Open Learning Network vs Informal Learning Environment

In the comments section of my previous post, Mike Caulfield kindly pointed me to the article Envisioning the Post-LMS Era: The Open Learning Network by Jonathan Mott.

I was immediately interested because, like me, Mott is striving to bridge the gap between the organisation’s LMS and the learner’s PLE. He articulates his position as such:

“…a one-or-the-other choice between the two is a false choice between knowledge-dissemination technologies and community-building tools. We can have both.”

Amen to that.

But how do we bridge the gap?

Mott’s blueprint is the Open Learning Network (OLN). Mine is the Informal Learning Environment (ILE).

While both proposals have remarkable similarities, the pedagogical philosophies that underpin them are fundamentally different.

The ILE recapped

An ILE is a space that centralises tools and resources that the learner can use to drive their own development. In How to revamp your learning model, I propose three core components:

1. A comprehensive wiki,
2. An open discussion forum, and
3. A bank of personal profiles.

These components work in tandem with the LMS and system reports, which in turn comprise the core components of the Formal Learning Environment (FLE).

A revamped learning model, consisting of an ILE and an FLE

The organisation manages the ILE on behalf of the learners, who are free to search, explore, ask and share at their own pace and at their own discretion, and – ideally – integrate the system into their broader PLE.

The OLN compared

While the ILE is designed to bridge the gap between the LMS and the PLE, it purposefully keeps them apart. Not only do I believe in the right of the learner to keep their PLE strictly personal, but I also believe in the power of separating “learning” from its administration.

The OLN takes a different approach. Mott states:

“The OLN is not intended merely to allow the LMS and PLE paradigms to coexist in harmony, but rather to take the best of each approach and mash them up into something completely different.”

The OLN model connects private and secure applications on the organisation’s network (such as the student information system, content repository, assessments and transcripts) to open and flexible tools and applications in the cloud (such as blogs, social networks and non-proprietary content) via a services-oriented architecture.
The university network and the cloud under the OLN model. Source: Mott, J. (2010) Envisioning the Post-LMS Era: The Open Learning Network, Educause Quarterley Magazine, Volume 33, Number 1.

Both the OLN and ILE are modular because they comprise standalone resources or “learning objects”. This makes them flexible because the objects can be easily replaced by others that are more current, relevant or useful.

The key difference between the two models is interoperability. In a nutshell, the objects in an OLN can talk to one another via web service protocols such as LTI. Mott elaborates:

“In the simplest terms, web services-enabled applications leverage the elegantly simple Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) that gave life to the World Wide Web. This means that applications use a common set of verbs (such as GET and POST) and nouns (standard definitions of ‘student,’ ‘course,’ ‘score,’ etc.) to share data (as XML) via HTML. A robust services architecture will also implement role-based security and authentication protocols to manage data and application access and permissions. Within such a framework, any tool can securely interact with any other tool, passing user IDs and course and role information. Activities are then logged in the second application so that data can be passed back to the originating application (via a secure HTTP POST in the browser).”

A full-featured OLN. Source: Mott, J. (2010) Envisioning the Post-LMS Era: The Open Learning Network, Educause Quarterley Magazine, Volume 33, Number 1.

The ILE model is not as technologically complex! It makes no demands for interoperability among the components of the PLE, ILE and LMS; in fact, it celebrates their independence. The common denominator is authentic assessment, which represents the sum of all learning regardless of its sources.

Digging deeper

So while the major difference between the OLN and ILE is apparently their respective technical framework, that is simply a manifestation of their true difference: pedagogical philosophy.

I see the OLN as a solution for monitoring the student’s progress during a program of study in the digital age. It formalises the informal. The underpinning pedagogical philosophy, therefore, is formal learning – which I recognise as entirely appropriate in the Higher Education environment.

In the workplace, however, the vast majority of learning is informal. I would even go so far as to suggest that we hinder the learning process by drowning it in bureaucracy.

I see the ILE as a solution for self-directed learning, peer-to-peer discourse and knowledge sharing. It informalises the formal. The underpinning pedagogical philosophy, therefore, is informal learning – which is crying out for support in the corporate sector.

Horses for courses

So yes, Mott and I propose two similar yet fundamentally different learning models – but we have our reasons.

Neither is necessarily right; neither is necessarily wrong.

It all depends on context.

4 thoughts on “Open Learning Network vs Informal Learning Environment

  1. Hi Ryan:
    Bit of delayed informal learning on my part. I had just read Jonathan Mott’s article earlier today and was looking for other references to the Open Learning Environment, and found this blog entry.

    I have a question for you: in comparing the OLN to the ILE you say “The common denominator is authentic assessment, which represents the sum of all learning regardless of its sources.”…but I don’t see a description of authentic assessment in the ILE (unless it’s over on the FLE side). Did I miss something?

    My context is looking at options for holistic learning for humanitarian workers who often bounce from mission to mission and between different organizations, with consequent orphaned learning between formal/informal activities and organizational LMS siloes.

    I was struck by Mott’s solution to the issues of PLE vs LMS and I actually like the idea of interoperability. I think it would be useful to track and/or assess informal learning at the learner’s discretion as well as have ways for formal learning and performance support resources to be more accessible in the field. I think the Canvas LMS is pursuing some this with its LTI-friendly architecture.

    I also think, dare I say, that Open Badges may provide a common currency. All the world is a hammer – not, that’s not it…

    Keep up the great blogging!

  2. Excellent question, Don.

    Indeed my notion of authentic assessment resides on the FLE side. In essence, I advocate the informalisation of learning, but the formalisation of assessment. I see the LMS as the system for managing the latter.

    In the context of humanitarian workers who bounce from mission to mission between different organisations, I imagine they’d each be learning loads from all sorts of sources – and, importantly, from *different* sources. But that doesn’t really matter, so along as they ultimately know (or can do) what the organisation requires of them. And the way the organisation can ensure that is through assessment. Of course, the assessment needs to be authentic in order for it to be worthwhile. Essentially it is competency based.

    In regards to interoperability, I’m wondering if the Tin Can API will provide a solution. I’m not familiar with the Canvas LMS, but I note that it is Tin Can compliant.

    In regards to open badges, I agree that they may indeed provide a common currency. Please read my other post Top 5 benefits of open badges for corporates in which I advocate the use of open badges to formally recognise informal learning.

    Cheers :0)

  3. Thanks for the quick feedback, Ryan.

    Following on with my obsessions, ePortfolios or even skills passports might help with the recognition of prior learning, reducing the waste of re-teaching what is already known and helping with the assembly of teams for missions based on required competencies

    I’m certainly familiar with your post on the top 5 benefits of open badges – that was our first exchange – I’d interested to hear if you’ve observed any movement in the workplace since then, such as this one in NZ:
    (pasted my tweet):
    #OpenBadges in Totara w Maurice Moore Great workplace case study w demo #openbadges4wk via @OB_ANZ (starts 11:10)
    OR: (similar slideshare)

  4. LOL, sorry, I lose track of the comments sometimes!

    I think ePortfolios certainly have a place for RPL (and are generally underused for that purpose). Having said that though, I’m not so certain that the prior learning can be evaluated at a glance, let alone be automated. Here I think badges have the upper hand, though ePortfolios allow for a more comprehensive view of the achievement. So why not use both in tandem.

    Thanks for sharing that open badges case study. In my experience the target audience still isn’t interested nor familiar with the concept. While I have introduced open badges into our organisation, only a small percentage of my colleagues have taken them up. I am sure that will change in the future, but when that will be I do not know.

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