Daring to Learn How to Learn

  • Category: Education
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learningBy Sandra Milligan, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne for the Pursuit

Why do some of us learn easily and quickly, while others struggle, left behind plodding along?

Part of the answer, at least in the online learning space, is that learning is a real skill in of itself, and some people are more skilled at it than others. And the good news for the plodders is that it is a skill that can be readily grasped when we break it down.

I’ve analysed the data from over 100,000 learners on the University of Melbourne’s various MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) - every click, tap, swipe they make, every document they consult, and every word they write in chat forums and exercises.

What emerged was a remarkably consistent pattern of what learning behaviours work and which don’t. It means that it should be possible to design online learning systems that not only teach skills and knowledge, but also at the same time teaches students how to best learn.

Overall, the analysis suggest that learners with lower levels of learning expertise are likely to be passive in their behaviour. That is, they receive input, limit their interaction to consuming content supplied by the teacher, and are unengaged with their peers, taking responsibility only for themselves. They seek guidance only from authoritative figures about what to read or think, and adhere to contexts and perspectives similar to their own. They regard learning as the mastery of reasonably static, generalisable knowledge, easily transferred in books, or by lectures.

Expert learners, by contrast, are likely to scan different sources of information, seeking out a range of potential sources of learning in the environment. They regard valuable knowledge as somewhat volatile, context dependent, widely distributed, and including tacit understandings, as well as generalisable understandings.

They actively seek out the views of others and conduct dialogues with peers in which they collaborate, mentor, and even teach their fellow students. They actively review and consider the perspective of others, and are critically aware. They are prepared to reject anything they see as unhelpful, and are independent-minded enough to take the social risk of expressing a contrary view. They produce learning artefacts, try out new ideas and skills, potentially risking public failure and embarrassment, and they share learning activities and resources with others. They interact with feedback to exhaust its value for learning and provide feedback themselves to peers and evaluate peer performances.

The study found that 90 per cent of learners from any MOOC could be reliably grouped along this curve of learning skill by analysing their behaviours in the log stream of online courses. I found that an individual’s position on the learning skill progression was a good predictor of grade outcomes in the MOOC.


In essence, this progression describes the differences between learners more or less skilled in learning in MOOCs, and supports the view that learning is itself a learnable and transferable skill. It means that people can get better at learning if they know how to go about learning to learn. Indeed, it is possible that the progression captures something about learning skill in general, and that it can easily be adapted to any learning by anybody at any level.

By analysing the progression of learners I was able to identify five distinct levels of learning:

  • Level 1: Reader – MOOC as a textbook
  • Level 2: Consumer of Instruction – MOOC as a tutor
  • Level 3: Self-regulated producer of learning – MOOC as a tutor with a user support group.
  • Level 4: Collaborative learner – MOOC as a collaborative learning environment
  • Level 5: Reciprocal teacher – MOOC as a reciprocal, distributed learning environment

For me the most exciting aspect of the research is the potential for putting it to work.

Because the analyses are based on learning progressions along which individuals develop, and not just an end result, assessments of expertise in learning can be fed back to every participant in even the most massive of MOOCS. That feedback could show every learner the level of expertise in learning they are at, together with hints, encouragement, suggestions and resources to help them move to the next level of learning expertise. And feedback, learning science suggests, can be the rocket fuel of learning.

With this possibility in mind, the algorithms underpinning the assessment of learner position on the progression in MOOCs are being further developed for use in the Melbourne MOOC program in ways not previously attempted.

Early results suggest that these progression-based analyses do indeed have practical utility in providing formative feedback as well as informing course developers and learning designers about ‘what works’.

By showing that learning is a skill within large-scale digitally mediated programs, the research will help to develop both the quality of programs and the capacity of learners to make the most of them.

In a society categorised by fast-moving technology, business disruption, and multiple career changes, knowing how best to learn will be a critical skill.


Shifting the Paradigm: Making Digital Learning the Norm

  • Category: Education
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digitalBy Dr Helen Dixon

As an educator, making the transition to digital can be an exciting but challenging (even frustrating) experience. Just because you host your slides on a Digital Learning Environment doesn’t mean you are providing a digital learning experience. Will your students absorb information more effectively just because they have read it on screen rather than on paper? As yet, there is a lack of conclusive evidence on whether online reading accommodates more in-depth comprehension of material. Digitising your learning resources will not necessarily improve the learner’s experience.

What digital learning has presented us with is an opportunity to ‘rethink’ how we convey information and assess students’ knowledge and skills. Rather than distributing old content in a new way, we need to adapt their teaching methods to align more closely to the needs of today’s students and their future employers. The challenge is to go further than simply making our materials available online. What is required is a paradigm shift where our attitudes and practices are transformed for the digital society. It’s not simply about using technology but rather about embedding digital literacies throughout the curriculum.

For some educators, this may seem like a daunting prospect, but the key is to remember that this transformation will be a gradual, continually evolving process as technologies develop. You don’t need to be an expert in every application – you just need to be willing to learn along with your students. By adopting a systemic approach that prioritises realistic objectives, you can implement digital learning in a manner that is going to create genuine value for your students and yourself, rather than as a checkbox exercise. By taking the following factors into consideration, you can begin the process of rethinking your teaching and ‘go digital’ successfully.


How can you use technology to disseminate your course content in a more absorbable manner? Often there are better ways to transfer knowledge than text-based resources – audio-visual materials, in particular, can help to bring a topic to life. You can easily transform an uninspiring table of data or list of statistics by creating an eye-catching infographic using Piktochart or infogr.am. Try using a video to demonstrate a process or create an animation using a site like GoAnimate to explain a key concept. The effort to produce video content that can be viewed by students repeatedly will be justified when you don’t have to reiterate the same information several times in class!

Of course, teaching involves a lot more than delivering course materials and online technologies can help to make all your communications more efficient. Discussion boards make it easy for tutors to post updates or clarify any instructions. Social media can be used to share useful resources and post reminders. You could even create a class webpage or blog to reflect on the progress of your class.


As well as expediting communications with learners, technology opens up new avenues for interaction. Discussion boards and social media work best when used for dialogue rather than broadcast and can give quieter students a voice. Simple online polls like Poll Everywhere can allow you to quickly assess students’ understanding or offer them a choice in what topics they will cover. Tools like Nearpod and Socrative allow you to make your lessons interactive by facilitating online activities and providing live feedback. Or you could try using Kahoot to apply gamification techniques which can encourage participation.

There are a myriad of exciting educational technologies available but they cannot guarantee interaction. In order to successfully embed technology, it is necessary to create digital resources that are going to aid the acquisition of knowledge and motivate students to become more engaged in their learning.


Teamwork is always an important part of education and technology can facilitate collaboration by providing students with an online space where they can share ideas or work together on a project. Wikis make it easy for students to contribute to a group document or they can use sites like Padlet to share ideas and resources. Google Docs and Office 365 allow students to collaborate on a variety of documents such as presentations or reports. Prezi is an alternative presentation tool that students can use to coproduce dynamic presentations that will inspire their creativity and encourage them to think beyond bullet points!

Assessment and Feedback

The electronic management of assessment (EMA) is becoming increasingly popular in education with many establishments using online testing software and/or e-Portfolios. As well as streamlining the submission, grading and verification of assessments, technology can allow us to quickly provide specific feedback which incorporates links to useful resources that can aid students’ development. Alternatively, audio or video feedback using tools like Jing can present students with a more personalised and supportive experience. Peer evaluation can also be facilitated using blogs or vlogs where students are encouraged to provide each other with constructive feedback.

Experimentation and Evaluation

With so many tools to choose from, you will need to be prepared to experiment. Set yourself a challenge to try a new technology every week, month or term – whatever time-frame is feasible. If an application or resource isn’t working for you or your students, give it up and try something different. Build up a Personal Learning Network (PLN) on social media – networking with other educators on Twitter or discussion forums is a great way to find out about new tools and get ideas for how to use them.

Continual evaluation of your efforts is essential in order to ascertain if your adoption of digital learning is achieving the desired results. Most Digital Learning Environments allow you to track students participation and completion of activities but soliciting feedback directly from students will be the most informative way of gauging their expectations and experiences. Short online surveys are a great way of gaining insight into students’ reaction to the content and activities you have provided online. If you don’t have an institutional survey tool, Typeform and SurveyMonkey are two popular options.

With the widespread use of technology and social media in society, where communications are increasingly fragmented and non-linear, catering for the needs of learners has probably never been more challenging. However, technology has provided us with an unprecedented opportunity to transform education and create flexible and personalised learning experiences for students. Ultimately, the term digital learning may soon disappear as it becomes the norm within all learning activities.

Where Do Parents Want Their Kids to Study?

  • Category: Education
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chartoftheday 10137 top destinations for parents sending their child abroad for studies nEvery year, millions of students around the globe leave their home countries to study in universities abroad. Many of them are financially assisted by their parents and HSBC has surveyed 8,481 parents across 15 countries to find out where they would like to send their child for studies abroad.

According to the report, 47% of parents surveyed want their child to study in the U.S. which is the preferred destination for parents in Taiwan (70%), China (61%) and Canada (61%). Australia is another top spot, 40% of parents, predominantly living in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia or Singapore, consider Australian universities most suitable for their offspring. For 39% of parents, mostly from Hong Kong (67%), France (52%) and the UAE (48%), the U.K. is the best choice when it comes to international study experience.

Among the most favoured subjects comes medicine with 13% of parents wanting their child to study it abroad while 11% rather tend to go for management and finance. Another 10% prefer engineering instead.

Israel to Muzzle Professors on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

  • Category: Education
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freedom speechBy Arabia Higher Ed Editorial Team

The Israeli establishment is frustrated that some professors who teach about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Israel as well as in the United States are designing their own courses that undermine Israel’s legitimacy in the minds of their students.

This issue surfaced this past June after the Ministry of Education in Israel distributed guidelines for how faculty members should deal with such controversial political issues.

The proposed guidelines were rejected by the National Union of Israeli Students, the Alliance for Academic Freedom in the US, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and the Academic Engagement Network.

The guidelines have been submitted for possible adoption by the Israeli Council for Higher Education, and  would become government policy if adopted.

The Alliance for Academic Freedom issued a statement condeming the proposed policy, stating that it "promotes ironic and Orwellian constraints on speech."

The Alliance iterated that "the proposed regulations not only run counter to the fundamental Western principle protecting freedom of speech, but also overturn the decades-long practice defining universities in Western democracies: A university faculty is a voluntary and self-regulating body of scholars that itself establishes the principles guiding professional conduct.  Therefore, it is unrealistic for universities to expect that they can persuade faculty to abandon deeply held views."

The statement urges Universities to provide students with opportunities to be exposed to a range of perspectives on contentious issues like the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Scholars at Lower-Ranking Universities Experience Poorer Psychological Well-Being

  • Category: Education
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climbA recent article by Ellie Bothwell of Times Higher Education found that scholars at lower-ranking universities experience poorer psychological well-being than their counterparts at more prestigious institutions.  

The finding was in contrast to the common perception that the pressure of working or studying in an elite higher education institution may result in a poor mental health.  

Scholars at lower-ranking universities may suffer from higher levels of guilt and helplessness when experiencing academic setbacks, according to the study.  They may also suffer higher levels of social withdrawal or wishful thinking. Staff at lower-ranked universities also tended to have higher teaching loads.

The study also found out that graduate students studying at lower-ranked universities were more likely to have a poor work-life balance and to blame external factors when experiencing academic setbacks.

The article iis based on a survey by nearly 3,000 academics and graduate students from around the world, according to researcher Nathan Hall, associate professor in the department of educational and counselling psychology at McGill University.

The full article may be found here.

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