open courses

The granularity of personalisation

Various dice

(with apologies for that title, it sounds like a bad Milan Kundera novel).

In my post on personality, I may have suggested that I thought courses such as DS106 and Rhizo were a cult of personality with Jim and Dave at their head. This wasn’t my intention. I highlighted them because I think they are good examples of where the founder’s personality is in the DNA of the course, but that it has then been shaped by others. The course itself has personality.

And this, along with the many excellent responses (60! It’s like 2006 all over again in the edublogosphere) got me thinking about courses with personality and how people react to them. I have sent students on the OU Masters in Online education to look at DS106. And their reactions are very interesting. Some absolutely love it, and become converts (why aren’t all courses like this?) and others have a real aversion to it. Both of those reactions are perfectly valid of course, and highlight what a personal thing the learning process is.

This got me thinking that when we talk about personalisation in learning we often mean at the level of the resource. For instance, you will see different resources based on a score. Or depending on your preferred ‘learning style’ you may get more textual or visual based resources. Learning styles are hugely problematic, but that doesn’t seem to stop them popping up when people talk about personalisation. This type of personalisation is a very technology driven view, with a dream of a the perfect course for you being assembled automatically instantly. I have to say this type of personalisation doesn’t excite me very much, and I’m not sure it’s been very successful. But here’s a thought, maybe we’ve been looking at the wrong level of granularity (hence my Kundera-esque title).

Personalisation may occur within a programme of study by taking different course with different ‘personalities’. Within a degree programme, say, you might have some core courses, structured fairly traditionally. But then there are options which you choose based not on their content, but on their approach. Of course we have a high degree of modularity and optionality in most degree programmes now, but this is usually around content (do you want to study linguistics or philosophy as your first year option in psychology). But open education, yes I mean MOOCs but also other options, mean you can have the same subject area, but different approaches to it. Here the choice might be more “do you want to study the creative, collaborative approach to statistics or the methodical, strictly paced approach?”.

Such personalisation may encourage educators to create courses with variety, instead of uniformity, because enough people will like that approach. And it also reinforces the importance of the human educator in the process, and gives students courses they can relate to in a mixture. You might also force them to take a type of course they don’t much like just to experience different approaches. Vive la difference may work better at the programme level than the resource one.


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