Educational Designers and Techniques from Social Media


Can educational designers adopt techniques from social media (such as LinkedIn or Facebook) to regulate and enhance the process of massive-scale learning?


Well, at risk of sounding rather cheeky - same question back at you Mike since looking at your impressive CV I hope you are better placed to answer it than I… Do you have any ideas to get us thinking? Any anecdotes of past successes (and, of course, failures because they make the best anecdotes!)?


One key aspect of social media is the idea of tailoring the experience to an individual through some type of recommender system. This has some key potential/existing applications in massive online social learning:

  • learning pathways. identifying popular paths through learning material could enable systems that facilitated different learning pathways through content dependent on an individual’s background, as well as what others have previously done. This idea has been tried before through EU projects such as TenCompetence but could be applied to massive online social learning to link resources and courses together into flexible curricula that suit the learners needs more closely.
  • finding others with the same goal: learning is social, and as well as content, a good learning experience will include learning with others who share similar interests/backgrounds and goals. One of the key features of massive online social learning is that with massiveness and openness comes a great diversity of motivations, backgrounds and skills. Finding other learners who share your background and goal can be motivating.

There are lots of issues here. For example:

  • what are the limits of effectiveness - how many people in the system makes it too complex - do you (as a designer) try to simplify the complexity (e.g. by creating groups, or by disallowing some pathways) or cede complete control to the algorithm?
  • how do we guard against homophily - sometimes you want to be directed to people with complementary expertise instead of the same type of expertise (for example if you are a clinician wanting to know about practices in another country then being guided towards practitioners in your own location . A recommender system might use the wrong rule.


Great comment @cdmilligan
I’ve worked with MOOC construction for teacher education. In that work we developed this model/figure.
I’ll take your two points and make them more ‘visible’ in the next iteration. Your principles for ‘learning pathways’ and ‘match making’ is of course a matter of scaffolding. And I think one of the challenges in MOOC design is exactly the question how to facilitate what we think will be good ways for student to learn: How do we design MOOCs with the right affordances (and that should be taken as a relational concepts and not a technical one only).




Thank you @Zerove for your kind words. I like your diagram, it emphasises the importance of understanding the precise purpose of the course (including what potential learners’ expectations) as a prerequisite for a formal design

Our work has focused on how professionals learn in MOOCs, and whether MOOC designs suit their particular needs (significant prior knowledge, diverse experiences, precise goals related to practice or future career directions). We recently wrote a short paper on Patterns for MOOC Designs for professional learners, based on the research we’ve conducted: Littlejohn, A, and Milligan, C. (2015) Designing MOOCs for Professional learners: tools and patterns to encourage self-regulated learning. eLearning Papers, 42, 38-45. [ open access]

To everyone: I was hoping others would suggest some other ideas from social media that might be of use - I think there are lots more


Thx @cdmilligan, You recommendations are terrific and brief - to the point. I’ve participated in a very similar process, where some colleagues and I was to evaluate a teacher education MOOC and give recommendations. I think the paper was some 60 pages or so, which of course is not very useful for designers/teachers at all. You solution seems so much more to the point :smile: I’ve now sent your recommendation to the director of our teacher education MOOCs - thanks a lot :smiley:



I have argued that the design for MOOCs should take more from games than from social media (though there are some pretty strong overlaps), including in a talk just last week. My point was that instead of trying to design learning, which is focused on content, we should create environments in which people can practice.

Social media is a bit like an environment. It is a space (mostly) not bounded by structured presentation of material or decision trees (Facebook’s stream is an oft-criticized exception). People are able to try out new ideas and new personals. The problem with social media is that the interaction is (mostly) limited to conversation. I would much rather see people interact by solving problems, figuring out puzzles, playing games, and creating things.



I guess we could borrow from some social media setups for aggregating and recommending stuff. This to foster interests. But whether these fall on fertile ground depends on the user’s (I do not yet say learner’s) motivation for taking part in the medium. What good would it do to throw learning designs at users only keeping in touch with another? What I think would be really interesting is borrowing methods for analyzing desires, wishes, moods. From these we might be able to find out something about the user’s motivation. We could then see the funneling move from interest to motivation to actual wanting to put an effort into learning something. Depending on what that learning interest is focused on it could then be supported by us designing precisely those environments that @Downes is hinting at.


Thank you @Downes for sharing your really interesting presentation ‘Beyond Instructional Design’ and all your other stuff that you kindly make available for the community. ‘Research wanna be free’!
I’m not sure I understand the way in which your post here establishes a opposition between social media informed and game informed MOOC design. First it seems to me that common tasks - problem solving in most MOOCs are desirable and, hence, the MOOC design should facilitate/scaffold that. In the same vain communication and negotiations and connections are desirable and the design should also facilitate that. Its not either or.
Secondly, learners have different backgrounds and are situated differently which a MOOC design also should cover for. For every MOOC design principles have to be developed with that in mind.
And thirdly the purpose of the MOOC is decisive for the design. Some MOOCs can have a strong element of simple information and knowledge transfer (maybe you don’t thing that kind of MOOCs counts as MOOCs).
For these reasons I do not think its either-or. MOOCs should be informed of whatever suits the task with purpose, target group, content in mind.
We shouldn’t forget that not all MOOCs are HE MOOCs and not all learners are strongly inner motivated and comes with a work ethos from academia.
For me the network - connections - build around MOOCs are of outermost value - and that idea is more or less the social media aspect of MOOCs.


Again, I have not clearly stated my point.

I use games as a metaphor to talk about MOOCs:

There are two types of games:

  • those that depend on programmed design and memorization, and
  • that create an environment.where players and objects interact

In the same way, there are two types of MOOC:

  • those that depend on programmed design and memorization - xMOOC
  • that create an environment.where participants and objects interact - cMOOC

The first type of game was a failure. They could be defeated by mere memorization and were not interesting. They disappeared from the market.

The second type of game was a success, and should be used as a model for MOOCs (and indeed, were a part of the model George and I used when we developed cMOOCs).

So this second type of games is the type of games I am talking about.

When comparing this second type of games and social networks, I agree with you that there are many elements in common. They are both environments, they are based on the interaction between participants, and they can be used to solve problems, negotiate and communicate.

But there are also some important differences:

  • games are inherently about solving problems or responding to challenges, while social networks can be much more passive.

  • games typically involve a wide range of different types of objects (even objects in the physical world) while social networks involve conversational elements only.

This not to say that we must choose between either games or social networks. Both inform the theory of environmentally-based learning, where participants interact in a common space with objects and with each other.

But it is to say that a model based on social networks alone will be sufficient to inform the design of successful MOOCs. The elements of a successful networking environment need to be taken into account.

Because, yes, the connections are of the utmost importance. We cannot learn from each other without connections.

But the manner, organization and structure of those connections must be designed with the intent of creating the most interesting and accessible environment. People will learn from each other, not from the MOOC.


[quote=“Downes, post:10, topic:167”]
But it is to say that a model based on social networks alone will be sufficient to inform the design of successful MOOCs.
[/quote] I think you mean ‘insufficient’ and I do agree that communication and conversation in itself is not enough - It’s important what the discussion is about, what the goal of the discussion is and how it is executed. Working out solutions for problems (wicked or not) is a better way of learning than any other.
I will be cautious with metaphors. You could as well say that game basing isn’t sufficient so its great that you elaborate on that part in your post.
Finally I believe very much in diversity and will make room for many types of MOOCs. I understand - also from reading a lot of other stuff you’ve been writing - that you think of MOOCs more exclusively than I do.

And from that point it could perhaps be a new threat in this forum if we could discuss some of the differences you see on connectivism and ‘networked learning’. I think @ryberg also would be very interested in that discussion. (I know that you are not in the hot seat - but…)


Yes, I meant “insufficient”.

But I don’t agree with this: “It’s important what the discussion is about, what the goal of the discussion is…” I think there is too much desire on the part of educators to shape the learning of individuals. We should see our function as more supportive than directive.


@Downes I don’t agree that “We should see our function as more supportive than directive”. Most MOOC courses require educators that are both supportive and directive. A joy of MOOCs is that people join from many nationalities and cultures - some from very different educational traditions, based on respect for the wisdom of educators, and for many it’s their first time learning online. For them, it’s important to know what the discussion is about and not to feel intimidated, so being supportive but not directive runs the risk of alienating just those people we want to encourage: newcomers without expertise and confidence in handling social-constructivist learning.

Rather than talk in the abstract, I’ll give an example of an educator shaping discussion in a way that’s both directive and supportive. It’s from the Understanding IELTS MOOC, that’s currently running with over 200,000 learners registered. A response from the lead educator to one of the most liked comments at the start of the course: “Hi Ingrid, I like your line about ‘the better way to learn effectively and lose the fear is to make it to turn a normal thing… To talk, to hear, to write…’ This is excellent advice and it underpins a lot of the advice we give during the course. Exam practice and preparation are important but they are only one part of the process. The best way to overcome nerves is exactly as you say.”


@Downes When I say that it’s important what the discussion is about I’m referring to the content and purpose of the discussion not that this should be determined by the instructor/teacher/facilitator. The content - or the concrete problem - should be the center in dialogue for learning. It’s my way of putting the work at the center of social exchange and not accepting conversation or social gathering sufficient for learning purposes.


You say: “The content - or the concrete problem - should be the center in dialogue for learning.” And yet: “not that this should be determined by the instructor/teacher/facilitator.”

Two things:

  • First, I don’t think both things can be true. If you are going to say something should be the case in learning, then you cannot say that it should not be determined by the instructor/teacher/facilitator.

  • Second, there are many cases wher this need not be the case. Where someone is learning merely for pleasure, for example (which explains how I acquired a knowledge of the Roman Empire). Or where different people are working on different problems, not a common problem.


Thanks for your answer @Downes I’m not sure we are on the same page here. You say:

Yes of course there are many cases where discussions and negotiations doesn’t matter. But that is not what are at stake here. From my pont of view an exchange (social media style) has bearing on learning because it centers around a common subject/problem/issue. So learning happens because of that content - not just because people engage in conversation, discussion or what ever.
You were suggesting that social media was a bad metaphor for learning in MOOCs - online learning - and suggested gaming in stead. I tried to maintain the importance of learning as an exchange of ideas and negotiation. That was why I expanded on what I meant by that.