Minds on Fire’ (Brown and Adler), Critique


Critique of “Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0”

by John Seely Brown and Richard P. Adler Published on Friday, January 18, 2008

EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 43, no. 1 (January/February 2008): pp16-32

 The article is named “Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0” and is authored by John Seely Brown and Richard P. Adler. The main purpose of the work appears to have been to provide an overview of current (at the time) developments in learning and the OER movement. I believe it is intended as an academic piece rather than as a magazine article for general interest but I feel the author lost their way somewhat during construction. On the whole it is disjointed and confusing lacking depth or narrative and is unlikely to hold the readers interest.

Critical evaluation

The title of the work seems to have little meaning to the user and does not describe the content in any meaningful way. I believe that this article is a pairing of two separate articles on a similar topic and perhaps the title has been Mashed-Up as well.

The referencing or the citations is inconsistent, in the paragraph starting “The world has become increasingly ‘flat’” there is no immediate citation to the author Tom Friedman nor a definition of the terms flat and spikier used in the text, I do not think these are common terms and they need explanation or a link to one for the reader to understand the points made in the text.

There is a reference to “the world changing at an ever faster pace” but no reference to research or measurement against which the change is to be compared.

The term “various initiatives” is used but they are not named or discussed even briefly and the topic changes completely for the next paragraph to discuss Web 2. Which is again ill defined.

The paragraph that starts “The openness of Wikipedia” for example has sentences that are too long and contain several commas making them almost impossible to parse, one of them actually starts with comments in brackets.


I suspect the two authors have written independently and then attempted to join the separate works (or an editor has done that with or without their input). The result is somewhat disjointed without a narrative flow, paragraphs leap from one topic to the next without seeming to have a continual discussion or overall aim, the final result being a confusing mis-match that the reader has to struggle with to find meaning

20/10/2014 blog entry


In your first blog entry you described your reasons for taking this course and what issues you had at that time; we would like you now to formalise some of those thoughts.

we would like you to  consider what drivers you have for adopting technology in your teaching. These drivers may be personal, institutional, regional or global in nature; Bach et al (2007, p30) identify a number of drivers to online learning:

  • Rapid technology change

I do not believe there has been much change in the last three years but more adoption of existing technologies.

  • Wide availability of online technologies

This has also not recently changed

  • Growth in the higher education global market

This is surely to have an impact on my employers and therefore will affect my role eventually.

  • Growth in HE to provide mass HE
  • Globalization, shared markets and cultures, greater competition

There has been some talk about offering MOOCS or distant learning courses here but no current availability or firm direction towards such provision.

  • Increase and abundance in student IT skills

As a provider of ICT tuition I have not noticed any ‘abundance’ but there probably is amongst younger students and our future students still in FE populations

  • Change in student lifestyles to include part-time work

Increases in fees will drive more potential students into full and part time work to support formal education; in competitive markets where learners can join courses globally there is a need to be able to meet those market demands.

Institutional Drivers Comments
Global competition and limits on government spendingIncreased costs of Education to learners & their return on investment These will push all HE providers to examine a global market for learners or they will fall to market leaders making these Provisions.My personal belief is that learners will create or adopt online communities for learning and supporting, teaching each other. I hope to play a part somewhere as a facilitator of learning, even just to understand these developments will make it valuable.
Personal Drivers Comments
After 8 years in my current role I wish to change or expand my post. I wish to improve my employment & advancement opportunities and realise that to do so I need to ‘upskill’. If I can demonstrate knowledge and ability in new Areas of education delivery I may be able to improve my career options.

What recommendations would you make to facilitate the use of e-learning within your own professional context? Put simply, what are the benefits of engaging with e-learning? Add a blog entry that describes your understanding of the benefits of employing e-learning within your ‘normal’ practice.

UWTSD is currently spread over two countries (plus satellite involvement in others) and campuses in Swansea, Carmarthen, Lampeter, Cardiff and London.  Geographically distant locations with, in the case of Lampeter limited transport options, complicate physical presence.  To provide training equivocally to 700+ staff across these campuses by physically moving the trainer or trainees is time and money consuming.  Current provision entails staff finding time not only to attend the training events but also to travel between the campuses either to attend or to provide that training.

There is the possibility of providing some of this ICT training using eLearning or Distance/Distributed learning methodologies and technologies, the University has Internet links and servers and strong competent IT staff that can support these systems as well as access to relevant technology including the Welsh Video Network (video Conferencing), Lync (Once Microsoft Communicator) and other video/.sound technologies that could support a distance or remote delivery of existing presentations training  and supporting materials.

To describe the benefits of eLearning I should discuss what eLearning actually is.

The commonality in all the above definitions is an Electronic delivery, either using a computer or the internet (computers again even if you use a smartphone). So I will reduce them all to:

  • Learning gained through use of computers.

So I was eLearning back in 1984 when I taught myself BASIC programming (having previously used CECIL in school) using a Tandy TRS80 II, and when I learnt to manipulate sound and images on a Commodore 64 (85/86) and when I learnt to type on a Commodore PET (91) and then the Amstrad Mega PC (91/92?) on which I also taught myself how to format and reconfigure a computer, install DOS and eventually Windows operating systems.

No internet was involved (or even available to me) for this learning.

In my “Normal Practice” I stand in front of a class & demonstrate, discuss and require exercises on ICT Software packages for Windows PC and AMC computers. I am delivering elearning by all of the above definitions.

However, I do wish to meet the needs of my distant learners and to advance & vary the means by which I present this material. So I am now investigating what is probably only Distributed learning (using LYNC or recordings of my presentations using Panopto) but even these tools use computers and so qualify as eLearning also.

What benefits do I attribute to the use of these tools to my teaching and Learning?  For me, personally, my skill set, expertise and role all require that I continue to use and learn from computers, so eLearning is essential. For my trainees, in as much as what I am teaching them to do is use Microsoft Office tools (& other software) more effectively; eLearning is still essential, and essentially all I am delivering.

To extend my presentations using LYNC &/or Panopto with the intention of enabling colleagues at Lampeter and in London to participate in learning otherwise only available in Swansea except during infrequent and randomly spaced (& time/cash costly) visits; will be eLearning and Distributed Learning and should I hope widen access to this material.

The benefits should be:

  • Access to learning materials to all staff regardless of physical location
  • Option to allow students access to the same materials
  • Allow larger groups of staff to access the materials (currently I can only deliver to groups of 8/10/20 depending on which room is available)
  • Reduce frequency of repeat presentations (possibly causing my redundancy)
  • Demonstrate capability to Academic staff and encourage them to follow suite
  • Improve my abilities in se of this technology to support Academic staff doing as above.

A wordpress Post

Is this a single page of its own or a continuation of an existing page. This posted to find out.

Its part of the process of learning, how to use wordpress.

OK, so it appears to be part of a continually expanding page. mmm. not what I wanted.

A discussion on digital badges.

2014 10 17.

As a reply to the article “Interested in digital badges? 9 critical issues to consider” by Meris Stansbury.

Open production, badges as motivator: Does the source of a given badge (or the issuer) affect users’ motivation to earn that badge? (e.g. a badge from a university vs. a badge from a random individual). Absolutely, the value of a badge is inherited from its issuer (& validated by the receiver and employers). Anybody can issue a badge, but it is the value as a credential of the issuer that grants currency to the badge. Coins are valued because they are issued by your government, badges will be valued because they will be issued by providers that are already valued (Universities I suggest).

  1. Open production, badges as pedagogical tool: With an open supply of badges, how can learners and other stakeholders find available badges, determine the pedagogic quality of a badge in terms of the skills and knowledge that are to be learned, the suitability of the learning activities, and the support available from others to earn the badge? The BadgeAlliance is working towards a directory of open badges which will be searchable, allowing users to find available badges by subject or issuer and possibly number issued. Again, this will validate the currency of a particular badge and its issuer. The quality of knowledge to be learned will once more depend on the issuer.
  2. Open production, badges as credential: How important is the source of the badge to an employer or other interested party wishing to appraise the knowledge/skills acquired by the learner? In the same way that current qualification sources are valued by employers (Olneck (2014) remarks that Employers are recruiting based on Where the credential was gained rather than for the content {originally blogged at [http://moodle.glyndwr.ac.uk/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=16734.] Wednesday, 15 October 2014, 9:09 AM}

What will it take for badges to gain credibility and status as credentials among learners and other interested parties?  Badges will be validated by Adoption. There was a point (apx 600 years ago) when Degree Certificates would not have been valued simply because they were new. Similarly, as employers adopt, provide and recruit using badges then students will pursue them to enhance employability and educators will provide them to recruit and retain students.

  1. Open access, badges as motivator: Would a badge that is widely visible (e.g. an open badge) have different motivational effects on a learner compared to a badge that is less visible (e.g. internal, not shared)? Obviously yes. Internet users already utilise advertised currencies in “views”, “Subscribers” and “Followers”. “Hits” matter, they have value; similarly the number and validity of Badges will have currency and will motivate earners differently, what matters to you? How many badges you have or what you earned them for, a new {& I seriously hesitate to use the word} pedagogy will develop.
  2. Open access, badges as pedagogical tool: How can learners access support and feedback as they go through the learning that will lead to the badge? Does openness influence the available sources of this support (e.g. more peers) or might closed systems (e.g. a formal course) ensure access to support? As I said in [http://moodle.glyndwr.ac.uk/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=16734 Monday, 13 October 2014, 9:52 PM ] Learners will build “their own learning networks, defining what is important to them and supporting each other to learn it.” Where education providers are the badge issuers they will continue to facilitate these networks and still offer the support of tutors in some form, otherwise how will they charge for them?
  3. Open access, badges as credential: How might visibility and transparency of badges (e.g. the issuer, what the badge communicates, etc.) influence the effectiveness of a badge as a credible credential? Employers & other stakeholders will be able to view the badge’s earning criteria and the issuer, via links embedded in the badge, this will enforce the earned content of a badge. I think this question is badly worded & requires refinement.
  4. Open appropriation, badges as motivator: To what extent would a badge have different meanings and engender different motivations on the part of learners, educators and stakeholders assessing the badge? I discussed learners motivation in 4 above, Educators will be motivated by commerce, students leaving one school {or other educator} with a badge will seek further opportunities to earn badges or employers that recognise them. Other stakeholders such as employers will use badges to differentiate recruits based on specific skill sets they require or may issue badges to staff following in house training to use as CPD records. These employers will be motivated by the low costs of badges as motivators, how many “Employee of the month” posters have you seen? How many “Employee of the month” badges did you earn while working for XYX.com? Internet and gaming community stakeholders already respect, value and seek badges of one sort or another and these values are likely to be adopted by other communities as badge awareness expands.
  5. Open appropriation, badges as pedagogical tool: Where learners are constructing their own learning pathways, how can they be supported in making decisions about which badges are an appropriate next step, given their current skills and knowledge, and their cultural context? Whose “current skills and knowledge”? Learners will be supported by their peers and by their tutors as always, they will have their own interests and will direct their learning to earn badges that recognise their competence in that field of interests, rather than undertaking fixed and optional modules towards a degree learners can choose (even design) their own badges to evidence their skills and knowledge set. In cases where employment in a specific area is sought the learner can seek guidance form that employer as to what skills they need to evidence to secure a position.
  6. Open appropriation, badges as credential: How could different populations and communities re-appropriate and re-define the meaning of a given badge as credential? Too simple. They create their own badges, if a stakeholder/community finds no value in a badge/issuer/criteria they create their own that meets their needs and become an issuer.

How can learners be confident that the badges they pursue will be acceptable as a credential to outside stakeholders?  By involving those stakeholders. Employers will talk to education providers (or become them) and define the criteria and evidence they require, Providers create badges and assess to meet those skills/knowledge requirements.

Works Cited


Stansbury, M. (2014, September 17). eCampusNews. Interested in digital badges? 9 critical issues to consider: http://www.ecampusnews.com/top-news/digital-badges-issues-456/

Considering your learners

My learners are university staff, in the main support staff with an occasional attendance by academics. I deliver training in Microsoft Office and related products so my learners are those who wish to use those products. Generally, when I have enough requests or there is a new Office tool I advertise across our campuses and deliver to between 8 and 20 staff attendees. Each class is usually comprised completely differently and it is rare that even one person will attend two or more in a row.

They are all adults of working age with a good level of education; I know this because the University HR always recruits with a degree qualification as a requirement (for the majority of advertised posts). Age ranges vary widely; I don’t require nor collect data on previous ability, physical agility/disability, ethnicity, sexuality, gender preference or presentation etc. I am aware through observation alone that the majority of my learners have been white females between the ages of 20 and 50.

I don’t generally classify my learners. I’m not sure that I should or how I would go about it.

In the classroom, because what I am training is the skills and tools for a specific product (MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Lync etc.) and aimed at a level of expertise (beginner, intermediate or advanced{self-assessed by the learner}) I am usually at the front of the class, delivering information with demonstrations and exercises. I follow up with questions and walk about the room offering support where I feel it is needed or when asked to do so. This seems to work. I know this because I collect written feedback after the events and because I rarely teach the same person the same topic twice {although, that does happen sometimes, with some people}

[Reflection: Have I missed the training needs of these individuals OR is the repetition the need OR are they unable to grasp the concept?]

So I have given some though about moving the training I provide to a virtual or online method. I have in fact been asked to do so by my team manager. Specifically to move it to Moodle, I do not know if that will be productive. There are already virtual means of learning the skills I offer, both directly from the products (Help is available on every MS product) as written directions, guided exercises and online videos at Microsoft and from Youtube. The University also has access to Microsoft Elearning, whereby staff can log in and engage with a virtual desktop and the tools they already own and under spoken and written direction undertake exercises to learn specific skills.

Yet, I can still deliver my presentations to two to three hundred staff a year. Why?

Human Beings like to learn from other Human Beings, if they did not I would be unemployed by now, because all of the products I support are also supported virtually online either by their content creators or by hobbyists seeking “likes”.

But My approaches, my humorous asides, friendly and patient delivery, my presence in the classroom is not something that can be recorded and remain individual to the learner. I can Screen capture my use of the software, I can record my presentation, analytics can measure students success in an online exercise or test and possibly even change the content delivery to meet an assessed need, but the human contact element is lost. My personal view is that if that was not valued by the learners then I would already have been replaced.

The challenge then might be to inject or preserve that human contact within a virtual learning environment, I suggest that the teacher/trainer will at least some of the time need to be in the virtual environment and accessible to the student; eventually I suppose as a hologram (think Voyager’s EMH).

We will return to your group of learners shortly but in the meantime, find a colleague or two willing to discuss approaches to teaching. Ask them how they think people learn and how we, as teachers, can facilitate that. Ask them whether they think teaching on-line is different to ‘conventional’ teaching and how they feel about on-line delivery. If you (and they) feel comfortable about this, share your conversations in our discussion forum

choose a group that you intend to teach on-line. Use Rowntree’s (ibid) checklist to identify your learners’ profile.

Demographic factors Between 8 and 20 if current trends continue.

Male and Female mixed group

Possible attendance by learner with hearing and vision impairment.

HE Academic and Support Staff

Expected to be UK only.

Motivation Self motivated to gain software skills

Direct relation to work task skills with possible impact on home use of Software, particularly for those involved in education or in the case of OneNote any project work.

I hope they want to gain skills and increase their productivity. On a personal level they can save time and prevent frustration by knowing the right tools for the job.

From feedback and I know they hope that events are Quick/Long, from observation I know they often fear having to admit any inability on their part.   They tend to like the half way break and Dislike any exercises I provide.

Learning factors What are their beliefs about learning?  I have no idea.

What learning skills do they have?   As Uni staff in the majority they have degrees themselves and therefore must have some developed learning skills. I may be making too many assumptions.

What experience of On-line, distance learning do they have? Unknown.

Subject background How do they feel about the subject of the programme? Learners are volunteers so it is hoped they have positive feelings on the topics.

What knowledge and skills do they already have in that subject? Learners self asses at Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced skills (based on advertised content) and the majority have basic ability.

What personal interests and experience might they have that are relevant?

I can answer this better when I have selected a specific presentation event.

Resource factors Where, when and how will they be learning? They will learn in a small classroom in a morning or afternoon event during the working day. Learning is by didactic presentation, participation and exercises.

 Who will be paying their fees? The Employer

How much time will they have available? Events are timed to between 2.5 and 3 hours.

 What access will they have to media or facilities? Paper supporting handbooks provided at end of event, Pc’s with Office installed, lavatories of same floor of building. Hospitality refreshments sometimes available.

 What access will they have to human support –tutors, mentors, colleagues, other learners? Other learners and tutor in room throughout event, via email or Lync during working week, IT Helpdesk offering further support out of hours.

What challenges do you think your group of learners might present with regard to moving towards e-learning. I have found in the main that Academic staff are resistant to change and I have minimal attendance at my presentations from that group. It is expected that moving the taught materials to a VLE may improve access to otherwise busy Academic staff.


Rowntree, D. (1999) Knowing our Learners in ODL, in H804 – Block 1

Overview Essay, Open University, Milton Keynes, UK. (Course Guide)

Task 3 Rhizomatic learning Dave Cormier

  1. The best teaching prepares people for dealing with uncertainty

 I myself don’t teach to a Curriculum because I’m a trainer, not a teacher. I respond to requests for learning need. When I have enough people interested I a topic, I offer it, advertise and then present. 

Parts of my presentations are about good decision making. For example, I show people how to use various Excel tools and formula and how to decide which is the most appropriate for a given task  

(eg. identify students falling behind in attendance/grade results).  

I say: Learn to make good decisions, teach good decision making.  Let’s have our students know how to use the technology (discussed below) and to filter the good data from bad. So I agree with Cormier on that. 


  1. The community can be the curriculum — learning when there is no answer

 With wearables, the cloud community is always with you, curriculum becomes irrelevant and learner directed learning becomes the main stay of a near global informal education. 

Look at Teens and their phone networks, they all talk to & support each other thru Txt (occasionally speech and video.) Extend these networks to the new wearables and you can see them building their own learning networks, defining what is important to them and supporting each other to learn it. Micro (actually, probably Macro) communities will assemble around topics of interest that will support each other to learn and develop.  You can see these now in Stack Overflow and similar tech groups online.  Members gain status by helping new members; information is gathered in the members of the network and distributed to new members.  I think this is a possible future for education.  Teens (ok, this is probably entirely my own experience) do not generally trust Adults, including their teachers {you’re aware of “lies to children” right?} so they trust each other. That’s why Gangs develop. SO The future Teens, facing Debt, 3 years of involved study, a collapsing career economy, may be better served learning and sharing within their own communities, and these communities are online and accessed with mobile devices. 

What do WE learn from this? As these are informal networks I am not sure we can “do this on purpose” but perhaps teachers can join in or engage with these existing groups rather than try to create a new one, Or, do we facilitate a “Rhizomatic” teaching group and somehow convince learners to join it. Costs?Always an issue. How do teachers earn a living in a community that teaches itself? 

Micropurchases? I honestly don’t know right now. 

Slightly off topic but author Cory Doctorow in his “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom(http://craphound.com/down/) discusses reputation economy, whereby Status is a genuine currency (right now in internet groups and forums Status and Followers are a currency form) and this is a possible future, it is certainly preferable to the Capitalist/corporate/Advertiser nightmare we seem trapped in right now.  Although Facebook/Google/Microsoft etc. are proponents of the above they are unwittingly providing us with tools that will empower users to replace them. Eventually, which is why they spend so much on enforcing copyright and buying each other’s new products outright, they want to ensure a place in the future even if they can’t control it. But I digress.

With Student led learning a formalised curriculum is more a hindrance than a help.

Stop measuring. Absolutely Why do we measure at all? I believe it is a Cost exercise; adding value to the paper certification by limiting availability and achievement, creating artificial rarity.  Therefore manipulating a market for a commodity that is frankly outdated (A degree qualification from a University is a 600 year old idea).  So Why am I participating and pursuing one? I still live in a culture that respects that form of accomplishment, I currently still need a qualification to prove competence. 

& on that topic, Let us recognise competence, it doesn’t have to be measured against a curriculum though, it does not need to be measured by testing what an individual does NOT know. Let learners demonstrate what they DO know and create credentials that match their evidence. Why not?

In the film “Strictly Ballroom” Barry Fife rejects the new dance moves of Scott Hastings and Fran BECAUSE if dancers perform moves that their Teachers do not know, They Cant teach them and will lose income.

Lets not be afraid of that. We can participate with our learners and Learn Together. Why not?

i’m certainly a Rhizomatic learner simply because I cant keep on topic for very long, I am easily distracted and tend to stray into another area of interest & I glean from and participate in many communication forms.

First WordPress Blog Posting

In my opinion, learning is an activity of the human brain {& allegedly of some computers) whereby experience of a situation results in the interpretation, adaption, adoption and eventually Integration of new knowledge that can be applied to future experience.  A personal reflective opinion that is enforced by researches like (Knowles, 1980) and Kolb (1981 p235) “For learning to occur, the individual must undergo new experiences and reflect on those experiences.”

The situational experience may be naturally occurring or constructed in such a way as to encourage learning, whether it be the simple hearing of language as an infant and repeating it until language is learnt or the reading of a book (or screen) or physical interaction with workplace tools and materials it is the adaption and adoption of the knowledge/skill and the ability to repeat it that identifies that learning has taken place.

In this model then, on-line learning occurs when a learner engages with a situation in an on-line environment and adapts and adopts the materials provided there. Such materials can be written word, spoken word, video recording, multimedia presentation or video conference or game based exercises {among others}. The user’s interaction with this material and a community of other learners will likely engage the leaner providing intrinsic motivation to continue. A series of achievements for contribution or by assignment (extrinsic motivation) can be provided for further enhancement.

As with all learning, the motivation and engagement of the learner is essential, nobody is going to learn anything if they have no interest in the subject {excluding the infant driven by inbred curiosity and instinctive learning need}.

Piaget’s work is largely about infant development and early learning and as this is something that is acquired largely in the home I think the role of Online learning will be minimal, we will not be able to easily replace even the most simple and incapable parents for infants’ development.

I feel that Vygotsky’s theories are more applicable in that they refer to Environment and Culture rather than assuming that “all children will learn the same way” [my quote not research] and certainly the culture and environment that My children are growing up and learning in is far different from my experience. They have had a computer in the home since birth, they had access and encouragement to use Games as learning tools (thank you Scholastic) the result of which is that they both far outshine my mathematical ability for instance. I am still ahead of them in actual computer use but for how long? They are utilising mobile devices that I have still not fully adopted. Smart phones and (oh wait.. that will come later Im sure).

So their environment is richer I feel and certainly more adaptable, and it will influence, IS influencing their learning. When at University the 1st time I read the notes I took or was provided with by my tutors, or the reading they suggested. My children (though not an uni yet) learn from each other and their peers, largely from Youtube of all places. {off track again}

So, we can create a Vygotskyen (is this a word now?) space online in which Environment and Culture can be controlled to encourage learning. It seems a bit big brother to me.

I feel a bit time pressured entering this course so late & worry that I may not achieve the prescribed goals in time.  I am certainly not going to give more time to this first task than I have already, particularly as I have not yet started the next AND the second week has already begun. I need to find time to get up to speed and re-engage my student brain to effectively participate and gain from this course.  I also needed to learn how to use WordPress but I may have at least a small grasp on that now. 🙂