Richard Olsen is a teacher, speaker, writer and developer interested in what modern technology makes possible for learning and teaching. He is the Assistant Director of ideasLAB, an education research and development incubator located in Broadmeadows, Melbourne, Australia. Richard also works as a speaker and consultant.

Richard is the author of the white paper Understanding Virtual Pedagogies for Contemporary Teaching and Learning. Which investigates the new possibilities for the modern learner to socially construct knowledge. His forthcoming book, The End of Offline Learning: How Modern Learners Are Leading The Learning Revolution

Richard is also a programmer specialising in web-based learning applications and communities. This page showcases many of the products he has created.

Please contact Richard with offers of work and offers to collaborate on new ideas via email: richard@richardolsen.me, phone +61 448 810 745 or via twitter @richardolsen


Tracks was a private social learning environment based around the free Trackmania Nations Forever car racing game. Students can create their own race tracks using Trackmania and then share them with others on the Racer website.

I created it because I believed that students should learn from each other, borrowing ideas and getting feedback.

Students could download and race the tracks that others have made and then upload their race times using the replay file that Trackmania automatically creates after every completed race. This made it feel like a game. A created race track was going to be raced, students were going to compete with each other. Great tracks would have lots of people racing on them, other tracks not so many.

Students used tags to describe tracks and also left comments about the track. This might be short feedback or offering advice on how to improve it.

The Trackmania game has proved to be highly engaging particular for Secondary boys at Concord School. The students explored the variety of track genres including fast tracks, stunt tracks, obstacle tracks, circuit tracks and “push forward” tracks.

"Push forward" tracks are navigated without steering but instead rely on the track builder to use turns, bumps and jumps to change the car's direction. These tracks require a process of trail and error with the student’s using skills of creativity and prediction.

Students examined what was successful in the tracks that others had made so that they could use those techniques in their own tracks.

Shareable content made this project successful….

Trackmania tracks and replays are designed to be easily shareable via the Internet. The files are small and when uploaded they can be parsed and the data extracted. The track files also contain a thumbnail of the track which can also be extracted and used by the Tracks website. Trackmania files contain a key that proves that they were created with the trackmania program, if any of the major parts of the file is changed manually then it will not longer play in the Trackmania program.

Other programs that are not designed to be shared via the web are much more difficult to share and build an online learning community around.

Programs that create shareable content, and preferably also share their smaller pieces not just the finished product that can be read easily by other programs are highly suited for use by online social communities.

Further information about Trackmania Nations Forever can be found at http://trackmania.com


Lumil was a photo-centric social network, I created for use at Concord School while I was teaching there. It was modelled on Flickr and I was keen to introduce social sharing concepts to the staff and students at Concord School. It was used for 3 years between 2006 and 2008, and during that time over 100,000 photos were uplaoded to it and identified by 1700,000 tags and sorted into over 1000 student albums. Lumil has been used across the whole school with students of all ages.

The school-wide, section or classroom based tag clouds gave rich information about the learning experiences that were occuring across the school.

Web-based photo sharing involves uploading photos to a shared web space and tagging them with keywords. These tags can then be searched by anyone with any user being able to add additional tags. Lumil is a photo sharing social networking software and service that can be run privately on a schools network. When photos are uploaded the rich meta data that digital cameras embed is transferred along with the photo. Photos in Lumil, stay available to students and easily accessed beyond the year in which they were taken. Value can be added to the photos by adding additional tags, comments and annotations or by organising in to albums. Photos can be accessed by other websites and programs via RSS or by the API.

Lumil solves many photo management issues as it stores original high quality images and automatically makes low quality and smaller sized photos for use in student work.

Collective Blogging

In 2006, when we started a student blogging program at Concord School I believed that it was important for us to ensure that the blogs weren't purely individual. I was participarly interested in how student blog content could be aggregated to better inform what was happening around the school.

I wrote plugins for WordPress, the blogging platform we were using, to double, or more accurately quadruple, post a student's blog post to 1. their class blog (pictured below), 2. their section blog, and 3. to the whole school blog. Tags and categories were also double post, allowing tags clouds to make a representation of what was happening in the class, the section or across the whole school.

A by product was that student blog posts were more likley to be read as they were easier to find. CLicking on the title or comment link took the read to the student's own blog. Unfortunately I never released the code for this (although it is pretty straight forward).

Screenshot of aggregated content in a class blog

Screenshot of aggregated content across the whole school. This was the blogging community home page.

Game Design Patterns

Design Patterns document an effect solution to a common problem. They acknowledge that designers don't need to constantly reinvent the wheel but build upon prior knowledge are well known for their use in architecture and programming.

I believe that game design patterns are useful in schools to allow students and teachers to discuss and build greater understanding about game design, particularly when teacher's knowledge of games is poor.

I used game design patterns as a basis for the Designing Games with Kodu Game Lab workshop and online course, where we explored game space, play, progress and communication patterns. In addition to describing the patterns we provided step by step code recipes so that the student game designers would have the code to modify or use verbatim.

In game space patterns we explored open worlds, fixed game spaces, maze games and platforms. For each pattern the known strengths and weaknesses are given as well as the code for creating them in, for this case, Kodu Game Lab.

This project is always in the back of my mind and there are others also working on this idea. I'd eventually like to set up an online community or write a book. Please get in touch if you'd like to collaborate on this.

Planet Kodu

Planet Kodu is an online community for students to share Kodu Game Lab creations. This community has enabled ideasLAB to test Agora and their online course ideas and process. Planet Kodu has 4700 members who have created over 1200 projects. It was an ideasLAB project.

Planet Kodu was written as a WordPress plugin. It is my intention to eventually release the code so that school's that wish to run their own Kodu community can do so. The grpahical design was done by Publicity Works.

We created Planet Kodu because we believe that game design and programming is not an individual acitivy and that game makers need to interact and learn from each other.


Pulse is a product that allows anyone to track, assess and make sense of what is happening in online communities and distributed learning networks. Pulse enables the collection and reporting on diverse web-based content. The free browser-plug-in includes a web bookmarklet that works with any modern browser. It was an ideasLAB project.

At the heart of Pulse is the concept of a lens. A lens is the researcher/assessor created coding book used to analyse content. Teachers can create and use lenses modeled on their own assessment frameworks.

The applications for Pulse are varied. Pulse can be used by researchers for content analysis to investigate the function and the form of online conversations and content. It can be used by owners of web communities seeking to determine if their members are using their website in the ways in which they were intended and Pulse can be used by teachers to assess student learning in place and it can be used by students for showcasing and self-assessment.

Workshops and Speaking

Will update soon...

Collective Knowledge Construction

The Collective Knowledge Construction model and white paper, Understanding Virtual Pedagogies for Contemporary Teaching and Learning was born out of project ideasLAB undertook with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach of Powerful Learning Practice. Sheryl (and Will) had run a nine month professional learning project involving one hundred teachers involved in DEECD's netbook trial. Sheryl (and others) had previously used a model for content analysis which we then used to look at the conversations that were happening in the learning community. The model specially looked at the function (or purpose) of the comment. eg. Was the commenter asking a question? sharing a point of view? negotiating meaning?

After we completed the project, it became clearer to me that the model we used for the content analysis could be used describe the various roles that online learners use when constructing knowledge online. The model presented in the white paper presents four different relationships and is useful for those designing online learning communities and the role of modern technology in knowledge construction.

The Modern Learner Project

In 2013 ideasLAB is looking for schools to participate in our Modern Learner Project. Ideally these schools would have a strong history in using modern technology and have a one to one program in place.

The project has three streams:
1. Social Learning
2. Inquiry-Based / Project-Based Learning.
3. Self-Directed Learning

For each stream we're looking to run four projects, resulting in twelve projects across the year.


Social Learning

1. How does the ubiquitous access content change the nature of learning in a world that is "too big to know"?

This project will explore how learning is changed when students can draw upon information from the Internet whenever they need it.

2. What are the new opportunities for learner intervention given that the world is now our sounding board?

This project will explore how the nature of intervention is changed in a network world. We will explore whether tools like twitter (but could be other tools maybe even minecraft) and simple status updates allow for new ways of intervention learning to higher learning outcomes.

3. Does diversity trump curation?

This project will explore how diversiy trumps curation and how teachers can best expose their students to learning online learning opportunities and content.

4. How do we move from personal student knowledge to collective understanding?

This project will explore how modern tecnology can be designed and used by students to build share understanding and undertake collective meaning making.

Inquiry-Based / Project-Based Learning

5. How does unlimited capacity improve the quality and subsequent learning of student projects?

This project will explore how unlimited capacity, to store and organise information, using tools such as Evernote increase the creativity and complexity of student projects.

6. How does technology increase the effectiveness to students working together on projects?

This project will explore how tools like Do or Asana can be used by students.

7. What does remix and reuse look like in the classroom?

This project looks at how we can take advantage of the ability of remixing and reusing the work of others to increase student learning outcomes. We've started working with a school on project involving student writing.

8. How can we apply the principles of agile development to learning?

This project will explore how technology can support students undertaking complex non-linear projects. It builds upon the ideas started in the Iterative Project Design Template project.

Self-Directed Learning

9. How can students use the learning tracks/evidence of others to make better decisions about their own learning?

This project will explore the type of learning artifacts that learners create online eg blog posts, bookmarks, tweets and how these can be used by students to make better decisions about their own learning.

10. How can students use automatically generated and other data to make better decisions about their learning?

This project will explore ideas around quantified-self, and how the use of modern technology generates data that can then be used by learners for self-assessment.

11. How does curriculum change when learning routed in online participation?

This project will explore how the Internet amplifies great ideas and how these can then be used by students to make decisions about their own learning.

12. How does participating in online learning communities help learners make better decisions about their own learning?

This project will explore the opportunites presented through the access to professionals and experts via online communities of practice. eg. How does the ability to interact and learn with professional and expert photographs in communities like Google+ or Flickr increase student learning opportunities and outcomes?

Collaborative Game Making with Scratch and ccHost

When creating maze games using Scratch with our students we used ccHost, a web-based content management system, to store the tagged components (sprites) needed to construct the game. Students used the tags to locate the resources they needed to construct the game.

Completed games were uploaded by the student to the Intranet or to the student's blog where others could play the game or download and remix it.

Scratch was well suited to remixing because the code is always visible and its sprites which form the game objects are able to be exported as separate files. It was a shame that the Scratch backgrounds were not exportable in the same way.

Being able to create games from other games or by combining sprites means that students can start building games even if their programming knowledge is poor. Instead of building up their knowledge by creating games from scratch (excuse the pun) they build their knowledge through modifying existing games and sprites.

The image above shows a maze game where a student has imported seven separate sprites in order to create the game.

The above image shows ccHost with the sprites ready for download. Sprites are given a name and tags to allow them to be found. Students can also upload the sprites they create, including modified sprites for others to reuse.

ccHost allows finished products that are uploaded, in this case games, to be associated with the components, in this case the sprites, that were used to create them.

ccHost was modied slightly in order for it to work with Scratch games and sprites. I also used ccHost in the Loops@Concord project.

Social Knowledge Constuction

I believe modern web technologies offer profound opportunities for social knowledge constuction. I'm particularly interested in the various relationships and roles that learners take as they construct knowledge with others. The white paper Understanding Virtual Pedagogies for Contemporary Teaching and Learning describes how modern technology enables learners to move beyond individual and isolated learning to collaborative and collective learning.

I've been involved in a number of projects which have explored how we can enable online learning communities to becomes fully functioning learning collective,. that engage in shared meaning making and collective investigation. This has resulted in creating single purpose based online learning communities around music, trackmania and game creation.

Inquiry Based Learning

I believe modern web technologies offer profound opportunities for inquiry-based or project-based learning. The read write or remix culture as championed by Lawrence Lessig and more recently by Kirby Ferguson expecially offers great opportunities. I believe we need to encourage all publishers of work to allow the fair reuse and remixing of it. I believe software publishers need to design their applications so that created content is easily broken down into the smaller esssential pieces and therefore becomes easier to remix and reuse.

I've undertaken a number of projects exploring the ideas of remix and reuse with students at Concord School. The Loops@Concord Project looked at how creativity is increased through remixing and reuse of the Amen Break. The Tracks Project and Scratch Project explored the same ideas but in games design.

The Iterative Project Design Template is an ideasLAB project exploring how agile development ideas and learning from the Business Model Canvas can improve student projects. Additionally we are planning further projects looking at how unlimited capacity, think Evernote and improve project management, think Asana, expand what is possible for our students and their projects.

Self Directed Learning

I believe modern web technologies offer profound opportunities for self-directed learners. I also believe that this area is the most under used and under explored aspect of modern technology by schools. We're seeing teachers using technologies for their own self-directed professional learning but we aren't seeing these teachers allowing or encouraging their students to develop and use these practices.

If self-directedness relies on learners to make decisions about their own learning, that is what they learn, when they learn and how they learn, then using technology to make better decisions should be a given. My project Web Walks start to explore this area but I am keen to collaborate this others exploring stigmery, ideas around quantified self, memes and online communities of practice.

Back Chatter

Back Chatter enables conference organisers to receive and moderate feedback and questions via twitter, SMS, email and web form. It was an ideasLAB project.

Back Chatter was initially created to facilitate dynamic questions and feedback at the Department of Education and Early Childhood's "Big Day Out" event. The event featured prominent thought leaders Professor Richard Elmore, Yong Zhao and Dr Sugata Mitra sharing their vision for the future with about eight thousands of Victoria’s school principals and senior leadership.

During the presentations, BackChatter received just over 250 questions and views expressed. Once moderated , speakers were able to answer questions and gauge the thoughts directly from the room.

Backhatter was witten by me in javascript and php. The code has never been released.


When I first heard Nate Harrison's Can I Get An Amen? I was inspired to introduce the break beat to my students and see if we could also create new music with it. It was also a great opportunity to discuss copyright and reuse.

We started with Amen Break and used audacity to chop up the beats and see if would could create a new break beat. Students upload their new break beat so that other's could listen to their creations.

To facilitate the sharing and reuse we used ccHost allowing users to upload and download music files and also indicate that their uploads samples existing ccHost music files.

In addition to the Amen Break, we also used sample packs provided by aritists such as Brad Sucks and David Byrne.

Above screenshot shows the Amen Break sample ready for download and reuse.

The above screenshot shows student's songs searchable by tags and author, ready for download.


To get around the problem of finding appropriate music for use for students in their projects I created MySpace clone. Note: mySpace was cool then. Not sure it was a great idea but we had fun using it. I never released the code for this.

I scoured the web for creative commons licensed music and uploaded it our community. Students could like songs, add them to their online playlist and download them.

Web Walks

I was facinated by PMOG which later became The Nethernet, a browser-based passive game. I was excited by the technical aspect, being able to modify the content of a web page via a browser based plugin but I was also excited by the game play allowing players to surreptitiously find information that others players had previously created, thus sharing knowledge and creating community.

I decided to create a clone, without the bombs (really they're tame on PMOG but I didn't think it was best for Concord) and without the adult content. I choose a bushwalking theme and called it Web Walks.

The above screenshot shows a user placing a rock cairn on a web page. The cairns create a trail that can then be followed (by clicking the next button) and also provide some text that the track creator has left. Users create tracks on a theme and then place cairns, in an appropriate order, on the various pages reuqired. The text is used to narrate the jouney.

When playing Web Walks if you visit a page that a cairn is on the cairn will appear, in this way players can play the game passively. Alernatively players can start at the Web Walks site (as pictured above) and search for tracks to explore.

Web Walks was created and used at Concord School in 2008 but I've recently worked on reviving it and it has been used in one Victorian school. If you're interested in this project, please get in touch.


Agora is a collective question and answer community that demonstrates how collectives can co-construct knowledge, and produce content of a quality otherwise not possible. Agora was used in ideasLAB's 1 to 1 Next Steps course and in Planet Kodu our gaming community for students. It is a clone of Stack Overflow.

The interesting thing about Stack Overflow is how a community is able to create a high qaulity repository of collective knowledge. Game mechanics such as points for making high quality contributions are awarded which then unlock features in the community. For example users with a history of adding quality contribuitons are subsequently awarded editing skills and other admistration functions by which they can further improve the quality of the site and it's content.

Agora is a WordPress plugin that was written prior to WordPress releasing custom post types and therefore requires a rewrite. The code has not been released, however a quick search should unearth many suitable alternatives.

The End Of Offline Learning

How Modern Learners are Leading the Learning Revolution

I'm currently writing a book called The End Of Offline Learning: How Modern Learners are Leading the Learning Revolution. The book will hopefully be released soon.

In the book I argue that schools and other education institutions should look at how people are using modern technology to learn outside of formal educational settings.

Part One - From Me to We
1. Too Big To Know
2. The World Is Our Sounding Board
3. Diversity Trumps Curation
4. Purpose Binds Us
Part Two - From the Known to the Unknown
5. Capacity Is Unlimited
6. Accountability Is Shared
7. Everything Is A Remix
8. Fail Fast
Part Three - From Dependency To Autonomy
9. Learning Leaves Tracks
10. Data Informs
11. Powerful Ideas Spread
12. Everything Is Scaffolding

Iterative Project Design Template

This project is exploring how agile development ideas can be integrated in student projects. It is modelled on the Business Model Canvas.

I believe that the opportunities for formal and informal learning are profound. As schools we try to pretend that authentic projects move from a known problem along a linear step by step path to a known solution. This is not the case. If our students are to tackle real authentic problems and projects that do not have a known solution, and often do not even have a known problem, then we need to approach project based learning in a new way.

At the lab, inspired by the business model canvas, we've begun investigating how these projects might look. Our first step has been to create a project template in BuddyPress that individuals or groups can use to track their projects. We believe this not only leads to greater learning along the way, but the transparent nature of the tool, with every project visible, allows students to learn from and with each other.

For our iterative graphic organiser, we currently using: Project Goal, What we know, What we need to find out, How we will find it out, What we have learnt. Down the track we'll try other templates, again, I would be interested in hearing any ideas on this.

The above screenshot shows the iterative template during a trial with students at Fitzroy North Primary School.

Increasing creativity through social sharing and game play.
Using school-wide social photo sharing to stregthen communication and community.
Collective Blogging
Using aggregation techniques to build community and shared meaning.
Game Design Patterns
Using design patterns and recipes to facilitate high-level dialog and understanding.
Planet Kodu
Enabling game designers to share their discoveries and learn from each other.
How do we make sense of what is happening in online learning communities?
Workshops and Presentations
A list of my presentations.
Collective Knowledge Construction
White paper: Understanding virtual pedagogies for contemporary teaching and learning.
The Modern Learner Project
Details of ideasLAB's major project for 2013.
Collaborative Game Design with Scratch and ccHost
How does reuse and remixing lead to more creative and complex design?
Social Knowledge Constuction
What new possibilities does modern technology offer knowledge construction?
Inquiry-Based Learning
What new possibilities does modern technology offer student projects and inquiry-based learning?
Self Directed Learning
How does modern technology enable learners to make better decisions about their own learning?
Back Chatter
How do we improve question and answer sessions at large events?
A private community based around sampling and remixing music.
I made a MySpace clone for the Concord students so they'd have access to creative commons music.
Passive gaming meets web surfing, inspired by (a clone of) PMOG.
How do we effectivally build collective knowledge? Another clone, this time of Stack Overflow.
The End of Offline learning - How Modern Learners are Leading the Learning Revolution
Details about my forthcoming book.
Iterative Project Design Template
What can student projects learn from agile development?