I’ve been blogging about the difficulties of Connectivist MOOCing, and about the pluses, and Christoph Hewett’s tweet helped synthesise a clatter of complex thoughts that had been rattling around my head for a few days.
A quick apology
I’ve been thinking about technovice’s and how they might be coping. About MOOC completion rates and complaints of being lost. In thi spost, I want to talk about problems, and solutions, and pick out some people and practices for praise. It’s complicated, difficult, and layered. For that I apologise in advance. But I think the content may speak to some of the things that are at the heart of the educational experience.
Etmooc a noble, idealistic and hugely positive attempt to connect educators with ideas, and create the skills necessary to network intelligently and generously in an envioronment in which this generosity is the currency of knowledge.
But here’s the catch…
Christoph’s tweet captured an idea for me, like a raindrop on a leaf can capture and invert entire world when viewed from exactly the right angle.
Learner centred learning and what we already know.
Learner centred learning takes account of, and speaks to the differeing needs, requirements, and contexts of the students we engage with.
For the moment, I want to look at Prior Knowledge as a part of this individualisation. The variation in knowledge about the content and technology in #etmooc is huge. It’s also a regular complaint, query, and cry for help. It’s also a key, and highly individual characteristic which has a massive impact on learning. Student./learner centred experiences take prior knowledge into account, sometimes as, after motivation, the most important aspect of the learning experience. It’s just one of the characteristics and aspects that we need to taske into account when we are teaching students, but it’s speaks very strongly to student centredness. No matter what our pedagogy, constructivist, instructionist, transmission teachu=ing, unguided discovery learning, hardcore Bahaviourist, Cognitivist, constructionist, we take care with what is learned. We don’t go from multiplication straight to Einstein’s field equations, or from thew ABC to Finnegan’s Wake.
Prior knowledge here is both of the content of the MOOC, and of the methods of connection and delivery. It’s considered by both Cognitivists, and by Constructivists (and Behaviourists, though more implicitly perhaps), to be a key point of learning. It also varies from person to person, and has a massive bearing on the educational experience we need to provide for them. Prior knowledge is considered to have a greater impact than teacher skill, in knowledge acquisition. It is one of the most important facets and determiners of learning.
- Having a low Prior Knoweldge makes learning more difficult, and demanding.
- Less can be remembered, and more needs to be explained.
- Cognitive Load (the amount of mental effort required) increases as prior knoeledge decreases.
- As Cognitive Load increases, the amount of new information we can commit to long term memory decreases.
- Low Prior Knowledge lowers self efficacy (I’ll get to this later
- Lack of Prior Knowledge may indicate that the learner has not developed efficient learning strategies.
- Low Prior knowledge means the student may not benefit from knowledge efficiencies. If I know how to cook an egg, making an omelette is an easy next step. Less so if I have never coooked before.
- Low Prior knowledge means the student has less existing knowledge with which to merge new knowledge, a hugely determining cognitive characteristic.
Experts and novices (in general – there are of course other characteristics that need to be taken into account) need different learning experiences. Novices tend to benefit from more structuire, access to expertise and feedback, and guided paths thrugh learnin, experts tend to benefit from less structure, less guidance, and more freedom in their learning paths, and networking.
Leanrers with different Prior Knowledges need different leanring environments.
The complaints, calls for help, and senses of drowning are coming from Learners with low Prior Learning.
Albert Bandura and the sense of a capable self.
This is Albert Bandura.
He came up with several good ideas. Observational Learning and Social Learning are well known. Self Efficacy is the one he’s most remembered for, and what he considered most important in maintaining motivation, persistence, and deploying mental effort in learning.
MOOC’s and self efficacy.
In a MOOC, self efficacy is a mixture of confidence in yourself, and faith in the programme. Self efficacy is, simply put, your confidence in your own ability, and capacity to succeed at a task, as well as belief that the task is achieveable due to the contexts, tools, constraints and the overall situation. A high self efficacy is a sense of being a capable person, in charge of their own environment and future, withy the tools and ability to be equal to shaping both.
You can have high self confidence, perhaps becasue you have a history of learning well, but low self-efficacy because the task at hand is under resourced, or has impossible scheduling. But they are related.
How self efficacy shapes your world.
Self efficacy is a belief in your capacity and ability to shape your own world and experienec through your own capacity and effort, but also as a function of the tools and the context you are given to learn in.
Student’s with high self efficacy persist, work harder, achieve more, so long as the work is achievable, and conceive of themselves as more capable, powerful and confident, an prosecute further tasks with more and higher self-efficacy.
Student’s with low self-efficacy give u sooner, achieve less, and work less hard, and may, over extended period of self-efficacy, conceive of themselves with less confidence, ability, and power.
In self-efficacy theory, our concept of ourselves as people capable of wielding power, shaping our lives, organising and effecting change and achievement, is key to how we operate in the world.
Part of self-efficacy is knowing what the student needs to achieve, succedd and thrive. And a huge part of that is knowing, and working to, their Prior Knowledge. An educator who makes demands of a student that far outstrip their Prior Knowledge, and doesn;t provide the support, learning path, and tailored teaching that that journey requires is lowering a student’s self-efficacy. Each unachievable task is one ratchet lower.
“Successful efficacy builders ….In addition to raising people’s beliefs in their capabilities, they structure situations for them in ways that bring success and avoid placing people in situations prematurely where they are likely to fail often.”
To structure a situation in such a way that maximises opportunities for success, and minimises the likelihood for failure, you ned to know, and adjust for (amongst other things), your student’s Prior Knowledge.
Self-Efficacy is something a cMOOC is all about. It requires it, and it’s aim is to enhance it. But too achieve this, it has to be learner centred, and it has to take account of prior knowledge.
There are several ways to engage meaningfully with issues to do with Prior Knowledge and with self efficacy.
Here’s one suggestion, from Bandura.
Cheerlead people’s ability.
“People who are persuaded verbally that they possess the capabilities to master given activities are likely to mobilize greater effort and sustain it than if they harbor self-doubts and dwell on personal deficiencies when problems arise.”
This is something that Alec, the moderators, and the community are really, really good at. You can temporarily enhance someone’s sense of self-efficacy by cheerleading their ability and capabilities.. You can do it. Good work. This is within your ability. You’ve done things before that are as hard as this before.
That said, this is a patch, and it will only take if the person then succeeds. If they continue to find it difficult, they may begin to lose belief. If they find things impossible, they will.
Gauge, and adapt to prior knowledge.
So, here, you are looking at what someone knows, what they find difficult, and how, and you are tailoring instruction. Alec tweeted that they hoped the mentoring system would grow organically. This is an attempt to provide a safety net for people who need instructionist style learning. Novices. If someone is drowning, an expert is the best person to throw them a lifelinbe. Mentoring is a good start. But here’s some other suggestions.
- Lower the cognitive load for novices. It makes things seem possible, makes their learning , more efficient, and increases their sense of achievability.
- Take a leaf from the xMOOC book. Post actual instruction videos. Post and setup linear, guided learning paths for thos who need them. Add in resources for students to self test their own progress. Jargon a problem? Post a jargon busting resource, with a test of some sort afterwards, and give good feedback. Need to get people au fait with Google + (how many people wuit the mooc because of a deluge of notification,s or failing to find info, or not using the channels to publicise posts properly). Set up a series of resources that target likely problems. Set up a series of tasks for the student to achieve which validate their learning. Chunk your teaching, and make it structured. Experts may value freedom, but novices need specificity.
- Take a leaf from the task based/problem based MOOC book. Have your learning paths, and then provided tasks to validate and extend learning. If you have a mentor network, they can give feedback, and if not, design your tasks and instruction well so that success is self evident.
- Specify, in advance, and clearly, what the minimum specs of the course are, This would include things like the amount of hours per week, the broadband and computer requirements, but also the minimum knowledge. During this process, proviode access to your designed resources. Do this in advance. The ICARE module
- Provide suggested learning paths, in advance, for people who need them, to be ignored by those who don’t. Make this explicit.
- Stress the utility of what’s being learned. Learning X will enable you to do Y.
- Respond to the difficulties of your user base with flexibility and speed. The #etmooc team have been good here.
The ICARE answer.
I’d suggest designing the extra supports for novices with the ICARE model in mind
But that’s another post.
Making or undermining your user.
#etmooc needs to know it’s users. It needs to be aware of the differentiation of it’s learners. It needs to support those who need support, and set free those who need to be set free. It needs to be student centred.
Wisdom may be in the crowd, but education is a function of the individual. And ignoring that risks undermining our sense of ourselves as capable people. When we reach out to teach we take on board the responsibility that it entails, we ask people to risk something of themselves on faith that we will respect their leap, that we will take care with it, facilitate it, and ask of them what is reasonable to achieve, with the tools and conbtexts we provide.
A MOOC like this can make you. It can give you confidence, belief, ability, utility, and new power to share and shape your world. It can introduce you to a new and virtual world of efficacy. There is no reason for this not to be the case. But failing to provide the space your learners need to achieve is to fail those learners who need you most to succeed.
There’s a lot more waiting to be said here, but, well, it’s a start.