A growing divide?

In his blog on Learning Ecosystems, Daniel S. Christian claims that a new pedagogy is emerging that is directly driven by the upsurge in online activity. I believe him, because I see similar outcomes wherever I travel, in schools, colleges and universities around the world. Christian identifies three key changes in pedagogy that I want to discuss over my next three blog posts. The first, he describes as "A move to opening up learning, making it more accessible and flexible. The classroom is no longer the unique centre of learning, based on information delivery through a lecture." 

Some would argue that this is a trend that has been gathering pace for the last decade or more. Traditionally, learning has been situated in classrooms or lecture halls, where the presence of an expert or specialist in a subject takes to the stage and delivers knowledge directly to the assembled students. The didactic method is cost effective in terms of the amount of contact time lecturers or teachers need to invest in the process. The student is then left to think and reflect on the knowledge they have 'received' and eventually, is assessed on how well they can remember, apply and evaluate this knowledge. Classroom centric learning has established itself as a 'tried and tested' method of pedagogy, and it doesn't seem to be waning. Every organisation it seems, continues to practice this approach, and educational institutions everywhere continue to build classrooms and lecture halls along the same design. Although the didactic method has been severely criticised as less effective than more active and participatory pedagogies, it persists.

And yet, with the advent of mobile technology, learning can now take place any where, and at any time. Perhaps even more critically, learning can take place at the pace of each individual learner. Formal learning, though methods such as the flipped classroom, and Massive Open Online Courses, seems to be migrating slowly but steadily away from traditional learning spaces, at least in some quarters. Those who are proponents of these methods claim that a paradigm shift is taking place, and that many traditional environments will either need to adapt to survive, or face extinction. Others are not so sure, claiming that the traditional learning space will always be with us, because people need to connect socially and the best way to do this is through face to face interaction. A third position is that traditional learning environments will change to meet the needs of the digital age, and that the flipped classroom is one example of how this will proceed.

The question we now need to ask is: Will there be a divide between learning that continues to rely on traditional learning spaces, compared to learning that takes place largely outside the walls of the traditional classroom? Moreover, if there is such a divide, will it be delineated by its cost effectiveness, its conceptual differences, or its pedagogical impact?

Photo from VCU Libraries

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Carl Gombrich said…
Hi Steve, I think we still don't know how much of learning relies on the sort of social and temporal structures that traditionally timed and delivered lectures achieve. For sure we will have a better idea of this over the next few years, though, as the nature and success of MOOCs, flipping etc becomes clearer.
Keith Brennan said…
Hi Steve,

committing the essay to a blog post this time. I'm getting a lot out of these two series, thanks hugely for posting..

The disruptive narrative ignores a couple of things. Lot's of this is not new, though aspects - the tech context - are different. Correspondence courses (1758 start date) and correspondence based degree courses ( 1850's London) radio lessons (1940,Uni of Louisville) the cb based school of the air (1950's Australia) ,TV lessons (Chicago 1950's) and the Open University (1965, I think) are precedents, iterations and reflect aspects of what's happening now.

Many sprang from student needs (The College of London, also termed the Free University, in London, 1850's provoided distance degree education to the less affluent, cb schools were driven by geographical contexts) and altered and changed traditional teaching contexts, profoundly.

The parallelles between cb and internet, for example, make it an excellent training ground. Designing a system where contact hours are minimal, content is packaged and sent out to be consumed by the individual, and having that system work...that's both a precednt, and a set of training wheels for anyone contemplating MOOC design...

Pedagogically speaking, Constructionism ala Papert has a decades long history, Inquiry Based/Discorevy/ Problem based Learning have been around, in some form, since the sixties. Connectivismn has it's roots in Communities/Constellations of Practice, which has been around as a theory for 20 something years, and as a practice for....centuries, if not millenia, and in Constructivism, whch has been around for, what nearly a century now - and makes explicit the idea of the instructor as facilitator, and student as self driven and/or social constructor of knowledge.

Little, if any, of this makes it into the disruptive general narrative. Most of this is part and parcel of the emergent pedagogies, whether those espousing them know it or not. Some do, and acknolwedge it to greater or lesser degrees. Many seem oblivious.

I;'d argue that the current disruption is part of an iterative process. And, for an iterative process to work well, it's necessary to be aware of the revisions and mishaps of previous iterations. As a way to move forward, looking to this iterative past would seem key. Few of those driving the narrative do.

I think when theorists, and advocates use words like unprecedented, utterly new, emergent, game changing, revolutionary, the conversation begins to miss out on quite a lot that could make it more meaningful, less mistake prone, and a better thing for all concerned.

Lot;s of this wheel has already been invented. And this is not the first time it's revolved. It's not the first time the traditional sage on the stage approached has altered, and it's not the first time it;s been characterised as a mass and game changing movement ( correspondence schools had numbers running up to 900'000 in 1906, and yet we still have more than ten Universities...)

If we are going to commit, meaningfully, to answering the questions you pose at the post end, I think we need to change the conversations we have about them.

We need to ditch the apocalyptic terminology, and we need to unlearn and unteach the assumed novelty of what's happening in order to make the best decisions about how to go forward.

Thanks, once again, for the post. To be clear, I'm not painting you as a doom prophet, or as someone unaware of pedagocial history. I don't think that's the case, and I think your contributions are thoughtful, contextualised, and with a good view of history, practicality, and theory. The above is a comment more on the genral state of the debate.

Duncan Lloyd said…
This is very interesting, Steve. I wonder if there is a mind set that occurs when someone enters and creates their learning space. I wonder too if some Elearning tech such as podcasts and Skype actually serve to make learning more social.
Hello Steve -
Your posting directed Keith to my Learning Ecosystems blog and where he had some solid insights/comments.

I wanted to share back what I mentioned to him:

Hello Keith –
Thank you very much for taking the time to post this comment.

First of all, as I just posted on Steve’s blog:

I just wanted to be sure your readers knew that that piece was from contactnorth.ca — http://www.contactnorth.ca/trends-directions/evolving-pedagogy-0/new-pedagogy-emergingand-online-learning-key-contributing.

I was highlighting that blog posting on my blog (http://danielschristian.com/learning-ecosystems/2014/02/06/a-new-pedagogy-is-emerging-and-online-learning-is-a-key-contributing-factor-contactnorth-ca/) because I liked how it proposed that learners have expectations…and those expectations are changing. Faculty members can’t control these changes, but will likely need to adapt to them if they are to maintain the students’ focus, attention.

I also liked how it suggested that the learner needs to own more of their learning — a move towards more of a heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. (Article from Lisa Marie Blaschke at http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1076 is relevant here).

Secondly, there is much that is not necessarily new — I like your reference to a wheel that’s already turned several times. It makes me think of a graphic from a recent presentation (that everyone in higher ed should review) — presentation at http://www.innovationexcellence.com/blog/2014/02/14/re-invent-the-future/ and snapshot of the graphic at http://danielschristian.com/learning-ecosystems/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/ReinventYourFuture4-StephenVanBelleghem.jpg

With that said, I have it that the technologies that have been developed and are developing in front of our very eyes ARE changing the game and are changing the balance of power and control and are requiring different strategies to engage students.

For example, we at Calvin College are working on a project re: remote presence. How best to effectively engage and address the remote learner while at the same time addressing the F2F learner is tricky…and we may not have the tools we need at this point in time. I can envision a future, for example whereby students can choose which camera they want to utilize to drop in on a F2F lecture/classroom (or which robot they want to drive to drop in on a class). They can select a camera that views the professor, zoom in on an area of the whiteboard, or view the entire class (no PTZ allowed here).

Another example of not yet having the tools we need can be found in what I’m calling Learning from the Living [Class] Room. It involves the convergence of the telephone, the television, and the computer. I can imagine a future whereby lifelong learners choose what they want to learn, when they want to learn it. They bring up a learning “channel” (which is really an app) and they watch a lecture up on a larger “TV” screen. They interact with other students via their mobile devices at the same time. Such a setup may draw upon several learning theories and practices, but the bottom line is that the learner will have more choice…more control.

Thanks again Keith for your thoughts here!
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for clarifying this Daniel

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