In a recent blog post I argued that Moodle should look to follow the market leaders of social media in order to draw inspiration for future developments. This got a lot of comment and some disagreement. Here I explain my point in more detail.
It is a truism to say that in order to obtain a deep understanding of something (or to be truly knowledgeable about it) we need to engage in the subject material.
We also know that students often do not truly engage with their studies. Even the students that do well often have only done enough to pass assessments. In such cases their knowledge is usually transient and useful only for the purpose of passing the assessment.
Many of us in education feel this is a wasted opportunity and are trying to get students to engage at a deeper level with their studies.
So how do we do this?
Usually it involves breaking the educational mould which many of our successful students have grown comfortable with. We need to step outside the traditional models of teaching and assessment. It helps if we conceptualize teaching as a process of guidance, and assessment as a process we do in order to guide our students better. It helps if we bypass theories of learning which articulate it as a process of "acquiring knowledge” and follow theories of learning which articulate it as a practice of doing.
I have seen inspiring teaching and assessment methods being deployed at my institution: tutors who are changing the educational rules, making space for social interaction and rewarding students for engaging in activities which require criticality, personality and resourcefulness. I am happy to talk to you about it some time.
However, of importance to my argument here - education is not the only cultural field that are trying to get people to engage. Social media companies attempt to get its users to engage too. And they are very successful at it.
When I walk around the computer labs at my university I am more likely to see the students having a Facebook page open than our learning system. Why? Because they find it engaging and they want to interact with it.
It is worth noting, and I am sure you will agree, that learning is not confined to educational settings. We are always learning. We learn from whatever we engage with - whether play-fighting with our siblings, building electric cars or having a football match.
We are also learning when we are engaging with social media; learning about current affairs, personal hobbies, and what our friends, and the wider world, find funny and interesting.
"So what?", you may ask, "We aren't interested if our students learning this stuff - we want them to learn the course curriculum".
No, but we can draw insights from it - "if only we could marry the two”.
In the same blog post I argued that in blended learning scenarios a Moodle course is like a bespoke textbook for the curricula being taught. And we all know that education at times struggles to get students to engage with their curricula learning, particularly engagement with content buried in textbooks and online resources.
Let me explain, I find the bespoke textbook a helpful metaphor when conceptualising the creation of a course/site, but it isn't as helpful metaphor when thinking about the students' experience of interacting with the learning environment.
Think of Facebook. From the user's point of view they are updating their profile, but from their friends' point of view they are adding to the stream in their list of News items.
Similarly from a course creators' point to view they adding resources and activities to their bespoke textbook, but consider this: what if from their students' point of view the content or activity being added was to a stream of curricula-related updates. Would this stream be more effective in drawing our students into the course sites (bespoke textbooks) and engaging further? Evidence drawn from social media would predict so.
According to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg: "Every new product that wants to build engagement bases its design on feeds”. I argue then our learning systems could benefit from being based on feeds too. A feed-based learning system could be a dynamic and an addictive interface which keeps students coming back and engaging in curricula-based content.
Steven Levy in Wired magazine (Jun '14) says, "Ever since Twitter and Facebook debuted in 2006, the model of continually streaming updates has come to define how we consume information”.
Consume information? Is that like learning? I don't know, but my point is that when designing the Moodle software we should look to social media to find patterns which can encourage our students to interact and engage with curricula learning and increase its vibrancy and relevance.