It’s funny how we all associate Google with learning, rather than just searching. For specific information, I can see why: a single result for Oxfordian theory, for example, satisfies my needs pretty well. Not bad for a time investment of a few seconds.
But searching and learning are not one and the same. Consider what happens when you search for a broader topic. The word Shakespeare yields 52 million random and mainly unhelpful results. After hours of related search I’m not learning much, relative to the time I put in. I discover that Project Gutenberg has the plays for download, but its messy and I find a book or DVD much more convenient for the actual plays. Meanwhile, the Merlot collection has similar offerings. Clearly, we are still some ways off manageable OER resources, and I find no systematic way to tackle my subject. For sure there are some good articles on Google, but it’s all random (and all text) and I get the feeling, again, that a decent book might serve me better.
Why haven’t more people tried to create learning frameworks for the disciplines online? Google search results do not coalesce in any sense. By contrast, a book will pull the information into context, even if it is arbitrary or limited. Online, I can store stuff in a PLE, but that is still just a loose collection, rather than a framework per se. And while text results were at least plentiful on Google, the audio and video results were abysmal (essentially nothing for ‘Richard 2nd’, for example and even the most popular plays.)
Try another search
With my 2nd search – learn English – things really went downhill: 50 million results, but all random stuff, of mostly poor quality. Much web-based language learning content is out of date, compiled by hobbyists who patched sites together over time with no notion of networked learning, instructional design, or even the tools of social media, and still less any notion of how to present it. The visitor pays the price, in the form of time, particularly since it is difficult for a non-expert to distinguish the good content from bad. Learning English on the basis of of serendipity is not a learning strategy.
Google simply takes us to whatever is out there – bits of information. Very little of that was even designed for the web, but simply migrated there from elsewhere. Learning a discipline, however, takes more than just data, which is why people still go to night classes and buy textbooks. Efficiency, time, and focus are all hugely important issues. A framework ties this together and offers as sense of direction.
For some, the framework might involve human guidance, while for others it could simply mean a book, or a schedule at a night class. For us, the solution has been a platform that brings together the people, content, system necessary to enable a sustained learning endeavor. We try to give learners enough guidance to set them on their way but enough freedom to choose their own lessons and actively create their own context. (Learners really should make their own decisions.)
- At the people level: this includes advice/guidance from practitioners and other learners. Aggregating the experience of practitioners and successful learners can motivate, save vast amounts of time, and accelerate learning. In a sense the people are part of the framework. Pretty soon you have a community of practice on your hands.
- On a systems level: the framework offers searchable, accessible learning objects that are tagged and organized along a number of possible learning objectives.
- At the content level: lessons are designed for relevance, engagement, etc. These learning objects form a repository of lessons that can be tied together at will.
Our objective was to enable the learner to hit the ground running and create real value. With a clear social object, the community that grows around it adds to the context of learning, and is part of the framework. I discussed this issue with the brilliant Vincent Wade from Trinity College, Dublin last week, when I met him at Elliot Masie’s Learning 2008 Conference, in Orlando. There was much fruitful discussion and I believe there will be more.