Educational Research, Cognitive Science & Neuroscience


Notes from MIT’s Online Education Policy Initiative Report, Pages 6-10

ER: Constructivism: Dewey, experiential learning, Piaget, Vygotsky, Montessori, inquiry and discovery. Active learning, teaching laboratories, Amos Eaton (1824), active instruction, Mazur, peer learning, all-hands-on courses, mini-lectures, simulations experiments. Online counterparts are flipped classroom. Project -based learning, video disks, personal computers and calculators. Papert’s Constructionism, a refinement of constructivism, development of Lego Mindstorms, robot design, prototyping technologies. Problem-based learning, imprecisely defined problems, self-directed learning peer learning, teamwork, internships, work-study programs, blurred boundaries between college and workplace. Student-centered education, reflection, discussion, interdisciplinary thinking, self-paced learning, Bloom, students in small cohorts. Online counterparts are Peer2Peer University where peer is the primary instructor.

CS: level of the brain, Ebbinghaus, how memories form and persistmind wandering, task-unrelated thoughts, make students curious, retrieval practice, engaging repeatedly in recall activities
is called interpolated testing, block of practice right after students have learned a topic, contrast between storage strength and retrieval strength, concept of desirable
difficulties,generation effect, generation of answers can help learning even if they are wrong, and feedback is effective even if it is corrective. Cognitive load theory, “compression” of new information, novices should be given worked examples
rather than open-ended problems. Impact of context, the context of the learning reflect the context in which that information will likely be used.

N: level of the neurons, initial encoding, integration of memories, consolidation, synaptic and system levels, sleep, blocked learning may be associated with saturation at the synapse during a process known as long-term potentiation, cognitive load has been shown to be measurable using pupillary dilation, activation of sensorimotor brain regions would enhance understanding of torque and angular momentum, MRI shows more active training
methods correlated not only with better test performance but also with greater stimulation of the predicted brain regions

Image available here

MIT’s Online Education Policy Initiative Report


The report was published in April 2016 and focuses on higher education particularly for STEM fields. “The report”, the authors argue, “digresses into deeper and broader examination of learning, and makes recommendations about online learning in that context”. Four main recommendations are indicated:

  • Recommendation 01. Increase Interdisciplinary Collaboration Across Fields of Research in Higher Education, Using an Integrated Research Agenda: look for the convergence between outside-in approach and the inside-out approach in education.
  • Recommendation 02: Promote Online as an Important Facilitator in Higher Education: customized learning, remote collaboration, just-in-time scenarios, continuous assessment and blended learning.
  • Recommendation 03: Support the Expanding Profession of the Learning Engineer: a “learning engineer” is a creative professional who helps build bridges between fields of education and develops additional infrastructure to help teachers teach and students learn.
  • Recommendation 04: Foster Institutional and Organizational Change in Higher Education to Implement These Reforms: creation of thinking communities, identification and development of change agents and role models, groups and not individual visionaries.

Despite these most interesting suggestions what I value most about this report is found in the following image:


What this illustration intends to high light is the need to correlate these three separate disciplines. As the authors say, “only the coming together of these three components would ever have a major impact on education”. Now I have been looking into this matter for a long time and I too strongly advocate for this option. For more check older May posts.

Image available here


Leveraging Knowledge for 21st Century Teaching and Learning


Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council has recently published a report on the future of learning as a result of is Imagining Canada’s Future initiative. According to their research, the new trends for learning are training for versatility and contributing to non linear issues. The report argues that:

  1. traditional teaching and learning are challenged in a technology-mediated environment
  2. new techs can increase the access to and flexibility of learning while also bridging the gap bteween knowledge and community
  3. teaching training, tools, flexibility and incentives support educators in these new approaches
  4. applying a diversity lens to teaching is integral to achieving successful learning outcomes
  5. a better understanding is needed on what constitutes “culturally relevant” programming and delivery methods.
  6. more research on experiential learning is needed to develop better pedagogical, curricular and educational policy.


Image available here

Babson Survey Research Group Reports: the passage from MOOCs to OERs

Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman have been tracking for more than ten years the changes that are taking place in online education in the US. Their annual reports representing the Babson Survey Research Group fully register all major changes.

MOOCs make their official appearance as a special category in the 2012 edition entitled ‘Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Education in the United States’. The institutions already supporting them constituted a mere 2,6% and another 9,4% had plans to offer them in the near future. In the following edition (2013) MOOCs had become a distinct category on the content list. That section however, insisted that despite the hype the US institutions were still reluctant to implement MOOCs and the supporting ones had only slightly risen to 5%. In 2014 there was a further increase to 8% yet less institutions appeared keen on implementing a MOOC in the future, the report said. What is also significant is that MOOCs appeared in the table of contents but not as separate category. In the 2015 edition published in July 2016 MOOCs do not appear in the table of contents anymore.

What you do find, however, are OERs. The two authors claim that OERs were first introduced in the research in 2009 but were mentioned as such only in the 2014 report. Until then the authors refered to them as online offerings a term, however, that also included MOOCs.

Open Educational Resources (OERs) are any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them. OERs range from textbooks to curricula, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video and animation. UNESCO Definition of OERs

OERs appear to have a better grasp with the academic community, although it is not very clear to most what they are about. Teachers and students still have a long way to fully comprehend what Open Textbooks and Creative Commons Licenses are, but OERs provide a solution far more viable than MOOCs. Cost has been a major concern in decisions regarding online education and a very important reason why the interest in MOOCs has declined.


In my previous post I argued on the importance of MOOCs and their contribution to online education. I still believe that their hype has contributed enormously to the developement of the current educational landscape. We wouldn’t be talking about OERs unless we saw all these courses get redesigned and reassembled to fit into this new media reality. This free access to organized material gave us the confidence with which we are now able to jump from this to that to connect stuff and create our own personal narrations.



All previously mentioned Babson Survey Research Group reports are signed by I. Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman and are available here. Image available here

EU’s JRC Report for Opening Up Education


The report introduces a rationale for open education.

The OpenEdu framework for higher education institutions presents 10 dimensions for opening up education. Each dimension interrelates with all the others and allows for different degrees of openness. It is a holistic view of open education which includes different areas where universities can be more open. Institutional stakeholders, 43 open education experts from Europe and abroad, and university managers from 19 European Member States have been involved in different phases of both the development and evaluation of the framework.

The 10 dimensions of the framework are divided into two categories: core dimensions and transversal dimensions. There are 6 core dimensions (access, content, pedagogy, recognition, collaboration and research) and 4 transversal dimensions (strategy, technology, quality and leadership). All dimensions are interrelated; the core dimensions are not more important than the transversal ones. Core dimensions represent the ‘what’ of open education and transversal dimensions indicate `how’ to achieve it.

The report was based on several studies conducted since 2013  such as OpenCases, OpenCred, OpenSurvey and MOOCknowledge. The research shows that although opening up education is a policy priority in Europe, many higher education institutions in Member States do not have a strategic plan for opening up their practices. The reasons are:

  • there is no consensus on what opening up education means and hence little common ground on which to build collaboration;
  • opening up education is often seen as only offering OER and MOOCs, or opening up research data – it therefore becomes a specific and isolated practice which does not always form part of an institution’s overall educational strategy aligned with its mission; and
  • there is general agreement on the positive value of open education but little clarity on its scope and possible practices, or the subsequent benefits to those involved.

The OpenEdu Project has produced the following recommendations for HE institutions:

  • Having a holistic strategy for opening up education that encompasses the 10 dimensions of the OpenEdu framework
  • Making the open education strategy part of the overall institutional strategy
  • Promoting intra, inter and cross-border institutional collaborations and partnerships in order to achieve open education goals
  • Exploring new practices and welcoming changes
  • Revising their practices at all levels: mission statement and vision, current organisational management structures and day-to-day policies, and the institution’s role in the community and globally.

AJ Survey shows high percentages of mental health problems among students of architecture


What Richard Waite and Ella Braidwood reported for AJ’s annual survey is pretty disconserting: results show that 26% of British students of architecture have faced or are currently facing mental health issues. These are attributed to stress caused by:

  • student debt and its consequent necessity to get paid jobs (…) almost two-fifths (38 per cent) of respondents said they would have accumulated a debt of £30,000-50,000 by the end of their course (…) 58 per cent of students based in London said their debt would be £40,000 or above (…) nearly two-fifths (38 per cent) reported that they don’t expect to pay off their student loan – an increase from 31 per cent the year before
  • no pay or little money for paid work (…) around a third (31 per cent) of students in the survey said they had been asked to work for free by practices. On top of this, some with a salary claimed they were often not paid to work overtime.
  • confronting the needs practical training or practice (…) A significant number of respondents felt architecture education was too long (61 per cent) and did not equip them for practice (35 per cent) (…) nearly two-fifths (38 per cent) said construction, technology and business teaching within architecture training was either ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ (…) RIBA criteria requiring at least 50 per cent of the course to be on design may not leave enough in the curriculum for everything else
  • long working hours, exams and coursework deadlines (…) many students claimed the expectation of working long hours contributed to their mental illness. A culture of working into the night, the survey confirms, remains endemic in architecture schools (…) Just over nine in ten (91 per cent) students reported working through the night for their studies at some point – and almost one in three (29 per cent) said they did it on a regular basis.


Such results were meant to cause some turbulence for the academia. Bob Sheil, director of The Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London, told Dezeen that architectural education and accreditation needed “new models” and he pointed towards the qualification system. He addressed the matters raised by propagating the need for the creation of new programs that can embed the rapid changes occurring in the profession and make the most of student talents.

The high cost of student loans or the low wages are matters only tha state can resolve. But what I find interesting in this survey, is that one of the main stress generators comes from within the academia’s unwritten rules or hidden curricula as mentioned in a previous post. As a student claims in the AJ article: ‘A culture of suffering for your art is promoted within education’. Let’s admit we have all been caught victims in this vicious propaganda. This is why I think more attention should be given to class work and the time spent in class. For if there is enough time for students to work during class time there are at least two major gains: first there is less to be done at home and second they get more help while they are there in class both from their peers as well as from the teachers. Not to mention the confidence of having advanced or completed something at the end of the day.



Waite, R., Braidwood, E., July 2016, ‘Mental health problems exposed by AJ Student Survey 2016’, AJ, available here

Dezeen Magazine, Aug. 2016, ‘Bartlett head calls for new models of education to protect future UK architects’

For more interesting reading visit University of Toronto Mental Health Report 2013-2014

Validation of non formal and informal learning


Validation: a process of confirmation by an authorized body that an individual has acquired learning outcomes measured against a relevant standard (Council of the EU, 2012) It is about making visible the diverse and rich learning of individuals and attributing value to the learning of individuals irrespective of the context in which this learning took place. Its purpose is to produce proof of learning, potentially to be exchanged into future learning and/or work.

Four phases of validation of an individual’s learning outcomes:

  • identification: of knowledge, skills and competence acquired. It is important for the individuals’ self-awareness. It is a methodological challenge. It is supported in some countries by the use of standarized ICT tools allowing self-assessment. It often involves advisers and counselors that help the candidates explore the tools at their disposition. Ready made solutions can fail to identify particular skills and competencies.
  • documentation: as in provision of evidence. Building of portfolio/work samples/dossier
  • assessment: the stage in which an individual’s learning outcomes are compared against specific reference points and/or standards. The phase depends on the reference point. Assessment tools need to be able to capture each individual and the context in which learning took place. (individual specifity)
  • certification: commonly the award of a formal qualification, sometimes a license. The value of the certificate or qualification depends on the legitimacy of the awarding body or authority

A person not interested in acquiring a formal qualification should be able to opt for a solution giving more emphasis to identification and documentation phases. Since validation has been
found to influence positively individuals’ self-awareness and self-esteem, it should be about individual choice: arrangements must be designed to allow the individual to opt for the most cost-efficient solutions, possibly for limited documentation rather than full, formal certification.

Validation and open educational resources (OERs)

It acknowledges the rapid expansion of learning opportunities through OERs, thus digitized materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and free learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research. Validation process requires that learning outcomes must be carefully described for OERs as well as methods for assessing and testing them.

Validation Tools

  • Tools for extracting evidence: tests and examinations, dialogue or conversational methods, declarative methods, observations, simulations, evidence extracted from work or other practice.
  • Tools for presenting evidence: CVs and individual statement of competences, third party reports, portfolios



CEDEFOP, European guidelines for validating non-formal and informal learning, Cedefop reference series 104, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2015

Text and Image available here