Contextualizing learning through the Ecology of Resources (EoR) framework

Ecology of Resources Design Framework (EoR)

The EoR is a framework used to investigate and consider the forms of resources a learner currently obtains, and subsequent resources to help build their understanding. Applying the EoR model requires exploring the learner’s context in various ways (interview, ethnographically, observation) to reveal their available internal and external resources, such as knowledge, environment, tools and people, and the relationships between them.

Following this would be determining other resources and more able partners (MAPs) that would help move the learner from their present state of understanding to a more developed one. The space between the two states would be considered zones: zone of proximal development (Vygotsky), proximal adjustment, and available assistance. See diagram below about these zones taken from:   The placement of assistance would be to have supports that are just-in-time and fading in order to scaffold learning.


This is a complex framework and model to help explore the context of the learner in order to design useful, supportive and  customized/personalized learning experiences. It continues in understanding the relationship between resources, such as the use of technology and available apps or WiFi connection, and other affordances.

The framework also identifies both positive and negative filters in a learner’s context, which are taken into consideration when developing learning supports. This could be a mentor, organizational structure, workshop, rules, etc.

While developing learning using such a framework could be potentially overwhelming and complex, I believe it offers a deeper look at the many influences and resources surrounding a learner. I like the concept of considering the relationship between resources – this peaks my interest, and has me wonder about multi-layered and dynamic situations, tools and influences affect learning based on and for real-life scenarios.

A good case study about exploring EoR for language learning can be found at:


Don’t forget the adult learners

In a recent post with the Sloan Consortium Group, Kathleen Ives shares her experience teaching at the University of Phoenix. While this institute might conger up controversial thoughts, it is one I have watched for some time. If UofP does one thing right, they understand and support their adult learners. They see them as busy individuals with full life responsibilities. They also see them as potentially new learners returning to school after many years.

In my research on online graduate students I found a variety of stories, needs, and skill levels. University of Phoenix seems to cater to these needs, and in one specific area theyrecognize the need to provide support for “re-learning and re-developing study, note-taking, and research skills.” These are essential skills for students pursuing a higher education. From my experience, most universities do not focus on developing these skills through substantive support. At times, it seems as if they expect students to develop these abilities on their own.

More important, as the article declares, adults are returning to school in large numbers to pursue a higher education. For some of these adults, it might have been awhile since they learned in a formal setting, searched academic journal databases, developed critical thinking, studied complex concepts, written formal essays, etc. Why not help them develop these skills? It would make for a successful and satisfied student, which I think is a main aim for the University of Phoenix. Good on them.

More educated do well online

Brian Donavant in his article from 2009, titled “The New, Modern Practice of Adult Education: Online Instruction in a Continuing Professional Education Setting”, shared some intriguing results from a study on police officers attending professional training in either a traditional f2f setting or online.

He determined, of all the demographic information studied, the level of education of participants seemed to correlate more positively with their liking the online learning setting. He recommends that when employers have highly educated staff they should consider delivering professional development online.

However, I hope this is not taken as a general statement about the preferences or abilities of those less educated – I wouldn’t  stand behind a claim that such groups could not or would not want to learn virtually, though they do have more barriers such as access to technology and the Internet.

Yet, this study does seem to support the latest barrage of postings of how online learning is growing both in delivery and in popularity at postsecondary institutions worldwide, more specifically in the US. Of course, us onliners always knew this would be true. Smile.

Teaching to multiple intelligences

I had the opportunity to hear Howard Gardner speak in New York this year at the AERA annual conference (2008). His idea that intelligence is not a single purpose capacity made me think about the diversity in thinking among online, adult learners. Many studies and articles describe such diversity yet try to create a model or framework for a singular design of instruction. I don’t think this is useful.

Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is one concept of how humans’ cognition, thinking and intellect work. He proposes, in his web page on more frequently asked questions ( ),  that an intelligence is a potential to process information in certain ways. However, this does not include an interest in a certain domain (activity, cognitive capacity), but the skill or talent with a certain activity/process such as with mathematics or crafts. There can also be subintelligences, which might help those designing learning or training.

The two statements that he makes is quite telling about how adults might process information:

“As individuals become older, our intelligences simply become internalized. We continue to think differently from one another – indeed, differences in modes of mental representation are likely to increase throughout active life. These differences are simply less manifest to outside observers.”

“The recesses of our mind remain private. No one can tell the mind exactly what to do. As I see it, the challenge to the mind is somehow to make sense of experience, be it experience on the street or in the classroom. The mind makes maximal uses of the resources at its disposal – and those resources consist in our several intelligences.”

These assumptions speak to the idea of customized, personalized learning and open learning environments. The challenge for academia is to share the power over content and curriculum design with the learners. To somehow share their authority on knowledge (new or old) with a learning and researching community. To somehow be a leader but also a peer in sharing the generation of knowledge, and allow (and lead) students to explore, discover and create knowledge that might be slightly different, even off beat, in order to stretch the boundaries.

Such a step would be hard for academia with its rigid paradigms and its assumed responsibility of being the intellectual sources of society. However, knowing in the knowledge based world is not for anyone to own – knowledge has become illusive, transparent and fluid all at the same time.

Communication preference

In an article by Raju Rishi, Always Connected, But Hard to Reach (Educause, 2, 2007), an important point is brought forward that students are connected virtually but through preferred channels of communication. They use mobile devices, such as wireless laptops, Blackberries and cell phones, communicating through various channels depending on their needs. For instance, they prefer instant messaging and online social networks/websites for personal informal communications, but emails for more formal, such as information from their universities.

The problem becomes reaching students through these fragmented channels. As such university email accounts may not be viewed for weeks by students. Finding ways to reach students both for information and for course work will entail learning how they prefer to communicate. As such, students have choice and ownership when it comes to connecting with others. Some suggestions are providing a discount plan for phones, creating mobile groups reached through cell/mobile phones, and putting information into small chunks.

The basic message of this article is “students want to feel engaged, to be connected, and to learn and grow. But they prefer the tools that are convenient and comfortable and fit their mobile lifestyle” (p.9). Universities need to reach beyond traditional media in order to connect, interact and provide engaging education.

Information and technology literacies

The skills needed to work effectively and creatively with technology are changing as well as the nature of information. This calls for more modern literacy skills that include technology, informational and cognitive skills. The term ‘information fluency’ includes skills with computers, information use, and critical thinking (O’Hanlon, 2002).  Put together, refined information literacy skills are needed in order to function in a technical world.  Aro and Olkinuora (2007) found a person can “acquire new intellectual capital for him/herself by taking advantage of the tools offered by the information society” (p.396).

At one time, technology skills included using and managing hardware and software, and information skills required having good reading and writing skills; however, these skills have now expanded to include such features and tasks such as:

Being creative, innovative, and communicating with technology

·         Conceptual understanding of technology systems, including networks

·         Creative productivity using technology

·         Powerful uses of communication tools

·         Technology use everyday

·         Comfort with multiple applications and multimedia

·         Work presented in various ways and formats

·         Navigate and use features of the internet and browsers


Understanding human, cultural and societal issues in relation to technology

·         Work collaboratively and globally

·         Validates understanding of information through discourse

·         Understand economic, legal and social issues surrounding information use

·         Be aware of ethical uses of technology

    • and security, health and environmental issues
    • and legal and copyright issues

·         Be responsible and developing a digital citizenship


Developing research and information fluency

·         Use technology to locate, access, evaluate, understand, process and synthesize information

·         Define and articulate the need for information

·         Distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information

·         Understand diverse texts, points of view, and interrelationships among concepts

·         Assess usefulness, authenticity, validity and credibility of information

·         Incorporate information into own knowledge base

·         Produce new ideas in meaningful ways from prior knowledge and researched information

·         Solve complex, real world problems through inquiry and critical thinking


Sound technology literacy is considered an essential need for the workplace, citizenry and life.  The ability to work effectively with information and technology is imperative for student in higher education engaged in research. Students usually overestimate their skill level (O’Hanlon, 2002).



American Library Association: Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher  Education

Aro, M. & Olkinuora, E.  (2007).  Riding the information highway – towards a new kind of learning. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 26 (4), 385-398.

Assessment tools for technology literacy

Educause. (2004). Integrating information literacy into the academic curriculum. Research Bulletin, 2004, 18.

Information Literacy – Building Blocks of Research: Overview of Design, Process and Outcomes

Internet and Computing Core Certification

International Computers Drivers License [ICDL]

ISTE: National Educational Technology Standards

National Education Association [NEA]: 21st Century Skills

O’Hanlon, N.O. (2002). Net knowledge: Performance of new college students on an Internet skill proficiency test. The Internet and Higher Education, 5, 55-66.

Route 21: Information, Media and Technology Skills



Generational framework of analysis

A number of articles, listed below, address generational theory with a focus on Millenial students. To give these students an age range, the following is a break down analysis of generations:

  • G.I. Generation: Born 1901-1924, current age 84-107
  • Silent Generation: Born 1925-1942; current age 66-83
  • Boom Generation: Born 1943-1960; current age 48-65
  • Generation X: Born 1961-1981; current age 27-47
  • Millennial Generation: Born since 1982; current age 26 and younger

A generational framework of analysis is an interesting concept that attaches social and historical events and experiences to each generation, in some way shaping them. Generations are thought to move in cycles with one being dominant and the next more recessive, depending on how current events and the previous generation affected them (Coomes, 2004). Coomes and DeBard (2004) state a generation has its own biography, personality, age location, beliefs and behaviour, and perceived membership.


Coomes (2004) suggests this kind of analysis might help practitioners “understand how each student is unique, how students function as groups, and how students in the aggregate respond to and shape the campus environment” (p.6). This, I believe, transforms to online learning, another educational environment and space.


At this time, from my currently collected statistics, online students in graduate studies online at the University of Calgary are depicted as 73% Generation X, 26% Baby Boomers and 1% Millenial.


Generation X is a group entering middle age, the tail end are finishing higher education, most are building careers, and about 20% or more are faculty members (Coomes & DeBard, 2004).  Generation X are seen as risk takers affected by interesting times in the 70s and 80s, but mellowing as pragmatic midlife leaders concerned about civic responsibility. 


Our future graduate students will be the Millenials. This cluster tends to embrace group interaction and work, doing homework, new technologies, parental values, civic mindedness, and inclusiveness (Oblinger, 2003; Raines, 2002). Raines and Oblinger suggest the Millenial student needs different challenges (encouragment and mentoring, honest leadership, structure, rich experiential activities, working with friends, respect and flexibility), and uses technology differently than older generations (multitasking, on demand services, constructing not accumulating their knowledge, see information as fleeting, work digitally with networks).  This generation is also confident and impatient, has a distaste for menial work, yet lacks experience, and are hopeful and goal oriented.



Coomes, M.D. (2004). Understanding the historical and cultural influences that shape generations. New Directions for Student Services, 106, 17-31.


Coomes, M.D. & DeBard, R. (2004). A generational approach to understanding students. New Directions for Student Services, 106, 5-16.


Oblinger, D. (2003). Boomers, Gen-Xers & Millenials: Understanding the new students. Educause, July/August 2003, 37-47.