The role of personality in education


This is one of those posts where I don’t have a firm conclusion, I’m just thinking some stuff through. I’ve been thinking a bit about what the role of personality is in eduction, particularly online and distance ed. In my own institution, The Open University, there has been a long tradition of removing the personal from teaching material. While the course materials we produce are written in an accessible manner, they are not imbued with one person’s personality. Although one academic may write them, they go through multiple reviews, and editing. Course units are often attributed to the “The Module Team”, or “written by X on behalf of the Module Team”. The idea is that this is an objective view, created through collaboration to distill clear teaching material. The trouble with making them based around a personality is that this can be a barrier to accessing the content, if you don’t respond well to that particular personality (but the opposite is also true, it can be a boost if you do like that person). When I joined the OU removing myself from the writing was one of the difficult aspects of learning to write distance ed material, while still keeping it engaging and not too ‘dry’. I mean, who wouldn’t want my personality stamped all over their units on Artificial Intelligence, right? (don’t answer that).

Now, many of my more constructivist inclined colleagues will laugh at the idea that any teaching content can ever be objective, or that it isn’t shot through with individual assumptions, cultural history, etc. This is true to an extent, but less so when you adopt a deliberate policy of writing from a collaborative perspective and specifically looking for cultural bias (this is always one of the aspects of peer review that we ask people to comment upon).

But then along come MOOCs, and they’re all about the personality. Ironically, I find that cMOOCs, for all their intentions at being hierarchical and distributed, have a very strong cult of personality driving them. To be successful they often require someone with a well established online network to gather enough momentum, and because creating successful cMOOCs is hard work, that person usually needs to really be central in driving the course forward. And when this works well, it really does create a very engaging learning community. As you’ll know, I’m a BIG FAN of Jim Groom, but it’s hard to say that DS106 isn’t a product of Jim’s online personality. Indeed it is all about that, which is exactly why it’s fun. Similarly, I think Dave Cormier’s Rhizo courses are truly innovative and beginning to explore what a networked take on education might look like. But I think Dave’s (loveable, cuddly) personality is a big factor in its success. And then there are xMOOCs with Rock star professors. There is even talk of actual rock stars (or film stars anyway) presenting MOOCs.

This all takes place in the context of social media now of course, which wasn’t the case with original OU material. Whenever I do my social media for academics sessions, I always stress that it’s called social media for a reason, so put a bit of yourself in there. What I’m genuinely unsure about is the extent to which we should deliberately seek to place the learning process. If we remove it, learning can become dull and dry and possibly out of sync with the social media world it needs to operate within. But if we place too much emphasis on it, we risk highlighting the extrovert academic, the jokester, the good looking one, above academics with better subject skills. I’m just sharing my pondering here, not making a call one way or the other.


  1. Kate Bowles says:

    I’m thinking a bit about this too, in relation to academic charisma (specifically, at the moment, as this is a factor in face to face lecturing).

    In Australia we are under increasing pressure to depersonalise curriculum so that anyone can teach it. The rise of quality assurance has something to do with this.

    I’m just not sure that the best answer is to restore what is at heart a romantic ideal of the academic persona. I get stuck at this point.

    Thanks for this post, it’s joined some dots for me in a really helpful way.

    1. admin says:

      Hi Kate, thanks for comment. Yes, I think there is nothing wrong with the whole idea of academic charisma – we have it in lectures after all. And the bland “run a script for learning” idea sounds appalling. I just notice that in MOOCs in particular personality really seems to be foregrounded. But like you I get stuck too.

  2. Is it possible that we are just exchanging the ‘personality’ of OU for the personality of Jim Groom?

    1. admin says:

      And that is probably a good thing. I think it’s different though – many MOOCs are placing the personality at the very centre of the course – it is “X’s course” rather than a “course about Y”. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, just musing that it seems to be happening, and wondering what that means.
      Stay cuddly.

    2. Mark McGuire says:

      Shelley Gruendler says that “fonts are the clothes that words wear” ( If I turn my notes into plain text I still get Courier. Let’s not all teach wearing Courier.

  3. dkernohan says:

    It’s a common mistake to ascribe ds106 to Jim’s personality. He’d be the first to tell you that each iteration of the course has been shaped by the personalities of all those involved. Indeed in most later 106s he’s not actually been involved!

    Something like Summer of Oblivion would simply not have worked if learners, adherents and all teaching staff hadn’t been able to contribute as good (if not better than) they got.

    1. admin says:

      Hi David,
      I don’t think it is a mistake actually. I accept that many other people came to the fore, Alan being the obvious case. But DS106 is shot through with Jim’s personality. You could imagine taking an OU academic out of any particular OU course and the resulting course might not be too different. It is impossible to imagine DS106 being the way it is without Jim. That is different from saying he does all the work, but people came to DS106 because of Jim’s approach. I know he’s not involved in later courses but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t generated from his personality. He has said as much to me himself. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, it’s made for one of the most innovative courses we’ve seen. I’m just noting the role personality plays at its centre.

      1. francesbell says:

        For me, this comment is shot through with some assumptions that your wonderfully provocative post is based on:-) And for me, these are particularly gendered assumptions.
        They include:
        the myth of the lone creator
        the myth of ‘innovation’
        the paradox of openness

        1. admin says:

          I wouldn’t disagree with any of those myths Frances. In some ways I wanted to highlight the issue of making personality central if it reinforces some of them. I would contend though that although DS106 was shaped by many people, its approach (playfulness, anarchic, open) has a lot of Jim’s personality in it, in a way that, say a standard “Introduction to Statistics” course doesn’t generally. Beyond noting that I don’t have a particular take on it, just thinking it through.

  4. Tom Woodward says:

    I think what makes this hard to define is that a chunk of Jim’s personality is being open and rolling with other people’s ideas. Major elements ended up being created and defined together but at Jim’s invitation and based on his relationships. The course then went on to run without him. So it is his course while it’s not his course but either way he’s a major reason it ended up what it is.

    I do agree that the personality of the players matters a great deal. I think about that quite a bit.

    1. admin says:

      Thanks Tom, I think that’s very well put. I didn’t mean to belittle anyone else’s contribution to DS106. I’ll do a follow up post and try to be clearer.

      1. Tom Woodward says:

        No offense taken on my end. I agree with you.

        I don’t want to call it personality driven, maybe personality enabled, but there’s something major in how all this plays out that reflects the individual (individuals sometimes- but that’s much harder, like a group blog with personality) who make it happen.

        I think courses, and online courses are no exception, should embody the personality of the creator.

      2. Maha Bali says:

        I think Tom put his finger on what i was trying to say is common betw Dave, Jim, Howard and Jesse – that openness and invitation to others’ contributions. It doesn’t erase their personality but makes their personality conducive to other people finding/doing what works for them, rather than being directed by the facilitators.

  5. Rolin Moe says:

    First, bravo on Rupert Pupkin!

    There’s lots to say about this, but I see this as a space where multiple options are available. In order to forge a successful MOOC w/o the name recognition of a Big University or a Big Provider you likely need something to pop the needle, and personality is a potential part of the equation. The charismatic leader as pedagogue is an archetype; I do not see Dave, Jim, Alec Couros or others playing that character, but I can note how their personalities have allowed their MOOCs to be successful where potentially other groups have not seen sustained results. I would celebrate that but not attempt to scale based on it.

    I also would question the idea of objectivity in materials, and not even from a learning theory perspective as much as from a sociocultural one. Recognizing subjectivity and even attempting to account for it are important so that a course does not become ideology; however, developing encyclopedic contents for more widespread use falls into the reusability paradox.

    When it comes to materials, isn’t the issue to develop them in such a way that we recognize our biases but frame them as conduits for knowledge externalization; i.e., understanding they are borne of my framework but developed for others to be able to not only share but remix/revise/redistribute based on their frameworks? And the same goes for developing and sustaining a MOOC — my personality might be able to pop an enrollment, but to sustain I have to develop a framework as well as materials that allow for others to engage their personalities in the creation of knowledge rather than passively bask in the exaltation of my greatness.

    There’s no silver bullet covered in secret sauce on this one. Perhaps author/facilitator records on purposes and frameworks so others can adopt/modify/revise as needed?

    1. admin says:

      Hi Rolin, I chose Dave and Jim because I thought they had done interesting stuff that utilised their online network and identity, which we could maybe learn from. It wasn’t just ego based so I agree with your comment about them not being the archetype. And yes, the objectivity in materials is a myth. I feel there’s something about how foregrounded that personality element is though, but I can’t quite articulate it, so thanks for your thoughtful comments.

  6. Kate Bowles says:

    Is gender playing a role here? How can it not? What assumptions are we all making—and reinforcing—about personality in this exchange?

    I’m interested specifically in the ironising of gender in academic personality compared to, say, leadership profiling of corporate CEOs. We play it down, but we don’t deal it out all together.

    Thought exercise: “loveable/cuddly”.

      1. admin says:

        Thanks Pat and Kate, – fascinating study Pat, I hadn’t seen that. As you say Kate, gender must play into this.

      2. Maha Bali says:

        Gender, yes! I was saying in the rhizo Facebook group where i found this link that i thought charisma was gendered. I was reflecting on myself in f2f and online where ppl are split between really liking and really hating me (that aspect of a woman seen as too loud or too aggressive or too present) when i feel men are easily agreed upon as charismatic in comparison if they exhibit the exact same behaviors. This is just my feeling and not based on research. There is also the bubbly aspect of a personality – in a man seen as attractive and in a woman demeans her seriousness as a scholar (but i so do love to laugh when teaching and in meetings; being young it influences my credibility and i can see it but not stop it; colleagues who are less personable and more serious get more respect, i feel). Will see Pat’s link now.

        1. admin says:

          Hello again Maha! I think what you feel as the reaction people have to you is also the reaction people have to many of these very collaborative, alternative MOOCs – ie they either really like them or hate them. I must admit I really don’t know how this breaks down gender-wise, but I think you may have something in how men are perceived.

    1. autumm says:

      Where are all the MOOC girls?

      1. admin says:

        That is a very good point Autumn, and one that occurred to me. It is not a criticism of the men I have mentioned (and others who come to mind easily) but I wonder if some of this plays to male characteristics.

        1. Mark McGuire says:

          One course that highlighted gender issues and shared the limelight was #DOCC13, a Distributed Open Collaborative Course on “Dialogues on Feminism and Technology” ( Also see their white paper (

    2. francesbell says:

      I think gender is playing a role here Kate – and it probably starts with the framing around the idea of ‘personality’. Any large course (like at the OU and MOOCs) isn’t ‘taught’ by one person but rather the learning hopefully occurs within a social setting. I wondered as I read the comments whether it was humanity rather than personality that was important. When I think of a ‘good teacher’ I imagine someone who manages to merge into the background allowing learners to come to the fore, quietly facilitating productive discussion between learners. It’s important that they have a personality but not one that dominates all interactions.
      I have only seen DS106 from afar but it seems to me that the distribution of facilitation achieved had more to do with humanity than personality.

      1. Maha Bali says:

        Love the distinction betw humanity and personality. I think you are right to highlight both the humanity and importance of facilitation that foregrounds learners rather than the facilitator him/herself. I do think there is an affective aspect, how we actually feel about facilitators/teachers/leaders that has an influence on our learning (whether their style is more democratic or authoritarian – some ppl really do like authoritarian leaders/teachers – not me, but I live in Egypt where many ppl love authoritarianism!)

        1. Really interesting discussion going on here! I’d like to build on Maha’s point on the affective aspect of education. Yes, how feel about our teachers influences our learning experience, but I also think this is true for teaching: how we feel about the material affects the way we go about teaching. I think having academic freedom and personality in class (presence?) go hand in hand because then we can better bring in our interests and passions into the class and become better resources for our students. This doesn’t mean that our interests should dominate the class; we can just better lead students in their learning and skillfully start conversations before merging into the background. And content and pedagogy are inseparable, right? How can we teach/facilitate/guide a course unit well if we don’t embrace the pedagogical framework embedded in the material (for example, if you don’t believe in separating content into “units”)? So I think it’s really important for colleagues to have a shared vision, or at least have opportunities to question the educational vision, if the course materials are designed collaboratively.

      2. Mark McGuire says:

        Frances, I think you have something there. It might be humanity and authenticity that we respond to rather than personality. I think we are all drawn to people, places and events that seem “real” to us. They make us feel alive, connected, accepted, and human.

  7. Justine says:

    As an undergraduate, I unenrolled from subjects whose lecturer I didn’t like, and took additional subjects with teachers who I did. I don’t think I’d be alone in that? You can’t discuss a text without thinking about the author(s).
    Aside from that, I’m now thinking of doing a MOOC just to check out the funky teachers!

  8. I’m in the process of thinking about the last 20 years in higher ed tech (it’s 20 years this week since I set up my first web server).

    One of my reflections is that almost all the higher ed elearning courses I’ve seen in that time are completely humourless.

    I realise that humour online can be difficult but we collectively don’t appear to have done much to make them fun in any way.



    1. admin says:

      Ha, you’re quite right Mark, and in one draft I did mention humour. We’re generally advised away from it – what is funny to one person is annoying (or even offensive) to another. But it does make learning a rather humourless place I agree.

  9. tjhunt says:

    Really interesting blog, but I would like to add a few things:

    Regarding the de-personalisation of OU course materials, I think it is a bit more complex that you suggest. While the do take “an objective view, created through collaboration to distill clear teaching material”, that does not necessarily remove all personality. I remember studying A103 Introduction to the Humanities about 8 or 9 years ago. Excellent course, but Arthur Marwick had clearly been a strong influence on a lots of the choice of what to cover, and how it was presented. This was not a bad thing at all.

    Even more strange. M882 Managing the Software Enterprise. How could a module with a title like that be engaging or exciting? Well, surprisingly it was. I am not sure if we could say it was the personality of the authors shining through, because I am still not completely sure of who in the module team wrote which bits, but it was written really well, in a way that was engaging and made you think.

    So, I think this is another dimension that is related and worth considering: narrative. And from there my thinking got to Shrek! If we think about animated films: they are produced by a team. We don’t ever get to see the actual people (we only get the actors voices, and you never see film producers and directors, although some of them stamp a lot of personality on their films). A team can produce something with a ‘personality’ even if it is not the personality of just one person. Is this what the best courses should do?

  10. admin says:

    Thanks Tim – yes that is true. Maybe there is a continuum to the extent a course has personality and to what extent that mirrors its founder?

  11. Pat says:

    Is it, per say, personality, or presence? I did a brief, limited SNA on the MOOCs named and shamed above, and in each one, bar ds106, the course instructor was the biggest tweeter (twas Alan in ds106), and most conversations where back and forth between them and the students. The mesh network wasn’t hugely present (on a visible hashtag) at least.

    The MOOC I help with has a lecturer jammed packed with personality. We re-shot the first week of the MOOC as a documentary as lecture theatres don’t do him justice. How many MOOCs have you seen where the lecture starts with a lecturer walking up a castle tower and then giving a lecture descending through the tower and a long shot of him lecturing between turrets?

    In the last mooc there was a thread discussing if he was better than Brian Cox.

    However, he doesn’t really get social media. I installed twitter on his phone and tried to talk him through it, but it isn’t really something he has a taste for. So his “presence” is in his lectures, in his videos, in a very “flat” (if that is the word) form. Throw in social media, and then the personality is amplified (akin to event amplification) to another level. Like Kate says, you can then add in why most of the examples are white men.

    However, going back to the OU stuff, and perhaps the lectures of Foucault (when he was deemed too important to belong to one University) what does personality do to ed tech? Big names can run cMOOCs, can little names? Does making every academic use twitter, or make it seem they have to use twitter work? I find it a bit sad when academics I follow only ever tweet links to their papers, which in many ways is anti-personality. There are people I definitely like less as their twitter usage makes them boring.

    And also, what of the lessons of these courses if they have a key person dependency? Can a template be transferable if it relies on human qualities which are rare? And what of those who take the course after this person goes? And what of openness if it relies on this as well.

  12. Simon Ensor says:

    Great discussion thanks!

    I have the impression that we need to fuzz out some key words which interact and change scope within learner ecologies over time.

    It appears to me that we like to imagine that we are talking about the same concepts when using ‘the same language’.

    I noted a few swarms of meaning here:





    Corporate personality.







    I would argue that the OU, a Check box or a full stop have “personalities”.

    Dave Cormier or Jim Groom or David Attenborough might have a reputation which attracts curiosity of some people who might be more or less attracted by what they may perceive after as: manner, personality, charisma…

    Or they may be just attracted by a friend of a Twitter friend, a slogan “ds106 4 life”, a baboon baby, a random click…

    All that we depend on each person at a particular time.

    Perceptions may well oscillate, swarm, conflict at an instant.

    (OMG he’s a genius, what’s for dinner, I’ll have chips, I feel important studying with OU. I=OU)

    Can we safely say that education is about people and not about unsophisticated artificially ‘intelligent’ robots?? Not sure.

    One might argue that the objective of some ‘education’ is to enable people to become compliant, uncritical consumers.

    Cult of ‘personality’ may well be one means to achieve “educated” compliance.

    Sorry about length, manner of comment. Couldn’t be bothered to blog…yikes too much personality potentially revealed.

    My reputation is screwed.

    I will never work for OU now.

    1. admin says:

      Thankyou Simon for a great comment! You are absolutely right about all the terms swirling around here and I think I’ve been particularly guilty of using terms synonymously and lazily. In some contexts I do mean personality, in others identity, in others network, etc. I’m in the position here of having written a half baked post and then have all these super intelligent comments on it. I feel a bit like the wizard of Oz :)

  13. Dave Harris says:

    To pick up on some earlier posts,I agree Arthur Marwick’s personality was impossible to contain in the Humanities Foundation Courses — but not everyone liked him of course.I have also interviewed OU students who were put off by presenters with beards or Australian accents to the extent of ignoring the content (of TV programmes). Finally,I want to say that I have got exhausted trying to be charismatic (or at least lively and enthusiastic) to successive generations of students.It’s OK when you are of a similar age but not when you are 3 times their age — visible signs of age and decrepitude made me yearn for invisibility and think about doing charisma or enagement at least in written stuff.

    1. Maha Bali says:

      That’s a really interesting point – does our persona in teaching change as we age? Does it need to? Is it a natural evolution or intentional?
      I know i went from a twenty-something teaching grad students my age and older to a thirty-something teaching undergraduates and it made me both delighted but also made me feel older in some ways, younger in others.

  14. Maha Bali says:

    Interesting post. I haven’t read other comments yet but i think you are missing a large chunk of cMOOCs that are collaborative and not led by one person. Dave Cormier and rhizo are exceptions. Look at other great courses like #ccourses #clmooc #edcmooc #moocmooc – rather than REMOVING personality, you distribute personality among multiple facilitators. If you get enough diversity in facilitators you go towards solving the problems you mention here. Becuase, really, who wants personality-less education? I would much rather read a book by someone i know stuff about than a textbook where i don’t know who wrote what. But that’s just me, now, at this phase of my life.
    So what happens in #ccourses or #moocmooc or even #moocspeare? Some ppl have stronger personality and presence (Howard Rheingold, alan Levine, Mia Zamora, Jesse Stommel) and become more strongly associated with a MOOC. Someone like me is seen as lovable/obnoxious by diff ppl but since i am just one facilitator in some of those spaces, they could easily ignore me or engage with me at will. Sometimes having the person representing difference makes the privileged/dominant uncomfortable (which is good, but it could also turn them off rather than make them listen).
    Now i have lost my train of thought. It’s midnight. What do u think so far?

    1. admin says:

      Many thanks Maha for taking so much time to respond. I definitely don’t think we should remove personality from MOOCs, I mean that would be ridiculous, like outlawing fun or something, but was trying to think through what difference it makes in MOOC space. I think you’ve raised a lot of stuff for me to think about. I did this post and then about twenty different aspects arose from comments. It’s been fascinating, but I think I was wrong really to highlight Jim and Dave specifically as it has made it too much about them. I admire both of them a lot and meant to use them as examples where their identity is an example of good stuff you can do rather than just ego driven.

      1. That jim guy is such a glory hog. Everyone always talks about him first. Not that I’m driven by my ego or anything

        1. Pat says:

          Dont worry Dave, you’re the unthinking mans Bonnie Stewart

  15. Ken Bauer says:

    Great post Martin, thanks to you and everyone else for their contributions.

    I’ve been at my university system (Tecnológico de Monterrey) for 20 years now (I was young on arrival, yeah that’s it) and spent various points upset at a system that seemed to drain and discourage the personality from our classrooms. I’m not stopping there so perhaps I won’t be fired soon. Hi bosses, you know about me already.

    It seems to me that with a major shift in focus (and administration) we are pushing towards more personality in the classroom and academic freedom to get more social into our learning process. I’m more positive now and excited about my work than ever before.

    Perhaps I’ve changed and pushed myself (with prodding from others) to be more active, more visible and louder than I was before (not possible I think) and have developed a thick pair of rose coloured glasses.

    And with that ending I have to leave this link (I am Canadian still despite so many years in México):

  16. mikecaulfield says:

    One thought is that the projection of personality modeled by the instructor might also be taken up by the students. I find some MOOCs [throw a 1,000 caveats here] exhausting to watch because 90% of the effort of students [in some MOOCs caveat caveat] seems to be to stake out an identity. I think this, I think that, I differ from everyone else in that I see this and I don’t know why we aren’t talking about that. The same applies to these twitter #edchats etc. It’s like watching speed dating, or an intellectual land grab.

    Maybe this is less exhausting to the people who’ve been involved for several iterations.

    It’s not really MOOCs of course, but all massive and open online experiences (cf. the twitter cycle of projecting yourself the most thoughtful thinker of x or ardent defender of y, or the signalling battles of who cares most when you toss a juicy current event into the stream). But certainly worth it to think how what the teacher models impacts the student culture.

  17. amiddlet50 says:

    There are many connections for me in this discussion. Last week at the APT Conference at Greenwich in London #uogapt I led a discussion on social open learning environments. Dave White and Simon Lancaster contributed and our attention turned to cults. My concern was about inclusivity in open learning environments – will we continue to exclude some (learners and teachers) and, if so, what did this say about the future of innovative open spaces. One concern was evidence of powerful personalities to create and sustain engagement. While this results in powerful learning experiences, do we have to be able to generate cult followings to succeed? The conversation also turned to the importance of ‘self’, something Dave White picked up on later in his session. For me we need to focus more on and value ideas about self-regulation, developing self-confidence and ultimately self-esteem. Ironically this focus on ‘self’ is very much in terms of a successful *social* learning environment in which all voices are encouraged, heard and valued. The ‘self’ of the tutor and the ‘self’ of all other learning participants are all of value in a successful learning environment. For learning and teaching to be rich and dynamic it needs to benefit from as many of the participants as possible. This means a skilful tutor will not only moderate their influence and personality, but will actively manage to bring out those of the other learners or active participants. You might even say that evidence of learning is the revelation of personality.
    I have also conducted research into ‘good, inspirational teaching’. Students often report ‘charisma’ as being a dimension of this.

    1. Maha Bali says:

      Wow Andrew that’s a powerful statement “evidence of learning is the revelation of personality” – I like it :) though I assume it’s most relevant to social science/humanities disciplines (what did Simon Lancaster have to say re sciences? Or maybe i am stereotyping science based on my undergrad experience). Will look up your paper as I am curious both re how ppl define charisma and if there are gender differences in its perception

      1. amiddlet50 says:

        Hi Maha – this is why I find Simon so interesting. And I have other science friends! Whilst understanding signature pedagogies we must learn to break away from science as demanding instructivist methods. Isn’t the point, that ‘time together’ can be facilitated in many ways now and this helps the development of being and becoming. Identity becoming professional identity is a key dimension for any learner.content and knowledge are relatively cheap and accessible. What we can do now is BE a scientist, a geographer, an artist. If you enact your discipline you come to learn stuff. I am in Italy right now… I’ve been promising to learn Italian all year… Did I? No! But I am now living in this authentic space (with Google Translate) and you know what, it’s all falling into place and I’m enjoying it. Personality and authenticity, I think, are closely related to this ontological idea of learning.
        Rember – scientists are human too! Really :-)

        1. Mark McGuire says:

          Hi Andrew, Maha and others

          I, too, was struck by the “evidence of learning is the revelation of personality” comment. Jonathan Worth explains that Phonar and Phonar Nation are about “enabling people to participate in their own representation . . . taking people who otherwise might feel anonymised by the vastness of the web and using it to empower them” ( Similarly, Stephen Downes has said: “The product of learning is not knowledge; the product of learning is a transformed learner”. Perhaps our role as teachers, then, is to arrange situations, contexts and encounters that can enable agency, self-actualisation and transformational experiences.

          1. Andrew Middleton says:

            I think you are right Mark. That sounds like education to me!

    2. francesbell says:

      Very interesting points that you Andrew and others have made about hearing all voices and I was struck by your use of the term “the future of innovative open spaces”. It made me think about the assumptions that might be largely shared by a group like this one commenting on the general of the ‘Battle for Open’ s blog:-) We might tend to assume that open is a goal, a good – and that might obscure ways in which (treading carefully here) open might be shutting off opportunities. I am thinking here of the ‘inscrutability of openness’ captured by Richard edwards . So for example, innovative open learning spaces that are striving (inclusively) to include the voices of all ‘selves’ may be inauspicious to the inner landscapes of reflection, conversations with our thoughts.
      Typically modest, Mike Caulfield didn’t mention his and ward Cunningham’s work on the smallest Federated Wiki and educational ‘happenings’ in which some of here participated.c/MOOCs could learn much from the interactions there where it seemed to me that some of the best experiences and interesting writing occurred when the self was backgrounded.
      In some research, I am currently doing with others, we are finding some interesting side effects of ‘binary thinking’, that the social setting for learning can become a veritable forest of unnoticed binaries. In this case, we could think of an inversion of the common saying – that we can’t see the trees for the wood.

      1. Maha Bali says:

        Hey Frances, thanks for the Edwards link (i am partway thru reading it) and reminder about fedwiki happenings. I am not completely sure those happenings completely eclipse personality, tho of course focusing on collaboratively developed content about a subject is different from writing a personal blog. But I had noted at one point that some personalities will feel more comfortable editing others’ words (if i know X is an expert at Y i may not feel i can add/edit their work)- even tho on fed wiki you create your own version which others can incorporate or ignore – which brings me to the next point – as a fed wiki author you may begin the find that you value the curation of a particular person over others and so knowing there are different versions of each article, you may tend towards reading some ppl’s versions over others. This has an element of personality and a risk of reinforcing biases. It’s one step ahead of Wikipedia because it allows for different versions, but as I wrote in a blogpost, the Arabic Wikipedia already has different information from a different perspective than the English one. That power play still exists in fed wiki, because there is limited benefit in having my own version if it’s not read by any/many.
        I was also wondering about collaboration where no one personality is foregrounded (e.g. MOOCs with multiple facilitators) – does the collaboration itself take on a personality different from the sum of facilitators’ personalities? Or would this be off topic for Martin’s post? Not sure.
        I hope this comment came out coherent (lots going on in my head)

        1. amiddlet50 says:

          France’s and Maha – this is fascinating! Can I share the link to Lesley Gourlay’s recent paper while I think about it:
          I guess you may be familiar with it as it’s in Research in Learning Technology Frances. I found it extremely helpful and the Edwards paper looks useful in similar ways judging by the abstract. It challenges utopian positions.
          Maha – you’ve touched on something that I think is very helpful – how to diffuse and benefit from rich personalities as collaborators – co-contributors to a learning environment. Think of the excited late night discussion driven by trust amongst friends where nobody wants the conversation to stop… Well, that works because of trust, personalities, ideas and open thinking. I am getting that from this conversation, but more to the point, I think we can get it from learning situations in which each participant has found a role. Edwards seems to be interested in ‘elusive’ open learning, and I am interested in inclusivity and concerned that it is so easy for the confident and the Mavericks to exclude others. I also suspect this is may be about machismo and loud, dominant personalities. How, now, do we appreciate and enjoy personality, but ensure equity and opportunity?

  18. My experience of f2f teaching is that personality is everything. It is the one thing that connects learners & teachers. However, I do not think that the personality needs to be in the content.
    In the same way you describe the lack of personality in the development of online course materials at the OU, the same can be said for large f2f courses at many (UK) universities where the course has become “bland” for purposes of quality assurance etc

    What is more important are the interactions, this is where the personality is fundamental in making connections between learners & teachers. In my f2f experiences my personality comes through my use of humour, my cultural references, my observations & my sarcasm (not to everyone’s taste), not through the curriculum content.

    In my online teaching my personality traits come through in the use of Twitter/Facebook/discussion areas etc, not through the curriculum content. Whilst I agree that DS106 does perhaps contain some personality traits of the originator I wonder whether this is being confused with Jim’s online presence across the web? Jim’s personality is much more prevalent in his blog space, his Twitter feed & his webinars.

    In the same way that a f2f student might say they like a subject (but actually it’s the personality of the teacher they like), I wonder if in fact that open online courses actually are like the OU courses, lacking in personality, but that their authors are so prolific in online social spaces that we makes connections between them & that course?

    When I first came across DS106 I actually thought it was the brain-child of Alan Levine. I can see his personality in that course! But that was because he was talking about it so much through his online social spaces where his personality was really being displayed.

    Personally I don’t think removing “personality” from courses content is really the problem. What is the problem is where we don’t encourage academics to bring there personality to the interactions & discussions with students (f2f & online).

  19. Kate Bowles says:

    Personality seems to be a continuum in interpretive terms. On the one hand, there’s a kind of ontology of personality in which all you have to be is yourself: idiosyncrasy, distinctiveness, originality etc. I think at this end is the stuff that makes us want to see live music because it’s, you know, the actual person right there in the room. (I’ve been listening to Joe Strummer’s radio show all weekend, and watching video interviews in which I just kept thinking: oh look, there he is.) On the other, and not a million miles away from live music either, personality opens out into a performative mode and tangles with celebrity, charisma, extroversion, vanity. Higher education worries about how to manage the first and hopes to exploit the other.

    Something that hasn’t come up here, that’s increasingly warping the way higher education institutions talk about themselves: brand personality. I sense we’re moving into a near future for higher education when individual brand personality will shift from being a kind of vernacular practice of self in the social/open, to being yet another KPI that has to be managed at work. To be honest, I think this will be a sad thing.

    I’ve written a response to this post at because I’m still unentangling the gender question in my own mind.

  20. Kate Bowles says:

    I’ve just noticed I had the old blog address linked here. But like many others in this conversation, I’m actually now a devotee of the Church of Reclaim, something I blame entirely on the personality of Tim Owens. So the post that responds to yours, Martin, is at

  21. […] a return to the good ol’ days of educational blogging, Martin Weller wrote a blog post that has generated 49 comments as of this writing (which comes about 72 hours after he posted). I can’t remember the last […]

  22. […] Weller posted a post on the role of personality in education that has attracted many comments. I could have written about many of the thoughts that the post and […]

  23. Pat says:

    New thought
    Most of the people here have their own blogs, or are part of the KILL THE LMS Bastille capturing mob (as opposed to my Defargist Knitting pacificism). Is there a link between the movement away from the LMS as a platform due to edtech truncating the expression of a personality, something which WordPress can do better?

    1. Pat says:

      I forgot to say
      Is the rise of personality the death of edupunk, and the rise of edunewromanticism

      Who will be edtech’s Adam Ant?

  24. […] that’s why Martin Weller’s recent post and resulting conversation around the role of personality in education has been of so much interest to me, and many other folks. I blame Martin for what started as a […]

  25. […] past week has brought conversation and debate prompted from a single blog post about The role of personality in education. Thank you, Martin. This post shared thoughts on how individual courses emerged with a “cult […]

  26. Most interesting to see this topic arising again. Good to see it progressing positively and with good will this time. When it was raised it a few years ago, I was blunt and dramatic about it, causing serious offence and my own excommunication from the North American open education network. A consequence of personality cult and group think? Or was I just a jerk not welcome any more?

    I think it’s important to remove any positive or negative connotations to the idea of ‘cult’, personality and celebrity. It’s a phenomenon which can be simply observed, and has many values and powers.

    I’ve since been most interested in the idea of ‘Wikipedia as MOOC’, akin to ‘ the Internet is the platform’. Considering that project’s process and evident success to everyone’s online learning, compared to the course moocs that everyone’s going on about. Similar to Wikipedia is Youtube, where the platform as a whole becomes a very valuable learning space, made up of the contributions of the many, and left to the myriad ways any one person uses it. In a way, these examples are depersonalised, but more accurately perhaps, have collected personality.

    And this connects with new political and economic ideas based in Collectivism. It is sad to see big personality, unique and creative ideas and practices flattened out by this collectivism, but not so sad to see some of the consequences of celebrity gone with it.

    1. Tom Woodward says:

      I actually ended up on that post the other day from something Jim wrote. It’s sad how it blew up that way. I didn’t see any complaints from Mexico though so a chunk of North America remains and, since it’s been a number of years, hopefully bygones have gone by and all of North America is now open again.

      I do think about whether what Jim and Tim are doing now is moving away from the institution as much as I initially thought. While they both left UMW, they’re now working with lots of universities. Once bound by purchasing regulations, now the subject of them kind of thing . . .

      With Wikipedia I don’t know if it creates online learning as much as online reference (at least for the audience- editors are a different story). YouTube often gets more at the learning aspect for me as I tend to go there when I want to do something (fix a dish washer, repair a garage door, make a slingshot) rather than Wikipedia where I tend to look up a fact (Where senators went to college, casualty numbers of various wars). That may be overly mapping my own use of the two though.

      What I liked about DS106 was it was focused on doing things and those things weren’t bound by the course/instructor. The course was just a handy community to play along with- riff off of as I saw fit and I tended to gain more from the participants than I did the instructor. Granted, I only really participated in the early days. Seems like some mixture of the ideas of Sean Cornally and Roger Schank (and probably other people I don’t know about) might be an interesting way to look at getting action in the forefront.

      1. Hi Tom. I didn’t know Mexico was part of North America – I mean, I know it is technically North (of the equator). I suppose I thought of it as Central America. I dunno, it’s not my part of the world. I need a term that captures US and Canada…

        I take your point about Wikipedia being mainly a fact check site for most. I’m a bit of an editor there, so it’s an experience akin to Youtube for me (where I also post video). But I’d say a rarely use WP just as a fact checker though, tending to follow link trails into and across it, reading the discussion tabs behind many articles, etc.

        So it’s in those terms I suppose – editing, uploading, contributing, participating, that I might say WP and Youtube are a MOOC, the same way you value DS106, but they are different to DS106 because they are much less centred around a course or personality.. As a whole. Which is both good and bad.

        1. Tom Woodward says:

          I always have to remind myself that Mexico is part of North America and I live here. I was just trying to give you access to an additional population. :) I couldn’t find a term for the USA and Canada.

          There is that serendipitous trail in wikipedia that I love. It’d be really interesting to see viewing stats on the main article vs the talk pages.

          Interestingly, and I hadn’t really thought about this, but the portions of DS106 I liked the most were the ones most divorced from the traditional idea of course- the things most like learning in the wild. I wonder if trying to associate the term MOOC is a mistake in this instance. It makes one want to fit learning into the idea of a course (massive, open, or otherwise). I prefer to think of learning in the wild and how MOOCs (and education in general) ought to try harder to be like that. That may or may not be an aspect of your point.

          I have to think about whether the thing that makes a course is external direction and the personality of the instructor. People seem to like/need/want this. I tend not to like it. Lots for me to think about.

    2. Maha Bali says:

      Hi Leigh – I am not sure how you propose to remove the negative connotations of cult and celebrity? I don’t even think your comment here does that :) But you make some excellent points. I am sorry you say u were excommunicated (woah, really?) for what surely couldn’t have been THAT offensive a viewpoint? But I don’t have the details (still seems a bit much). I can’t wait to meet Martin and learn about his updated views on this, now that so many of us have weighed in :) Martin are you up for that?

      1. admin says:

        Hi Maha – I’m up for trying! But I think the comments have gone way beyond any insight I had, and are much more informed and thoughtful than my original post. But happy to reflect upon it in a bumbling, incoherent fashion. See you at Alt-C :)

  27. […] Weller’s post The role of personality in education has spurned an interesting conversation about the role, ability and importance of personality in […]

  28. […] Weller’s post on the role of personality in education has stimulated a lot of really interesting conversation and dialogue (it’s particularly […]

  29. VanessaVaile says:

    Coming in late, via Kate’s blog post and belatedly tagging and bookmarking links bundled to save. What a rich discussion to re-read more closely. Adding anything at this point might be superfluous. Teaching persona does change with age and, obviously, with discipline although some carries over there too. Don’t forget how interacting with learners and our own mentors/colleagues changes us too.

    About the OU depersonalization that Martin opens with — my immediate thoughts ran to unbundling in higher ed, Taylorization, and the current response/resitstance to Common Core and standardized testing/teacher evals in U.S. K12.

    I’m going to throw this link out to the mostly K12 Education Bloggers Network and the adjunct community (some of whom no doubt read it already via Kate’s post) to think about and for discussion….perhaps even further out

  30. […] However, the predominant response of the Academy to the Web has been to remain in a publishing or ‘broadcast’ mode in which content is shared but with little expectation of contact (for example, Open Educational Resources or the mainstream MOOC). Nevertheless, some of the more successful MOOCs in terms of numbers have a clearly identifiable author/designer or, in the case of connectivist MOOCs, a charismatic leader. Here again we see evidence of the shift in emphasis online, away from the academy, towards the individual. In the case of connectivist MOOCs the individuals at the helm tend to be connected to educational institutions in some form but this is a secondary factor when considering the course’s currency. […]

  31. […] The Role of Personality in Education – Martin Weller calls out the elephant of personality in the room in regards to Massively Open Online Courses. An interesting read if not for the debate the follows in the comments. […]

  32. […] Weller posted a post on the role of personality in education that has attracted many comments. I could have written about many of the thoughts that the post and […]

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