Whew! (and the need for Differentiated Instruction in a MOOC)

photo credit: Confused by digiart2001 via CC (http://www.flickr.com/photos/digiart2001/2193511165/)

I just had a total “whew” moment of being very, very “whelmed” (credit for the word goes to @snbeach, who makes me feel that way regularly), and it led to some bigger questions for me.







I picked up a tweet asking people  to contribute to a slide show on connected learning as part of #etmooc. Seemed easy enough, so off I went to click the link.

I’m at work, where my default browser must be Internet Explorer in order for my laptop to function optimally (yup, I know, don’t go there). That meant that I could see the slideshow, but not contribute to it. “I can deal with that!” I thought, and opened up Chrome, but to my surprise, I got the same message. What now?

First, I clicked on the more information tab, which told me GoogleDrive should work on my Chrome Browser; so I downloaded GoogleDrive. Still no change in the error message. I “hmmmed” for a minute, and then thought: “maybe it’s still thinking Explorer is the browser”, so I went in,and switched over my default browser, and “ta-dah” – Success!

I added my slide (which eventually meant adding another add-on to my browser), found an image on CC, added it, worked around how to add my text below it (could I use the notes section?), and was reasonably pleased with the finished project. Switched my browser back (kind of proud of myself on that one), and realized that the reasonably simple task had taken a pretty big chunk of my prep time. And then I thought… (and this is my big question)…

How would someone who had never done this before have managed this? And at what point would they have given up?

This has become one of my guiding questions since I started doing on-line learning in a major way last year.

I’m a pretty ADD person, and can manage multiple streams of information reasonably well, and I think that makes things like webinars with their backchannels, and audio, and visual inputs manageable for me. But even for me, the first couple of minutes of a webinar, when I’ve been out of practice for a while, get my heart pumping, and my adrenaline flowing like crazy.

Image: hair pulling out  by wstera2 via cc (http://www.flickr.com/photos/sully_aka__wstera2/2233139278/)

Image: hair pulling out by wstera2 via cc (http://www.flickr.com/photos/sully_aka__wstera2/2233139278/)

“How do I “write” on the screen”? “I forget how to grab the mike”, “Where are all those smiley faces coming from?”,  and the biggest one, “why does everyone else seem to know what they’re doing?” are only some of the things that come flying into my head, and I have a hard time imagining someone who is totally new to this feeling positive about the experience.

So, I want to know, in the context of a MOOC specifically and in the larger context of education technology-related P.D., how do we “start where they are” for our adult learners?

We are amazingly good at differentiating for our students. We know and understand that it’s a part of our job, we search out techniques to make learning more manageable for them – we chunk, we use anchor charts, we present information in a million different ways. My struggle is that I don’t think we’re especially good at remembering that when we’re teaching each other.

I think small steps are one answer; I think lots and lots of guiding advice is another (repeating instructions for how to write, or use the microphone during a webinar, so someone who comes in late still gets the information; sending out “be prepared” ideas before a twitterchat ); I think one-to-one mentoring is ideal ( a colleague asked the other day if I would sit down with her, because she still doesn’t “get” Twitter, and knows that I do); but I’m still stuck with the thought of someone trying to do what I did today, and bailing at any one of a number of spots, because it’s just not intuitive for them.

How do we convince people to buy in, when it can be a real challenge sometimes?

Looking for answers as always….


About lisamnoble

teacher, learner, mom, clergy spouse. Knitter, spinner, reader, free-weights fan, wearer of many (hand-knit) hats. Believer in changing the world (and education) lovingly, thoughtfully and irrevocably.
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4 Responses to Whew! (and the need for Differentiated Instruction in a MOOC)

  1. wiltwhatman says:

    Hi Lisa,

    Been thinking and reading about just this, and here’s some thoughts. I feel another massive blogpost coming on…

    But most of those answers aren’t pertinent t the #etmooc context.

    Tell people the utility of the skills they will learn, and the cost of not learning them. Ditto with the MOOC.

    Avoid comparisons to others who are more successfully using, or learning the tools.

    Provide well designed resources that are designed around pertinent tasks. Have a way of using them to track your new users, and see who is falling through the cracks (eg, setup a twitter resource, with an instructors account, have the students follow the account and tweet to it as part of the resource, and you have a list of your novice learners, so you can track and find who needs help)

    Avoid expressing sympathy, focus on expressing possibility, utility, and learning paths (chunking can be a big part of this).

    Have active organisers who engage with the community meaningfully, and in a way that maximises motivation (check on this for #etmooc).

    Design support instruction well, clearly, and be transparent about it. Provide it in advance. Publicise it well. Tell people exactly why they need it, what it will help them do in the mooc and their jobs, tell them how it’s going to be done and why that way, set tasks as collaborations.

    eg, setup a twitter resource for instruction, link tasks to a monitored account, and have that account involved in validation (getting users to follow, then tweet, then retweet and instructor account tweet, favourite, then use the instructional hashtag, then use the instructional hashtag to publicise their blog post about the instruction, then engage in a tweetchat, then do a collaborate session where the backchannel is twitter for users who have done that, and email for ones who haven’t, use screencasts in collaborate bb to demo the skills usage you want, and use the bb session to validate thos skills – so, screencast how to seize the mike, get everyone seizing the mike, screencast the text tool, get everyone to type in their twitter handle)

    Provide the challenge, and make the resources equalt to achieving them.

    Know, insofar as you can, who your learners are (perhaps via the twitter setup lessons) and why they need to know what they need to know. Adapt tasks to suit them – though this is resource intensive, even with automating parts of the process.

    Give feedback.

    But none of this really seems to hit the nub of the question…

    I need to say more, with less words, and contribute when I have had more sleep 😉

    Thanks for the post Lisa…your questions and observations will be rattling around my head for the next few days.

    • lisamnoble says:

      Will write more when I am better rested, but just a moment to say “thank you for understanding”. I love the idea of a tracking system, and I also think a “pre-framing” is kind of important. I went through a course (and admittedly, that was a paid experience, which is different) last year where there was a mini-bootcamp-type activity for the 2 weeks before we started, to familiarize yourself with spaces and techniques. It helped a lot!

      More later. Hug your small person and rest well.

  2. Thanks for pointing to your post on Google+! I had read it awhile ago, and it got lost in the pile of other things I read that day somehow. I really like how you put this point–we often work very hard to ensure that our students have as much instruction and guidance as necessary when doing a new task, but perhaps don’t always do that for adult learners in non-school contexts. And yet, for technology, often the reverse is required! I think the idea of having “partners” in a mooc, which Margaret Powers also suggested in a comment to my blog, is a great idea. So that if someone gets stuck they have someone else they have connected with and feel comfortable asking (sometimes people feel a little wary of “bothering” those they don’t know, even when it’s not actually a bother at all, so having the partners connect before problems come up, as early as possible, seems key). And sometimes people are so stuck they can’t even get to the point of posting their question or issue on the tech they need help on, for others to answer!

    Maybe people could volunteer to be partnered up with others, those with more of a sense of familiarity with the tech tools (or at least those who don’t mind doing searches when necessary to find information, or asking others) paired with those that have less familiarity.

    Just wanted to say I think you’ve already got some good ideas to answer your question, and Keith has added some more. I also like Keith’s point about having an Instructor Twitter account dedicated to helping with issues. And the point that expressing sympathy with those who are struggling is not enough (though, I would argue that it can be helpful sometimes, so they don’t feel like they’re the only ones not getting it); offering help, suggestions, etc. is also required where one can. That’s the responsibility of those of us who feel pretty okay with the tech!

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