MOOCs … learner are you hooked?

Being signed up for a few MOOCs at any given time for a long time now (& even participating here and there!) I can’t help but notice big differences among them in teaching style, organization and so on.

Some really stand out, others let-down. Some are weak or strong on lighting and audio; some need more energy, others no; some hook you fairly well, others bore; some are clever and others feel like a sit-down talking-to … & how does that feel as a distance learner?

Other interesting things include how varying levels of utilizing resources (wikis, etc.) and communications (some are exceptional about emailing, you feel like the teacher is conversational and knows, cares about you.)

Online, free learning resources require an extra motivation boost. Hopefully these courses compel learners to stick with them.

I think we’ll see such courses evolve to be so polished we’ll eventually look back and see these like we see primitive pages of the internet from the mid 90′s… (<– does it lure you in??)

Broadly speaking, will educational organizations in the online space not promote as presenter the most polished engaging individuals as teacher? Perhaps other teachers will focus less on presenting and more on mentoring and facilitating community guidance. Will creative content developers (perhaps combined with instructional designers) not be increasingly in demand as co-developers to give the needed pizazz?

TED-Ed may be suited for “basic” material but reflecting on these four MOOCS don’t we all really want learnings more like it, that fascinate and engage us and help us want to come back for more? There must inevitably be an educational free-market drive that will squeeze interesting content and interactivity up the chain even into advanced topics we’d never believe today would be “sexied up”. What are your thoughts?

Mental barriers & task-shifting education

Last night while teaching a class I solicited thoughts on obstacles to applying what was being taught. It was a complex topic of artificial intelligence and programming in financial markets, so I expected ideas like “overwhelmed” “laziness” “looking for an easier way”. But interestingly one mentioned what I consider an under-discussed elephant in the (class) room: mental health issues. At best, for all our tech glitz, savvy methods, persuasive words and students’ motivation, ambition and work-ethic… how often do we not achieve sufficient learning lift-off because emotional or mental problems obstruct the way?

Psychiatrist Vikram Patel, Professor of International Mental Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, describes a process of task-shifting mental health in lower income countries – where often everyday people are not finding relief from debilitating depression and postpartum, anxiety, and so on. Task-shifting is A process of task delegation from doctors to nurses; and from nurses to other less specialized lay health workers. Task shifting improves healthcare coverage by making more efficient use of the human resources. (WHO, Jan 2008). Where mental health workers and medicine are scarce, he describes shifting tasks to lay people who are trained for specific purposes, reducing cost and increasing accessibility. This has improved the rate of mental health interventions in various areas around the world. His service delivery model is called SUNDAR (Hindi for “attractive”):

Simplify the message/communication
UNpack the treatment/service
Deliver it where people are
Affordable and available human resources
Reallocate specialists to train and supervise

Imagine empowering local people – assisted by technology and social communication – to understand core mental health issues, learn the basics of critical treatment strategies and deliver the solutions to their neighbors, while the rare doctor or professional is freed to oversee and train the operation.

How could this delivery model be applied to education with a novel twist on MOOCs and other trends we are observing? (apropos for a year now I myself have yet to finish a Coursera/other MOOC because I am busy, lazy … and at times my coping skills are overwhelmed with something or another that’s serious) And better, could we kill two birds with one stone by incorporating simple social solutions to psychological issues impeding learning?

A way to STEM the tide of budget cuts

Continuing the conversation of free ed tech resources, we’ve seen Codeacademy recently debut an actual after-school program to teach programming. Fascinating!

For the un-initiated, Codeacademy is a web-based programming tutorial designed to teach JavaScript, HTML, CSS, JQuery and Python. For free. And oh so slick. Clean landing page (fascinatingly the designer describes how he created their landing page in one hour here,) interactive coding lessons sent weekly, simple calls to action, excellent social media integration… and Codeacademy nails gamifying and using social game layers. Instructional designersl: drool.

After School Programming Clubs is a packaging innovation more than anything else. It takes the core Codecademy software learning tools and packages them up so that students and teachers can organize after school programming clubs. Your email, your school = they send you a kit. Easy. What a great way to focus after-school group activities on some foundational STEM learning.

Monetizing free educational resources

Becky Hatch, who replied to a post below, discussed how the private sector can serve the public sector sans direct remuneration. To add to that conversation, consider an article on tech-media-business site gigaom today about “How Coursera may profit from free courses.” The free model is alive and well! It provides teachers (& in this case learner) content and tools, while private firms are only limited by their imagination of how to provide something for free… yet get paid, as Coursera illustrates.

Chris Anderson of Wired was an early-adopter of these ideas and gave a prescient primer back in 2007 here: Chris Anderson of WIRED on tech’s Long Tail. 

Additionally, Eric von Hippel of MIT’s Sloan School of Management defined a user-led innovation model in his book Democratizing Innovation (free ebook on Amazon!) arguing why and when users find it profitable to develop new products and services for themselves, and why it often pays users to reveal their innovations freely for the use of all. He proposes that as innovation becomes more user-centered the information needs to flow freely, in a more democratic way, creating a “rich intellectual commons” and “attacking a major structure of the social division of labor,” which would tie in to educational resources multiplying as a result of volunteerism giving back via “cognitive surplus.”

With the current trend of proliferating free educational resources (even in online education alone such as Coursera as mentioned above, and including others like UniversityNow, Codecademy, 2tor, The Minerva Project, Udacity, Udemy and more) we’d expect the good news of seeing this to continue help both business as well as educators and students.

Where have you seen mutually beneficial teamwork between public and private education groups, especially in Utah?

Break-out sessions notes

The following are raw notes from our Accelerating Learning Innovation: Personalizing the Learning Environment break-out sessions. Were you in one of these sessions? If so, we’d love to hear from you in Comments to clarify any of the following (transcribed from the note pads.)

1. Designing With and For New Technologies


  • Visible network of educational professionals: listserv, LinkedIn, etc. Allows for 1) sharing failures 2) virtual event (live or archived event)
  • Introduce teachers to more tools
  • Develop simple presentation or identify responsive web
  • A method to know what teachers/educators are using for technology
  • Central network/forum for communicating or addressing problems
  • Is the problem that the tool doesn’t exist, or is it that no one knows where to find it?
  • Site where teachers volunteer to pilot
  • Can the D.O.E. find teachers who want to pilot? 1) Lots of teachers want to pilot technologies 2) organized 3) connect entrepreneurs to teachers 4) VEN 5) D.O.E. has teachers 6) Don’t reinvent social network 7) Edsurge 8 ) notifications/newsletters


  • Individual profiles
  • Forums (push, notifications, newsletters)
  • Requests (push, notifications, newsletters)
  • Tap into existing platforms – LinkedIn
  • Matchmaking

Forum topics:

  • Mistakes
  • What people are using or can use
  • Categorize technology
  • Showcase success stories
  • Highlighting best practices

2. Differentiated Learning Experiences

  • Culture shift to differentiation is the biggest obstacle
  • Need to see time-saving best practices
  • Need algorithms for student choice without overwhelming or losing human element

Differentiation: Define the issue

We cannot continue to define all learners as “children” they are individuals who learn differently.

If we accept that all children can learn than we need to know HOW they learn.

We need to consider the needs of diverse students (autistic, gifted, etc)

We need to provide a variety of  methods for students learn (hands on, explore, etc.)

We need options but not so many that it is overwhelming to students and teachers.

We need to provide effective differentiation not just student choice

We need to provide differentiation in assessment not just learning.

Differentiation is not isolation. We need social engagement

Peer to peer, small group, large group, and individual instruction can all be effective.

We need to collaborate and communicate better.

We need to balance technology with personal interaction.

Tools for differentiation must be intuitive and integrated

Need algorithms for student choice w/out overwhelming or losing human element

We need to teach students make wise choose activities wisely and understand how other people learn.

We need to teach students to take responsibility for learning.


Narrow the problem: What is the biggest roadblock to effective differentiation and how do we fix it?

There can be a philosophical roadblock; moving from teach the class to teach the student.

Teachers need time and permission from government, administrator, etc. to learn about their students.

The ability of teachers to focus on the Learner and facilitate student learning.

We need a repository of best practices, and examples.

Some existing resources are the Teaching channel and ACT: Accomplished California Teachers

We should highlight effective teachers in Utah

Make teachers aware of the resource so they can see time-saving best practices.

3. Evidence of Innovation “Success”

Student takes responsibility

  • Concepts: market adapts; build, create; users; growth; learning; language; common place/culture; drive to the individual; revenue; growth; game changer; student evaluates; sustainability; self-motivated/self-directed; explosive growth – tipping point; user see progress; self-directed; teach the student (Rather than teach the content); individual education plan; productivity; self-assessment; mass survey; let user take responsibility; multifaceted model of reasoning, innovation, success; academic; scalability; sustainability; adoption measured through language & culture.

Evidence of innovation “success” is a game-changer

      • New & better
      • Track progress – data
      • Results = how to measure the game-changer

How we can not restrict learning

4. Innovation in Curriculum Design

  • Socialization, peer completion
  • How to deliver content?
  • Innovating outcomes (teacher to facilitate): 1) crowdsource – voting?, open source curriculum
  • Innovating products: 1) Apple (personalization) 2) Connectivity (Facebook) – PPI, collaboration
  • Curriculum 1) student centric 2) teachers 3) application to real life 4) games

5. Leading Change

A single-minded focus on solving the most compelling problems today.

  • Perfection not required
  • Build a coalition (not consensus)

Change agents:

  • More bold (passion, conviction)
  • Problem vs. Solution based – 5 whys
  • Invasive (awareness of discomfort)
  • Identity
  • Be aware of assumptions
  • Continuous incremental improvement
  • Environment
  • Kotter
  • Convert nay-sayers
  • Consensus not necessary – keep moving forward
  • Remove confusion
  • Never give up
  • Test & learn
  • Reduce risk & maximize reward
  • Tell the story

6. Motivation & engagement

How to we help students care about what they are learning in GE’s? How do we make learning relevant to students? How do we keep students engaged throughout the course? How do we eliminate demotivators? How do we maintain engagement with the implementation of more technology? What are the key principles of motivating students? people? How do we help the high school learner feel empowered?

  • Demotivators: Use Tools that 1) demonstrate progress 2) provide feedback 3) establish baselines 4) reinforce intrinsic motives
  • Perspective
  • Identity: 1) develop resilience
  • Control: 1) Help learners reflect
  • Feel valued: 1) Help learners feel valued

Reflection: perspective. Reward courage… bring “outside” –> “inside.” 1) Show context 2) Provide experience that leads to transfer

Help learners wee where they fit into every thing, Show the destination, Put learners in “the context”

CONCLUSION best idea:Identity + perspective

7. OER & Content Sharing

Adaptable granular objects

2 ideas (Extra support & money for faculty to make OER courses, OER fair & badges):

1. Extra support & money for faculty to make OER courses

  • real-time updating; community crowdsourcing; build better Merlot; modular (drag & drop, playlist); OER students as content creators

1) Policy: promote use, training, exposure of Learning Registry – info about resources & ratings – usage data. Reputation goes through the roof when teachers publish as OER

2) Policy: put OER into Learning Registry.

  • Policy: anything produced with state/federal funds should be OER
  • Community survey: What are learners looking for? (OER creation, reuse/revise/remix, redistribute)
  • Use CRT data in Kickstarter to get funded to create OER lessons to address lowest standards across the state (policy: state release; quality: effective, rating, scale)
  • technology gets in the way of remixing
  • RFP’s: purchasing decisions include incentives for OER
  • OER created by students, teachers, experts
  • (hardware purchasing cheap)
  • Do we need more OER, or highly curated, easily searchable OER aligned to common core (practitioners prefer highly curated, easily searchable OER)
  • How often is your OER reused? longevity? –> feed tracking data into Learning Registry.
  • LMS agnostic

2. OER fairs (+ badges)

  • Students & teachers build lessons, tied to CRT scores
  • Tool to determine % of OER
  • Policy: tenure = OER
  • Award for Best Open Course in UT from OSOE
  • textbooks
  • Policy: open reduces cost of education. Pay for it, they can take it with them… students are annoyed to have to fork over $ for textbooks after tuition.
  • Award/seal on course = more financially feasible

CONCLUSION best idea: OER fairs (+ badges)

8. Personal Learning Environments

Tracking – students too!; Excel doesn’t cut it; graphs & visuals – standards!; brainhoney?; have a place; have a record; pass test, resources, get badges, track process, implement own resources; students need ownership/interoperability; state-wide standards; need definitions of metrics; competence not best time; pre-assessment

9. 10.Sustaining Innovation through Collaboration

Collaboration of teachers needs to expand; all voices need to be heard, diversity is important – experience and collaboration the literature emphasizes this. Ambassadors from this group to other groups, could present at other conferences

Modern coffee shop connecting people & ideas, similar to those of the enlightenment.

Motivation – what keeps people coming back? Why do people stop participating?

  • Socializing, seeing friends can be a motivator
  • Give people something to do, to be accountable for, to contribute (homework)
  • Make sure that progress is visible so people can see things are happening

CONCLUSION best idea: In addition to a large conference meetups in smaller groups – breaking large single goal into smaller initiatives

  • Networking, motivated by seeing connections and friends, etc.
  • Each small group will have participants from all areas: research, policy, teachers, private sector, etc.
  • Include casual “enjoyable” elements such as meeting at restaurants.
  • To include those who cannot come face-to-face, technology such as: 1) G+ 2) Hangouts 3) Conf calls/one to many technology (synch) 4) Branch, microblogging (asynch)
  • Smaller “sessions” and talks, similar to how teachers create increasingly briefer videos.

Thank you for an amazing 1st conference!

We’d like to thank all of you for making our first conference a success!

We will continue to communicate here as well as our LinkedIn group: Utah Ed Tech Leaders. Please take a moment to join this group so that teachers, policy-makers, researchers, entrepreneurs and business-people and more can connect and dialogue. Watch for these channels to grow and build-out in coming weeks and months. Notes and then video from yesterday’s sessions will be posted shortly and in coming days.

And again, THANK YOU… you are all awesome and making a wonderful difference! As Utah’s own Larry Miller said, “Go out into the world and do good until there is too much good in the world…

What was the most helpful conference take-away for you?

09/13: Accelerating Learning Innovation: Personalizing the Learning Environment

Our first conference is scheduled Thursday, September 13, 2012 from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM (MDT) in Sandy, UT.


  • Meet and learn from colleagues who are willing to work together to address common educational challenges and recommend possible solutions
  • Initiate a culture that supports ongoing sharing and dialogue among public and private ed tech specialists in Utah
  • Network with fellow educators, entrepreneurs, and ed tech leaders


Joanne Weiss, Chief of Staff to the United States Secretary of Education
Richard Culatta, Deputy Director of the United States Office of Educational Technology Larry Shumway, State Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Utah State Office of Education


After the keynote addresses, we will enjoy several rapid-fire presentations from local Ed Tech leaders. Rapid-fire topics:

  • Why Online Hasn’t Been Enough: Enabling Individuals to Transform Learning presented by Jared Stein
  • Architecting the Library of Babel: Mass Customization in Learning & Performance Support presented by Michael Noble
  • What is OER and Why Should it Matter to Me? presented by Amy Pace
  • The Education Achievement Authority of Michigan’s School Model – Maximizing Individual Growth through Education Technology presented by Dr. Mark Luetzelschwab

We will then engage in breakout sessions where we will discuss particular challenges that require the vision and energy of educators and innovators in Utah and elsewhere to solve. Generated solutions will be presented to all participants and the best ideas will be selected for further development. A networking dinner will follow as a separate ticketed event. Breakout session topics:

  • Designing With and For New Technologies
  • Differentiated Learning Experiences
  • Evidence of Innovation “Success”
  • Innovation in Curriculum Design
  • Leading Change
  • Motivation & engagement
  • OER & Content Sharing
  • Personal Learning Environments
  • Social & Collaboration Innovations
  • Sustaining Innovation through Collaboration

More event information and registration at our Eventbrite site:

Conference Agenda (PDF File)

See you there!