SocialLearn (OU Conference session)


At the OU Teaching and Learning Conference I was fascinated by a talk on SocialLearn by Simon Buckingham Shum. SocialLearn is the Open University’s social learning solution that is currently being developed. It aims to be a social learning space which can integrate existing tools in the OU and the cloud, to support learning.  Here are some of the points from the session.

The OU decided it wasn’t appropriate to develop a social network just for its staff and students. I’d say yes there is a place for internal networks but such a network is not and never should be the whole answer – and probably not the answer for very long as the social environment is one that is rapidly changing all the time.

They decided not to write their own versions of the popular social web apps and sites that are already available. The idea was to create “a collaborative network tuned for inquiring minds” for people who may be interested in learning, finding out about learning or a subject, doing informal learning, or even taking a course at the OU.

As a learner we also look for people to support us and learn with us – and perhaps for a community, as well as for mentors committed to our own learning needs.

We need smart agents to filter the Net for relevant learning resources appropriate to us, analytics tools and recommendation engines tuned for learning / inquiry not commerce or sheer content.

Learners need to be able smoothly to exchange important learner-centric data between their favourite tools and welcome applications that “glue” together activities, friends, recommendations, information, courses, activities, discussions, conversations wherever they are.

The core elements as the OU sees SocialLearn are:

  • profile
  • user interface – learner dashboard
  • social graph
  • services – tools – apps

The pre-beta site is at where users can watch a video, read the blog, and sign up for further details

SocialLearn beta siteblog | twitter | slideshare

It is built around Google gadgets (specific type of widgets). These are accumulated into iGoogle or another personal learning page, with toolkits or activity-centric apps. As well as iGoogle, they can also be embedded in partner sites including VLEs.

Such a widget can be seen in action on Cloudworks – the new SocialLearn cloud recommender recommendation engine.

The recommendation engine needs to be able to learn what you like and want – based on your profile and the content you’re looking at. Ideally it would be more than a web-page widget, and could be developed as a bookmark that goes around the web with you – as a toolbar – creating overlay on top of any website – where you can easily make notes, add references, etc. Like the Add to Delicious button, widgets need to be easy to use.

I do worry though that we might end up with as many apps/gadgets as we have social networks now – and then we will need a recommender for the apps!

Types of recommendation engines

  • Commercial – people who bought that bought this
  • Navigational – people who looked at that looked at this
  • Social – reputation, people in common, rated people
  • Content – find similar content (semantic, multimedia) INDEXING
  • Connections (learning) counter example, supporting evidence LEARNING SERVICES
  • Learning to learn – this person is also trying to learn that… LEARNING SERVICES

Cohere project

“The Web is about IDEAS+PEOPLE.

“Cohere is a visual tool to create, connect and share Ideas.

“Back them up with websites. Support or challenge them. Embed them to spread virally.
Discover who – literally – connects with your thinking.”

An interesting experiment, but I’ll have to play with it a bit more to establish what it could be used for, in the same way as we are using Cloudworks with ELESIG. Meanwhile I will watch SocialLearn with interest – it looks very much like the way I envision the future of learning.