2008 Sloan-C International Symposium

I’m giving a presentation at the 2008 Sloan-C International Symposium on Emerging Technology Applications for Online Learning on the topic of socially constructed self-paced learning environments. In particular, I discuss the implementation of CMUOnet, an instance of the Elgg open source social application engine, for fostering organic, informal interaction among participants in an online self-paced professional development certificate program.

The slides for the presentation are available here along with the links I reference.  If I am successful in recording the audio for my presentation, I’ll eventually add there here as well as on my edtech podcast.

Here’s the complete substance of the proposal for the presentation.

Title: The Chicken or the Elgg? Developing a Socially Constructed Self-Paced Learning Environment

Type of Session: Individual Presentation (preferred); Group Presentation (secondary)


  • Explore theoretical framework for developing socially-constructed self-paced learning environments
  • View sample installation of Elgg social networking platform and integration with Blackboard
  • Review results of a recent research study exploring learner’s preferences for interaction in a socially constructed self-paced environment

Description: New types of technologies that support the needs of students in learner-paced courses are being developed and implemented, promoting the incorporation of an increasing number of informal interaction types. For example, emerging social networking solutions allow for interaction to take place among instructors and students beyond the confines of the course management system. Such informal learning environments provide a more open venue for learners to connect with others interested in the same concepts either in a different course section or but who may be enrolled in a different course section or are at a different stage of the course. (Rhode, 2006). Participation in such an organic learning landscape blurs the lines that have been previous drawn between formal learning applications and informal personalized learning environments that promote lifelong learning. As these traditionally separate learning venues converge, the underlying precepts previously understood need to be re-examined (Rhode, 2007).

It is reasonable to assume that the constructs of the course as well as the individual preferences of learners may influence the development of the learning environment and dynamics of interaction. This study explored the dynamics of interaction within a self-paced learning environment in which interpersonal interaction with fellow learners and the instructor is strongly encouraged by not necessarily required. Rather than mandating asynchronous communication solely within an instructor-driven threaded discussion board, emerging approaches to fostering interaction encourage the formation of online learning communities and communities of practice outside of the prescribed course boundaries that can serve to scaffold a rich and meaningful learning experience. This study examined the experiences of adult learners who participate in an online course incorporating a variety of traditional computer-mediated communication and emerging educational social software to learn what modes of interaction learners prefer as well as to what extent such interactions with fellow learners as well as instructor-generated multimedia are perceived as being equivalent.


Rhode, J. F. (2006). Anatomy of a socially constructed self-paced learning environment. Retrieved August 20, 2007, from http://www.idolresources.com/?p=416

Rhode, J.F. (2007). E-learning interaction matrix: Essential elements of a socially constructed learning environment. Retrieved December 3, 2007, from http://www.idolresources.com/?p=486