An Ecological Learning Design approach

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This is the paper that wrote for my venia legendi in Tallinn University. The paper is summarizing the an Ecological learning design approach on what i have been working recent years.


  • 1. An ecological learning-design approach Kai Pata, Tallinn University, Center for Educational Technology I am building my ideas on the papers about the digital learning ecosystems (see McCalla, 2004, Fischeman & de Deus-Lopez, 2008; Gtl & Chang, 2008; Uden, Wangsa & Damiani, 2007; Lukin, 2008; Pata, 2009a,b; Whelan, 2010; Reyna, 2011; Briscoe, Sadedin & DeWilde, 2011; Laanpere, Pata, Normak, Pldoja, 2012), ecological cognition (Bardone & Pata, in progress) and ecological learning design (Young, 2004; Kirschner, Strijbos, Kreijns, Beers, 2004; Fischer, Giaccardi, Ye, Sutcliffe & Mehandjiev, 2004; Bishop, 2007; Hagen & Robertson, 2009; Fisher, 2012; Normak, Pata, Kaipainen, 2012). I am also aware that many interesting discussions with my colleagues Mart Laanpere and Emanuele Bardone have contributed to this paper. Learning design concept is used both for marking the design product as well as the design process. Learning design refers to i) better describing, understanding the pedagogic considerations for creating supportive conditions for learning and supporting and guiding learning, and ii) the practices a designer must do for creating a certain learning design. Learning design product and process both assume the consideration of certain learning theories that define what triggers learning, how does learning take place, and what is the result of learning. I believe that all these aspects of learning design can be approached ecologically, and if doing so we can initiate, manage and appropriate learning ecosystems, -situations and behaviors that are actual in the modern society (such as ubiquitous informal self-directed lifelong learning for personal flow experiences and satisfaction from successful responses to meeting the challenges and contributing for sustainable environments). I start this paper by defining a learning ecosystem from the point of view of learning, and in the next chapters I elaborate the structure, functioning principles and productive potential for learning ecosystem. Firstly, I will discuss, how to create design products that function as learning ecosystems. Using the example of a connectivist MOOC as a learning ecosystem I will try to elaborate the following issues: Why learning ecosystem is considered an effective form of maintaining learning? What are characteristics of a learning ecosystem? Which principles govern learning ecosystems? In the second part of this presentation, I will claim that the modeling of a functioning learning ecosystem, presumes the learning design process to take the meta-design approach that manages the bottom-up formation of a learning ecosystem involving the users into codesigning it throughout the lifetime of the design usage. I am discussing the following issues: What do ecosystem principles contribute to the ecological design process? Can meta-design approach be used for maintaining the ecological process towards creating learning ecosystems? In the beginning I define the learning ecosystem concept from the learning point of view. Learning ecosystem is an emergent and dynamically evolving system that is formed as a result of multiple self-directed actors ecological enculturation of some environment for increasing its productivity for learning. I will not explain all the concepts in this definition in the beginning, but rather will firstly discuss, what are the ecosystem components and which principles govern ecosystems, and then will come back to explaining what way learning ecosystems facilitate learning.
  • 2. 1. What are characteristics of a learning ecosystem? Ecology as a research field may be fruitfully used for explaining learning designs as learning ecosystems. We may take the ecosystem concept and use it to map and understand how learning design components behave as an emergent living ecosystem. In doing so the following questions might be in the focus: 1.1.Of what components does the learning design product - learning ecosystem contain of? In the design product view to any learning design the following learning and teaching services should be taken into account. As a nutshell a learning design product should cover the following purposes: Planning for learning objectives and criteria to which achieved learning objectives would meet Providing the learning activities and assignments that enable achieving learning objectives Using the learning resources (such as tools, artifacts, people) for learning and for supporting learning Getting support (such as how to learn and how to construct knowledge) Monitoring the learning success Assessing learning Evaluating the learning design and the impact of the learning design application Taking the service view to learning designs we may assume that various actors teachers, experts, learners, and the socio-technical system where the learning is taking place provide a variety of learning services. All together these services make up an ecological community of learning services that inhabit one ecosystem. In a closer look we can see that each type of the learning service may afford certain learning or teaching purposes (Planning, Activity-provision, Resource-provision, Support, Monitoring and Assessment). A variety of similar learning services may occupy the same teaching and learning purpose niche. Table 1 shows the examples of learning services within each purpose niche in the MOOC Learning Ecosystem. Example 1. Connectivist MOOCs Note that each element in the MOOC is mediated by certain technologies, which adds more diversity to each component type. Also, usually each component that actually is used for certain purposes may comprise other components. Elements of the learning design Learning objectives and criteria The learning activities and assignments that enable achieving learning objectives Teacher or organizationprovided Goals of the connectivism: new learning behaviors, emergence of sustainable networked structures between people and resources Goals of the course domain Teacher provided activities and assignments (such as self-learning tutorials, webinars, forums to discuss certain topics, Learner provided Learners personal objectives becoming engaged in, getting experiences, finding new challenges, learning about and how to in some domain Learner created activities for selfdirecting, coconstructing, negotiating Socio-technical system provided Emerging community objectives being accumulated from its individuals and evolving in time Emerging best practices of the community members visible through participatory surveillance systems and
  • 3. Using the learning resources for learning and for supporting learning Getting support co-creation assignments) Open learning resources and experts selected for the course Monitoring the learning success Assessing learning Teacher provided guidance how to participate at MOOCs with PLE Teachers and experts comments The instructing structures in learning resources and learning activities. Monitoring students assignments Assignment or artifact assessment Evaluating the learning design Teacher-reflections about the MOOC User-created open resources and the MOOC community members with different expertise Emerging and socially accumulated concepts, ideas, resource configurations, resource hubs (both artifacts, places and users) Peer comments and peer support elements such as in some discussion the provided help how to find or use some resources. Accumulated scaffolds such as tag-clouds, friend-feeds, ratings to certain resources Learning contracts, reflection portfolios Self- assessment Peer-assessment, peer-credentials Learner-feedback about the MOOC SNA of MOOC participants Accumulated tag-clouds Accumulated peer validation (rating, credentials) Learning analytics that base on ecosystem principles (see chapter 4.1) 1.2.Which is the fitness of these components to the certain learning ecosystem niches, how do they adapt to the niche, and how they contribute to changing the ecosystem niche? Niche is a concept that denotes certain range of affordances that are required to achieve the certain learning or teaching purpose. Niches for certain learning or teaching purposes are culturally defined, depending on the conceptualizations how learning should take place. For example, a Support niche in Behaviorism and Social-constructivism is conceptualized as a different set of affordances. In behaviorism the support means the feedback to learning that is given as a praise or punishment to shape certain learning behaviors. In social-constructivism the support is given by teacher and peers to scaffold knowledge construction. Besides being culturally determined, niches, as abstract affordance spaces of the learning design are also accumulated from the learning service affordances actualized by the actors and sociotechnical systems that constitute this learning design. For example in socio-constructivist learning design it would mean, for example, that forum is used to afford peer scaffolding or alternatively that peer support is maintained in the comments of the, or the teacher scaffolding is provided by a set of hints and prompts available in the assignment templates for blogs. Ecological psychology applications to learning technologies (Young, 2004; Kirschner, Strijbos, Kreijns, Beers, 2004; Bishop, 2007) suggest that learners/teachers direct perception of the learning environments action potentialities (or so-called affordances) varies and this would give the variability to the actual use of learning services in the elearning system. Due to the internal variety among services, some of them are less and others more fit to the particular purpose niche. Some of those learning services become frequently used and achieve much attention, while other competing services appear to be less successful and become less and less used as the learning design is used for teaching and learning. Therefore, throughout the lifetime of the learning design usage, the abundance of every learning service is changing. The teaching and learning services may evolve in response to selection pressures modified by themselves and their ancestors through learning niche construction and adaption to the niche. The learning services may depend on each other, communicate and influence each other; compete or have coalitions with each other in many ways, similarly as the biological
  • 4. species in natural ecosystems form trophic networks, communicate and have mutualisms (e.g. symbiosis). The community of teaching and learning services and agents is a concept for temporary coalitions (communities) denoting the services at present in the learning design. From the learning service community perspective we may look at the lifetime of a design product usage as if it was a growing meadow where different plant species naturally come to replace others, as the living conditions change. And the species themselves create the new living conditions to promote this change. For example at the MOOC, initially the community may contain more the tamed teacher-planned learning services and by time the MOOC users would create the richness of wild learning services that would compete for user attention with the teacher provided services. This succession towards the semi-natural teacher- and learner-created communities of learning services should not be considered as a failure, but rather as the ultimate goal of the design. Maintaining homogenous communities such as ideal teacher-planned sets of learning services (the analogy of an agricultural grasslands) needs constant care few learning services prescribe limited learning paths in order to maximize the productive learning flows for medium learners (just few unified trophic networks are allowed). The natural learner-created communities, on the contrary, are based on the richness of constantly changing learning services that can replace themselves in the trophic networks, that guarantees better self-regulation but also the succession of the servicecommunity in time. In these conditions it may happen that the teacher created services are not fit enough compared with those created in the wild and do not have a competitive advantage in the same learning and teaching service niches. The way in between would be the learning ecosystems that promote semi-natural communities where both the teacher- and learnercreated learning services could co-exist, and the former would be used to facilitate, enable and prune the richness of wild services and keep it in a state where succession is inhibited. In Estonian nature the examples of semi-natural communities are alvars, wooded and coastal meadows, where constant human activity is needed to maintain the rich grassland cultures from been overtaken by the forest provide an analogy to teacher- and student maintained learning ecosystems. 1.3.Which is the role of these components in enabling the learning flows within the learning ecosystem? The community of learning services at the learning design activated by different users, the users of this learning design, and the information and knowledge circulated within the learning design altogether form the learning ecosystem. The main form of ecosystem existence is through trophic chains of species that transform energy and matter composing and decomposing energy rich products, thus enabling the one-directional trophic flow through the ecosystem. In learning ecosystems the relevant concept to trophic flow is a learning flow. We may assume that in any learning design the purpose of the learning services is to compose such networks of trophic chains that enable users participating in the learning flows that transform the information to knowledge. The learning flow is powered by the proactive creation of learning services and the attention, consideration, communication and usage of available learning services that teachers, learners and the socio-technical system as the agents provide. There are several factors that enable the permeability of the learning flow in the ecosystems, such as the variety of available learning services for learning and teaching purposes, the density of certain kind of learning services and their aggregation in certain time moments of the learning design usage. The permeability of a natural ecosystem to circulation of energy and materials will depend on the nature of the 'architecture' of the components of the system, the connections in the trophic chains and the side-paths and hubs in the trophic web and characteristics of individual species. In MOOCs learners can modify the initial learning objectives provided by the teacher, everyone creates the resources, and many user...


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