In the physical world, the classroom, traditionally, is a place where teachers teach and learners learn, where information is acquired, created, distilled, shaped and disseminated, where activities take place in the interests of learning, where lessons and modules and courses are delivered and experienced, and where minds meet. The physical classroom is, however, constrained by the walls around it (although, of course, the imaginations of teachers and learners, and the materials they make use of, need know no such constraints).
When we shift the concept of the classroom to the virtual world, to the Cloud, we can see the same components and activities there, but without the physical constraints. In the Cloud, the whole world becomes the classroom, giving teachers and learners access to limitless resources, to all the world’s experiences, to expert knowledge and expert skills across the globe, to the meeting of minds across national and cultural boundaries, to the broadest range of tools and services that can meet the infinitely varied needs of learners, and to the very best educational practice (however you choose to define it) to be found internationally. It is a place where teachers become learners and learners become teachers, since the traditional structures and hierarchies of the walled classroom can be dissolved or inverted at the whim of those using the classroom.
But the classroom in the cloud has the potential to offer a number of other attributes that take it even further beyond the physical classroom. In the same way that any digital artefact – a book, a piece of music, a video, a graphic, a game, whatever – can be replicated perfectly an infinite number of times, so too can the classroom in the cloud be replicated and then developed and customized to fit the needs of any group of users. With the classroom in the cloud established, you can ‘tear off’ your own copy of the platform to make use of and to further develop as you see fit.
This is the starting point for the concept of CommonLearn: a pure platform-in-the-cloud designed specifically to offer all the key functions and services required for open and distance teaching and learning, and offered with a completely pedagogically neutral and wholly content agnostic capability.
CommonLearn is the natural evolution of a concept that began 12 years ago with the inception of the innovative and, at the time, unique Glow national schools intranet in Scotland. I led the Glow development from its inception to initial roll-out, and the notion of a web-based learning and collaborative platform, at a national scale, was new and radical for its time. It is a real pity to see it foundering now. However, the digital and networking technologies have moved on massively in the intervening years, and the possibility of a truly open, freely-configurable and methodologically-neutral virtual platform for teaching and learning, delivered from the Cloud, is now practicable. And where Glow was conceived at a national scale, CommonLearn is possible on a truly global scale because of the capabilities of the Cloud today.
CommonLearn will be a virtual platform, accessible from anywhere in the world, any time, from any connected device, and will offer a range of useful and practical tools and applications not just for teaching, learning and collaboration, but critically for the establishment and operation of self-managed groups, classes or courses able to benefit from these activities. It will be an open environment for use by anyone wishing to organise and run teaching or learning activities both synchronous and asynchronous, and using whatever mix of media they choose. That openness will extend to the ability of the users of the platform to pull in any web-based applications that they find useful for their purposes. It will be a virtual space in which teachers and learners can explore, learn, create, organise, share, collaborate and showcase. CommonLearn will be a trusted domain. No one will be allowed to be anonymous in CommonLearn. It will be organic and distributed in its mode of operation, not hierarchical. It will be a social and a sociable place, easy to use, and it will be entirely independent of culture, curriculum and centralised control.
CommonLearn will offer a wide range of tools and services to enable teaching and learning, course and lesson building, virtual instruction, collaborative sessions, the sharing of materials, ideas and good practice, and tools for assessing students’ learning. It will offer the ability for any individual or group within the global classroom community to set up their own domain within the environment and to configure that domain for their own individual, class, institutional, regional or national requirements, employing whatever pedagogy, curriculum, content or course structures they wish to use. It will be able to be used to run a 1-to-1 tutorial session just as easily as a MOOC with tens of thousands of participants, or any other configuration between those two extremes, from tightly controlled ‘traditional’ lectures online to much looser, distributed organic ‘classes’ in which every learner is also a teacher.
Finally, as has already been stated, the concept of CommonLearn is wholly content-agnostic! This is critical if the concept is to be one that can be offered for use in any context, in any country, to suit any culture and for any educational purpose. Anyone ‘tearing off’ a duplicate of CommonLearn for their own purposes will be able to populate the platform with whatever content suits those purposes best and is most appropriate to the intended user-base. The platform will offer content-creation and content-management tools so that users can generate their own content for use in the teaching and learning. It will offer access to learning resources and content from wherever such resources might be available, as well as to the necessary search and synthesising tools to enable teachers and learners to find and configure content for use in teaching and learning on the platform.
Anyone wishing to join the conversation around CommonLearn can go the CommonLearn website and blog – feel free to comment or even to register and contribute posts on any relevant topic. If anyone wish to leave some video feedback on the concept via the amazing Miituu application, please go to:
I welcome contributions from anyone by any means you prefer to use, whether email, Skype or Twitter:
Email: johnconnell [at] iamlearner.net