Thursday, May 24, 2012

Desire lines

I've just been researching the concept of 'desire lines'. I was trying to find the metaphor for the way we shoehorn our learners or teachers to use the institutional systems and then complain when the uptake is low. This picture illustrates the problem so well:

picture of shortcut across grass
cc image by Alan Stanton

We have the paths that our learners and teachers are making on the internet: using Facebook, Twitter (maybe), YouTube, SMS, WhatsApp etc and usually via a mobile device. And then we have the vle, which is the equivalent of the concrete path that is laid down at right angles to how we want to 'walk' through resources, how we want to communicate, how we want to access the areas that most interest us.

How can we find a happy medium? A blog post by Steven Bradley ( gives us some technical ways to figure out some of this by tracking what people search for, click on and the paths taken by them through your site. But I think, by then it's too late - you'll already have adopted the most popular open-source or commercial SYSTEM and you're trying to bend backwards to make it do what you want (Ring any bells, those of you who worked with me on a recent project?). At least I hope you bother to try to find out what people want to do on your site.

He also shares with us how Twitter grew and developed as a result of what people wanted: Twitter users developed the hashtag, the @replies,  retweets and so on. Interesting read!

So is there a solution to our 'How do we increase the uptake of our vle' problem? You've got to start with something and then maybe use an Agile approach to developing it. (I will have to discuss Agile in another post!). Are the current systems we use flexible enough? Are we interested enough to try to flex them? Or are we just going to install it, choose the prettiest theme and demand that people use the paths laid down by default?

For those who run out-of-the-box solutions, how much of the original problem has been solved and how many new ones have taken their place? Vles have been around for a decade now, and we're still trying to 'increase its uptake by staff and students'.  People, are we asking the right questions????

Lots of food for thought. A red rag to our bull (@JamesClay) on the VLE is dead theme ;-)