Monday, 11 February 2013

Thinking about e-learning

Thinking about ‘elearning’…

Today I will be lecturing to the Secondary PGCE and GTP cohorts on the theme of ‘putting the learning in elearning’. Here are some thoughts about elearning and the changing digital landscapes that affect education and craft/pedagogy.

Malcolm Knowles (1980) makes a distinction between ‘pedagogy’ and on the other hand ‘andragogy’. While possibility overly simplistic and with many critics, this idea attempts to suggest a difference in the learning of younger learners (pedagogy) and the learning of adults (andragogy). The key difference between these two, for Knowles, is the ‘orientation to learning’ between the two groups. Within his conceptualization of andragogy, Knowles suggests that adult learners are more self-motivated and have more of a desire to engage with materials due to a desire to take ownership of and control of the direction of their own learning. Independent and project work, leading to substantial self-directed homework, is certainly a way to develop learners’ self-directed orientation to learning, but only if structured and guided appropriately.

With the rise of new communication and learning technologies and the rapid spread of Web2.0 tools, we can add a third to this list. We have pedagogy and andragogy and more recently some commentators speak of ‘heutagogy’ (Hase and Kenyon, 2007). Conceptualizations of heutagogy position the learner as ‘self-directed’ or rather, ‘self-regulated’ and this is seen as almost a natural part of learning (and by implication of the human condition). The role of learning opportunities in formal settings such as schools and colleges is to allow learners to explore and develop their learning skills, and to be able to apply these learning skills with confidence. For this to take place, learners need to be able to make choices over their own learning and to work in self-directed ways. Project work and other homework can encourage the sense of independence that notions of heutagogy imply.

To be able to work in a self-regulated way is a key characteristic of an independent learner. Goleman (1995) identifies ‘personal intelligences’ which can affect how we interact with others and take responsibility for the direction of our own learning. For Goleman being self-directed is an ‘intelligence’ and something we need to practice and have support with developing. We cannot automatically expect this. This is where some teachers make a key mistake: they assume that being able to ‘go off’ and for homework plan their time, research something and manage their own time is easy and that older learners already have these skills. These are potentially damaging assumptions. This means that being able to develop independent working skills for any homework – not just project work – is itself an issue of differentiation. Equally, it is a matter of self-efficacy: Learners need to see that they can achieve and are able to work for themselves. They will only see this with practice, support and at first, frameworks to work within. These frameworks cannot be applied evenly across all learners but subtly differentiated to recognize that learners’ starting points for independent learning are different.

Many commentators suggest that the rise of the new digital landscape changes how learners relate to both knowledge and learning itself (Prensky, 2001). For some, these new times present teachers, schools and colleges with a ‘new learner’ (and often an ‘independent learner’) – the digital native. This is someone who has grown up fully born-into and immersed in the digital world and is able to use technology and the internet in an intuitive way. The argument is that these learners need to be taught differently from previous generations (Prensky, 2010). Some are critical of this idea, instead talking of an increasing ‘digital divide’ between those who have skills and access in and to this new digital world and those who do not (Selwyn, 2009). In this new digital landscape homework and project work which require ‘research skills’ have consequences and implications for how learners interact with digital sources; how learners research and acquire knowledge; how new knowledge is generated and by whom; and what meaning learners attach to knowledge generated on and found within digital sources. When discussing the changes taking place in education and in learning due to the rise of the global forces of communication and interactivity that the internet brings, Gonzalez (2004) refers to the rapid redundancy of knowledge as having, like atoms, an (educational) ‘half-life’. Prior to the expansion of the Internet, knowledge and information were harder to obtain and thus their ‘currency’ lasted longer. Today, as the world changes so rapidly and as the ebb and flow of global, digital information moves so quickly the ‘life’ of knowledge itself diminishes. As teachers, our challenge is to help support learners to explore knowledge for themselves. In doing so when setting-up learning to be effective, we must support learners to be critical and evaluative of Internet sources and to use technology for their own research skills. At the same time, we need to guide and support learners’ critical skills. It is certainly the case that knowledge is still of prime importance in most educational systems as the object of testing and assessment, but the skills to find and then understand and ‘do something with’ knowledge are more important.

And, thinking about 'homework' and learning 'outside of the classroom'

For many, homework provides excellent opportunities for learners to engage with Internet research and in doing so, to develop appropriate critical skills as part of their growing critical digital literacies. When we speak of ‘digital literacy’ we speak of the skills needs to navigate, use and manipulate technological devices and tools and work appropriately in online and digital landscapes that new and emerging technology and social media have created for us. Elsewhere in this book we have used the term ‘netracy’ to explain this, although this would, strictly speaking, be one part of a wider digital literacy. We encourage students to work on literacy and also numeracy, but what we often do not do is to help support students with how they surf and use information from the Internet. Yet, when we ask them to do coursework, research and independent work, we often expect them to do this. There is a disconnect here. Many teachers assume digital literacy in their learners or equally, some teaches are worried, perhaps, about their own skills in these areas. If we learners’ use of the Internet can be supported in homework and other project work, then it is possible to avoid examples of ‘cut and paste’. One much cited theory of learning for the ‘new digital age’ is the notion of ‘connectivism’ (Siemens, 2004). To understand this idea, let us first think about another. Earlier educational theory has embraced the notion of learning as a ‘constructivist’ process (Vygotsky, 1978) whereby learning takes place and knowledge is ‘created’ (or ‘constructed’) through learners’ manipulation of and interaction with the blocks of learning: learners take new ideas and experiences and link them onto older ones, making connections in an attempt to make sense. They do this often in collaboration with others, talking, discussing, and seeking to build-up knowledge. Within this, as experience grows, and new knowledge constructions are made, new knowledge is created. This is the rationale for many classrooms being based upon learner talk and learner activity and interactivity with others. For connectivism (Siemens, 2004) knowledge and learning are a product of interaction of the group: of the connections and building networks between learners. As technology enables new means by which we communicate and interact, this theory suggests that knowledge is not internal to the meaning-making processes of the individual but rather, a produced of the networked-self.

New and emerging technologies provide many opportunities. They can: Support learners in accessing easily information; Help learners to work in non-traditional places and settings in a more ‘mobile’ fashion; Provide opportunities to connect to and interact with others over vast differences of time and space; Provide the means through which, with careful use of homework, classrooms can be ‘flipped’ and learning and curriculum content be ‘delivered’ outside of class and skills development and independent learning take place inside lessons where the teacher is present (see the audio elsewhere on this blog).

Technology and technological devices and internet-based tools are not just mediums through which learners can ‘work’, but they are places within which independent research can be carried out and also places within which virtual classrooms can exist.

Source: This text © Warren Kidd February 2013. This text is taken from a forthcoming publication with McGraw-Hill, publishing later this year. Reference below:

Czerniawski, G and Kidd, W (2013) Homework for Learning: 300 strategies for learning. [publishing later this year


Goleman, D. 1995. Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantham. Gonzalez, C., 2004. The Role of Blended Learning in the World of Technology. Retrieved October 2012 from Hase, S. and Kenyon, C. 2007. Heutagogy: A Child of Complexity Theory, Complicity: An International Journal of Complexity and Education, 4 (1), 111–118. Knowles. M. S. 1980. The Modern Practice of Adult Education: Andragogy versus Pedagogy. Cambridge: Prentice Hall. Prensky, M. 2010. Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning. California: Corwin. Prensky, M., 2001. ‘Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1’, On The Horizon – The Strategic Planning Resource for Educational Professionals, 9(5). Selwyn, N. 2009. ‘The digital native – myth and reality’, Aslib Proceedings: New Information Perspectives. 61(4), 364-379. Siemens, G. 2004. Connectivism: A LearningTheory for the Digital Age. eLearnspace. Accessed November 2012 Vygotsky, L., S. 1978. Mind and Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

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