Mapping formal online learning
This week I attended a BECTA seminar. The venue was the Commonwealth club in London, what an amazing place, it appeared to be a labyrinth of rooms underground – it never ceases to amaze me how many meeting venues there are in London! The focus of the seminar was reporting on the findings to date from a study that BECTA have commissioned being carried out by researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University. Cathy Lewin and Nicola Whitton gave an overview of the work, which is trying to identify the nature of formal online learning. Initial work including a literature review of related research looking at learners’ use of technologies. They have undertaken eight very rich case studies across a range of different schools and colleges; each one is adopting a different approach to utlilising technologies to support learning. Their research questions focused around three main themes (flexibility, models and impact). Their findings to date are around five main areas:
- Organisational limitations (eg lack of flexibility, workload models, technologies available),
- Regulatory limitations (eg procurement, assessment, etc),
- What are appropriate models for structuring learning to support autonomy?,
- Repacking of content vs. ownership,
- Pragmatic drivers (eg space limitations, coursework management, etc.)
The final one reminded me of a recent post from George Siemens, where he questions the predominate mantra ‘pedagogy first’. He goes on to ask the question ‘what is sound pedagogy?’, arguing that ‘pedagogy is not the starting point with technology, context is’. He concludes
Let’s abandon the somewhat silly notion of pedagogy first and recognize that the choice of technology is driven by many contextual factors and therefore context is what we are evaluating and considering when we first start talking about possible technology to use. Then, after we have selected technology, we can start talking about pedagogy. Pedagogy is just not a practical starting point for deciding the technology we should use.
In recent interviews we have carried out with teachers about how they go about design, we found much the same; no one started with some esoteric pedagogical framework – design was messy, creative, iterative, and yes driven by mundane pragmatics. However that didn’t mean that their designs weren’t pedagogically informed, just that it was implicit and infused the whole of the design process.