My suspicion is that the web has done more for pedagogy in the last five years than the entire output of academic educational departments and other institutions in the last fifty years. This thought was, curiously, sparked off by my visit to the Darwin Exhibition in the Natural History Museum in London.
By contrast, recommended pedagogic progress in institutions has been glacial. Best practice is notoriously difficult to get dispersed and adopted so by and large there’s still a preponderance of old practice. ‘Chalk and talk’ in education and training, and the ‘lecture’ in tertiary education, are still dominant. Shocking but true.
Web – evolution on steroids
We can talk usefully and analogously, I think, about the different levels of activity. In evolution we have the biosphere, ecosystems, habitats, communities, populations and individuals. Similarly, on the web we have the world-wide web as the ecosystem, linguistic and cultural habitats, communities of common interest, specific populations of users and individual users. It is not an exact parallel, but a hierarchical description is useful in both cases.
Pedagogy and survival
My argument is that it is also ruthless with pedagogic ideas that are slow, difficult to use, unfriendly, not useful or expensive. Let me illustrate this by example.
So, Google has managed to produce several new pedagogic innovations (accelerators of learning) providing almost instant access to knowledge, answers to questions, location search (GoogleEarth, GoogleMaps, GoogleStyreets) along with efficient variations on communication by email (GoogleMail), browsing (GoogleChrome), media sharing (GoogleVideo and YouTube) and Collaboration (GoogleGroups). This has been a pedagogic paradigm shift.
Wikipedia, and wiki production in general, has produced a truly original model for the production, management and access to learning resources. It is astonishing in its success, size and scope. Interestingly, its dominance has come through a symbiotic relationship with Google, where it regularly appears near the top on any topic search.
This technology has the power to overcome one of the great shames in education and training – duplication of effort. I love the excellent Learning Pool, where users create content then willingly share it with others. In the public sector, this should be the norm. Sadly the opposite is true. Every schools, college, university, local authority and government department goes it alone in designing, developing and delivering learning. The cost and waste is unimaginably high. The pedagogic revolution here is to get sharing.
Facebook, Myspace – a social learning revolution
Social networking came from nowhere. The middle ground of collaboration, where groups of friends keep in touch, has ballooned on the web; people you knew at school (Friends Reunited), people you know at school (Bebo), people you just know (Facebook), people you know in business (LinkedIn). Then there’s Orkut, Cywold, Hi5 and so on covering every imaginable geographic group or community.
LMSs, VLEs, PLEs – a learning management revolution
Now that everyone has a common platform, the web, education and training can use this to get the business end of learning organised. It makes perfect sense to have an online system that does what a small army of administrators (or teachers/trainers) used to do at great expense. The efficient use of these systems saves organisations huge amounts of money. Pedagogically, this has taken the pain out of learner and content administration. All parties, pupils, students, trainees, learners, parents, teachers, lecturers, trainers, managers and administrators can have access to one system.
Authoring and capture tools – a content creation revolution
This may not have created an army of teachers, lecturers and trainers who create content, as that was the promise. It has, however, allowed those with reasonable design skills and a knowledge of learning to create content in formats that can be shared online. Word doesn’t make you a novelist and an authoring tool doesn’t make you a learning designer. What we do have is the means to a glorious end – the creation of good, effective and powerful, reusable content.