How do we Learn to Learn, Especially in the Ed-Tech Environment?

There is a lot of interest in psychology of learning – we as yet do not know how we learn! Lot of ed-tech companies have analytics about on-line eLearning courses with millions of clicks (interactive tools) that can be monitored at the back end – but do these clicks really mean that learning has occurred? Most ed-tech researchers and companies are scratching their brains with learning analytics to answer this; one of the the main purposes of setting up free on-line MOOCs seems to be just this – how are people able to learn; there are almost 98 videos of TED website with the theme: How We Learn.

How can we answer this question? How can we monitor and say that a learning has occurred a 100% of the time?

This is a question that has intrigued many. Let me see if I can answer this question, it is difficult, but I will try…………….from my experiences in teaching and learning science. Any learning is an interplay between nature and nurture!

Step 1: Indoctrination (inspiration, hook)

To learn anything, one has to be indoctrinated into multiple intelligences.


But how does one get indoctrinated or inspired? Inspiration for a particular learning quest can come from family, friends, teachers, some nice lecture/video that triggers an interest in a certain field, a movie, some exhibitions, books – this is the hook. One gets hooked into a new learning direction.

You must have heard this phrase – ……… got hooked to………… (from old English anglers)

Step 2: Motivation (focus, stimulation and perseverance)

That inner urge to surge in the chosen direction – requires focus, and even incentives (incentives in terms of intellectual stimulation and financial stimulation – have you ever wondered why there is a successful Silicon Valley?). High motivation can also create a persevering quality that keeps one rooted in a particular learning quest. There is no substitute for hard work.

It is said that Thomas Alva Edison failed a 1000 times before he made a bulb design that actually worked!

You must have heard this phrase -………..never give up…………. (Winston Churchill)

Step 3: Social Interaction (team effort)

Because of the advent of the internet, and eLearning, a lot of EdTech companies have realized the importance of social learning. The social cognitive learning theory was first discussed by Albert Bandura in 1977.

(From Wikipedia- Social learning is learning that takes place at a wider scale than individual or group learning, up to a societal scale, through social interaction between peers.)

The explosion to social media and access to content via mobile devices, this kind of learning has gained high importance these days.

social media cartoon

This team effort or team work is the key to reaching any goals – and in our case – the learning objectives or goals. Working effectively as a team creates momentum, improves morale, and almost anything that is decided can be achieved.

You must have heard this phrase -……….. Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much (Hellen Keller)

Step 4: Experience (and results)

Remember that any learning – means change in cognitive behaviour or attitudes – if behaviour/attitude change has not happened, then the learning has NOT occurred!  The more experience you take in the direction of learning (exams, assessment, results, feedback, discussions, apply, analyze, hands-on work) the more you will learn thoroughly! It is more enduring, and results are sort of permanently lodged in your brain. When you assess your learning (formative) and get a feedback from someone (say on a social platform or a teacher or a guru) you will learn better.

You must have heard this phrase – experience is the best teacher………. (Benjamin Franklin)

And finally………….if you have mastered what you have learnt, you will be able to evaluate your understanding, critique someone else’s work and go on to innovate and create something new, to your utmost joy (any new learning can be real fun!)


In conclusion: we can say that learning has occurred if we can monitor a change in behaviour and attitude. This can be done by assessing thoroughly – may be by creating rubrics and measuring the ‘learning’.

Aside: When I was little, I always used to think of placing my books under my pillow before going off to sleep, hoping against hope that all the content from the books would automatically get transferred into my brain!


Learning with a MOOC vs. Learning on an LMS

To me, as a person seeped into the use of technology in education, I often wondered at the difference between various vocabs used in the eLearning space!

Web-based or computer based learning (or eLearning) is not a new phenomenon. All of us have used some form of tools used in a virtual learning environment at least sometimes in our lives. MOOC is a recent addition to this vocab – initially I thought a MOOC is something like an LMS, but it is NOT!

An LMS is software that automates the administration of training. The LMS registers users, tracks courses in a catalogue, records data from learners; and provides reports to management. An LMS is typically designed to handle courses by multiple publishers and providers. It usually doesn’t include its own authoring capabilities; instead, it focuses on managing courses created by a variety of other sources.

A MOOC on the other hand is an entire course. A MOOC is accessible, usually with no prerequisites, to anyone who wishes to enroll, usually for free, and with self-assessment or peer assessment along the way. It enables the possibility to teach over 100,000+ students at the same time in the same course.

From my experience, I can say that any new learning is imbibed better if there is a social component to the learning, and in future a MOOC will enhance this aspect of a learner’s ability – surely!

I would like to quote this: “I believe MOOCs are going to be an important – not to mention fascinating – social development…… “(Robert McGuire From:



Apparently, in the near future a teacher or a lecturer can have his or her own branded MOOC, like a website or a blog on a WordPress!

Here’s what I have collated from my own research on the net.

Feature MOOC LMS
Long Form Massive Open Online Course Learning Management System
What is it? It is an entire course. It is NOT a platform.Massive: means may users can log in simultaneously

Open: means open to anyone in the world

A platform where resources can be placed.Not massive – limitations in number of simultaneous users

Mostly not open to everyone.

Examples Courses on edX, Coursera, Udemy 

Coursera, edX, Udemy are platforms – they are first and foremost a branded website promoting courses based on a Learning Management System (LMS).


Moodle, Blackboard, Click2LearnLMS platforms provide a place for course creators to host their content and manage their learning environment (forums, quizzes, exams, peer to peer assessment, etc.)
Inclusion MOOCs include LMS technology/architecture An LMS is not a MOOC
Needs any standards? HTML 5/MOOCdb? AICC or SCORM for monitoring and reporting
When was it started? In the late 2000’s In the early 1960s
What do they do? It is an open-ended course, not overtly managed. It is a course management tool and hosts close-ended courses. Management and monitoring can be quite detailed, and programmed accordingly. Can be a bit intrusive.
Authoring tools None None
Exam tools YesLearning analytics can be programmed. YesLearning analytics can be programmed.
Networked More networked – blogs, tweets, wikis, etc. Less networked – wikis, forums, etc.
Size Large size – due to the availability of large servers and high internet speeds.Distributed and social learning. For knowledge networking, and life-long learning Relatively small sizes – limitations and slowness due to connectivity.Some LMSs have facility for distributed learning.

Once the course is over, access to course is removed.

Course Hosting It is an entire course. It is NOT a platform. 

Coursera, edX, Udemy are platforms which host a MOOC. These platforms provide a place for course creators to host their content and manage their learning environment (forums, quizzes, exams, peer to peer assessment, etc.)

Many courses simultaneously can be hosted, from various providers and publishers. And a catalogue of courses may be offered to users to pick, choose and pay to start the course.
Credits No, not yet Some courses can have credits


Importance of a Well-Defined Curriculum in an EdTech Space

I need to write about importance of a well-defined curriculum, especially for k-12 science in the educational technology (or ed-tech) space.

(From Wikipedia: In formal education, a curriculum is the planned interaction of pupils with instructional content, materials, resources, and processes for evaluating the attainment of educational objectives.)

When I develop content for the k-12 science vertical, I come across writers and instructional designers who have no clue firstly what to include (besides what is already included in the prescribed text books) and then (most crucially) where to stop.

Where to stop – is a tough decision to take, and can be taken only by a learning expert who is capable of judging and understanding the psychology of the learners. It is similar to sports: just as you cannot expect a 10 year old boy or a girl to run a marathon, similarly while meting out learning content to an audience – whether in self-learning modules, in a classroom chalk-and-talk or in a distance-learning (video lectures) mode, one has to be extremely sensitive and responsible to this issue of what is presented and to whom. And especially in science and math, because if it is too easy then the learners will be ‘bored’ and if it is too difficult then the learners will ‘turn away’, and who knows forever!

Personally I think we need to respect expert curriculum developers in these matters. Unfortunately, there-in lays the problem with all that is happening in the ed-tech space these days. Any and everybody (including people with no back ground in teaching and education) start becoming curriculum developers! And this is creating more chaos in an already muddy educational system, and confusing poor young leaners and teachers too!

In India what generally happens is this – we don’t trust the Indian board curriculum approval committee members (especially state boards’, where things are dumbed down for mass education for rural audience who learn in regional languages), because various strata of the Indian society is demanding different things from the educational system.

And that is reason why the ed-tech companies are stepping in!

So what is a well-defined curriculum? It is something that goes in steps:

  • A pre-requisite
  • Actual curriculum content (clear cut objectives, outcomes, assessments, activities, step-by-step enhancement of knowledge level imparted)
  • Extra resources – for those who are really really interested in the topic


What most ed-tech companies mess up completely is the pre-requisite and the extra resources. And when it comes to the actual curricula – they just cut-paste from prescribed text-books, add some animations, interactivities, and voice overs, that’s it! This makes an absolute ridiculous ed-tech product.

Here’s a quintessential case that I’d like to share – my writers were creating an activity on heat radiation for class VII students (aprrox age 12 years) and included something that said heat radiation was infra-red! Although correct, but how could a 12 year old kid know anything about infra-red? So what was the solution? We included all this information in the extra resources section. Further, when we were creating content for older students, we put this bit as a pre-requisite, and therefore could take the content to a higher level easily! This resulted in systematic, step-by-step enhancement of knowledge imparted and learning imbibed, resulting in great satisfaction of students and teachers alike.

Provide bite sized content and that will encourage learners to take higher and higher steps, and develop a keen interest in knowing more.

Ste by Step process of learning

I hope I am able to tell you about the importance of a well-defined curriculum in an   ed-tech space. After a curriculum is a like a bridge that we need to build, piece-by-piece, step-by-step, to attain enlightenment, is it not?