This project comes on the back of two other major OU ventures, namely the OU adoption of the open source platform Moodle as its learning management system, and the OU’s Hewlett Foundation funded open educational resource initiative, OpenLearn. My colleague Andy Lane will talk about the latter in detail in his post, which will be posted on this blog soon after mine. The adoption of Moodle was significant for the OU for two main reasons: firstly, it signaled to the education community that we believed open source was a robust and sensible option; secondly, it gave out a strong message that the OU was still current and willing to take risks. In this sense it was as much a political decision as a technical one.
SocialLearn is the latest in these types of initiatives. Its aim is to develop a social network for learners, which is based around an open API, thus allowing any application to write to it. In this sense it could be one form of the almost mythical ‘eduglu’ that binds together a range of third party applications to create a Personal Learning Environment. What is perhaps more intriguing, though, is what will happen when we can mine the social graph data to help structure a learner’s experience. When a learner creates a goal, similar goals, relevant resources, and potential third party offerings (eg mentorship, tuition, formal courses) can all be assembled. The system, in effect, can do much of the filtering process that is currently performed by an educator (although it does not seek to provide the support or expertise of the educator, filtering is only one function). The potential of this is that the currently top-down, restricted curriculum is democratised. People learn about whatever is of interest to them - in effect we have an open curriculum.
Currently the project is under development, with a beta launch planned for early 2009..
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