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Candace Thille of OLI prompts discussion of discovery systems, outcomes assesment

December 15, 2009

Candace Thille’s Dec 14th Crosstalk presentation on the OLI learning environment sparked lively discussion and raised several topics of interest in regards to teaching and learning in the digital realm. Several topics are described further below.

OLI is a web-based learning environment freely available and tailored to the needs of self-learners. Unlike open repositories such as OCW and other open courseware initiatives, OLI packages course content in a coherent, sequenced, and scaffolded way such that self-learners can proceed on their own. With the help of “cognitive tutors”, students receive guidance and feedback 24/7 on demand and when needed. (Cognitive tutors are small pieces of software that provide hints, examples and more assistance at precisely the moment that the student needs it in the learning process)

When OLI materials are blended with instructor sessions, studies indicate that the OLI learning environment is more efficient that traditional learning environments. Questions in the audience arose concerning the validity of the studies that indicated these trends, since there was no provision made for instructor bias (ie different instructors taught the control course from the test course).

Another valuable feature of OLI is the ability to track student behavior in the online learning environment. The resulting data provides valuable feedback to instructors, students, course designers and learning scientists. Ms Thille also noted that there were inherent challenges to defining desired outcomes in online courses. “How do we know when a student understands something? What is the metric for assessment?”

Others mentioned that there were similar initiatives to OLI going on at MIT and elsewhere. Ms Thille further noted that online learning interventions such as OLI and others were in need of an over-arching discovery system whereby learners could locate relevant courses and content among the available array.

What would be the critical components of a discovery system for learning environments?

What are some of the qualities needed to accurately detect students‘ outcomes in an online learning environment?

We hope that people who attended the session as well as those who didn’t will join in and continue the discussion.

Blog registration is shown below.

Office of Educational Innovation and Technology
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Phone: (617) 252-1981; Fax: (617) 452-4044