I lead the Learning and Performance Support Systems program at the National Research Council, a multi-year effort to develop personal learning technology and learning analytics. I am one of the originators of the Massive Open Online Course, write about online and networked learning, have authored learning management and content syndication software, and am the author of the widely read e-learning newsletter OLDaily.


  • Association of Medical Educators of Europe (AMEE) E-Learning Symposium, Glasgow, Scotland, September 6, 2015.

  • Ghent, Belgium, March 30, 2015.

  • Chang School Talks 2015, Ryerson University, February 23, 2015.

  • Hackademia, Online, to Brazil, March 16, 2015.

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No Rich Child Left Behind, and Enriching the Rich: Why MOOCs are not improving education


I've heard this argument a lot, and here it is again: "All the evidence I know suggests that MOOC learners are typically well-educated, more affluent from the developed world, and male." OK, let's suppose that's true (it might not be). So what? First, MOOCs nonetheless provide more access than previously to people without access to education (mostly for people outside the United States, which is why they don't show up in the US-only statistics cited here). And second, it is true of pretty much all really useful things (like, say, the internet itself) that the first users are well-educated white males. That fact does not make the thing less useful. Consider another example: money. Most of it is in the hands of well-educated white males. But it doesn't follow that it would not be useful (even more useful, actually) in the hands of non-educated, non-white non-males. Image: E-learning Consortium.

Today: 330 Total: 330 Mark Guzdial, Computing Education Blog, 2015/11/27 [Direct Link]

Genes Influence How Drugs Work


The medical profession is taken as the standard-bearer for evidence-based learning theory, and the model here is large-scale trials with control groups and carefully measured interventions. The presumption in medicine (and so to for the corresponding education theorists) is that people are physiologically the same. Sure, there are variations in height, weight, and gender, etc. But where it really matters, at the biological and chemical level, there is no significant difference between people. Except... there is. "Do you reach for Tylenol or Advil? Most people have a preference because they have learned over time that one works better than the other at relieving their pain. This type of variability from person to person is true for nearly every medication." That's why we have doctors who work individually with patients when considering prescriptions and treatments.

Today: 270 Total: 270 Julie A Johnson, Humanity+, 2015/11/27 [Direct Link]

Academic Phrasebank


This University of Manchester 'academic phrasebank' was sent to me almost a week ago now, and I've been reading through it, mulling it, and trying to pin down why I find it so unsatisfactory. And it's not simply that it's a 'how-to' guide instructing students in the arcane are of obfuscation. It's because it substitutes the rote use of formulae and phrases for actual knowledge of linguistic structure and clarity of expression. It's like old-school mathematics, which is based on memorizing rather than comprehension. For example, there's a section on quantification. The phrasebank throws a list of phrases at readers. It is grammatically incorrect ("Over half..."). It is imprecise ("The average of 12 observations..."). It is passive ("... has experienced an 89% increase ...").  It doesn't indicate anywhere what a quantification is, and what it is of. It's a guide for people who don't understand what they're trying to say and how to say it, and it substitutes formula for clarity. Such is so much of learning today. Image: Mobogenie.

Today: 364 Total: 364 University of Manchester, 2015/11/27 [Direct Link]

Ten steps to make Canada a leader in science


Following from yesterday's discussion of science in Canada, we have today this post from Lee Smolin in Maclean's. Essentially, the advice is to focus on emerging leaders in promising domains overlooked by other institutions, to invest heavily in them, and to give them free reign, rewarding discoveries rather than citations or publications. I'm sure many scientists would nod in agreement. But it's the 'big man' theory of science, focused on rewarding a few stars (mostly just for being stars) and in my view it places at risk the overall scientific infrastructure in the country. The purpose of science isn't only to focus in this way. And you can't simply buy this focus from abroad, as Smolin suggests, you have to grow it at home, creating the field where emerging leaders can arise and promising international candidates can land. Science depends not on its stars (there's always a 'star') but on broad-based community support for science.

Today: 306 Total: 306 Lee Smolin, Maclean's, 2015/11/27 [Direct Link]

Update on British Columbia’s open textbook project


Tony Bates reports on the British Columbia open textbook project. Here's the bottom line: "BCcampus estimates that as of 24 November, 2015, the project has resulted in estimated savings for students of between $927,200 and $1,204,762. The calculation is based on 9,275 students across the 19 participating institutions who have adopted open textbooks." When we look at the total number of students in the system across Canada, the potential for savings from open textbooks becomes staggering. And this does not include the number of people outside the system who could benefit from free access to textbooks. You can find the open textbooks on the BCcampus OpenEd website.

Today: 163 Total: 839 Tony Bates, online learning and distance education resources, 2015/11/26 [Direct Link]

One Minute Physics


This is a nice set of short videos posted on YouTube explaining common concepts in science and physics. I was directed to this series by following the link to Why it isn't Faster to Fly West from a post on Kottke. It's a pretty smooth marketing channel. I also watched the next video in the series, How to Get into Space, featuring drawings from XKCD's Randall Munroe. I liked the completeness; not only does it explain rockets (in the ten-hundred words most frequently used), it also talks about what you have to do to become an astronaut and have other people allow you to go to space. If we could actually get ourselves organized (and there's no reason to believe that we won't, eventually) videos like these could and will form an important part of learning (not, learning will not consist of sitting in front of a computer watching eight hours of these).

Today: 124 Total: 800 YouTube, 2015/11/26 [Direct Link]

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.