A Social Learning Network – Part 2

After a relatively long break, this is the second part of my blog on creating a social learning network or SLN. This will not be as detailed as the previous as work on the SLN was halted for reasons I’ll discuss later, but as usual this blog provides me with a repository for my research, work, and collected thoughts which I can look at later and hopefully other readers might make sense of benefit from.

This blog will really answer the very important question below:

How can we get our learners interested in a SLN? 

The continued success of Facebook demonstrates that the public are in general interested in social-networking. So why use a platform like Ning and not use Facebook itself which is, of course, the runaway market leader in social networking?

Well, institutional/authority participation in Facebook can be seen as an intrusion into someone’s private domain. A lot of people tend to feel inclined to compartmentalize their online identities, ‘work here, studies here, life here’. I myself do this. It has become apparent that I use Facebook for more playful social networking and LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, and my blog site for more academic and professional pursuits.

‘Ning provides an ave­nue for instructors to take advantage of social networks in a neutral setting, offering functionality and an experience that are familiar and comfortable to students. By creating social networks around academic topics, or even about specific projects for a course, an instructor can facilitate a strong sense of community among the students, encouraging personal interactions that can lead to the creation of new knowledge and collective intelligence’ Link

When we create our own SLN for a specific audience we have the opportunity to create the network in a way that behaves as we believe it should – but we have to always think about the end-user. How should it work FOR THEM and not us. Unique challenges result from who your end users will be.

There is a potential issue regarding how Facebook is constantly changing/evolving and as a result the norms and expectations related to wider social network use might change too so if we create a SLN we need to be mindful that it will likely always be evolving too. Standing still is rarely a good option in any field, but when it comes to the Internet, learning, and technology in general, this has to be doubly important to avoid, particularly if you are operating in a competitive field.


….while I was developing of the social learning network, we received the news that the department for which the SLN was being created was to close down and as a result the funding for the monthly subscription would cease and therefore the site would no longer be accessible.

The above news was very disappointing because as someone that works in the field of instructional design, you want to see things you research and develop come to fruition and you can learn from the failures and success of what you’ve created. The further implications on a personal level will be discussed in a future blog.

Further reading

Some further reading for social learning network use, development, and the Ning platform can be found below. I hope I’ll be able to return to it soon to fully develop and launch one.







A Social Learning Network – Part 1

In my work, I’ve been tasked with creating a social learning network. In this blog and those follow, I’ll gather my thoughts and draw on a number of resources to try to make sense of its design and implementation.

Ultimately, across the two or three blogs I’ll add, I’m going to try and answer the following questions:

  • What is a social learning network?
  • Why would we want a social learning network? 
  • How can we create our own branded social learning network? 
  • How can we get our learners interested in it?
  • How can we promote self-directed learning? 
  • Can we foster an environment where students generate their own content?
  • How can we secure buy-in from teachers? 
  • Can this social learning network provide increased web presence which translates to increased business?

Over the course of the blogs covering this design, ultimately I’ll explore how in order to create differentiation from our competitors and add real value to course offerings, how can we create a branded social learning network that engenders productive learner interaction, self-directed learning, student-generated content, and has buy-in from teachers.

In this first blog, I’ll try and address the first three questions.

What is a social learning network?

Well, obviously, first it’s a social network so you can think Facebook to a great respect but in the case of a social learning network, the interactions would be between learners and teachers around materials specifically posted as learning objects or artefacts that are the culmination of learning  activities.

The ideal scenario in a social learning network is that it provides a space where learners can ‘acquire, master, and then themselves disseminate knowledge to others’ (Wiki). For example, a learner could create a video of her discussing a particular concept covered on a course and then post it for other students to watch and comment on or students could read an article posted by the teacher and post a similar one themselves.

It also provides a medium for students to collaborate online. Combining their skills to produce something or simply using the network as a communication channel to discuss work allocated by the teacher and achieve understanding and solve problems together.

Why would we want a social learning network? 

A company concerned with educating/training would want a social learning network for a number of reasons of which what I have just discussed would be of great import. In the communication age, leveraging the power of the internet has to be a must. Not only does it afford the possibilities for collaboration, dissemination of information and materials, and communication; it is a practical acknowledgement of how we now learn and even think.

Every field of study can no longer be seen as a static collection of concepts. Knowledge is continually evolving, more information is being created and made available immediately. As educators we have to plug into that and facilitate our learners becoming a part of a network of potential resources where they can explore a subject and become agents in their own learning journey through self-directed learning and the continued learning that comes from having these new connections to the potential sources of information we try and place in their reach.

As a corporate training department, part of our remit should be to not only educate learners with what is within a particular book. We should not limit ourselves to achieving the specified learning objectives. We should be in the business of producing learners who are prepared continue that learning in a specific field independent of those interactions they have with us. To create life-long, or at least career-long learners who will provide value for their employers. And in terms of the cost/benefit to those employers, our clients, we want to provide as great a benefit as we can for their investment.

There is also the value in relation to sales of having that supplemental offering to our products with the aforementioned learning benefits as well as consolidating our brand as an organisation at the forefront of our field.

How can we create our own branded social learning network?

While there are other platforms that could be used, we’ll be using Ning. I’ll be detailing the benefits of Ning and why it will be an appropriate choice for what we wish to do, but I’ll admit that perhaps one reason that Ning was initially raised as a possible SLN provider is that it has been used by the organisation before.

Its use was actually unsuccessful, and I’ll be exploring perhaps why that was the case in a future blog and applying those lessons learnt to the design and implementation of this SLN for the corporate training department.


Here’s a brief video detailing what Ning is and how it can be used.

So, Ning is an online platform for people and organisations to create custom social networks. Ning allows us to create our own name for the SLN and brand it with personalised design choices, images, and theme colours etc.

It’s important to perhaps note what Ning isn’t. It’s not a Learning Management system. It’s not directly a method for us, for example, to make materials available to students that missed classes or a platform on which we can add traditional e-learning lessons.

But…what it doesn’t have, the open internet does.

Picture of web apps and social network sites that can be used within Ning

The wider web offers so much functionality to use within Ning

So Ning can provide a customizable hub for wider web use.


So lets look at the functionality of Ning and explore how we can exploit it for what we want to do.


Ning groups example page

Ning groups example credit – http://www.ning.com/ning3help/create-groups/

So first there’s the functionality that we can create groups within our network. A group can be assigned to an individual class and also to the subject area that that class might be studying. Groups can be set up like Matryoshka dolls, one within the other with differing levels of access to individual students by virtue of those groups being public or private and assigning admissions.


These groups can have individual URLs for ease of access and bookmarking. Students and clients can be filtered into their respective groups/sub-groups via email invitations or via profile questions. Each student will have access to their specific class and subject area group and any other groups that are open and might be of interest to them.

Ning group naming function

Ning group naming function – credit http://www.ning.com/help/?p=5200

Critically, students can sign in via existing social network memberships, i.e., if they have Facebook accounts they can simply click to join with that and they’ll have instant profile presence. From my own experience, this is a great labour-saving function and when we’re trying to coax in users that might not be overly enthused by what this product might be, the ease of access and perhaps the comfort that it integrates with their existing social networks might be of great help in at least ‘getting them through the door’.

Alternative social network login access image

Alternative social network login access – credit http://www.ning.com/blog/2010/11/introducing-social-sign-in.html

In relation to the devices that can be used, Ning can be accessed via all devices as it uses responsive design which is ‘is an approach to web design aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing and interaction experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones)’ (Wiki). It also makes use of HTML5 which means the latest multimedia should be easily readable on devices.

Content functionality

Within these groups which can be categorized according to general subject area or specific class groups, we can add blogs, videos, images, links and so on.

We can also add RSS feeds covering areas pertinent to that particular subject or class. For example, we could add feeds adding info on business news for a specific Business English class and the Business English subject area itself, or feeds related to recruitment to a class for a class made up of recruitment consultancy staff.

RSS Feeds info from Ning website

RSS Feeds info – credit http://www.ning.com/help/?p=3257

This negates the need for constant manual updates on our part to ‘make it look busy’. This would hopefully promote student-centred exploration of the topic being covered in the classes and begin to make learners aware of the possibilities afforded to them by plugging themselves into these networks of resources to enhance their abilities.

Leveraging the wider web

As I mentioned earlier, this SLN is not a traditional LMS. However, we can also add links to any of the materials we want to make available to subject area groups or specific group classes via cloud storage options such as Dropbox or Google Drive. We can upload videos or audio recordings of classes via sites such as YouTube. Adding videos of classes, lectures, or class activities provides learners with the opportunities to review what’s been done or gain new insight into a subject area.

SLN as a shop window

However, for some videos that we produce, we may want to add them to open groups for other learners and our clients who will have access to the SLN themselves. We might also at some stage want to start offering videos of classes to showcase what we do in other subject areas that can be viewed by students and clients within the community. They may see possible products that they would like to take or invest in in the future. The SLN can provide a shop window as well as an environment to promote learning.

Student-generated content

Students can add their own videos of class activities or things done outside or any links they have found and written work for others to read either via their own initiative or as guided by the instructor. These can provide a rich resource of blended learning and student-generated content for us to exploit in class as well as providing further resources for the immediate group and wider community.

Repositories for future materials

When content is added to groups by either learners or instructors, this can provide repositories for future use for instructors in future classes and it remains as possible material for clients to view to aid repeat-business.

Metrics, Measurement, Analytics

Ning has analytics functions. We can gather contact and demographic information, see who is active, who isn’t, and where and decide what is and isn’t working as a result. This is a very helpful tool in improving our products but there are ethics involved regarding using it to gauge learners engagement levels or output of students if elements of SLN use become more than supplementary offerings and become intrinsic parts of courses. I wrote a blog on the ethics of analytics use here.

Future API functionality

Ning state that they will have API functionality in the future. This essentially should mean that were we to want to create interactive e-learning content with tools such as Captivate or Articulate in future, we might be able to add it to our SLN. For example, short graphic user interface lessons could be added with games and quizzes. If we ever wanted to use the SLN as a place where intrinsic parts of course content took place, this would be a great option to have.


This could, if exploited correctly engender a change in our general work-practice culture. It could promote greater integration of online, digital elements and student-generated content into our classroom teaching, and change our view of what we do to focus more clearly on preparing learners for continued self-directed independent learning in future.

The goal here isn’t more work for classroom instructors; It’s leveraging the power of the internet and digital media which could ultimately mean less work and more engaging and richer learning scenarios.

However getting the approach right and achieving buy-in from all stakeholders including instructors, learners, clients, and administrative staff is vital. This is what I’ll be exploring in future blogs where I’ll be exploring some of the relevant research.

Learning Analytics Ethical Considerations and Implementation Recommendations

So, in this blog I’m going to discuss the ethical considerations and implementation of learning analytics in a corporate training context. This specifically leads on from the flipped learning project design I’ve discussed previously. The discussion is therefore focused on my particular context, but I think the overarching ideas relating to ethics and implementation can be considered in many other contexts and fields.

Learning Analytics Cycle

The Learning Analytics Cycle by Doug Clow @ Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA

Organisation Context

So, to introduce the context, the learning analytics implementation is for the British Council Thailand’s Professional Training Centre (PTC) in Bangkok. I’ll detail the primary ethical considerations and recommendations on good practice in the implementation of learning analytics in the development and use of the new flipped learning department product in a Thai corporate training context.

What are Learning analytics?

Learning analytics can be defined as how data about learners is measured, collected, analysed, and acted upon to optimize learning and the learning environments in which that learning occurs.

Potential benefits

Learning analytics may provide us with the means to bridge the gap that relates to a number of potential issues such as students lack of engagement, motivation, and difficulties with online materials as well as the fact that the teachers do not have the visual and interaction cues that signal those difficulties. With learning analytics we could identify those at-risk students or those that are not engaging with the materials to plan interventions that will support their learning journey.

Analytics will be used in this context as part of the online aspects of the flipped learning courses to identify whether learning designs are being adhered to. This will ensure learners are prepared for the in-class sessions. Through the analysis of learners’ habits, actions, interactions, failures and successes in their use of the LMS, the content, and devices used, the PTC can make predictions of learners’ requirements, and how to improve materials, communication, and access to inform the development of our courses going forward. This will make our product more effective and therefore we will become more competitive and increase our likelihood of receiving future business from clients.

Potential Barriers

The introduction of learning analytics and therefore the flipped learning product itself will not be successful if:

  • there is no buy-in from students and educators, they must appreciate that it complements the teaching and learning processes
  • responsible parties do not have sufficient time or training to use it
  • learners do not have sufficient time to study the materials

Also, we cannot measure all online learning undertaken by prospective students. Some of that learning will happen outside of our LMS on websites and social networks that we may not be able to extract data from.

What are ethics in Learning Analytics?

Ethical issues for learning analytics fall into three overlapping categories: where data is located and how it is interpreted; informed-consent, privacy and de-identification of data; and how it is managed, classified and stored.

What makes data in a learning context unique and distinct from data’s use in marketing, for example, is how it relates to moral practice, the identification of students as developing participatory agents in its collection and use, and the necessity for being transparent in that use.

Areas of concern

Areas we need to be mindful of can be:

  • Mislabelling students based on incomplete, incorrect, or inaccurately collected information
  • Not considering the factors relating to students’ personal lives, emotional states, social, and economic factors that are not observable
  • Restricting avenues of learning to our materials and course alone in preparation for what may occur in the in-class elements, i.e., maybe a student prepares with books they have access to

Critically, in this Thai corporate training context, we need to consider the power-relations between all stakeholders, learners, teachers, clients, administrators, and management. We need to adopt a socio-critical perspective which necessitates being cognizant of the manner in which cultural, political, social, physical and economic contexts in Thailand inform our decisions in learning analytics. This should naturally apply also in any context. Put simply, think of who you’re dealing with and consider the culture in which your work is being applied.

Considerations for introducing / using analytics

Learner Perspective

Learners’ expectations and perceptions must be managed carefully. Their engagement with online materials should be engendered by the learning design and not the threat of failure on the course or the notification of their superiors of inappropriate or incomplete use of the materials such as skipping quickly through lesson pages.

Internet Surveillance image of eye on computer screen

Internet Surveillance by Mike Licht @ Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA

This type of surveillance atmosphere may result in demotivation and resentment, potentially affecting future revenues. It will be necessary to personalize reporting that can be understood by learners and clearly relate to the enhanced effectiveness of their learning. Transparency and the opportunity to provide qualitative feedback is a requirement.

Educator Perspective

In our flipped learning online designs we will try to promote continued learning by adopting the principles of Connectivist learning theory, where we look to foster within learners the appreciation of their finding and becoming a part of networks of specialist connections where they can source and provide information. We must, therefore, consider how this portion of learning is ensured.

Generally, the learning designs might reflect this in work then conducted in class such as the learners presenting what they learned and found online or providing evidence in printouts etc. as instructed by specific tasks that pushed them to look beyond the boundaries of the e-learning environment and into the wilds of the Internet proper.

However, we can also look to employ web-forums so that learners produce and reflect on the evidence there. Analytics can produce information as to whether this has been done. However, some learners will find these activities more difficult due to their English competency. There is also the contextual factor of face in Thai society which may make these kinds of interactions, where their work is out there for everyone to see, difficult.

Finally, whoever is chosen to interpret the accumulated data needs to understand the context of that individual learner at that point in the course and how their interpretation of the data and their resultant actions have ethical consequences. Essentially again, we have to consider that our learners are people and our actions might have far-ranging consequences for them.

Organisation Perspective

It is likely that any organisation will have to be judicious in what information is shared with clients. Learners will have to be made aware of what is collected, why, what it is used for, and what will be provided to their superiors.

It might be that the interventions or lack thereof would be based on shared characteristics or trends in the cohorts. For example, if the cohort as a whole which will be involved in the in-class productive elements of the flipped learning courses are not engaging with the online parts of the course, then that may have to be raised with the client but not before we investigate whether there is an issue with the materials or the technologies used in its delivery.

However, interventions must be weighed against priorities. Do we maximise the effectiveness of our learning designs, or ensure profitability? We may run the risk of alienating learners with certain interventions and this may adversely affect our chances of getting clients to return to us in the future by virtue of negative feedback from learners provided to their superiors. On the flip-side, some employers may welcome that stringent approach. One might suppose that this would be something to be considered at the initial stages of discussion with the (prospective) client based on accrued information from past dealings or knowledge of their general working environment and policies. Information such as this is becoming more and more available through webistes such as Glassdoor.com where ’employees and former employees anonymously review companies and their management’ (Wiki).

Useful resources

Here are a few helpful resources that could help an organisation interested in applying learning analytics. I’ll explain their strengths and weaknesses as to show how they can be used, but also what needs to be considered in relation to that potential use.

Resource 1

Ethical use of Student Data for Learning Analytics Policy FAQs


  • Good overview of considerations for the ethical use of student data
  • Gives information on how personal information can be updated
  • Details what tutors have access to and why
  • Could be used as a model


  • Does not set out how data might be secured
  • Potential differences in learner/educator relationship between OU and other contexts
  • No information on ethics relating to making data available to superiors which might impact learners’ progress in careers

Resource 2

Using information to support student learning


  • Attractively designed document
  • Could provide a model
  • Sets out principles of ethical use
  • Sets out the shared responsibility of the student and the organisation for their learning


  • Clients may desire a more stringent surveillance
  • Courses generally tailored to individual clients
  • Document would be expensive

Resource 3

Policy on Ethical use of Student Data for Learning Analytics


  • Detailed information covered in Resource 2
  • Can be made available to learners and clients for deeper understanding


  • Long and detailed
  • Possibly unlikely to be read by most learners

Recommendations for good practice

Finally, based on what has been discussed above, I’d like to make some recommendations.

Recommendation 1

Ensure learners have full understanding of what is collected, why and the benefits afforded by it. It should also be clearly explained to them that they will have opportunities to provide feedback on this area of their course. This and the transparency of use is a potential antidote to the resistance that might be felt in regards to the interpretation of learning analytics as surveillance.

Recommendation 2

Involve teachers/trainers that will be conducting any in-class elements of the courses in the discussion regarding what analytics should be sought and used. Teachers should also have full participation in intervention processes as to give feedback on the individual learners’ in-class performance. This could necessitate training and would have to be built into the teacher/trainer’s schedule which might adversely affect profitability of the product due to staffing hours and might need to be figured into course prices.

Recommendation 3

As opposed to a purely administrative role, the responsibility of interpreting the learning analytics data should be someone with the relevant educational training and understanding of the materials and pertinent ethics. This might safeguard against someone jeopardising existing client relationships by being too systematic in their decision-making regarding what they perceive as actionable insights. Creating a role with specialized responsibilities might ensure that good informed judgements on interventions and client notifications of learners’ misconduct are made.

Finish Line sign

Finish Line by Jayneandd @ Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA

To conclude, the main theme that can be drawn from the above, perhaps, is that while learning analytics can be powerful tools in learning contexts, affording us to have a greater perspective and improved insights on the learning that may go on outside of the four walls of a classroom or training room, we must consider the consequences of how they are implemented and when we take action on what we see.

Comments as always are welcome.

Flipped Learning

In this blog, I’ll explain how I have become so interested in and enthusiastic about the potential of flipped learning. This is a moderately adapted report I wrote for my current corporate training centre (the PTC) within the British Council in Bangkok.

Flipped Learning image

Flipped Learning by Deirdre2 @ Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA

It’s a report on e-learning innovation and it’s split into four sections. In the first section, I provide a definition of innovation in e-learning. In the second section, I discuss the PTC’s current context and detail three e-learning interventions that might be positively employed within the department. In the third section, I detail some concerns while the final section will consist of a brief conclusion.

Innovation in E-learning Definition

At the core of innovation is change. Change can be the development and implementation of new devices or practices to replace or complement existing tools and operations. However, innovation is defined by the context in which it exists. A familiar process in one context used for the first time in another to affect change would constitute innovation. In e-learning, a central consideration would be whether the introduction of a new technology positively affects or facilitates a change in pedagogy within that context or whether it is a new tool used in the continuance of traditional styles of instruction.

PTC Context

The British Council Thailand’s PTC is responsible for providing corporate clients from a variety of sectors with corporate training and English language instruction.

At the time of writing, sales were low with few new classes opening and the team and to meet management utilization targets, the numbers of trainers had been contracting. Market research had yet to be undertaken to ascertain why. However, informal anecdotal evidence suggests that though the PTC could capitalise on the British Council’s prestige as an educational provider, its price-point for its products is perceived as too high when there is little differentiation in products from cheaper competitors. This, to my knowledge remains the same today.

In relation to e-learning products, while the British Council develops and provides online e-learning products, but at this point the PTC offers no e-learning products or services to clients.

As a result of the above, I felt that the department required attractive differentiation from its competitors while also providing a more inexpensive solution for clients. But to safeguard the department and the wider organisation’s reputation as a high quality provider, any shift had to be based on solid pedagogical principles to ensure learning goals were achieved.

So what is Flipped Learning?

A flipped classroom is a rearrangement of how and where learning takes place. In contrast to a traditional classroom, the focus is shifted from teacher-centred instruction to student-centred learning. Direct instruction no longer takes place in the classroom with the teacher. It occurs online. Class time is dedicated to more collaborative, project-based learning.

Flipped Learning process diagram

Flipped Learning process diagram

Online instruction does not necessitate the teacher to be present and the materials, once designed can be used again and again in later classes. This decreases the cost of courses for the PTC, resulting in a more inexpensive product.

How can this be facilitated?

A Learning Management System (LMS) is a necessary technology to implement new methods of instruction in the information age. An LMS is a software application that allows a user to automate the administration, assembly, and delivery of digital learning content. If flipped learning is the goal, the LMS is what facilitates the online delivery. There can be the application of structure to specific courses with modules of online instruction culminating in modes of assessment to ensure understanding before in-class components.

It is the experience of many educators that some learners fail to understand some concepts and therefore flounder in freer activities. This is often true in English mixed-ability classes. However, with online learning facilitated by the LMS, Students can as Vygotsky put it ‘theoretically pace their learning….using student-centered pedagogies aimed at their readiness level or zone of proximal development, where they are challenged but not so much so that they are demoralized’. For example, if an instructor provides a video giving instruction on a particular concept, learners with lower aptitudes can pause and rewind it or choose to read captions or transcripts if available. Another benefit from the teacher’s perspective is that less focus is applied to ensuring lower-level learners are up-to-speed, giving more time to focus on feedback and the individual needs of all.

Also, as educators in the field of corporate training, our responsibility is to enhance learners’ ability to operate in their context with the training provided. In the information age, engendering a more connectivist approach to learning would potentially address this. Connectivism relates to how learning is now a process of making and maintaining connections to nodes of specialized information sources to facilitate continual learning. In the traditional classroom instruction model, information is imparted in a one-size-fits all manner. In contrast, in a flipped classroom course using an LMS, this approach can be replaced by a greater emphasis on active learning where it is the student’s responsibility to understand the content and solve problems. The student learns in a way that best suits them individually. This factor and incorporating tasks into the learning designs where information can be specifically gathered outside of the course framework from websites, their own experience, or from a peer group online or otherwise, might result in the learner making those connections that will benefit them in future.

Flipped Learning Research

Research by the Flipped Learning Network in conjunction with ClassroomWindow found the following for teachers:

  • Associated Flipped Learning with improved student performance and attitudes, and increased job satisfaction
  • 66% reported increased standardised test scores
  • 80% perceived an improvement in students’ attitudes towards learning

The Flipped Learning and Democratic Education survey in 2012 reported the following in relation to students:

80% of students agreed that they…

  • Had more constant and positive interactions
  • Had greater opportunities to work at own pace
  • Had increased access to course material and instruction
  • Had more choice in how they demonstrate their learning
  • Viewed learning as a more active process

70% of students agreed that they…

  • Were more likely to engage in collaborative decision making
  • Were more likely to engage in critical thinking and problem solving
  • Teachers were more likely to take into account their interests, strengths, and weaknesses
  • Were more likely to have a choice in what learning tasks they engage in

Learning Analytics

Learning analytics is, says George Siemens ‘the use of intelligent data, learner-produced data, and analysis models to discover information and social connections, and to predict and advise on learning’. They can function to make sense learners actions achieving their learning goals and aid institutions in improving their learning designs.

So, through the analysis of learners habits, actions, interactions, failures and successes in their use of the LMS, the content, devices used, and data from social networks, and semantic data, the PTC could make predictions of learners’ requirements, and how to best adjust curriculums, materials, communication, and access to optimize the learning experiences. This would result in effective and sustainable products that were constantly adapting to shifting learning, social, and technological trends.

I’ll cover the ethics of learning analytics in a future blog.


A primary concern is access to devices, bandwidth, and learners’ technological competence in engaging with materials and achieving the course objectives on the LMS. A possible solution is materials being available in alternative formats. To ensure the PTC’s adherence to the principles of universal design in relation to accessibility and the British Council’s commitment to equality, diversity, and inclusion, this should be the case, regardless. A key element to initial needs analysis for PTC representatives would now incorporate an analysis of the above factors.

Another concern is the additional responsibility placed on learners outside their existing responsibilities. It is possible that if the time to undertake the online elements of courses are shifted outside of work hours, there may be resistance to it and decreased participation. Clients should make appropriate decisions regarding the cost/benefit analysis of not scheduling time for study. Furthermore, the PTC would need to delineate the benefits of undertaking the online element as to engender greater intrinsic motivation.


As I stated at the beginning of the blog, I’m very enthusiastic regarding this medium of learning, particularly so when you try to in-build connectivist theory within the learning designs to promote continued learning. While this scenario is for non native speaker learners, I feel that it can relate to many different spheres and industries and is, of course, already being implemented all over the world. Some organisations are just a little slower than others.

An Exploration of Radicalisation Using Digital Storytelling

So in this blog, I’d like to run through one of the interesting projects I’ve been a part of for my MA course on E-learning innovation with the Open University.

This was a project where I’d be working with a geographically dispersed group of people to design a learning artefact on a subject that we had little experience of and facilitating others to learn about that subject through the medium of Digital Storytelling. This is an adaptation of the report I wrote on my experiences. It will be helpful for me to review what we did and it may be of use to anyone reading if they have to undertake something similar.


We were given the task of using digital storytelling to explore social/cultural/ethical dilemmas and instructed to choose either a professional domain, or a school subject, where learners would need to develop an awareness of a social, cultural or ethical issue and make informed and considered judgements with a view to learning whether digital storytelling could provide an effective educational tool.

Team members:

Name and Profession Responsibilities Technical competencies Location Further notes: aspirations / hopes for project etc.
Bob Bennell –Police Trainer Examine new ways to deliver training, reduce necessity for classroom-based 20 years experience in IT UK Would like to use Google Hangouts and desires to explore storytelling to bring subjects to life
Stephen Penney (Steve P) – Deputy Headteacher Safeguarding SMSC (British values), community/employability links, teaching, and teacher training UK
Huw Davies Works at a private English language school and has a part time job teaching second year students at a university Japan (GMT+9) Doing the module for personal interest. Has no experience of a project of this type and indicated that he’d be working while most were asleep
Steve Bell (Steve B) – E-learning professional Has worked in e-learning across wide variety of levels and contexts Web and software development experience and has high levels of experience utitilising Google apps including Sites UK Has no context in mind for the project but wants to incorporate Google apps into all levels of communication and build
Gareth Davies – Corporate Training Consultant Works in business training, English language instruction, and academic preparation. Has experience of using Learning Management systems, e-learning authoring tools, and minimal use of Google apps Thailand (GMT+7) Expressed an interest in using video editing software in future but no preferences regarding context for the project
Simon Hobbs Working with county councils to develop leadership and management training UK Keen to use e-learning more in professional role


The group members came from diverse professional backgrounds, and a number of the members in the initial introduction thread stated no particular preference for a topic. Stephen Penney raised the idea of radicalization as he felt that Digital Storytelling with the focus of a current social/cultural issue might lend itself to the topic.

Steve B noted that there were two very different approaches available to us in designing a digital storytelling learning design. The first was to facilitate learners in telling their own stories. Alternatively, we would create a digital story targetting specific learning objectives.

Huw said he felt the latter approach would be best. This was supported by Steve P, making reference to an example of good practice by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, and adding that an exploration of why people become radicalized or migrate could be an option.

Ultimately, in our second online meeting, we clarified our ultimate goal of creating a learning resource to raise awareness about radicalization in the UK with a target audience of young people.


Role Name Reasoning
Team Leader Huw A process of elimination left the Team Leader role to Huw
Connector Simon To monitor for connections in our ideas, themes, research
Media Manager 1 Gareth Preference due to potential responsibilities providing desired practical experience
Project Manager and Media Manager 2 Steve B Professional experience as a manager and experience of managing Google apps respectively
Researcher Bob Across the group, members had little experience of digital storytelling, so Bob volunteered to collate research on that aspect
Subject Matter Expert Steve P Steve P was the sole member with experience related to the topic area of radicalization



Steve B set up a Google+ community space for our project team. He designed it as to have one central point for communication and resource sharing.

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Links were provided to the project’s website, a shared Google folder where we could upload and store materials and later host our individual stories. There were also links to Google Docs documents for a Project Plan drawn up by Steve B that we could all access and modify, and a contact sheet for all members. Importantly, Steve B set up a Meeting Room for Hangouts which we could use at any time in order to chat about the progress of the project or to ensure that there were no technical issues prior to one of our weekly Sunday meetings.

All meetings were scheduled for 2pm BST on a Sunday by mutual agreement. With myself and Huw in Asia this was an ideal time. The meetings took place on 24/5, 31/5, and 7/6. After the third meeting, communication was solely via the Google+ Community using Google Hangouts.


As media manager, one obstacle I had at the beginning was never using Google sites before. However, with Google and YouTube tutorials I learnt its functionality by making changes while reacting to the needs of the group in the development of the project. Requests and following the progress of the design were made simpler via some of the functionality of the Communities page.

When an issue was raised for specific members, typing, for example, ‘+Bob Bennell’ would send them a notification.

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Also, any post made necessitated it be categorized according to the area of the project to which it was related.

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This made it easy to find information according to the area you were working on at any given time.


Team members’ levels of participation/input seemed to fluctuate, and, therefore, a lot of what we did was not entirely synchronous. A great deal of work was done after mutual agreement in meetings and prior to the next one. However, the Community providing such an easily navigable source of information and easy communication was invaluable.

We created imaginary personas from which were extrapolated factors and concerns to consider in regards to our learning design that resulted in forces that might shape our project and its implementation. The process was helpful in reminding us of the technical, methodological, cultural, and demographic diversity of our potential target learners and it will be something I may use again in future.

However, as was discussed in the second Hangouts meeting, as there was a lack of a unifying theme with most, this diversity indicated that it would potentially be counter-productive to develop our project with such a finite number of personas in mind. We felt that it would be more appropriate to the context of the issue discussed to keep a more open mind and make it as universally accessible as possible in terms of the choices of how we facilitated learning and the subject matter discussed around the topic.

Technical and Pedagogical Approaches

We had tacitly agreed in one of our discussions in Meeting 3 to maximize the number of modes in which to present our stories. This decision was made due to the fact that we were working asynchronously, had differing levels of technological competence, and for the sake of our stories appealing to as broad a range of learners and learning styles as possible.

From our preliminary research we compiled a bank of theoretical frameworks, case studies that shared similar fields and/or objectives to that which we envisaged as our own, and we had a list of potential subject areas to address. We identified that the subject matter was too multi-faceted and complex to be able to cover in its entirety, but we could look at our prototype as the beginning of a larger project with the unused themes being addressed at a later date having received feedback and made adjustments based thereon.

Our digital story was non-linear due to the nature of having these separate stories covering so many aspects of the subject matter which learners could access in any order they wanted, but the central thesis of informing learners about the subject of radicalization ran as a throughline connecting them.

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From our theoretical frameworks and case studies, we derived design patterns and principles which aided us in conceptualizing and storyboarding our stories. Personally, I had been finding it very difficult to conceptualize what I was to do, but found this process and reading the preliminary research found by others and referring to the ongoing discussion in the increasingly invaluable Google Community space very helpful. Essentially, through a process of researching the topic area and finding appropriate authoritative work that could be explored for our prospective learners, we had the necessary content. Then by looking for similar digital storytelling projects and researching what they had learnt in regards to good practice and potential avenues of improvement and exploration, we found a method of delivering the content.

Finally, we created our prototypes based on our conceptualizations and added them to the site.

The Prototypes

The five digital stories that comprised our overall prototype were:

Radicalization in the Digital Era – A non-linear interactive digital story exploring how people can become radicalized in the digital era created with Twine, an open-source tool for creating interactive, nonlinear stories.

Ask the experts – A video of a Q&A with an expert discussing radicalization from a historical perspective.

Right and Rights – A second Twine-created non-linear interactive digital story exploring ethical dilemmas related to rights.

The Story of Radicalization – An exploration of the history of the concept of radicalization in a Google Slides presentation.

Has the Media Hijacked Radicalisation – A discussion of whether the term “radicalisation” been hijacked by the via a Google Slides presentation.


In writing the heuristics with which users could evaluate the prototype and its individual stories we wanted to ensure that what we had produced met the following criteria:

  1. Easy to navigate and understand for all users
  2. Learner outcomes clearly indicated and measurable
  3. Featured content overall engaging to a high proportion of learners
  4. The material leads towards additional information off site
  5. Materials promote critical learner reflection resulting in building personal strengths relating to understanding the social and ethical goals of the project
  6. Compliant with relevant ethical standards
  7. Organised in a manner clear to learner
  8. Featured interactive stories situate activity appropriately, define goals, constrain actions, provoke thought, and spark emotional responses
  9. Featured interactive stories are compelling by being interesting, immersive, appropriate in scale/length, having a sense of agency ‘being in control’, and replayable

My personal evaluation of the prototype

Heuristic Score 1 = Weak 5 = Strong Reasoning
1 3 No obvious areas of concern. Navigation straightforward but language could be less complex at times. User feedback key in this area.
2 2 Learner outcomes sometimes expressed for the learners but no learner quantifiable outcomes plugged into the design.
3 4 Varied modes and subject matter should equate to higher degrees of engagement in learners. User feedback again of importance here.
4 1 Other than self-directed by the learner, there is no linking to off-site material
5 2 The materials are varied and do attempt to promote emotional reactions and critical thought of complex issues, but there is are no activities or areas for discussion of concepts.
6 4 Much work was done to ensure ethical standards were met and it appears that the materials reflect that.
7 3 Ideally, more pictures and a more distinct site would be used to present the individual stories but clear and concise with short descriptions of content.
8 4 Feedback required but criteria appears to have been met.
9 4 Ideally, there would be more multimedia as to make the pages more engaging but otherwise, while feedback is again desired, the criteria appears to have been met.

Unexpected outcomes

Personally, I had not expected to be creating non-linear interactive digital stories. I had expected to be using video editing software. I also had not considered how much I would personally learn about the topic covered in the overall design too.


The Process and the Product

Overall, the process was an excellent learning experience. I have learnt a great deal about what would be involved in the creative design process regarding research and conceptualization in areas I have little familiarity with, and I have a lot more insight into how to work as part of a geographically dispersed team.

I feel that central to any success for the project was the communication channels of the Google+ Community and how that served as a central area for all activity. I fear that without Steve B’s experience and his proactive engagement, our project would have been very different. This is an important point for me. When you’re low on experience, look to leverage the experience of others as much as possible, but always ensure that you make that person aware of how grateful you are and look to reciprocate in any way possible.

However, the group suffered to a degree as a result of a lack of regarding who did what. While a couple of members certainly took the lead, in this context we could not expect someone to be particularly forceful in telling others what to do and by when. Therefore, in future, I would look to ensure that there be clearer roles and assignation of tasks.

Simon Hobbs disappeared shortly after the roles were chosen. He was to be the connector, looking for linkages between ideas and research which possibly serves as a clue as to why there was less cohesiveness in what we were doing. Our work was disparate and individualised. There was little communication and feedback on what was updated to the site. Little feedback was given to the learning designs themselves and no discussion was evident in regards to their being a balance of pedagogy in our designs.

Crucially, there was a failure to think beyond the creation of our individual stories to create a rounded learning artefact with an introductory exercise introducing the subject of radicalisation, the middle section of individual stories, and then final activities or discussion where learners could use and demonstrate their learning which could also provide measurable outcomes.

Personal Contribution

Firstly, I have to again make reference to how instrumental Steve B had been in so many of the tasks that would have been solely my responsibility had he not been in the group. I feel I would have struggled a great deal and would not have been able to set up the integrated platform as he did.

Also, while I attended all of the meetings, I feel I did not greatly influence the direction in which the project went. My story, also, was heavily reliant on the work of others. Ultimately, the conceptual framework I used and the application used to create my interactive story had been found by Steve B.

Nevertheless, the case study material I utilised to ensure the authenticity and ethical and sensitive treatment of the story created was sourced by me and the story itself was an interesting and potentially immersive learning experience.

I feel that as the project developed, I communicated and contributed more. I took the initiative to improve the aesthetics of the site, and reacted to any issues with permissions or the site’s pages.

My Prototype

The research I used to explore the theme of radicalization in the information age was mainly Terrorism, Communication and New Media: Explaining Radicalization in the Digital Age and Radicalization in the Digital Era 

To explore the radicalization of people via digital media, I created a non-linear interactive digital story using the application Twine where the user reads the story in the third person of a protagonist and make choices as to that person’s actions.

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Radicalization Twine Storyboard

As you can see in the storyboard above, the story branches off in various directions based on those choices. The choices relate to decisions made regarding exposure to digital media that may have the effect of radicalizing that character, allowing the user to experience how this might happen to someone. Ideally, I would want the possible scenarios’ journeys to be based on real cases of radicalization but potentially branch off in directions that result in results for the character that are very different to reflect the fact that it is possible that radicalization of one sort or another can happen to anyone.

The Twine can be accessed here or can be downloaded and opened in your browser here

The story begins with the following question:

Who am I?

The answer to this is can be defined as the knowledge and experiences you possess and the actions you tale. A final component of that definition is the network of relationships we are a part of at any given time. Your friends, family, work colleagues.

How is communication technology changing this?

Communication technology such as the Internet and instant messaging extends our relationships beyond those face-to-face relationships. They extend our reach far beyond the limits set on us by geography. You are about to read a story. In this story you can make choices. These are the choices of another person but in taking this journey with him, you can perhaps appreciate how it is that someone might come to make choices that may seem utterly alien to you and possibly even evil. This story tells us of how someone very ordinary, just like you or I, can become radicalized by the choices he makes tied with the person he is.

The story introduces us to John Roberts. John Roberts is a young man in his early twenties. He lives in a quiet working class village in the midlands. He attends the local college where he studies computer science. His father is an unemployed ex-factory worker while his mother is a carer. He’s a shy and quiet boy with few friends who generally keeps to himself.

John has a decision to make. This isn’t a huge decision. It’s a simple everyday choice. The kind of choice we make every other minute. It’s a choice of what to expose ourselves to. A choice of what we see and read and the legion of cumulative forces that have brought that particular option to the screen or newspaper we are currently training our eyes on.

The choices John makes from here affect the person he is. Ultimately, John has moved from the indirect relationships of this imagined community of people whose connections are governed by their shared political beliefs alone to a direct relationship via electronic correspondence with a representative of a group that moves beyond the action of debate and information dissemination. As the correspondence continues, it becomes clear that the world-view narrative of this group matches that of John’s very closely. John, disenfranchised with the current politics of the ineffectual mainstream parties decides that he wants to prove his dedication to the cause.

Desiring above all to affirm his beliefs with action of his own, John makes a final choice.

Who is John today?

John today is still the combination of the knowledge he possesses, the network of relationships of which he is a part, and the actions he takes. However, all three of these factors have shifted and changed as a result of the choices made, the new relationships that have been fostered and the new knowledge resultant of those relationships. John finds himself now an extreme actor, radicalized by the narrative that was the result of the many other narratives that he came into contact with via social networks, the media, and his family. This is not a condmenation or a justification of who he is today. It is simply his story.