Flexible, blended, and online learning

Frequently used terms such as flexible learning, online learning and e-learning “are understood in very diverse ways by providers and clients.Consequently what they do under these headings, and the judgements they make about the outcomes and outputs vary greatly” (KPMG Consulting Australia & LifeLong Learning Associates, 2002, p. 82).

Todhunter’s paper illustrates the lack of clarity university students may perceive in their understanding of the above terms. There exists, however, a technological imperative to do online what is possible in a proximate context.  Universities who advocate distance learning, MOOCs and the like, envision the potential technology affords. Todhunter points out the disparity between the definition of an “on-campus” student and an “off-campus” one. Does one who is on site physically, seated in the cafe but not the lecture theatre, constitute an on-campus student? Watching his lecture in his own time rather than at the appointed time? The question Todhunter raises is one of semantics.


Adelaide Uni Hub - 16 copy

In the secondary situation, students gather in groups of similar ages, in a physical location, reined around that location by teachers and bells, packing and unpacking bags, beginning and ending lessons in different disciplines. Technology is cornered into the same pattern, with the LMS as the new blackboard and the iPad as the new slate. The potential to create a more dynamic virtual and physical space for learning is always there, but the importance of the forming of a mindset for change, for an emerging collaborative and connected culture, remains latent in the shared philosophy of what constitutes secondary education.

Todhunter, B (2013) LOL — limitations of online learning — are we selling the open and distance education message short? Distance Education, 34(2), p.232-252

The modern classroom

The Skype experience that Tolisano brings to her students is well and truly embedded in her connected educator thinking. It required activation of prior learning, careful consideration of roles and of digital citizenship, as well as reflective journaling afterwards. This was a process that engaged the students in a holistic and integrated learning experience, designed and mapped carefully, but with some allowance for the serendipitous. Equally, Miller has used online learning spaces and tools to enhance the learning experiences of her primary school students.

It’s interesting that both Tolisano and Miller are working in a primary context. They have a missionary insight into the potential for learning when knowledge networking is embraced. Shared learning is not about the answers, but about the process of learning. How can this be changed until we change our thinking about assessment?

In an ideal world, secondary and even tertiary learning might be as integrated and learning focused as primary pedagogy tends to be. The reality on the ground (at the secondary chalkface as it were) is substantially different. The secondary curriculum, by its nature, creates firewalls between subject disciplines which are still closely guarded by content-focused specialists. Online learning implies a greater fluidity. Connectedness with the outer world assumes an inner connectedness that is far from the reality of too many working in the secondary arena.

One of the obstacles is that secondary assessment has its end point embedded in a kind of competitiveness. The ATAR is a rank, not a score. It sets one learner against another. Yes, as Tolisano says, we do need a revolution in assessment, one that reflects the modern classroom, and what the true purpose of education has always been-  not a competitive enterprise, but the coffee shop, where we build on each others’ ideas.


Thus educators need to embrace the revolution that focuses on what we are learning to achieve. The migration to collaborative learning environments is still too much of a work in progress.


Michael Fullan underlines this in The Moral Imperative of School Leadership. The moral imperative will never amount to much, unless school leaders take it on the road.

Michael Fullan



Connected teachers and information specialists can act as the fulcrum between the learner and the leadership, where collaborative and connected learning must be embraced.


Recurring dreams.

There are so many engaging conversations happening about education at the moment. Flipped, blended, global, problem-based, connected, student-centred, peer to peer, guided and blended learning abounds in Google+, Twitter hashtags and wikis everywhere. Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 11.25.47 am

Gregor Kennedy’s question and the points he proceeds to make emphasise the role of the teacher in learning. Has the pendulum swung too far he asks? Much of what I have read about the different types of learning does emphasise the learner  – their role, their questions, their interests, their motivations – and the question as to whether this is to the detriment of the teacher/ student relationship is a thought-provoking one. Kennedy suggests we are doing well at using technology for dissemination of information, but that this is low-level, uneven and sporadic. We are over-emphasising interaction with the content and under=emphasising the teacher.

Steve Wheeler says the cognitive energy it takes students to manage the learning management system in the school detracts from learning. My experience with the LMS at my school certainly bears this out. There is a similar experience for the teachers, who spend their time trying to manage the LMS, leaving little energy for the true creative art of teaching.


Or as Keith Brennan describes the overwhelm…

Cognitive load



We’re failing to focus on what truly matters in the teaching and learning experience – that of relationship. The value is going into the technology and not necessarily the relationship required to facilitate teaching and learning. It’s hard, says Kennedy, it requires time and effort. And attention. Because it matters. The teacher does still matter.



Digital artefact

This digital artefact

sets out to provide an introduction to the concept of a PLN, and I think it does this quite effectively. However….

  • I wish I had attributed more to sources of inspiration – those people with whom I’m already connected.
  • It flows well, but it would have been better to have provided some pauses in the commentary for ideas to sink in. The narrative doesn’t really stop – pauses would have provided the opportunity for visual reinforcement and for preparation in what is to come. A more punctuated presentation might have been more “grabby”.
  • Inserting more text interspersed with the images and animation would have emphasised the points more.
  • I used only my own images and those freely available on Creative Commons through Flickr and Pixabay which required no attribution, but I omitted to explain this at the end of the artefact. In retrospect, I should have added this to the last part of the artefact. It looks rather naked without attribution.
  • I have learned to use Powtoon which I really liked. I took up the Teacher offer subscription ($24 a year) which allowed much more flexibility in upload, animation tools and resolution.
  • I don’t like the sound of my own voice and would need much convincing to do this again!

What endures?

In this interview with Howard Rheingold. Alec Couros asks, “What will endure?” The connections will he says, not necessarily what was shared. There are so many connections to be made on social networking sites, and there’s an inherent value and learning there, or why would we keep going back?

I know I’ve focused much more on networking outside my school than within it. After 4 years with a senior leadership team who truly believed in the power of the collaborative culture, and the building of those relationships with teachers and students, I now feel quite bereft that they’ve all moved on to bigger and brighter worlds. I do wonder why their belief was not embedded deeply in the learning culture, but I know there are fewer connected teachers now than there were two years ago. The new SLT have bigger fish to fry. Technology has definitely been the focus, but it has become an end in itself, with a distinct lack of underpinning framework. And i haven’t worked out how to do what Alec Couros is advocating. Yet.


Retrieved from : http://youtu.be/ru6LoU2-kC0


How do you design for aliveness?

An excellent question from Etienne Wenger et al. They suggest a community of practice needs something alive in them to keep them buoyant, and, just as space design encourages a certain type of interaction, so a well-designed  community of practice allows for a particular ecosystem to thrive. What does drive teleological organicity in an ecosystem? Wenger et al have described 7 principles that embody thoughtful design, design that works, that focus on the value derived from a network of practice. Such communities exist within many areas of social networking, but particularly in Twitter. Therein exists different levels of participation, there are both the familiarity of followers, as well as enthusiasm for new people, and there is an inherent rhythm. It is a living thing, a network that acknowledges the importance of relationships. The value lies within the sharing, the common goals, but also in the commonly held belief of network users that there is learning in collaboration, the “social co-participation” (p.295)

(Preaching to the converted.)

Howard Rheingold understands the importance of our social media literacies. We need to counter the entitlement students feel to direct their attention wherever they want, so that they learn to exercise “mindful deployment” in order to be a critical consumer. Where we give our attention is central, along with how we participate, with whom we collaborate, and what new literacies are demanded in the changing information landscape.


Rheingold, H. (2010). Attention, and Other 21st-Century Social Media LiteraciesEducause Review, 45(5), 14.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. M. (2002). Seven principles for cultivating communities of practice. In Cultivating communities of practice : a guide to managing knowledge. Boston : Harvard Business School Press.

Wenger, E. (2012). Communities of practice: A brief introduction. Retrieved from

Network literacy

What does it mean to be literate? McClure’s paper of 1993, both perceptive and ahead of its time, could be throughly innovative for some of my colleagues in 2015. The information literacy definition ” the ability to locate, process and use information effectively” (p.117) still underpins mission statements in school libraries today, many of whom still believe this is innovating into the 21st century. The question is then, is this definition timeless, or are information specialists just not prepared to let go of analogue thinking?

McClure’s proposition that the gulf is widening between the “elite few” who do understand the power of networks, and the rest of the population who are illiterate. His concerns are for equity and focusing on the issue from a policy perspective, where governments – those in control – find ways to educate individuals so that they live productive lives in society, emphasising taking seriously the challenges of the information age.

Rheingold says humans have been creating networks since they evolved into homo sapiens. This is not new. He focuses on the freedom of the internet, which is open to all through networking groups of people. It is only under the control of government when they agree, vis the Netflix syndrome. The international downloading of films. The control of networks is impossible.

Maybe there’s a dawning realisation that government is less in control than it thinks it is.(cf China – can block Twitter, control ISPs. ) The technical architecture of the internet, says Rheingold, reserves innovation for the users, not the controllers. This presents a challenge for those who would like to control (Learning Management systems in schools anyone?) and seek not to have diffused and decentralised networks. When people can organise themselves without organisations, this is threatening for hierarchical models.


control freak

Social capital, says Rheingold, is the capacity to get things done as a group, without the direction of government.

McClure focuses on the role of government in driving network literacy, while Rheingold focuses on the capacity of the individual nodes to connect around mutual interests.  McClure says we can’t make predictions about how the networked society will evolve. (p.119) but that the characteristics of the networked society may change.

Literacy has never been any different. We just see it through different perspectives. We learn to look at it through different lenses, that of our time and context. Literacy is the capacity to share, and it is only relevant in the context of its time. Without literacy there is no sharing and on this Rheingold and McClure are in harmony.

Coping strategies.

The paralysis that ensues when faced by the sheer volume of choice available through the new models of information is perfectly comprehensible. Going from a supermarket that once had 600 items from which to select, to one with over 10,000, creates a definition of choice that is simply insurmountable. Information stress, cognitive overload, continuous partial attention and technostress (Bawden and Robinson, 2009) presents an image of a digital world from which one might be tempted to retreat were it not for the fact that this is our new reality, and that of our students. Information is cheap, ubiquitous,  complex in nature and appearing in diverse formats. The solution is to take control, but how is that done when the ground is constantly shifting underneath you?

Even the secure knowledge that down at the newspaper office, the editor and journalists selected a handful of interesting stories from all possibilities that day and then delivered them to you, you never felt the fear of missing out. And there was never an obligation to read everything. Now, not only is the torrent overwhelming for the receiver, things aren’t working out too well for the print media either. Blogs and social media are challenging traditional journalism, just as the iPhone is squeezing out professional photographers. As De Saulles (2012) points out there are fewer opportunities for publishers to generate income. And yet media in new, diverse digital formats  – The Huffington Post, The Conversation, The Guardian, amongst many others –  are making their appearance. Quality in commentary and analysis may be compromised, and perhaps this is a reasonable criticism, but many of the journalists who worked in print media have made the move online quite seamlessly.

The lack of central control has lead to a new openness. The ends of information are human ends, says Brown and Duguid, and people are free to decide what matters and with whom they choose to collaborate. Social media places power in the hands of the consumer, who with the new tools, is now is a producer of information as well as a receiver. Resistance is futile, says Brown and Duguid. Perhaps that is true. One could choose simply not to be part of it. (A bit like the anti-vaxxers?) Actually, many people, including many teachers, choose that path. I would be one of the few people in my school who are consciously choosing to be connected. That, i believe, is another post.


  • Bawden, D., & Robinson, L. (2009). The dark side of information: overload, anxiety and other paradoxes and pathologies. Journal of Information Science, 35(2), 180–191.
  • De Saulles, M. (2012). Information 2.0: new models of information production, distribution and consumption. Facet Publishing.
  • Brown, J. S., & Duguid, P. (2002).Limits to Information. In The social life of information (pp. 11-34). Boston: Harvard Business School Press.


Being connected is the new black.

The facility to connect and collaborate with other educators through new media has made my learning grow exponentially. What’s new and different? Just about everything. Sharing through Twitter and Twitter chats, being part of groups in Diigo, Google, Facebook, (not doing the LinkedIn thing though), being fed RSS feeds, as well as being part of this Masters course, has provided an anywhere, anytime PLN, which is not limited to the face to face opportunities which preceded it. So absolutely, I have moved beyond cooperation.

I have to say though that I have often found it challenging to have like-minded educators using social media to be connected, in my own school. One former principal described it as having a “courtyard mentality” where it spent time navel-gazing. Despite my belief in the importance of embracing change, it moves at a glacial pace. Perhaps it’s my recent arrival as a teacher librarian, coming from a language teaching background. Or even not being a 25 year old, career-building. Baby steps I’m told constantly. Like trying to turn the Queen Mary on a sixpence, my English husband would say. I am working with like – minded people, as much as possible, but many of them are wedged in the traditional ways. i do feel the passion for being connected and I do believe we are short-changing our students when we are not prepared to learn and change.

The literacies I find most surprising? My effective filtering and curating strategies, which have been a revelation. I am not very organised, (terrible for a librarian to concede) but finding ways to gather, filter, organise, share and connect students and teachers to information, has been as surprising to me as anything in my teaching career.

Our greatest hope

Thomas and Brown (2011), in describing the new culture of learning, are optimistic. They see the new drivers of learning as play and motivation and their examples illustrate the potential of the new technological and social media tools to harness users’ imagination. They are paying attention. Educators who are paying attention have a very optimistic view of the future of learning. It does involve transforming what is currently happening in schools.

The divergence that I witness between what happens in classrooms on a day-to-day basis and what is possible in learning, is growing. In fact, if it were to be illustrated in a Venn diagram there would be a struggle for any overlapping area to occur. What I have always found interesting is that we are talking the talk – the Australian Curriculum talk, the “big ideas”, the 1-to-1 imperative, the importance of technology – but what we are actually doing is replacing the slate with something new and shiny. But the old way is becoming less effective, as Thomas and Brown underline. The old way is marked by competition, by ownership of one’s own work, by ranking. The new way is collaborative, peer-to-peer learning and networks that breach the classroom walls. The problem is that most educators, schooled in the old way, won’t let go. Assessments still demand ranking, right and wrong, individual work and fear of not getting the right answer. Structures in schools make the old way the way to go, despite the rhetoric.


Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011) A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Lexington, KY: CreateSpace.