Context in a Digital Learning Environment

I originally wrote about this in the context of a Digital Literacies (Searching the Internet Effectively) that I was pushing into an LMS for the first time. Prior to that, I didn’t bother using a real LMS, just pushed paper for assignments and gave people PowerPoints that had the links embedded in the text. Didn’t really need the LMS before (or after for that fact!).

In all senses, this issue still resonates with me – context, not content, is key. The moment that you learn something is almost as important as what you learned. I remember vividly what I was doing when something clicked – most of you will as well. It seems that most people make those associations between what they were doing and what they learned.

I feel like DS106 and CCK12 have the context hurdles managed in slightly different ways. DS106 seems to provide context using a local facilitator/teacher to help guide at first (maybe as a technical director?), but at some point, the power structure flips (as it did in the Dr. Oblivion/DS107 clash, as well as groups and communities form in CCK). Essentially the learners form their own context for their experiences, and maybe that’s the most important thing with these open courses is that they enable the learner to develop an understanding of how to provide their own context for what they’re learning. Both these  open, massive, online courses have a Tuckman’s stages of group development deal going on.

Walled Garden or Safe Space?

I’ve been to several, if not hundreds of community gatherings, discussion groups or encuentro (as the Zapatista’s put it) where there was always a safe space for members who wanted to engage but felt marginalized. The idea of the safe space is for those that feel marginalized could be empowered by taking some of the space of the gathering and discuss and bring forth issues that are of importance to that group (and eventually bring those forth to the larger group).

I often wonder if the traditional LMS could be a safe space for students. Not to knock the decentralized approach of DS106, because I too value the idea of putting an idea out into the open, seeing if it resonates with anyone else, and building on it. But I often think there’s a value to having everything together in one spot, to help students learn. The decentralized approach clearly works, because you can see where and when DS106 is successful. The arguments against LMS’s are fairly well trodden, they are locked down and unable to share externally – which is true in their unadulterated stated. However, you can easily embed a wiki, or other community based site (like YouTube) bringing the community in, and partially exposing the real world (as much as the Internet reflects the real world). At times in higher education, I think there’s a value in providing a space where one can experiment with ideas without having the pressure of the real world to bear on them. That should be what education is about.

I have a vested interest in keeping the LMS at the University I work at, because frankly, that’s my job (with that said, if it ever were to be decentralized, I’d be nimble enough to support blogs, wikis and other web 2.0/3.0 tools as well). I often say that there’s value in having a central location to reside in. Of course, there’s too few reasons to go to most courses – no sense of community, no value placed in a discussion online, no reward for student engagement… the list goes on and on. I can’t see great advancement in the use of LMS’s in general until faculty are looking for ways to connect their classrooms with the world.