Micro Learning – The What, Why, Where, and How?

I recently summarized attributes of micro learning in an infographic as below:


I also found an interesting case study on Using Micro Learning to Boost Influence Skill I Emergent Leaders and some other related links as below:

  1. From Courses to Micro Learning by Sahana Chattopadhyay
  2. Beyond the Course: The Learning Flow – a new framework for the social learning era by Jane Hart
  3. The Learning Flow and the User Experience by Jane Hart
  4. Three Types of Learning Flow by Jane Hart
  5. From Micro-Learning to Corporate MOOCs by Sahana Chattopadhyay

What exactly is a MOOC?

I contemplated the title of this post for a few minutes before I started to pen it. After publishing a white paper on the subject, speaking at the Learning Technologies exhibition, hosting multiple webinars, and writing a couple of articles, was I getting back to basics?

The trigger for this post was an ex-colleague’s blogpost, Learning with a MOOC vs. Learning on an LMS, in which she admits that she first thought a MOOC was something like an learning management system (LMS), but later realized it is not.

No, a MOOC is not an LMS, but it is most often hosted on one. And, in the early days, around 2012, even George Siemens described MOOCs as a platform (Read MOOCs are really a platform), as in that is something that is much larger than just a course, but I still had trouble accepting them as a platform, solely because they brought together so many other platforms. So, I went about using terms such as an environment or ecosystem. At one point, I even wrote about MOOCs as an experiment, until I finally settled on referring to them as a “model” once I put together TIS’ Fish Tank model for designing a MOOC.

The instructional world around me appeared content with this new terminology, but to the business world, especially the eLearning savvy business world, it still did not make sense. To them, a “massive online course” was a far more easy-to-digest definition than an ecosystem or a model (that too with fishes in it!).

Then it dawned on them that other than the massiveness and openness, a MOOC appears to be like any other online course that sits on an LMS. “So, how is it different from an eLearning course?” asked many a client-facing sales agent.

“Well, it might help if you, just for some time, stop thinking about it as a ‘course’.” I suggested subtly, only to realize I’d thrown a bomb at them.

“What?” was the only bewildered response, they could utter.

Well, yes MOOCs are online courses available on an open platform, so anyone can join without any prequalification, often for free. And they are massive, as there is no limit to how many people can enroll for these courses.  But what makes them different, and disrupting (?), is the approach to both designing MOOCs and learning from them.

And thankfully, when I recently participated in a corporate MOOC, I got to hear something on similar lines from none other than Eliott Masie, and I quote him ….

“I am intrigued by MOOCs … because they are for me one of the learning disrupters … I mean a technology or a methodology, an innovation, a venture funded approach, an assumption, or a service that attempts to change, to swing around, to shift elements of what we do….”

So, when I now talk about a MOOC, I describe it as a “methodology”—an approach that brings together existing content from various sources and in various formats, allows for collaboration among participants, and thrives on curation of content.

So, there is a structure, and yet there is no structure, which in turn makes the learning a very unique and individualized experience. As a learner, you can walk into a MOOC with a multitude attachments – your blogs, twitter handles, social profiles, resources that interest you – and likewise, you walk out with multitude attachments – your very own custom and personalized package of social connections, content, knowledge, resources, and most importantly – a very personal and unique experience!

So, it’s the experience of being totally in control of your learning and choosing what you want to learn, from whom, where, when, and how is what defines a MOOC.

So, if you want to really know what is a MOOC, I’d say – go experience one!

SMAC it!

The current decade has started to witness a fast changing landscape in technological innovations, some of which have brought about sweeping changes in everyday activities. If you look at a typical day in the life of a tech-savvy individual (either a college-going student or a working professional), you will find them operating in ways you’d not imagined a few years ago. Now come on, did you foresee people around you move about carrying a computer chip in their eyeglasses or wrist watches? At least two of my techie colleagues are seen donning the Google Glass in office these days, and I know of at least one friend—a fitness fanatic—working out with all these fancy wearable gadgets and checking in his progress on Facebook.

To take stock of the changes—small and big—that have stealthily crept in and comfortably fitted into our everyday life, let’s meet with Susan, a sales executive from a multinational corporation.

So, what does a typical day in her life look like? Let’s sneak a peek …


Looks familiar, doesn’t it? Like any other digitally savvy individual, Susan’s daily routine is strongly influenced by elements of the social and mobile worlds. Then, a crucial question that comes tom my mind as a learning designer is why should her learning environment be any different? Why can’t Susan’s learning use these very elements and mimic her real life?

Picture this …


Wouldn’t the merging of her personal and learning spaces result in an enhanced experience?

Accept it—the 21st century modern learners are clearly very different from what we’ve seen in the past. Their life is largely influenced by the Social, Cloud, and Mobile worlds. Add “Analytics” to this list and you get what is now a popular and fairly impactful acronym—SMAC—in the IT services world.

SMAC is influencing this digital generation so much that they now have shorter attention spans and, therefore, end up demanding information in smaller bites, albeit very fast and preferably on the go. When these new-age learners look for learning, they go to Google, YouTube, TED talks, Khan Academy, and, for the last couple of years, MOOCs! Increasingly, these learners want their learning experiences to match the pace and style of their life.

Undoubtedly, the Social and Cloud-based learning environments powered by Analytics and Mobile First design are characterizing and influencing the way learners learn today. These individuals increasingly want to merge their personal and learning spaces, so that their leaning experiences mimic their everyday life. Most importantly, these learners foster a culture of continuous and continual learning by:

  • Learning from a constant stream of knowledge and information
  • Collaborating to share knowledge, experiences, ideas, and resources as part of their everyday life
  • Extracting learning from their everyday activities both at work and in their personal life

And how best can learning design address the needs of the SMAC learner?

At the least, we need to start attempting to change, to swing around, and to shift elements in our design thinking. We need to move from a narrow “design a training” approach to thinking holistically in terms of “providing an integrated learning ecosystem” that should, at the least, provide for the following:

  • Unique learning experience
    • Self-driven and personalized paths
    • Micro (byte-sized) and pervasive learning
    • Peer to peer collaboration
    • Integration of social media and/or social media-like elements
    • Curation and dynamic building of content
    • Live projects and practical application
  • Scalability and Cost effectiveness
    • Should cost less to develop (by integrating open resources)
    • Longer shelf life and sustainability of training materials
    • Option for an Instructor-less delivery
    • Cloud-based deployment
    • Flexible and easy access via mobile devices

Simply put, we need to SMAC it!

Read the full article at http://www.tatainteractive.com/pdf/SMAC_Article.pdf











The Corporate MOOC

Can MOOCs be the trigger to fully engage Senior Execs in continuous self-development?

In his speech on my company, Tata Interactive System’s, annual party earlier this year, my CEO, Sanjaya Sharma, when talking about current exciting times and the fast changing landscape of the ed-tech world with the entry of the likes of wearable technology et al, went on to share his experience with one of the latest phenomena in the education world – MOOCs. He reflected on the past couple of decades by stating “… there was a time when I thought of something I wanted to know more about, I ‘googled’ … and now I ‘MOOC’.”

I promptly nodded my head in agreement. The MOOC is no longer only an acronym; it is already a verb.

After a sort of longish journey through a plethora of debates and debacles in the higher ed world, MOOCs are now propping up in the corporate world. Will they work?

Well, it has taken some time to realize that those very characteristics that are unique to a MOOC (their massiveness, openness, connectedness, and their online format) and are not (yet?) working as intended in the academic world could actually find application in the real world.

The corporate world has a large population to train or up-skill; there is almost always a dearth of facilitators; taking time out for training has always been a constraint; and most importantly, there has always been a desire to foster peer-to-peer coaching and learning amongst the corporate learners. So, why not?

With this background, I decided to go back to my white paper on Instructional Design for MOOCs and pondered over whether the same design philosophy that I had chalked out for MOOCs in the higher ed world could also work for the corporate learners.

Meanwhile, Joanna Kori, who has joined us as a Learning Consultant in the UK read my white paper and came back with some constructive feedback, which, in turn, started a series of debates and discussions on the topic. With choices between two extremes—a purely behaviorist approach that xMOOCs (the more popular variety of MOOCs offered by companies such as Coursera, edX et al) tend to follow and the very chaotic and disorganized approach of a cMOOC (connectivist MOOCs pioneered by well-known researcher and theorist George Siemens and his colleagues Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier), both of us agreed on a middle path, albeit slightly tilted toward the connectivist model.

At this point, Sahana Chattopadhyay, my colleague and another experienced ID, joined our discussions, bringing in her vast social media experience gained during her prior tenure as an L&D Consultant and Community Manager.

Charged with extremely valuable inputs from both these ladies, I was finally able to come up with a model –the Fish Tank model – for a corporate MOOC.

mooc-eco for blog

On 6th March 2014, Tata Interactive Systems called for a Webinar to present this model to the outside world including our corporate clients. Interesting comments and questions poured in from the audience, confirming the need to start designing custom MOOCs for corporates.

To know more about how our Corporate MOOC model can be used to engage senior executives in continuous self-development, access the recording of our Webinar at http://youtu.be/ZfsB-7js958

Wannabe Glasshole!

“Don’t be a Glasshole” said David Kelly, a Training, Learning, and Performance Consultant, at the Learning Technologies show in London, early this year. And you know what? I wannabe just that!glass1

Needless to say, I got the opportunity to try on the Google Glass … umm, only for a minute and half, I admit, but what a minute and half it was! So exhilarating was the experience that it’s taken me a “month and half” to actually get down to penning my memorable “minute and half”!

Wearable technology is the future we all are waiting for, and with Google Glass, one gets the feel of actually carrying (umm … wearing) a computer on your head! So, I wasn’t expecting the experience to be anything less than exhilarating. Surprisingly, while I look upon Google Glass as “the” technology of the future, David says it is only the first, albeit impressive, step in this arena. He envisages wearable technology to take on a much smaller form, perhaps that of a cuff link on the sleeve of your shirt. Wow!

David Kelly is one of the Glass Explorers – individuals exploring the Glass before its public release, and in his session at the Learning Technologies conference, he touched upon the following key points:

  • What is Google Glass?
  • What is the Glass experience like for the user?
  • How do people react to Glass?
  • What doors does Glass open for learning and performance?
  • How are people already using Glass for learning today?

You can get more details on his session at http://bit.ly/1hMsWTO

As regards my own “minute and half” experience with the Glass, my first thought as soon as I wore it was “There’s no glass to look through!”  Instead, the Glass brought up a display just above my normal vision. The display does not interfere with one’s normal vision, and David even narrated to us his driving experience with the Glass on, my own view is that it might take us some time getting used to switching between the two visions.  Other than that, it feels like wearing any standard pair of spectacles in terms of size and weight. The right side arm is thicker and contains the touch pad and the device itself. The Glass is able to recognize voice and so you can either directly command the device by speaking to it or just tap on the right arm to control it.

The screen that was active when I wore the Glass showed some current events such as weather and with only a tap on the right arm, I could move to another screen that brought up Google maps.   Although, I didn’t try this myself but I learned later that a task such as capturing a picture could be accomplished simply by a blink of an eye. How I wish I had more time to explore the Glass!

The Glass, as of now, serves only those functions that can be easily performed by a cell phone, and David’s slide showed the following laundry list:

  • Google Search
  • Navigation
  • Making Calls
  • Video Calls
  • Posting Updates
  • Recording Videos
  • Taking Still Pictures
  • Sending Text Messages
  • Taking Notes

Why would anyone want to buy the Glass then? It’s the experience you get without interrupting the present moment that makes it different, is what David had to say. According to David, the body part that Google Glass impacts most is not your eyes, but your hands … because it frees your hands and that itself opens up a myriad of opportunities for learning and performance support applications including immersive training, performance support, real-time feedback, augmented reality, and high-risk training.

With issues related to privacy and ethics to combat, the Google Glass has a tough path ahead before it can be fully accepted by society. But once accepted, wearable technology would surely have many practical applications in all fields including education!

So, let’s just wait and watch!

MOOCs as an Experiment

From among the providers of MOOCs, edX is more actively focused on treating MOOCs as an experiment—to better the quality of education. And, as a step forward in their endeavor, they recently announced a partnership with Google to build and operate MOOC.org, an open source learning platform. Read the press release or visit MOOC.org for more.

Coming back to the mission of improving learning, let’s run through the many initiatives—some predicted as disruptive—currently buzzing in the higher ed world. MOOCs and Adaptive Learning (and therefore learning analytics) usually top the list; another effort that is notable is the move toward competency-based education, and catching up with these efforts are digital badges for informal learning. Incidentally, WCET, the Mozilla Foundation, Blackboard, Inc., and Sage Road Solutions LLC are running a 6-Week long MOOC exploring badges as the emerging currency for professional credentials.

Additionally, the Innovating Pedagogy Report (2013) by the Open University lists the following themes: Seamless Learning (which I’d call “learning on the go”), Crowd Learning, Digital Scholarship, Geo Learning, Learning from Gaming, Maker Culture, and Citizen Inquiry.

Of all the innovations listed, the report clearly outlines MOOCs and Learning analytics with silver linings but also goes on to note that for these innovations to succeed, they need to complement formal education, rather than disrupt it.

“By bringing together MOOCs (as massive test beds for experiment outside traditional education) and learning analytics (as the means to provide dynamic evidence of the effectiveness of different teaching and learning methods) there is an opportunity for rapid, evidence-informed innovation on a grand scale” concludes the report. It describes MOOCs as an innovating pedagogy that brings together other innovations. Indeed, the integration of all these innovations so as to make them work in tandem is what forms the blueprint of the future learning ecosystem.

So let’s look at some of the various on-going experiments with MOOCs …

1. Awarding Badges: Early this year, the OLDS MOOC focusing on curriculum design for OERs experimented with awarding badges, which were also compatible with the Mozilla Open Badge Backpack. In a way, badges serve MOOCs well as they help recognize learner efforts (and achievements) in the course (thereby taking away the burden of formalizing every single MOOC with certification) and also help enhance the engagement levels, which in turn should improve completion rates. Badges have multiple uses – from the learning provider side, badges can help faculty and universities identify the right candidates for enrolment and further engagement to prepare them for careers; from the learner side, they will be able to demonstrate skills and granular learning, even the learning acquired on the job.

2. Integrating Social Media: From using hashtags to facilitate discussions on Twitter, to sharing on a variety of platforms such as Flickr, and forming online communities, faculty have already started to experiment with social media in their classrooms and online courses. Given that the millennials live and breathe social media, teachers have found this as a means to engage students actively in the learning and to help them generate newer ideas. A recent post titled “5 technologies to promote creative learning” on the Learning with ‘e’s blog by Steve Wheeler (an Associate Professor at Plymouth University) presents some good examples of how infusing wikis, twitter, and video mashups can take the learning experience a step further.

3. Mobile Learning: FutureLearn, the UK-based MOOC provider, has already announced that their MOOCs will be optimized for mobile devices, and in a recent interview, Daphne Koller stated that Coursera has started building up a mobile-devices team. Making a full course available on a mobile device and designing for mobile, however, are two different things. My colleague Tanya D’souza from Tata Interactive Systems has made an attempt to differentiate between the two in her white paper on “Creating Mobile Learning That Works.”

4. Gamification: Anant Agarwal of edX often talks about integrating the principles of gaming and interaction into MOOCs. In my white paper on “Designing MOOCs,” I’ve also listed some benefits of integrating sophisticated e-learning technologies such as games, simulations, and 3D into learning. Here’s a useful video I found on YouTube of Amy Jo Kim, CEO, Shufflebrain, talking about core concepts for smart gamification.

5. Learning Analytics: The current MOOC platforms are all capturing volumes of student data and claiming to using this data for research and examining the fundamentals of learning. The NMC Horizon Report of 2011 noted that the time to adoption for learning analytics will be about 4-5 years. A lot has happened since then. Here’s a blog post that delves into details, of particularly two components: machine grading and learning analytics, of edX’s technology platform.

Generally speaking…how individualized is the learning?

I was at Britto’s, the famous bar and restaurant in Goa, with a bunch of friends waiting to savor some fish curry, when one comrade at the table sparked out a debate about the perils of generalization. The group was talking about people and stereotypes in general when this close friend of mine argued “…but how can you generalize? Not all people from so and so country or so and so community act in the exact same manner and your generalized view about them is unfair!” “I know…they don’t!” I argued back “and yet there are some general trends about them…” Our argument could’ve easily taken a serious turn had we not been on vacation and at that point in time, starving! So, when the food arrived, we decided to dive straight in (to the food) and thereafter continued to joke about our argument throughout our trip, by prefixing every other statement with “generally speaking…!”

The fun argument with my friends stayed with me even after I returned from Goa more so because this very question of “how can we generalize if what we are aiming at is to individualize?” had been on my mind from the time I began reading Big Data – A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, And Think – a book by Viktor Mayer – Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier. In the very first chapter of his book, the authors inform their readers about a key shift (amongst others) in thinking when it comes to big data and that is about losing out on the exactitude. The author states that with small amounts of data, the results are more accurate but the bigger the data gets, the more the inaccuracies.

I am reading about big data because I am curious about learning analytics, which in turn relates to adaptive learning. And my interest in the topic is from the perspective of learning design – how does learning design draw from learning analytics to create an individualized path for the learner? Incidentally, BJET, the British Journal of Educational Technology is calling for white papers for its special issue on integrating learning design, teacher-led inquiry, and learning analytics, which will be published in January 2015. I am oh so looking forward to finding many answers in the literature that will emerge from this initiative.

So, coming back to my question— can learning analytics lead us to the preferences of the individual student? Or does it only create categories and slots each student into a category? In effect, are we still looking at generalizing? Although, this type of generalization is still better than “one size fits all,” but does this generalization lead to the individualization that is possible via a one-on-one between the teacher and student?

A couple of years ago, I worked on a project that involved developing an online degree program for students with Autism Syndrome Disease (ASD). And the USP of this program, as promoted by the college, was an “individualized learning path” for each student, while maintaining academic integrity. The key aspects of the program that contributed to individualization included the following:

    Content delivery in multiple formats to suit a variety of learning styles
    Flexibility in assessment and participation modalities
    One-on-one support from qualified behavior analysts as mentors who act as liaisons between the faculty and the students

Each mentor would be assigned 3-5 students and then the mentor would work with the faculty to customize and individual all aspects of the learning path (including administrative and use of technology) for the students.

Can learning analytics help achieve this?

Although the broader benefits of learning analytics are directed toward bringing in efficiency to the teaching/learning process and to enhance the quality of education ensuring learner success, personalization of the learning process, instructional design, and content is achievable, provided the learning materials are designed to reflect the knowledge architecture of a domain.

Check out some useful links for insights on this topic.