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Posted by on May 2, 2012

MOOC Learning Design: What does participatory design look like in open learning?

Constructivist is what constructivist explores

I am in the process of constructing a week of activities on ICT4D (and Mobile for Development-M4d) for the next installment of the MobiMOOC scheduled to run at the beginning of September, 2012. I will be acting as a facilitator for that week of activities, possibly along with others, and am beginning to put together materials for the course.

What is dawning on me is that I am perfectly comfortable in that role of facilitator and the nature of learning in the MOOC format. I believe in a constructivist, connectivist approach to open learning-participants leading the learning in the direction best suited to their needs with facilitation encouraging and perhaps augmenting that exploration. I link that use of constructivist learning in this format to the subject matter at hand and the general learning objectives. While ICT4D is a highly nuanced, highly contextualized subject, its objectives are direct enough: development of health, education, literacy, economic independence, government, agriculture. The building blocks of stable, knowledge producing societies.

So, a MOOC format allows for the exploration of what development looks like in personalized contexts, from my country to yours, from my region to yours. There are elements of these ICT4D projects that represent best practices and have some universal application; these we store away as design patterns (pattern language). There are other elements that are highly contextualized and need to be explored jointly, on the ground, in the field, in the culture. Hence, the necessity of participatory design in many ICT4D projects (especially if these projects are community-based). There is a good introduction to participatory design in ICT4D here.

The Hunch: Participatory Design for MOOC Design

Now this nature of constructivist learning in open courses and the presence of participatory design in many successful ICT4D projects has me thinking that MOOC course design itself can and potentially should be a participatory process. That is, the learning, the agenda, the resources, the activities, and the discussions should be all jointly elicited, mutually agreed upon, socially negotiated. So, we introduce an iterative, open design process for open learning, even one with an emerging agenda.

How realistic this approach might be remains to be seen, but it could potentially reveal some of the following:

  • emerging agenda and fluidity-an ability to shift mid-course if opportunities present themselves. Not just in terms of discussion, but in the curriculum itself.
  • accelerated and greater concentration of discussion-this is just a hunch, but a socially negotiated, participatory process for learning design would presumably result in a more engaged participation base.
  • weak-tie>strong-tie communities and social relationships-I suspect that such a jointly designed process would result in a general transitioning from a weak-tie network to a strong-tie one, or at least some subdivision of a stronger-tie network. In short, forged communities emerging from negotiated learning. This might lead to communities that well outlive the course itself, as was the case with the first MobiMOOC.
  • Developing regions (and other learning communities) empowered to create their own research agendas. Such an approach would presumably demand relevancy to local needs, learning needs, etc.

The Challenge for MobiMOOC: Open Now or Later?

So, after all this explanation, I am left with either opening the emerging learning structure now and jointly collaborating towards a negotiated agenda (assuming anyone would even be interested in such an approach), or open it once the course is open and the activities are structured closer to complete.

The learning objectives as of right now (as in I just typed them) are to:

  • understand the current state of M4D in developing regions
  • understand the general facets of a successful M4D project
  • learn how to evaluate existing M4D projects to determine impact
  • use or understand how Frontline SMS could be used for your own mLearning project

The first three are more conceptual so a good open structure would be more than appropriate for contextualizing discussion and learning activities. The fourth one, the Frontline SMS one, is a bit more applied, so it would be a mix of structural and constructivist learning taking place there. Participants wouldn’t need to know how to successfully implement Frontline SMS, but rather know how it works and where it can be applied.

So, where does the openness come in to this design equation? I am tempted to say it starts from design and carries right through to execution. A community dictating their own negotiated learning agenda, completed with their own open educational resources. At least making a nod to the fact that design is power and belief institutionalized. It seems that design of that nature if most useful if representative and participatory.

I have a Google Doc with an invitation link awaiting the resolution of this question. Can open learning stem open and participatory learning design?


Open learning design: come on in?
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  1. Hi Michael, this is just an awesome idea. I love it. If you have the time and the spirit, you should go for the full participatory approach as you suggest. It will surely be more time demanding setting up a negotiated learning agenda, but the learning track for all involved will be so inspirational and long lasting.

  2. Many thanks, Inge! I will lay out a few scenarios for how to pursue this and then I can open it up for some open learning design. I think the spirit of MobiMOOC is revolutionary, pragmatic, and open and I don’t mind the extra work if it means some greater understanding of how open learning could work. Perhaps I can rely on you to spread the word out via your network once I have posted. Thanks!

  3. For years I have taught my middle years students not only the content required, but the practice of reflection, self-evaluation, and assessment. They themselves are enabled to critique their own work against pre-established and co-constructed criteria.
    To think that the participants/learners can be involved in the program planning itself seems a logical extension. Moving from prescribed curricula to learning communities and spaces within which learners grow is a huge conceptual shift, but so very exciting and the right direction, in my opinion.

    • Good points and many thanks for chiming in. I see that curriculum design as a logical and pragmatic extension of what you do in the classroom (which is great structure, by the way). Pragmatically, it gets students invested in the process of learning, the structure of what is coming their way. And it does in a way that is authentic: jointly determining the learning we are going to perform over the coming term. I would love to see some applied examples of participatory design in curricula. Many thanks again for commenting! Love to hear what is happening in the classrooms.


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