Learning spaces and places

This entire series on technology affordances was started off by a remark I made during the 5th Plymouth e-Learning Conference, and my subsequent blogpost which I called 'Angels in the architecture'. I kicked off the series proper with a post called 'Can we afford to ignore student perceptions?' in which I highlighted the fact that affordances are emergent attributes of the design that are based on perceptions, and we must therefore be careful how we select technologies to support learning. Sometimes, if the design affordances do not match the needs of the learner, the result can be disasterous. More recently, in posts entitled 'Push or Pull' and 'Squeezing out the good stuff', I tried to outline some of the important affordances that have become evident when people use social media for learning.

In this part of the series I want to identify two more key sets of affordances that I believe will affect the success of technologies when they are applied to learning. The first I will call the 'synthesised space' affordances - the capability of the tool to create mixed media or blended spaces. I began to discuss this in a paper I published last year in Future Internet entitled Learning Space Mashups. What I was referring to was not a mashup in the strictest sense of the word, but rather a blending of reflective (blog) and collaborative (wiki) web tools to create a synthesised space where students could benefit from the best of both sets of affordances. There are many other web based tools available that can be combined and experimented with so that new spaces can be created. We just haven't got around to it yet, but the true mashups are a good start. Google Maps and similar mashup spaces are leading the way, and I believe we will see more tools combined in the future. Opening up API and allowing users to become developers is the main reason why some start ups such as Flickr and Delicious became so popular so quickly.


The second set of affordances I want to highlight we might call 'navigation' affordances. By navigation, I mean the visual cues that enable users to find their way around to learn spatially, both visually and in terms of hyperlinked pathways. If a web tool is badly designed, as is the case with some institutional VLEs, students become confused and disoriented. They know where they need to be and what they want to find, but can't easily find their way there. They then waste too much time trying to work out how to navigate themselves, or go off to try to find someone who can help them. If the 'browsability' element is lacking, or the tool has a poor capability to search for content, more problems are caused for learners. Broken links or links that are not adequately signposted/hihglighted are also annoying and are usually a problem caused by lack of maintenance, or simply poor design.


Navigation affordances are all about getting about - where the learners find themselves, and where they want to go to can be interrupted if the tool has not been designed effectively. The end result of any of the above problems, is that students spend more time thinking about how to navigating their way around in their study space than they do about the content and the learning. Opaque technologies need to become more transparent. Designing the correct features into the tool will enable the affordances of the tool to come to emerge.

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Learning spaces and places by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Based on a work at steve-wheeler.blogspot.com.

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