexts? So at this point, I’ll throw myself on the mercy of the crowds. What terms have I included which might seem a little too contrived? What terms have I missed? What examples can you point to in which learning has been enhanced, enriched … or any of the others?

To ‘learn-to-be’ … or not to be? October 13, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, TELIC.
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A tweet by Bram Bruggeman set me thinking:

I’ve never been in any doubt about the powerful effect Twitter has had on my learning … but does it  naturally follow that Twitter therefore constitutes a ‘learning environment?’

personal learning environment

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Janson Hews: http://flickr.com/photos/24823508@N04/6992313131/

I guess to answer that we first need to have an understanding of what we mean by learning environment. Is the first thing that springs to mind a classroom? A school? Perhaps a study desk in one’s bedroom? Each is very different in terms of space, place and organisational complexity, so what are the common factors to help us with our Twitter question?

The Partnership for 21st Century Learning white paper1 puts it as simply as “…systems that accommodate the unique learning needs of every learner and support the positive human relationships needed for effective learning.” So for me that works since Twitter indeed does accommodate my learning needs, fosters positive relationships and certainly learning is effective. But that’s me. Twitter is a learning environment which works for me, but ‘every’ learner? Perhaps not, but maybe that’s taking the definition too literally, rather than saying that there are countless people for whom Twitter does work as a learning environment, catering to their individual needs, just as a school is clearly a learning environment; one that works for some, though not all people.

Warger and Dobbin2, writing for EDUCAUSE, offer a more expansive definition: “The term learning environment encompasses learning resources and technology, means of teaching, modes of learning, and connections to societal and global contexts. The term also includes human behavioural and cultural dimensions, including the vital role of emotion in learning…”
Once again this describes what Twitter is for me. There are a host of signposted learning resources of various hues and flavours, people teach me all the time through loose discourse and the (marginally) more structured #edchats. I learn in different ways depending on the context and from a variety of people from different backgrounds and across the globe. It would doubtless be fair to say that not all of that takes place strictly within the confines of Twitter, but in the other spaces with which Twitter is linked – a blog here, a journal article there. But isn’t that true of any good learning environment? It isn’t a hermetically-sealed closed space, but when necessary is capable of calling on external knowledge, skills and expertise.

So for me, Twitter is definitely a learning environment, but one where I ‘learn-to-be’ as John Seeley-Brown3 would have it, rather than ‘learn-about.’ It’s a place where people learn through legitimate peripheral participation, about the functioning of the community itself yes, but also about the topics and themes of interest to the community members:

Learning and joining this community simply go hand-in-hand; learning happens seamlessly as part of the enculturation process.

Perhaps a learning environment is only as good as we make it? It simply has to be flexible and offer sufficient freedom to enable us to mould it to our needs.

1Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 21st Century Learning Environments

2Warger, T., Dobbin, G., 2009. Learning Environments: Where Space, Technology, and Culture Converge. EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative.

3Brown, J.S., 2006. New learning environments for the 21st century: Exploring the edge. Change: The magazine of higher learning 38, 18–24.

Wordle as an analytic tool? June 5, 2011

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, research, TELIC.
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Spent the last couple of weeks reflecting on the results of my research into how pupils perceive learning. Having elected to use a social constructivist grounded theory methodology (no wait, stay with me) it was important to ensure the voices of the participants (students with the cameras) carried through into the emerging theory and final report. One of the ways I hoped to do this was through the use of in vivo codes (Charmaz 2006:55) applied during the process of coding interviews.

In a previous post, I mentioned how Linoit helped me sort, classify, begin to draw out concepts and build a theory from these and other codes. Now I wanted to explore in more detail what different aspects of the theory meant and what implications it had. I thought an old friend might be able to help here, so the in vivo codes were pasted into Wordle to produce the following cloud:

Wordle: in vivo codes

If you know Wordle, you’ll be aware that the larger the phrases, the more regularly they occurred in the original text. It’s interesting to see what the participants ‘saw’ in the images they took of learning. Rather than describing the act of learning, they tend to associate it with specific activities like writing, remembering or revising. Many of the most prominent activities associated with learning appear to be lower-order activities, as described in the cognitive domain of Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956) or at the unistructural (multistructural at best) level on the SOLO taxonomy (Biggs & Collis, 1982). Should we be worried about that? Are our students predominantly engaged in lower-order activities? Or is it that higher-order activities are hard to capture through the lens of the camera, so we had no images to prompt comment?

I’m also less than comfortable with the prominence of writing, making notes and revising. Is that how they predominantly see their learning? Is writing notes in order to revise for an exam all that matters to students? Or am I allowing my views about learning prejudice my interpretation?

What else does the Wordle suggest? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Biggs, J.B. & Collis, K.F., 1982. Evaluating the Quality of Learning: Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome Taxonomy, Academic Press Inc.
Bloom, B.S., 1956. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook 1: Cognitive Domain 2nd ed., Addison Wesley Publishing Company.
Charmaz, K., 2006. Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide through Qualitative Analysis 1st ed., Sage Publications Ltd.

Levelling up? …. perhaps not. March 12, 2011

Posted by IaninSheffield in research, TELIC.
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I’m at the point in the research for my dissertation where I’m starting to raise some of the initial codes from pupil feedback to conceptual codes. These initial codes are ‘in vivo’ codes i.e. they are not my interepetations of situations or comments that participants made, they arose from the comments themselves.  My next task is to try to ascribe meaning to what these codes are telling me.  One way to do that is to create lots of sticky notes, pop them on a wall and begin to juggle them around into different configurations until conceptual categories begin to emerge.  Actually since this is a study following a social constructivist grounded theory approach, it might be more appropriate to say that I’m working with those codes to help them tell their story and that of those who produced them.

click on the image to visit the full version

I thought using LinoIt might provide a more efficient way of storing my changing thoughts, adding to them and allow categorising in different ways. (They also might be less likely to get blown off the wall when I open a window!)  Not surprisingly, there’s also a LinoIt app which allows me to download my walls onto my iPod Touch and view and think about them whilst I’m out and about.

Well what have I come up with so far?  My first impressions are that pupils don’t seem to think about learning consciously; there’s little evidence of metacognition. When charged to do so through these interviews, using photographs as stimulus material, they tend to associate learning with other activities i.e. it happens as a result of doing something else … reading, making notes, listening, discussing etc. They also feel they are engaged in those processes whilst involved in a range of tasks which can be practical, physical, interactive etc.  There’s also some recognition of activities which support the learning process and somehow supplement the primary activity.

I wonder to what extent this is indicative of the way we do things in school. We may say we’re going to learn about the different styles of WWI poets for example and then go on to undertake a sequence of activities which will allow our students to do just that.  But maybe we then get so involved in comparing and contrasting, and all the other elements of language and literature, that the act of learning is forgotten; consigned to the ‘Learning to learn’ lessons they had two years ago in Y7.  So when the students are asked to describe the learning they see going on in photographs, they simply see the activities they associate with learning.  There’s no idea what was going on whilst they were ‘discussing’ that resulted in some change or other … or perhaps I simply haven’t dug that deep in the interviews as yet?

The next step for me is to produce a similar pinboard with the codes *I* produced from the interviews, rather than the in vivo codes of the participants. Will I see similar patterns? Am I seeing these things because of my preconceptions?  My grounded theory approach will require me to take these initial concepts back to the data and explore the degree of fit, bearing in mind those concerns. I’ll also be comparing the two sets of codes and whether the conceptual codes apply equally across them all – these are elements of the constant comparative process.  My next interviews will be focused on testing these emergent ideas, exploring their boundaries and seeing whether what hasn’t been said is simply because I haven’t asked the right questions, we don’t have the images to hang explanations on or that my notions of what is missing simply shouldn’t be there anyway.

And so it begins … November 28, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in research, TELIC, Tools.
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Well to be fair it’s actually been going on for a while now. What?! Ah, sorry, I’m referring to my dissertation/extended professional project (EPP) for my Masters. (haven’t yet decided on which is likely to be the best route for my final study … but it’s getting closer!)

I actually began laying the foundations way back at the start of this year, the spark having been ignited by a single tweet, which all developed into a pilot study. Momentum began to gather as the final year of the course started, although the summer break provided some opportunities to get down to the requisite desk research which, despite setting off in what’s transpired to be an unproductive direction in one sense, nevertheless proved quite compelling. Having settled on a grounded theory approach and with the data gathering process in full swing, I’ve been casting around for some mechanism for recording ongoing thoughts, resources and references which may prove pertinent, developing lines of enquiry, whilst assembling and cross-referencing them all in a meaningful way. Previously I’ve simply started with a Word document, produced the chapter titles and added notes to each section as I went along, refining them as the study progressed. For this study however and having elected to attempt grounded theory which utilises “simultaneous data collection and analysis, the constant comparative method used at every stage of analysis, ongoing theory development, constructing codes and categories from data rather than from preconceived hypotheses, memoing to refine and elaborate categories and their relationships’” (Babchuk, 2009), I clearly needed a more supportive and informative system.

Outline view

Compendium outline view

Having considered and discarded the usual mind/concept mapping suspects which were just too limiting, a web search threw up “Compendium” from the Open University which appeared to tick many boxes. Having already downloaded it (no, this one’s not in the ‘Cloud’), this week I installed it, checked a couple of their tutorials and commenced the process of transferring what I’ve already produced into its database. When I say database, that’s the architecture which underpins it, but the user front end is purely

graphical and simple to navigate.

The basic building blocks are ‘nodes’ – think bubbles on a concept map. There are different types of node enabling you to express different ideas: questions, answers, lists, notes, references etc., all of which support the discursive, reflective process through which your study develops.

Map view

Compendium map view

As one would expect, nodes can be linked; they can also be tagged enabling powerful search and filtering as the complexity of the map develops. To ensure the view doesn’t become too cluttered, each ‘map’ node opens a new window so topics can be provided with more space in which to develop lines of thinking. Bringing in the resources (links, quotes, research papers, images) couldn’t be easier – just drag and drop. I’ve been really impressed with what I’ve done so far, even though it’s early stages, but I think there are two areas where Compendium will really help me:

  1. Gathering together the snippets of ideas I have along the way, discarding others which don’t bear fruit and making the formal process of writing the dissertation that much moe efficient.
  2. Perhaps more importantly, tracking the ongoing development of theory using memos about the data and how they are gathered, informing adaptations to the process to better refine the theory. Tagging, sorting, and filtering will be cricual here and I’m hoping the features Compendium will enable these processes to take place more effectively. All the while emerging findings will be linked in with the rest of the project.

Maps can be exported in xml, web (html) and jpeg formats, although I’m not up to the task of creating a dynamic link between my local maps and the web-based version, so to show any updates, I have to re-export them manually each time.  However I do like that the links and pop-ups are all live, providing a degree of interactivity for the viewer.  The option for viewers to provide feedback or ask questions would be useful, but I guess that could be achieved if the maps are hosted in an amenable location.

Oh and did I mention it’s free! [This software is freely distributed in accordance with the GNU Lesser General Public (LGPL) license, version 3 or later as published by the Free Software Foundation.]

Babchuk, W.A., Grounded Theory 101: Strategies for Research and Practice. In Proceedings of the 28th Annual Midwest Research-to-Practice Conference in Adult, Continuing, and Community Education. Chicago: Northeastern Illinois University. Available at: http://www.neiu.edu/~hrd/mwr2p09/Papers/Babchuk01.pdf [Accessed November 27, 2010].