H2O and a new kind of online learning

I’m noticing that there is a lot more going on at Berkman than is apparent from their web site. When I first looked at H20 I was hopelessly confused by it, but now reading about what they’re trying to do I’m getting really excited.

We’re in an online learning rut, and we need to get out of it. When I was working on myBrandeis and we were talking about moving to the new version of our system that supports courseware components (something called dotLRN) I was excited because it seemed like a good opportunity to open up something that has traditionally been handled by closed software that never breaks the mold. But even then I wasn’t thinking enough outside the box.

I see real beauty in some of the new web apps popping up — things that have really good UIs and are really clean and really interactive and sort of behave more like you want them to behave, but also things that are focused on doing a few things *really well* rather than doing everything. Flickr has some flaws but is throwing some amazing new ideas into the online photo gallery game. 43Things is based around a concept so simple that you have to ask yourself, “why didn’t I think of that?” And yet, it does it *really, really well* and new modes of interaction are starting to pop up. H20 looks like a similar type of system.

In my mind when I look at these systems I see internal self-consistancy and beauty, but an external mess. Everything behaves differently! Nothing is linked together! What kind of an online learning experience can you have when you have to jump from site to site, format to format, discussion to discussion, with no external consistancy?

There are some really neat ideas out there right now. Tagging related topics, forming ad hoc communities, making the inclusion of media painless, adding true user interaction. I have a lot of hope for these technologies and new ideas. But I also feel like a lot of this stuff is out there so disjointed and unconnected that you have to be in a small very focused community to really be able to track it, and the average user or guy with an idea is being left out in the cold. This has the potential to lead to groupthink and could lead to projects getting stuck in the same ruts they so passionately eschew.

For projects that are doing so much to bring new communities of people together in innovative ways, it seems odd that, from my outside perspective, they don’t always seem to be drinking their own Kool-Aid (r).