CommonLearn (from Connect Learning Today)

[This post is cross-published with Connect Learning Today]

“The Web is the learning platform” is a phrase that has gained some currency over the past few years. It is a line I have used many times in presentations in the course of my own work. In fact I used the phrase as long ago as 2004 when I was tramping the highways and byways of Scottish education and local government to promote my vision, which became the world’s first national web-based learning and collaborative platform for schools, known as Glow.

Today, a decade later, in this age of Web 2.0, the Cloud, and the Rich Web, there is even more reason to see the Web as the de facto learning platform. There are many loud and insistent voices telling anyone willing to listen that everything we need to implement effective online teaching and learning is out there on the Web just waiting to be grabbed and used.

Those voices are right, but they are also wrong. They are right because everything we need really is out there, much of it free or low cost. There is a wealth of courses and course providers, content sources, tools, applications, protocols and services that you can combine in powerful ways for educational purposes. However, the voices are also wrong because, unless you can call upon a high level of capability in networking, server-side technologies, programming, database management and a number of other critical disciplines besides, anything other than very simplest and smallest-scale implementations are horrendously difficult to achieve with any certainty of success.

Beyond the sphere of education, there are many ‘rich web’ applications available today fulfilling some very practical purposes. For example, anyone wanting to set up an online retail store has a plethora of easy-to-use e-commerce packages to choose from. You just need goods to sell, a brand and a name for your store – the package and the host do the rest. Another example: anyone intent on starting a blog can choose from a wide range of blogging platforms that let the putative blogger set up in the cloud or on an ISP’s (or your own) servers, with relative ease. The same principle of ‘take it and use it’ software can be seen in many commercial, creative and professional spheres.

To date, however, there is no equivalent, easy-to-use, “clonable” and scalable platform for virtual teaching and learning. There is simply no rich-web application out there that will take care of all the difficult stuff while you focus purely on setting up the online learning facility that you need for your teachers and students, with your preferred pedagogy and with the content you want.

This is where the concept of CommonLearn comes in. CommonLearn will be, in essence, a ‘meta-platform’, an accessible resource that will give you everything you need to let you establish and operate your very own classroom in the cloud according to how you envisage it. The concept is, I believe, the natural evolution of the thinking that began for me more than a dozen years ago with Glow. The digital and networking technologies have of course developed massively since then, and the possibility of a truly open, freely configurable and pedagogically neutral virtual meta-platform for learning is now more than practicable.

As a meta-platform, CommonLearn will not compete with the Web, but will work with the grain of the Web by offering a lean and simple interface in tandem with the minimum core functionality required to enable you to exploit the riches of the web. CommonLearn will be the complete antithesis of the heavy-duty portals that proliferate today and that have done for so long. It will be built on open protocols that will let you provision user-accounts, manage identity and authentication, as well as create, locate, store and manage content.

Beyond these core foundational tools, CommonLearn will simply enable whatever combination of web tools and applications you want to use, along with whatever standards-based audio, video and other collaborative tools you wish to make use of. It will offer complete flexibility, not by trying to do everything for you, but simply by giving you the basic tools and a simple environment to allow you to do everything for yourself, by pressing into service any web application, web service or standards-based tool you want to grab.

Too many existing online teaching and learning platforms force you along certain paths, limiting you by providing someone else’s content, often constraining you to a fixed pedagogy, and by presenting a predetermined (and often proprietary) set of applications.

The CommonLearn meta-platform will be one that works with the Web, that is lean and intuitive, that is infinitely configurable by you, that is pedagogically neutral and that is content-free (until you fill it with your own content or with content that you source yourself). It will do for you what you want your virtual teaching and learning platform to do, not what someone else thinks you should be doing.

CommonLearn is merely a concept at this stage, but it is one that I am already working to turn into a realisable vision. I am working with some highly experienced cloud architects to create a viable architecture for the platform and I am already planning a project that will seek to build the financial, technical and educational eco-system needed to make CommonLearn real.

To join the conversation, or simply to tell me what you think, visit my blog and watch the screencast at:

Talk to me on Twitter (@I_Am_Learner) or comment on the new CommonLearn website and blog: