Everyone a learner: The Social Learning Conference

How do we make the leap from ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘guide on the side’?

We recently had the pleasure of attending the first Social Learning conference, organised by Open Learning and held at the UNSW campus in Sydney. Hundreds of education experts, teachers and learning designers shared practices and insights into how learning can be more collaborative and social.

Conference themes and highlights are shared below.

1. Community, Contribution & Connectedness.

About: Fostering communities of practice, designing for social presence, and informing effective online facilitation.


  • Richard Buckland’s keynote provided great examples of positive approaches to social learning. Buckland’s tip was becoming the guide on the side, helping students transform rather than imparting your knowledge. When we design lessons, there shouldn’t be 500 students and one teacher, but 501 teachers that are teaching 501 students. We need more teachers involved in and participating in the learning, and co-creating content with students. Perhaps we could re-think how much preparation we do that may be valuable for students in their learning process, and get them involved in creating the content and refining their learnings together.

Food for thought:

  • What should teaching be? The act of working with somebody who wants to change and then helping them change. What should education be? Preparing students for the future, helping them evolve into valuable members of society.

2. Beyond Content & Quizzes

About: Moving beyond content transmission and testing towards creating online learning environments for active learning, co-construction of knowledge, and social constructivism.


  • Professor Datuk Dr Ismail raised some great questions to consider about access to technology for participation. Technology is often addictive by design, and it is therefore important to learn self-regulation and to keep education relevant and modern. However, BYOD policies need to provide for students who don’t own devices. Sixty-five percent of jobs our students will go into don’t exist yet, so we need to ensure they are empowered by technology. Of course, we cannot educate for the needs of the workforce when we do not know what the workforce will need, but we can incorporate experimental learning and enhance the adaptability of our students and their skills.

Food for thought:

  • While machines empower humans, we should not allow technology to take over. Learning activities should emphasise the need for critical thinking, problem solving and flexible, adaptable, ongoing learning. We should give students the fishing rod but not the fish, so that they connect the dots.

3. Behavioural Learning Analytics

About: Using analytics to analyse student interaction, and to inform design, effective online facilitation, and tools for self-regulation.


  • Peter Reihman shared how different self-regulation behaviour correlates with performance and achievement. Reihman shared how he uses petri nets to visualise learning behaviour and how students approach learning tasks. For example, what do they do to tackle a task? In what order do they do things (like analyse, monitor, read, process, evaluate)? Looking at the different stages and possible transitions between stages, in combination with students’ achievement data, can offer predictions on which approach is more successful.

4. Rethinking Assessment

About: Moving towards authentic assessment and documenting online learning experiences in e-portfolios.


  • Dr Mahnaz Moallem highlighted the importance of 21st century skills in addition to subject knowledge, including creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration and IT skills. Adaptive assessments – that is, assessments that adapt to the individual’s ability level based on the answers they provide – can reveal clearer pictures of present knowledge and enable personalised recommendations for future learning.

Food for thought:

  • Dr Moallem shares some great question prompts that the Learning and Teaching Services representatives are planning to adapt for future teacher development courses. To help participants shift their thinking around assessments, the following questions were used to explore personal assumptions:
    • What are your assumptions about how learners learn?
    • What are your assumptions about the best way to teach?
    • How do you know if your teaching has been successful?
    • How have your ideas about teaching and learning changed over time?

Access all the conference materials

In the spirit of social learning, the Open Learning team behind the conference have made all the presentations and workshop materials available online here. Create an account – a free and fast process – and you can access all the resources plus network with other education professionals who attended the conference or enrolled in the space.

You can also join the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #OLConf17