Social learning: the next step in education technology

Personalised learning is a new trend in education technology. This method makes use of software that monitors each student’s progress and then adapts content, instruction and assessment based on the student’s performance.

Mike Sharples, Professor of Education Technology at The Open University, was instrumental in developing the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platform for his school. He said that the University’s platform is not designed merely to provide long-distance lectures. Rather, it offers a newer and better learning experience to students by encouraging social learning.

He believes that as more students sign up with the MOOC platform, their learning experiences will improve.

Mr Sharples pointed out that while personalised learning is something that will benefit students, it also carries a risk of isolating them, as it does not take conversations and cooperation into account. This is the reason why he used Gordon Pask’s Conversation Theory while designing the new MOOC platform for The Open University.

This platform is operated by FutureLearn, and each course that it offers uses conversation. Mr Sharples said that every teaching step, text, video and interactive question comes with comments, questions and student replies. It looks to spur discussions and get students thinking about what they have learnt, and it also encourages students to work together and talk about their individual learning goals.

While other online learning platforms do have forums for students and learners, what sets the MOOC platform apart is the conversation-based learning, according to Mr Sharples. It uses conversation as a core component of learning.

He added that it is not mandatory for students to take part in discussions and conversations to complete a course. However, when students make an effort to be part of discussions, they enjoy better learning outcomes.

Mr Sharples cited FutureLearn’s MOOC platform as an example to show that social learning can be successful on a large scale.

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