Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology & Associate Professor at Royal Roads University

Success, personal learning plans, and multiple pathways in open courses

Posted on August 17th, by George Veletsianos in courses, learner experience, moocs, sharing. 30 comments

While designing my open course focusing on networked scholars, I’ll be posting updates here pertaining to pedagogical and design decisions that I’m making. [Aug 20, 2014 update: Course registration is open]

The course is intended to help doctoral students, academics, and other knowledge workers on how social media and networked technologies may support/extend/question their scholarship. The course will also be “wrapped” by a colleague in real-time and colleagues who teach research methods courses will be sharing it with their students. In short, the audience is diverse, their background knowledge varies, and their needs/desires will vary. So, the question becomes, how do you support all learners to achieve what they aspire to achieve?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about success in open courses. I’m intrigued by discussions of multiple pathways (or dual layer) through open courses and I’ve been reflecting on how to support the different groups of people that might visit (and use) my course. In the GoNorth projects, we had thousands of teachers annually use our digital learning environment and curriculum. To accommodate their needs the curriculum consisted of 3 levels: (experience, explore, expand). This design encompassed varying levels of difficulty and involvement and allowed teachers to adjust the curriculum to local needs. In the edX course Data, Analytics, and Learning that George, Carolyn, Dragan, and Ryan are teaching in the Fall, the learner is given more of that control. The instructors write: ”This course will experiment with multiple learning pathways. It has been structured to allow learners to take various pathways through learning content – either in the existing edX format or in a social competency-based and self-directed format. Learners will have access to pathways that support both beginners, and more advanced students, with pointers to additional advanced resources. In addition to interactions within the edX platform, learners will be encouraged to engage in distributed conversations on social media such as blogs and Twitter.” I like this because of the recognition that learners come to courses with varying needs/wants and that recognition influenced the design of the course.

In thinking about the different needs that students in my course will have, a group of instructional designers and I at Royal Roads have created a scaffold to help individuals define what they want to achieve in the course. This tool will be helpful for self-directed learners and those with enough background knowledge on the topic, but, depending on how it is implemented, it can help novices as well. The scaffold is a Personal Learning Plan (.rtf). I think this might be helpful to others, so I’m tagging it with an open license so that others can use it as they see fit in their own courses. Here’s how it works:

I assume that individuals will enrol in this course to pursue a personal need/ambition (e.g., “I want to learn how education researchers use social media for research and I am at a loss as to where to start”). To support learners in this, I will be asking them to develop a personal learning plan (PLP) as a way to define, verbalize, and be mindful about their goals. A PLP will allow learners to define what they want to achieve by enrolling in the course and reflect on their successes and accomplishments. 

Once participants create a PLP they can either keep it private, share it with the instructor, or share it on a discussion board. Sharing it on a discussion board might allow them to be more accountable to the goals they have set and to connect with colleagues that have similar goals. There is one problem here: Let’s assume that the course will be of interest to a couple of hundred people and a hundred of them post their PLPs on a discussion board. That will quickly become overwhelming for everyone. How do we reduce the information available to help learners find each other based on common interests? If learners could tag their post, and the tags became available at the top of the discussion thread, that could help, but alas, that’s not an option available on the platform that I am using. If any of you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them!

Below are two fictitious learning plans as examples. These only have 1 row each, but learners could include as many rows as they need.

The first one is relevant to PhD students

Goal Action(s) to achieve goal Measure of success (i.e. How will I know that I was successful?) How much time do I anticipate spending to achieve this goal?
Decide whether of not to start blogging about my dissertation - Read assigned material- Participate in discussions - Make a decision by the end of the course 2 hours per week for the next 4 weeks

The second one applies to an early-career academic (e.g., a lecturer, a professor, a researcher, etc).

Goal Action(s) to achieve goal Measure of success (i.e. How will I know that I was successful?) How much time do I anticipate spending to achieve this goal?
My social media activity is gaining global following. I want to understand the tensions that I might face. - Read everything associated with week 2.- Participate in as many relevant discussions as possible in week 2.- Join the live panel discussion during week 2. - I will write a 200-word journal entry describing potential tensions and challenges that I might face. 7 hours during week 2

Of course, it is entirely possible, and research has shown, that learners don’t know what they don’t know. A personal learning plan isn’t a panacea, which is why every course needs to include a diverse range of scaffolds and supports. But this is turning out to be a long post, so I’ll save those thoughts for a future update.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. How does this sound? What might be some problems with it? How could it be improved?


30 thoughts on “Success, personal learning plans, and multiple pathways in open courses

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