I lead the Learning and Performance Support Systems program at the National Research Council, a multi-year effort to develop personal learning technology and learning analytics. I am one of the originators of the Massive Open Online Course, write about online and networked learning, have authored learning management and content syndication software, and am the author of the widely read e-learning newsletter OLDaily.


  • Association of Medical Educators of Europe (AMEE) E-Learning Symposium, Glasgow, Scotland, September 6, 2015.

  • Ghent, Belgium, March 30, 2015.

  • Chang School Talks 2015, Ryerson University, February 23, 2015.

  • Hackademia, Online, to Brazil, March 16, 2015.

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MOOCs for Research: The Case of the Indiana University Plagiarism Tutorials and Tests


This paper was recommended as a "must read" by David Merrill. I don't agree. Essentially the paper describes a short self-study course revised according to Merrill's "first principles" of instruction, and the revision found to have improved outcomes, as measured by testing. The course, which was launched in 2002, has become popular over the years, reaching more than 10 million "web requests" last year (assuming this number filters for non-human traffic such as search engines, this is similar to the traffic downes.ca receives). According to the authors, the large quantity of data collected allows them to generalize the results, thus confirming the first principles. I have a lot of issues with this paper, beginning with the author's suggestion that the course is a MOOC (if this is a MOOC, then so is my 1995 Guide to the Logical Fallacies). The account of MOOC itself is problematic - is a course really "a coherent academic engagement with a defined set of learning outcomes?” I'm not happy with the definition of "first principle" either as "a relationship that is always true under appropriate conditions, regardless of the methods or models used to implement the principle." And the methodology here is wrong - you can't generalize to anything on the basis of one course.

Today: 423 Total: 423 Theodore Frick, Cesur Dagli, , Indiana University Bloomington, 2016/07/01 [Direct Link]

Massive Open Online Courses and Economic Sustainability


Good article looking at the question of economic sustainability for MOOCs. There's a good account of the costs generated through the use of platforms like Coursera and EdX. For example, "Coursera would receive USD 25 per participant and USD 3,000 per course... the first USD 50,000 generated by the course, or the first USD 10,000 from each recurring course, will be taken by edX." And "the cost of an eight-week MOOC offered by Teachers College, Columbia University was estimated to be USD 38,980 while a five- to eight-week MOOC offered by Large Midwestern University was between USD 203,770 and USD 325,330." For these prices maybe I should start selling access to gRSShopper! The authors list and discuss briefly a variety of funding mechanisms (readers want to compare my own paper on sustainability for OERs as there is a lot of overlap in the models).

Today: 292 Total: 292 Tharindu R. Liyanagunawardena, Karsten O. Lundqvist, Shirley A. Williams, European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning (EURODL), 2016/07/01 [Direct Link]

Business Leaders Have Abandoned the Middle Class


It's so nice to see Umair Haque emerge from the shadows, so to speak. And isn't this true of education? "The truth is that today’s business leaders have failed in the simplest, starkest, hardest terms... business needs to play a more active, engaged role in creating the kind of thriving, vibrant economies that inoculate societies from self-implosion... The backlash from people who’ve been left behind by a broken model of prosperity is too sharp, too fierce, and too destructive. Just as it will be when climate change really accelerates, when the next financial crisis rolls around, when unemployed, education-debt-burdened young people reach their breaking point, and so on... There will come a point when abandoned people are willing to see the whole playing field burn down, so that it can be level again. And they might burn you down with it." (p.s. Haque says the 'middle class' - it should not be forgotten that they abandoned the poor and indigent a long time ago.)

Today: 226 Total: 1010 Umair Haque, Harvard Business Review, 2016/07/01 [Direct Link]

Can a Classroom Be a Family? Race, Space, and the Labour of Care in Urban Teaching


"Does the idea of 'family' as a pedagogical compass get a classroom more efficiently from one idea to another, or safely through the sometimes turbulent seawaters and challenging relationships of an urban classroom?" asks  Kathleen Gallagher. "I arrive ultimately at a qualified yes," she writes. "For better and for worse, the logic of the family and the 'bond of obligation' in the classroom holds us to account and serves to raise the stakes on classroom relations and possibly widen compassion for human frailty." This is a lot to draw from a single case, but I get the fact that Gallagher is trying out an analytic strategy linking broader theoretical themes with specific practice. The family analogy, though, doesn't resonate with me. There are many different conceptions of family, and many different experiences of family. The term is being used here as a vague catch-all to describe an atmosphere of caring. In this particular case, it works. In many cases, it would not. See more articles from the special issue of CJE on Reflecting Canadian Diversity.

Today: 130 Total: 570 Kathleen Gallagher, Canadian Journal of Education, 2016/07/01 [Direct Link]

What media companies don’t want you to know about ad blockers

I've made this case before but this article substantiates with data and examples the three major benefits of Ad Blockers:

  • they protect you from scams and malware that are served by news media and content sites
  • they protect your privacy from trackers and bugs
  • they speed up page load time a lot

As I've said before, news media need to find a new business model, a new advertising model.

Today: 307 Total: 919 Trevor Timm, Columbia Journalism Review, 2016/07/01 [Direct Link]

What does a CBE course look like?

Pretty basic but if you don't set out a baseline it's hard to progress. So here's what would probably be regarded as a basic framework for competency-based courses (all quoted, as usual):

  • a welcome section and course map
  • an order to program competencies and the learner’s pathway
  • communications protocol and assistance resources
  • standard delivery model across CBE courses
  • alignment among competencies, sub-competencies, content, and assessments
  • visibility of progress

Now you could go a couple of ways here. You could say this description omits this or that, which is fair enough. Or alternatively you could ask what problem is solved by this framework as opposed to some other. This is where I lean - it's an awful lot of overhead to reach results that could have been obtained without that overhead.

Today: 201 Total: 751 Karen Yoshino, Blackboard Blog, 2016/07/01 [Direct Link]

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.
Sponsored this month by: Rory McGreal