Pedagogy - one of those words that’s used when people want to sound all academic. So let’s just call it learning practice. Of one thing we can be sure; teaching does not seem to have changed much in the last 100 years. In our Universities, given the stubborn addiction to lectures, it has barely changed in 1000 years. So what’s the real source of pedagogic change?
It’s not education departments who peddle the same old traditional, teacher training courses or train the trainer courses. It’s certainly not schools, colleges and universities which seem to have fossilised practice (to be fair some old practices are sound). It’s certainly not respected pedagogic experts. When they do arise, like Paul Black and Dylan William, they’re largely ignored. Here’s my theory – the primary driver for pedagogic change is something that has changed the behaviours of learners. independently of teachers, teaching and education – the internet. Let me elaborate…..
Suddenly we had Google, then in the last ten years Facebook, Twitter, BBM, MSN Messenger, Wikipedia, YouTube, iTunes, Nintendo, Playstation, Xbox. All of these have had a profound effect on how we learn, through radical shifts in the way we find things out, communicate, collaborate, create, share or play. The internet is a pedagogic engine, changing and shaping the way we learn. In this sense, we’ve had more pedagogic change in the last 10 years than in the last 1000 years – all driven by innovation in technology.
1. Asynchronous – the new default
Education and training have been tied to the tyranny of time and location. Being able to access courses, knowledge and media has been a huge positive flip towards learning where and when you want to learn. Clive Shepherd believes that the new default should be ‘asynchronous learning’ (not realtime) and not the traditional live, face-to-face, synchronous (realtime) classroom course. Only after you’ve exhausted the asynchronous online options should you consider synchronous face-to-face events. What a wonderfully simple idea, a massive pedagogic shift enabled, largely by online technology.
2. Links – free from tyranny of linear learning
The simple hyperlink encourages curiosity and is a leap to more learning. It has allowed us to escape from the linear straightjacket of the lecture or paper bound text (article, report, academic paper, book). It has led to more meaningful learning experiences adding breadth, depth and relevance. Links are a key feature of Wikipedia, online content, articles, reports and huge amounts of posts in social media that finish with a meaningful link. This pedagogic innovation has freed us from the tyranny of linear learning.
3. Search and rescue
Google aren’t kidding when they state their mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. They are well on the way to doing it and while they’re at it, providing educators with the tools, over and above ‘search’ such as Google Docs, Translate, Scholar… the list goes on. They’ve even invested in the Khan Academy. The challenge for every teacher is to ask themselves, ‘Is there anything I’m doing or teaching that can’t be found in Google?’ This pedagogic shift means more independence for learners, less dependence on memorised facts and answers to most questions, 24/7, for free.
4. Wikipedia and death of the expert
Jimmy Wales should get the Nobel Prize. A crowdsourced knowledge base that is bigger, better, easier to use, searchable and in many more languages than any encyclopedia that went before. In addition, it recognises that knowledge has blurred edges, so discussion is available. The 5th most popular site on the web, everyone uses it – yes everyone. The radical pedagogic shift is not only in the way knowledge is produced but the fact that it’s free, seen as open to discussion and debate, and so damn useful.
5. Facebook and friends
Sarah Bartlett’s study has found that students are keeping Facebook open for collaboration right up to deadline during assignments. Social media is a way of sharing experiences and knowledge with a wide range of friends and weak-tie acquaintances and has changed the way we learn. It allows us to collaborate and access recommended links to learning, as well as learning events in the real world. Being networked means living within a new pedagogic ecosystem.
6. Twitter, texting and posting
There has been a renaissance in reading and writing among young people. They text, BBM, IM, Facebook (primarily a text medium), every day, often many times a day. This is often done even when they have the possibility of voice (mobile) and face-to-face services such as Skype and Facetime, which they often avoid. They are also keenly aware of what channels are archived (text and Facebook) as opposed to discarded (BBM, IM and voice). Far from drifting towards high end media, text is alive and kicking.
7. Youtube – less is more and ‘knowing how’
YouTube has changed the way we use video in learning for ever. The irreversible change is the idea that a piece of video needs to be as long as it needs to be, not an overlong, over-produced mini-TV production. This is why the 1 hour recorded lectures on YouTube EDU and iTunes U seem so damn awful. Why replicate bad pedagogy online? It also proved Nass & Reeves original study was right that high-fidelity video is not essential. YouTube has shown us how to do video, keep it short and that we don’t need big budgets to do good stuff. More importantly, for ‘knowing how’ as opposed to ‘knowing that’, it has proved incredibly powerful.
Games have brought the proven sophistication of flight simulation into our homes and shown that failure (abhorred in traditional teaching) is the key to learning. Repetition, reinforcement, deep processing, learn by doing and fine-tuned assessment are all features of gameplay. Games, and console hardware has opened up possibilities for simulations and experiential learning that is already shaping learning in the military and healthcare. The multiplayer dimension is also changing the way we see the pedagogy of collaboration in learning. Gameplay is just another word for sophisticated, experiential pedagogy.
This is not often recognised but the word processor, spreadsheet and presentation tools have effected a considerable change on pedagogy. Word processing has changed, irreversibly, the way we write (reorder, redraft, use reference, citations, spellcheck, grammar check) as well as providing graphics and layout tools. Our digital documents are also replicable and easily sent by email. Spreadsheets have given us the ability, not only to do formula driven work, especially in functional maths useful in business and science, but also driven the easy and flexible representation of data as graphics. Presentation tools have allowed us to present text, graphics, photographs and even video into teaching and learning. Tools, pedagogically, allow us to teach and learn at a much higher level.
10. Open source
Open source in coding led to the idea of open source in tools and knowledge. From MIT Courseware to Project Gutenberg, huge amounts of learning have been made available online, across the globe, for free. Free books alone have opened up the canon in a way we could never have imagined, fuelling the e-book revolution. In this age of digital abundance, open and free content is the democratisation of knowledge. This is truly a digital reformation that has swept aside unnecessary barriers to access. Pedagogy, in this sense, has been freed from institutional teaching.
These are ground breaking shifts in the way we learn. Unfortunately, they’re not matched by the way we teach. The growing gap between teaching practice and learning practice is acute and growing. Institutional teaching, especially in Universities is hanging on to the pedagogic fossil that is the lecture. The word pedagogy has become a hollow appeal for traditional lectures, classroom teaching and summative assessment. The true driver for positive, pedagogic change is the internet.
I do think some universities have changed the way they look at pedagogy... perhaps slowly but it is happening. National-Louis University(Illinois) where I taught is one of them.
Hope you don't mind if I "borrow" your description of what you now have time for and can do as my new mantra. It is GREAT.
Technology in Education
Just an FYI, as I enjoy your articles.
I consume your blog through Google's RSS Reader and I notice that the articles tend to have frequent absences of spaces between words, which leads too more work then i would like.
Luckily, I can simply come to the this blog and read the correctly interrupted source, which is somewhat mitigating.
But still, i just thought that you should know.
Keep up the good work!
Donald, I really appreciated your post. I do agree with Marianne in that some schools and Universities have made efforts to embrace the changed world of the digital revolution, but feel you are so right in saying that teaching is still miles behind developments in learning.
Thank you for encapsulating in one post things that I have been saying in many.
Michael, I get the same thing. It seems to be a "feature" of Blogger, owned by Google, that it's the one blogging platform that doesn't work very well with Google Reader. Go figure, as they say.
About linear learning. Maybe there's value to well-sequenced material. A good author can design linear learning to:
- Make sure prerequisite concepts are presented first.
- Keep reminding the reader of the learning goal.
- Focus just on core concepts, where "core" is context dependent.
Maybe it's not a matter of links OR linear learning, but links AND linear learning.
Seems to me all these are simply a means to more information. Unfortunately simply having access to more information does not equal learning. The actual pedagogical change ought to be in terms of how to learn when overwhelmed with information. This should drive learning up the scale in all three of Bloom's domains, vice hanging around the bottom of cognitive where most formal schooling takes place.
Thanks Donald, Why is it so difficult for schools and colleges to change I wonder?
I think this interview with Larry Cuban gives some insights?
As for education's lack of adopting these technologies, it makes sense that practice will come after the availability of a particular technology.
The exciting thing is that we're seeing the beginnings of changes in practice to take advantage of the technologies. I wish it would happen faster, but it feels like it is both happening and picking up speed. Good times ahead.
I think you're missing a very important point as it relates to trumpeting the internet as the locomotive of change. Somewhere, someone has to teach the learner how to filter the internet for themselves. To choice what is useful and eliminate what it not valuable. Nothing on the 'net really does that for the learner at the higher levels of learning that would say coincide with a Master's or Doctoral level inquiry.
I don't agree. Google Scholar does this with citation count. If you do research, and I do a fair amount, then links from known academics and experts to citations are incredibly useful as are their recommendations. There's OER resources such as MIT Opencourseware, YouTube EDU (actually academic content from known Universities, iTunes U, even courses from Stanford and teh OU used by hundreds of thousands. Then there's access to the literature canon through Project Gutenberg, access to academic books through Amazon. Reliable citation tools like CITEME are also useful. I could go on and on here, but from my point of view the internet is vastly superior to any one, or group of, teachers/academics even at this level.
Whilst I absolutely agree that the quantity and quality of information and media now available to web users is unprecedented, I think there remains a significant issue, that you yourself have identified in your critique of lectures, that needs to be taken into account.
The presentation and availability of even the most excellent material is only one part of the learning picture. Edison made the same mistake when he stridently asserted that the motion picture would “revolutionise our education system”. Surely what makes all the difference is not so much the quantity or quality of the lectures, films, tutorials or learning tools but rather the time and attention paid by the learner (and encouraged and facilitated by the educator/institution) to experimenting with, reflecting on, arguing, debating and applying the things encountered in these media.
I consume vast quantities of amazing stuff both online and off but I learn precious little unless I spend some energy in making sense of it. It’s the difference between edutainment and education.
I disagree that online learning needs always to be "and encouraged and facilitated by the educator/institution". I have been neither encouraged to learn by anyone, nor attached to an institution for the last 30 years and have learnt vast amounts of knowledge and plenty of new skills (something rare in Universities),a great deal of it online. We are now enagging in 'debate' online. I've had full blown live, academic debates online with Stephen Downes and plenty of others. Are you really saying that you can only engage in deep learning when there's an academic or teacher in tow? Does learning stop when you leave school and/or university? Of course not. Teaching is not a necessary condition for learning and neither are educational institutions. On the other hand, I couldn't do without the internet, as it is now my primary source of learning.
If you take your own field - arts. I don't have even a GCSE or standard grade in Art, but have spent a lot of time reading, researching and attending arts events. I'm also a Trustee of a major arts organisation. I have never felt the need for a teacher or institution to guide my mind, as the knowledge is here - and largely free. Why would I want to spend £9000 a year for a series of lectures (many of which I know will be poorly delivered) when so much good material is available online?
I have recently completed a two year graduate program in healthcare administration (in the U.S.). I completed agree with your hypothesis regarding current teaching styles/content. However, I might add the many of the business leaders I have met are no better at utilizing the new technologies to transmit information to their employees and colleagues. As an example, they have access to dynamic teaching tools, such as PowerPoint, yet have no idea how to use most of the functions. As a result their presentations do not differ in function or in content from the ones that they presented (a decade or two ago) on slide projectors.
In short, everyone--teachers, industry leaders, politicians, average citizens, need to transition from using Industrial Age paradigms to guide their discourse. The need to discard techniques which focus on transferring static information from point A to point B (or from person A to person B). Rather, they need to create learning environments which focus on autonomy, dialogue, and creative thinking.
Great, but you’ve missed my point a wee bit. You’re absolutely right that you don’t need a teacher or an institution to learn anything but you do need to do something very particular to shift your attention from mere consumption to acquisition, especially when under a deluge of data, no matter how good it is. My point was not that this is dependent upon an educator/institution but that it is dependent upon “experimenting with, reflecting on, arguing, debating and applying the things encountered in these media”. I did imply that the encouragement and facilitation of an educator/institution was also valuable so I’ll bow to you on that point… for the moment.
You’ve learnt (taught yourself most likely but learnt nonetheless) how to learn, and from what I’ve read and seen of your work, and from your comment you make it really clear that you value debate. I’ll bet that you enjoy a film a lot more when you get a chance to talk about it with someone afterwards too. That’s really all I’m saying: it’s not just the film itself that is valuable but the reinforcement and theorisation that comes as a consequence of having to rationalise about your experiences. It’s not the information that matters so much as the human intellects you converse with and that make you make sense of the information.
You mention Steven Downes. That wasn’t a casual remark. Would I be wrong to assume from that passing mention that you think it matters who is on the other end of the conversation – how well they know their stuff and how much they keep you on your intellectual toes? Media can’t read an intellect and match themselves to the flow of a discussion, only people can do that. We’re all instinctively teachers, just some are more expert in some areas than others, though I’d probably have to agree with you if you said that there aren't many good uns in the academy.
Donald, I'm the editor of a german speaking blog on personal productivity and learning, called imgriff.com. Readers are very interested in questions regarding learning and the future of their workplace. Do you think it's possible to allow us to translate and publish your posting on our blog? (We did the same a few months ago with an article of Stephen Dowes, which was very well read).
Kein Problem Thomas.
Danke! I'll let you know as soon as it's published (January, probably).
Thanks for the post, really insightful. I've been playing with some similar ideas you might find interesting, about how the Internet is changing society more generally, and it isn't the extreme doom or unicorns picture often strutted out by "experts".
You might read Seymour Papert's "The Children's Machine" and adopt his suggested "mathetics" for the art of learning. I suggest this because much of the instances in which you refer to "pedagogy" above actually have little or nothing to do with teaching, but the art of learning as you point out. The Internet is not a teaching tool in every instance of education, but it certainly is a learning tool. The difference is more fundamental than you elaborate.
I am well aware of the difference between teaching and learning. I am also aware of the fact that teaching is not a necessary condition for learning, indeed rarely a factor in learning over a lifetime.
As I stated at the start of my post "the primary driver for pedagogic change is something that has changed the behaviours of learners, independently of teachers, teaching and education".
Donald, I really enjoy your blog and I find what you say resonates with my experiences as a teacher and a learner. I agree Jimmy Wales should get the Nobel prize and in the Christmas spirit, might a few of your readers consider donating to Wikipedia? We all use it, few pay for it. Just a few quid/euros/dollars would hurt ye'all... think of it as a knowledge charity... Imogen Bertin
A few of us doing the Change11 MOOC are putting together a blog calendar about educational change (of course). I was wondering if we could repost your blog? It would be a great addition.
No problem Allan.
Hello Donald. I'd like to get in touch with you about this post, which I'd like to translate and publish in a new Italian digital magazine for teachers (if you agree, of course). I could not find an e-mail address in your profile but am willing to give you more details. My e-mail is email@example.com. I look forward to hear from you. Thanks in advance.
I feel a driving factor that should be highlighted are portable smart devices such as tablets, smart-phones and net/notebooks, which, when linked to the internet, allow users to have immediate and continual access to all of this information.
They definitely facilitate the educational process.
While running the risk of boring my readers with too long a post, I will make a second point, this time on anonymity.
I tend to shy away from Facebook and social media, because of the 'permanency' of their nature.
People and their viewpoints change over time, and for me, the risk of what I might put out there coming back to haunt me in one way or another, later, is just to worrying.
I might therefore be missing out on part of the new experiences that you mention in your blog, as a result of this position, but it is for a specific reason, of wishing to maintain my privacy.
This is also why I prefer to post anonymously.
Hats off to Jobs, among other visionaries, for perfecting and making many of these devices mainstream.
I see his and other similar products taking over the classroom, thereby bringing innovation to the education process.
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