Thursday, November 05, 2015

What Else can Work at Scale? and Techniques from Social Media

My contribution to the Networked Learning Conference 'Hot Seat' discussion. You can read the whole discussion here.

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Anything that can be automated works at scale. Anything that cannot be automated must be distributed, and if so, works at scale. Only centralized non-automated things do not work at scale.

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This is a good question:

"Humans scale, and have scaled before any automation existed, so what made us scale? Localized transmission of knowledge (oral tradition), the automated cell/gene replication in combination with adaptations? "

And I think that the answer is inherent in the nature of life: that we are autonomous, and interactive, so we create a distributed network of diverse activities, adapting to local conditions, and scaling naturally.

Life seeks conditions of success. Humans, crickets, birds, plants - we migrate to the places where we flourish and avoid the places we don't, each making our decisions one by one.

Too dense a network and society fails. Too sparse a network and society fails. Autonomy is productive; eliminate it and society fails. But where autonomy is extended to point where it disrupts the network, society fails. (These aren't truisms; they are empirical observations, and subject to verification.)

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Also, comments from the thread titled 'Educational Designers and Techniques from Social Media'.

I have argued that the design for MOOCs should take more from games than from social media (though there are some pretty strong overlaps), including in a talk just last week3. My point was that instead of trying to design learning, which is focused on content, we should create environments in which people can practice.

Social media is a bit like an environment. It is a space (mostly) not bounded by structured presentation of material or decision trees (Facebook's stream is an oft-criticized exception). People are able to try out new ideas and new personals. The problem with social media is that the interaction is (mostly) limited to conversation. I would much rather see people interact by solving problems, figuring out puzzles, playing games, and creating things.

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Again, I have not clearly stated my point.

I use games as a metaphor to talk about MOOCs:

There are two types of games:
- those that depend on programmed design and memorization, and
- that create an environment.where players and objects interact

In the same way, there are two types of MOOC:
- those that depend on programmed design and memorization - xMOOC
- that create an environment.where participants and objects interact - cMOOC

The first type of game was a failure. They could be defeated by mere memorization and were not interesting. They disappeared from the market.

The second type of game was a success, and should be used as a model for MOOCs (and indeed, were a part of the model George and I used when we developed cMOOCs).

So this second type of games is the type of games I am talking about.

When comparing this second type of games and social networks, I agree with you that there are many elements in common. They are both environments, they are based on the interaction between participants, and they can be used to solve problems, negotiate and communicate.

But there are also some important differences:
  • games are inherently about solving problems or responding to challenges, while social networks can be much more passive.
  • games typically involve a wide range of different types of objects (even objects in the physical world) while social networks involve conversational elements only.
This not to say that we must choose between either games or social networks. Both inform the theory of environmentally-based learning, where participants interact in a common space with objects and with each other.

But it is to say that a model based on social networks alone will be insufficient to inform the design of successful MOOCs. The elements of a successful networking environment need to be taken into account.

Because, yes, the connections are of the utmost importance. We cannot learn from each other without connections.

But the manner, organization and structure of those connections must be designed with the intent of creating the most interesting and accessible environment. People will learn from each other, not from the MOOC.

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I don't agree with this: "It's important what the discussion is about, what the goal of the discussion is..." I think there is too much desire on the part of educators to shape the learning of individuals. We should see our function as more supportive than directive.

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You say: "The content - or the concrete problem - should be the center in dialogue for learning." And yet: "not that this should be determined by the instructor/teacher/facilitator."

Two things:
  • First, I don't think both things can be true. If you are going to say something should be the case in learning, then you cannot say that it should not be determined by the instructor/teacher/facilitator.
  • Second, there are many cases wher this need not be the case. Where someone is learning merely for pleasure, for example (which explains how I acquired a knowledge of the Roman Empire). Or where different people are working on different problems, not a common problem.