Heavy switchers in translearning: From formal learning to an effective use of the PLE

During the 2010 edition of the Open EdTech Summit, the people that attended the meeting we debated around Campus Life! Rethinking the Online Campus Life of the 21st Century and ended up drafting a call to action with ten strategies for change. These ten strategies dealt with personalization (flexibility, personal tools, decentralization), connections amongst people (real-life connections, relationships between one’s different social spheres and acquaintances) and platform considerations (portfolios, pathways, portability and open source solutions).

Underlying beneath many of these concepts was the ever-present concept of multitasking, most of the times understood in a negative way: too distracting, shallow in its use of information, etc. While I agree that multitasking can definitely be a problem, I am not sure that we are talking here about multitasking or task-switching. And, if this about task-switching, whether we are talking about beginning everything and not finishing anything, or about yet another thing.

I believe that there is an increasing set of learners that are heavy switchers that do not actually hop from task to task, but that understand the process of learning as a trip through different learning objects, and not as staying bound to a single learning space. As some industries do by having some piece of work done in a succession of countries, same happens with some learners learning through a succession of learning objects and, by doing so, going in and out formal education.

What is informal learning?

Mark K. Smith has collected an interesting bibliography around the topic for his Informal Learning article at The Encyclopaedia of Informal Education, but I’d rather choose the short, straightforward and clear definitions by Jenny Hughes in Defining Learning.

Nevertheless, it is my opinion that most definitions are too much focussed on the context (how) and not on the nature (what) of formal, informal or non-formal learning. Following the idea that Jenny Hughes points at about structured vs. unstructured learning, I suggest to speak about planned vs. just-in-time learning, and goal-set vs. serendipitous learning. The relationship, concepts and examples are pictured in the following image:

According to the planned/just-in-time and goal-set/serendipitous axes, we find four categories of learning:

  • Formal: Planned and curriculum-based learning, like the one that usually happens at school.
  • Non-formal: Planned but less structured learning than formal learning. It will usually take place in formal spaces, but with a less tight framework.
  • Informal: Like non-formal, it has no structured goals, but it happens outside of formal institutions, like the workspace.
  • Self-taught/autodidactic: Also focussed at achieving some specific goals, but more short-term- and competence-aimed instead of long-term- or generic-knowledge-aimed.

Of course this categories have blurry edges and they are more a guide, a conceptual framework rather than a faithful depiction of what takes place in reality.

But what is interesting about this categorization is not its definition in itself, but how the different categories “interact” with concepts like the syllabus, the Personal Learning Environment (PLE) and the different kinds of existing “learning objects”, which we group into formal (e.g. the usual textbook), open (e.g. a piece of formal opencourseware) and informal (e.g. a blog post).

The following image presents five types of learning (the preceding four plus open formal learning, which is formal learning that uses open content). Blue pieces indicate formal learning objects, green ones open and red ones informal.

We can see that there is a normal transition from formal content through open content to informal content as long as we move from formal education to informal education. This is how things have always been.

The existence of open (formal) content brings in a new scenario, where this content can be both used inside the classroom (formal education) and outside of it (informal learning).

I would like to witness, in a not-very-far future, two more scenarios.


The first one, here labelled as translearning, would include not only open content in the classroom, but also acknowledging that informal learning is possible on a formal environment. Credit recognition is a first way to do so, but being those credits not from e.g. other universities but from informal learning such as work experience.

The rational behind the “trans-” part of the name is that Information and Communication Technologies have made possible what trucks, trains, planes and ships made possible in an industrial society. Still in many industrial sectors, multinational corporations are but performing transnational commerce: cotton is collected in one country, weaved in another one, cut and sewed in a third one and sold in a last fourth one.

Translearning is just about that: the learner begins in the classroom, at their handbook table of contents, then shifts to an informal environment, then to some open content and at last back to their classroom for final assessment (the scheme and its order can grow as complex as you’d like).

The good thing about translearning is its openness beyond the classroom’s and the syllabus’s boundaries. The bad thing about it is, still, structure, planning.

The PLE in translearning is a heavily monitored, piloted, top-down driven one, even a Hybrid Institutional-Personal Learning Environment (HIPLE).

Open Social Learning

A next step towards a more un-structured scenario is shifting from translearning to (fully) open social learning. In this scenario, a sort of syllabus can be agreed, but the inner structure is totally free. The learner can actually choose from a wide range of resources that will make up their PLE. Accreditation of what’s learnt can requite — as we saw in translearning — a first and last formal module. But the rest is totally free.

As said, this is where the Personal Learning Environment can really develop its full potential, as it is the learner, self-positioned in their own environment, that has full responsibility of their own learning path.

Now, coming back to where we started. One of the increasingly common complaints from educators is that their students continuously switch tasks, that they attention time-spans are narrowing, that they are bored, that they’d rather work in what they want or, especially, the way they like. On the other hand, learners are increasingly aware — this is even truer in adult learners and/or in informal learners — of the many possibilities they have to reach knowledge, to acquire it, to share it and to improve it by feeding back rich conversations with peers onto their own learning process.

Heavy switching is definitely an issue. And in many cases, an issue that might be solved but directly fighting against it.

Notwithstanding, heavy switching — call it, even, multitasking — might be leveraged to enrich one’s learning process by diversifying or opening up one’s learning path.

More information

An evolution of these reflections has been published as an academic paper. Please see Heavy switchers in translearning: From formal teaching to ubiquitous learning for more information.


Larry Cuban. Perennial dilemmas policymakers and practitioners face in the adoption and classroom use of ICT: the U.S. experience

Notes from the conference Perennial dilemmas policymakers and practitioners face in the adoption and classroom use of ICT: the U.S. experience, held at the MACBA Auditorium within the framework of the Debates on Education, initiative of the Jaume Bofill Foundation and the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, in Barcelona, Spain, 16 November 2010.

Perennial dilemmas policymakers and practitioners face in the adoption and classroom use of ICT: the U.S. experience
Larry Cuban

If you cannot see the video please visit <a href="http://ictlogy.net/?p=3612">http://ictlogy.net/?p=3612</a>

In recent years we’ve witnessed the wiring and the introduction of Information and Communication Technologies in schools. Notwithstanding, we’ve yet to see a shift in teaching practices or an impact in learning achievement. Puzzlingly, teachers do use their own computers for their personal use, even to prepare their own classes. Why is it so?

The big picture:

  • In a market-based, politically driven democracy, policy elites and interest groups with access to major media identify problems (e.g. poverty, slow economic growth, national defence) that need to be solved.
  • Sometimes the severity of these economic, social and political problems lead to popular movements to correct the ills.
  • In the US, historically, in these social movements to solve national problems, reformers often looked to schools for solutions. Schools were used to solve all the problems of society: provide doctors, engineers, etc. Human capital became the unit of measure of progress.
  • In “educationalizing” national problems, reformes have sought to alter one or more of the basic structures of US schooling established in the past two centuries. People expect schools to socialize, train, literate students, etc.
  • These historical patterns, contexts and basic structures of schooling clearly influence but not determine classroom teaching and learning. The school is filled with competing demands from teachers and parents, that push educational goals towards their own goals. Achievement becomes norm and the only final goal, in a way that it fits everyone’s needs of own goal measurement.
  • Yet, amid these historical patterns, contexts and structures that frame what practitioners do in schools, individual teachers and groups have stretched these constraints to create schools and classrooms tahs make a differences in the lives of children and youth.

That said, why is it there so few evidence in the academic use of computers, both in teaching and learning?

What is the difference between using and not using computers to perform a specific task in the classroom? As it is almost impossible to measure that (because of complexity and cost), serious research is rare to be found. Nevertheless, the existing research have found correlation (not causality) between gaming, or ICT usage and specific skills.

The reason of not having access to computers is no longer a big issue for most families, as a broad majority have both access to computers and connectivity.

Again, usage of ICTs by teachers and students is also regular, that is, at least one or more times during a week. And they use several devices (mobiles, laptops, desktops) and for several tasks (taking notes, searching for information on the Internet, etc.).

But teachers still do not teach what has to be taught to students by using computers. So, despite the fact that computers are such powerful machines to manage and transmit information, they are not effectively used for teaching. And it is not a fact, in general, of resistance to new technology, of lack of skills or of lack or interest.

There is a dilemma in teaching: the academic role demands that teachers keep a distance between them and students, so that they have a sense of authority; on the other hand, their emotional/social role demands that teachers be close to the students, to encourage them, to empathise with them. Here’s the dilemma, because these are competing roles.

Some teachers put the academic role on top (“I’m not my students’ friends, I’m here to educate them”), while some others put the emotional role on top.

The introduction of computers necessarily turns upside-down the difficult balance between these two roles, especially the academic role, that shifts the teacher from an authority to a guide, a mentor. Indeed, not only the balance changes, but also the academic role is undermined in its roots, as knowledge is not only scarce and impersonated in the teacher, but abundant and to be found everywhere.


Q: We should change the curriculum and teach our students skills and not content, and find new ways to assess their achievement. A: Yes, of course. The problem is that the social beliefs of the policy makers and the tax payers is that syllabuses have to be the way they are and that assessment has to be done the way it is. There will not be change inside the school before there is a social movement outside of the school.

Q: How can one deal between the two roles: academic and emotional? A: This is very difficult and it depends on the context. Most of the times, it is the obligation to give grades the one that leads one’s behaviour.

Miquel Àngel Prats: how well are teachers trained in the US and how well do they perform when teaching? What is the role of technology in the training of teachers? A: Nowadays, the bias of teacher training is towards student centred teaching (e.g. use projects to teach, etc.). The problem is that this approach is not realistic in practice, as applying it is most difficult with 5 classes with 25 students each. So, even if teachers are digitally literate and want to apply e.g. wikis in their classrooms, they just cannot.

Q: How can older teachers keep up with all the recent educational and technological changes? How to cope with finding, all of a sudden, that everyone is bringing their laptop to the classroom? A: One of the biggest problems in the US is finding teachers that master their disciplines, their subjects, but know little about pedagogy. In this framework, professional development states that we have to keep teachers learning all the time. But when budgets shrink, guess what gets cut. But, though I personally support professional development, concerning technology development the problem is not that teachers do not follow the courses, but that they do not apply what they learn in their classrooms.

Q: How long will it take to witness a change? A: There have been three waves of computing in schools (a) teaching will be faster and better; (b) learning will be faster and better; (c) there will be a global revolution and we all need digital skills. The three waves still apply, they have different approaches, they require different solutions, so it is not only a matter of speed, but of model.

Q: Can you elaborate on the “educationalization” of problems? A: Policy elites have in their heads their own idea of what and how schools should be, and they use them to solve several problems (e.g. unemployment) without taking into consideration how schools really are and function.

Q: What has the history been like of policy making in adapting curricula? A: Actually, in the US, changing the curriculum is quite easy. But teachers still have some degrees of freedom, so officially changing the curriculum is not the same thing as actually changing it. This is both a good and a bad thing, depending on the sign of the change, the need for consensus, etc.

More information


Personal Learning Environments: blurring the edges of formal and informal learning. An experiment with Anthologize.

After Deconstructing the Book: The Drumbeat series as a Pliego, here comes another experiment on open content and self-publishing.

I am preparing a support material for a conference on Personal Learning Environments due in Barcelona next February 2011. The material is going to be based on a series of writings I recently made on the topic of the Personal Learning Environment and, more specifically, on the Hybrid Institutional Personal Learning Environment as a bridge between educational institutions and online informal/social learning.

That was the perfect excuse to test the possibilities of Anthologize with a practical exercise.

At first sight, Anthologize just saves you some of the old copy-and-paste by making it easier to merge several (WordPress) blog posts into one. After working with it, what it really does is making really easy to engage in a simple but real editorial process, which includes selecting the appropriate articles, make changes in them (without altering the originals!), and seeing how they best fit together by selecting their order or grouping them into sections or chapters. If you’re not happy with the result, the output can be exported to an RTF file which you can afterwords thoroughly edit in any text editor. Simple as it sounds, it’s an awesome and very useful tool for quickly making deliverables out of your blog.

Here’s what came out of my experiment:

This final version was deeply edited after the Anthologize process was over. It was, nevertheless, a very personal decision and there was actually not a real need for it but a matter of taste.


Open Educational Resources: the reality of shared knowledge

Notes from the conference Open Educational Resources: the reality of shared knowledge, held at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya within the framework of the Open Ed 2010 — Open Education Conference. Barcelona, Spain, 4 November 2010.

Open Educational Resources: the reality of shared knowledge

Brian Lamb.

A shift has happened one we can attend an event and everyone has a camera with which they are taking their own pictures, besides the official photographer. Everyone becomes a creator.

on the other hand, the Internet brings any kind of content to our homes, so not only the idea of the creator becomes drastically changed, but also the idea of space becomes irrelevant.

Feedback is enabled between (creative) people anytime, anywhere. The sole condition: openness. There are plenty of technologies that enable feedback at a very low financial cost, low risk, low maintenance and low costs of organization.

Openness can be understood in many ways:

  • Having access to the content.
  • Having access to the code of the content (relevant when multimedia).
  • Being able to change or contribute to the content.
  • Having the possibility to take the content away and embed or syndicate it elsewhere.
  • Not only about open content, but also about open structures.
  • Having the ability to create new platforms or sites very quickly, with most flexibility, with low technological thresholds.
  • Understanding the process how things are achieved, and not only accessing the final outcomes.
  • Having access to the source, data of the content.

But it is not about how the Web is changing Education, but how Education is changing the Web.

And part of this “educating the Web” includes the debate around Net Neutrality, with which Education has a close relationship.

Repositories of Open Educational Content: cases and paradigms.
Ma Antònia Huertas.

Historically, the question has been how to get quality educational content that is available, reliable and that can be reused.

Nowadays availability might not be more an issue, maybe not the possibility of reusing, but reliability is still an unsolved matter.

Some of the “answers” to the question are:

  • Distributed open repositories.
  • Tools for the user to search, create, catalogue, publish.
  • Services and interfaces for interaction.
  • Open standards.
Case 1: MeRLí.

MeRLí is a catalogue of digital educational resources developed by the Education Department of the Generalitat de Catalunya [Catalan Government]. Its aim is to thel p the educational community in cataloguing, indexing and searching learning materials.

Search engines are a norm amongst repositories, and it does an intensive usage of metadata that describe the content of the educational resources.

The community — though quite a passive one — is also a core component of the repository.

Content belongs to an educational curriculum, features its life cycle (creation, validation, modification history).

Case 2: Edu3.cat

Edu3.cat is also a Catalan repository, but this time featuring only audiovisual content and with quite a restrictive source of content, mainly academic institutions.

The repository has over 7,000 learning objects integrated according to curricula, an own search engine and a certified process of acceptance of the learning content in the repository.

Case 3: Agrega

Unlike the previous two, Proyecto Agrega is a federation of institutional educational repositories around Spain, mainly belonging to regional governments. The good thing of Agrega is that it renders the individual repositories interoperable and integrable, so that searching or browsing becomes easier and more transparent for the end user.

The platform, notwithstanding, enables specific users to create and upload new content to the repository. The problem is that though the technology is a very advanced one, the community of active users (i.e. creators) is so small that the repository is almost empty — that is, besides what is syndicated from third parties’ repositories.

The critical elements of repositories are the users, not the technology. The weak links of the chain are the submitters, the managers, the curators and the end-users.

Open Educational Practices and Resources. Revisiting the OLCOS Roadmap 2012
César Córcoles.

If you cannot see the slides please visit <a href="http://ictlogy.net/?p=3601">http://ictlogy.net/?p=3601</a>

The roadmap made (2007) several recommendations so that educational institutions could open their resources and apply them to their mainstream activities. What has happened with the recommendations of the OLCOS Roadmap for 2012?

Promote open education partnerships: there have been advances, but arguably not enough. Still closeness is the norm. Same with open educational resources.

Support the development and use of state-of-the art open access resources has quite often been translated on investing on lots of technology and little on training and usage. A bias towards sexy technology.

Public-private partnerships: still very difficult to achieve, especially because the public sector (e.g. Universities) are not in line with the pace of times. This has also been a barrier to switching away from teacher-centred knowledge transfer.

Sharing and reusing has also not been accomplished. Maybe because, most times, people rather create their own content instead of looking what is out of their own institution walls.

Of course, intellectual property and copyright have, definitely, been a huge barrier for the adoption of open educational resources and practices. Indeed the topic has neither been seriously or constructively addressed nor has the industry made any approach or move towards understanding.

Teachers are having hard times using open educational practices to help learners acquire competences for the knowledge society, partly because these competences are rapidly changing, and thus it is difficult to tell which content applies to what (changing) competences.

A key factor is the shift from the “know how” to the “know who”, and open educational practices should be able to support collaborative learning processes and learning communities. This should certainly be a very important reason for institutions to support openness.

From the students’ point of view, openness should be translated into ePortfolios, accessible to third parties.

César here presents the making of Curriculum de estándares web Opera, the Spanish (and Catalan) version of the Opera Web Standards Curriculum, which was published with an open license and, thus, enabled its translation and reusage for educational purposes. The content has proven successful not only for educational purposes, but for a broad community of people interested in the field of Web Standards and that has found in the new version a resource for their own purposes.

Open Education for Secondary Education
Aníbal de la Torre.

The part of the “Preacher 2.0”: it’s not about technology, but methodology; open knowledge, the power of networks and the versatility of blogs, etc.

We are witnessing the convergence of our personnae and our environment, in part through mobility, augmented reality, etc.

The starting point, before exiting or circumventing institutions, is to operate a switch and make people (teachers, students) to work not in the framework of the textbook, but in the framework of tasks, of projects.

The profile of the (Aníbal’s) students is secondary education students that need studying from home: elite sportsmen, housewifes, etc. Thus, lots of new content has been created to adapt them to the new methodologies deployed to meet the needs of these students (circa 30,000). The repository will feature circa 2,000 learning objects by the end of the course 2010-2011.

An important realization is that, when the student is put in the centre of the educational methodology, the learning material becomes not irrelevant but an accessory: by no means the educational material is an important part of the equation. Indeed, the material is frequently updated and complemented with other materials and educational resources: the learning material is no more the central monolith around which the educational process goes around.

If the content is not the centre — though still important, of course — it is because the new centre is the student and working based on tasks and projects.

Taking 30,000 students as the base, it has been calculated that the average cost per student of providing them with all the open educational content they need is 1.50 €.

Some issues/problems:

  • Openness requires team-working. Individualism is not an option. And team-working requires hard work and commitment.
  • Assessment is extremely slow. While people have feedback of their actions almost immediately in their daily (digital) lives, the educational system provides them with feedback once a year at the end of the course. This has to be addressed.
  • Copyright still a hard barrier to overcome.
  • Openness has to be an institutional decision.
  • Public funding should absolutely imply openness.
  • Educational environments should have their own open licenses or legal frameworks to ease openness, authorship recognition, etc.
  • We should measure how users are doing, not how products are doing. Assessment of people, not products.
  • We have to explore how to assess learning performance with the same tools that learning takes place. E.g. we cannot teach with Internet in the classroom and make exams without it.
  • Encourage group- or team-work.
  • Learning by doing enables changing tasks, contents, syllabuses, etc. extremely easy.

More Information


Deconstructing the Book: The Drumbeat series as a Pliego

My colleague Enric Senabre, with Adam Hyde and Patrick Hendricks are organizing the Printing Lab at the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival.

One of the things they’re presenting is PliegOS, which is like a Twitter for books.

To make a demonstration of PliegOS, Enric is taking the first three out of my four-post series for Drumbeat, that is:

and turnging them into a pliego.

The result is surprising to say the least. You can download the pliego in the following link:

And you can also watch how a pliego is built and used in the following video: