e-learning,  web 2.0


I’m a big fan of LastFM, and whenever I find some technology I like, I think ‘what would this be like in education?’. Let’s play the technology determinist game for a while, and imagine what would education (or even just a course) be like if it was built around something like Last.fm, would it be a Last.uni?

Here’s how it might work. Imagine educators don’t create courses or give lectures but they create loads of resources: podcasts, articles, blog postings, animations, video clips, etc. Last.uni draws on all the databases where these resources are stored. In your Last.uni player you enter a subject you are interested in, lets say it’s ‘technological determinism’ (to be all ironic about it). Now, what you get back is a stream of resources that are initially about technological determinism, but as you work through them they will be about related subjects. These connections will have been established by tagging and data mining. So after the first couple of resources on technological determinism there is a podcast on Marshall McLuhan. You rank this as something you are interested in, and the search is further refined.

Being Last.uni it is of course a social networking tool, so you can see who has also listened to the podcast, and if you feel so inclined, invite them in to a chat. As you continue to use the tool it generates a set of neighbours, that is people who have ‘studied’ similar resources as you. This in effect becomes your loosely defined student cohort, and you can use tools to arrange weekly discussion sessions.

As you continue to use the tool and you build up the list of resources you have liked it creates a set of recommendations for you, effectively building your course.

Now, there’s a bit of a need for guidance in there, (how do you know to look for technological determinism) and I’m not sure where the educator fits in. Maybe they become redundant – thats why it’s the Last Uni (gulp)? Accrediting the knowledge you get through Last.uni would probably require an eportfolio type approach (which would of course be built in to the tool).

So, any takers?


  • Martin

    Ah, you’ve spotted the weakness. Like many web 2.0 projects it’s a bit light on the economics, but here goes some suggestions:
    i) You pay a subscription, like LastFM.
    ii) You pay for support if you need it, maybe there are experts available via IM.
    iii) You pay for accreditation.

  • Scott Leslie

    I don’t know that it maps perfectly, but one might roughly equate
    instructors = artists
    instructor’s take on a ‘course’ = album
    (or maybe it is course = playlist)
    Of course the idea is that a single instructor is not determining the ‘course’ ahead of time; this is where Pandora might also fit in, though, because where Last.FM currently works at the artist/album/tag level, Pandora finds similarities between individual tracks. Though this leads one done the ugly road of centrally provided metadata (the way Pandora does it, at least).
    It’s an interesting thought experiment, and parts of it worth emulating, but the issue of sequencing and the learning pre-requisites of individual resources needs to somehow be addressed. Tags alone, even with popularity data, don’t seem to be enough – is it ok, for instance, if the first resource that is presented to you upon deciding to study “technological determinism” is this (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technocratic_movement) wikipedia article? While I think it’s relevant and can conceive a scenario where it is a popular resource, is it where someone should start with the topic?

  • Colin Milligan

    Hello Martin. Reading this made me think of Rob Koper’s work on learning networks and the idea that like ants, communicating where food is, analysis of recommendations from learners can highlight useful routes through content: learners who wanted to learn A and knew B benefited from next studying C. Last.fm provides a good illustration of how a system such as this might work in practice.
    A quick dig for references turned up the following URLs which may be of interest: http://www-jime.open.ac.uk/2004/6/koper-2004-6-disc-06.html and http://jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk/8/2/5.html
    People like Jeremy Hiebert have also thought about this tpye of issue. I can;t find the post right now, but when we doing our PLE work he was writing about ’43 things’ along broadly similar lines. Perhaps searching his blog at: http://headspacej.blogspot.com/ for posts mentioning 43 things might turn up other ideas.

  • Anthony Pash

    I’ve been thinking along the same lines lately. I use last.fm on a regular basis and have found it to be such a great way to learn about new music that fits my interests and connect with others who share those interests. Why couldn’t this model be used for students, educators, and researchers? Of course the funding issue is a tricky one, but I’m quite sure it could be overcome. As more and more universities are moving towards consortial purchasing of resources (at least in libraries) this could be a great way to further connect the people and resources of various institutions. I will definitely start looking into the idea of learning networks as well, thanks to the suggestion of Colin Mulligan above.

  • Martin

    Re. Scott’s comments – I wonder if I overstretched it a bit in terms of media types. If it was just audio (maybe video too), then it might make the flow between resources smoother. But it may require some of the metadata you suggest.
    Re. Colin’s comments – yes, 43Things is another of those technologies I think has huge potential. Probably more readily too – you can imagine a version of it within a university that helps foster the student community. Here they can find people who can help them with straightforward educational problems, e.g. ‘I’m trying to understand basic algebra’, to more study based skills ‘I’m trying to pass my exam with the minimum effort’ and also social, ‘I’m trying to find the courage to talk to a girl in the bar’. And you’re right – Rob’s Tencompetence work is along these lines.

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