#Change11 Can Online Conversation be the focus of a pedagogy?

Thanks Larry for this very interesting post. I could see different schools of philosophy, education and learning each highlighting their own school of thoughts, with their merits and applications, with instructivism versus cognitivism, then cognitivism versus constructivism, and then followed by constructivism versus connectivism. I have posted here relating to the assumptions of each of the theories, and the challenges relating to each of those schools of thoughts.  I think this is a healthy discourse, and we should be encouraging and supporting such conversation and engagement from all education and learning stakeholders, educators, scholars, researchers, administrators, parents, and most importantly, the learners.

Larry says:”They require that a teacher or expert be set up to help, in a way that does not correspond to the more egalitarian modes of interaction online. Moreover, except in some fields that are highly interpretive such as literature or philosophy, the relevant information cannot be arrived at via reflection on what they know–because most children are quite ignorant and much in need of education. To be able to reflect, they need input. They need content. They need food for thought. They need training and modeling. They need correction. We adults don’t have these problem when we are surfing away. We’re mostly done learning the concepts, vocabulary, and facts that we need to make sense of conversation in the forums that interest us. This is very importantly not true of children.” This depends on the type of students or learners we are referring to. For novices, it seems that more guided instructions would help them learn more effectively and efficiently. But what are the assumptions behind these “novices”?

For young children who have limited experiences, what might be the challenges here? The ideal is to start from basic, checking and assessing their prior knowledge, and then proceed to teach them in a stage-by-stage sequence, until they acquire mastery, before they are allowed to proceed to the next stage of learning. What about the reality?  Are we assuming that these young children are all having similar cognitive abilities in the same class? How about the motivation to learn?  Do they share the same interest in learning the subject in class? Are we assuming that they all learn in a similar manner, in terms of their learning behaviors, learning styles, and that they all need reinforcement  based on teachers’ feedback? Are we also assuming that they would learn the same content, within the time frame?  Are we assuming that if the “teaching” is effective, then all students should achieve the same learning outcomes?  We might have put all responsibilities of learning on the teachers, not the learners, to a great extent.

What is the reality?  If we all set the learning tasks so everyone gets 100%, is that good learning?  Yes, in theory.  But in practice, how many students would get 100%?  Are mistakes or failures part of the learning too?  Also, when the students answer the questions correctly in accordance to what the teacher has taught, does it mean that these students would remember the facts that they have learnt after sometime, or after graduation?  Most probably no.   If the students learnt the subjects merely by following guided instruction, without any hands-on practice, or thorough reflection with critical thinking, then such learning may not be meaningful to the students.  Learning that is based on a change in long-term memory is not always equated to good learning (though it is argued here that learning, in turn is defined as a change in long-term memory, in direct instructional guidance).  What happens if the knowledge once acquired through the learning have gone out of date or become obsolete?  Does it mean that we have to change our long-term memory with those obsolete knowledge in order to learn new knowledge?  Yes.  So, there would be a lot of learning through unlearning wherever there is a change in the knowledge.

Relating to how human learn, I would like to relate to my previous post:

Children also learn through activities, games and projects, based on the Montessori education principles – a Constructivist or “discovery” model, where students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction (wikidpedia).

How about adult learning? Do adults learn in similar ways?   It seems that adults learn through observation and copying of actions or demonstrations, as is obvious in sports, dancing, cooking and playing games.  So those acts of imitation is still relevant, in education, with some basic cognition (reasoning) at the early stages of learning quite similar to that of children learning.  Adult learning would be more complex, as shared in my previous post here and Rita’s post here.

Under Andragogy as developed by Malcolm Knowles, there are six assumptions about adult learning:

1. The need to know. What is to be learnt and why learning is important here.

2. Self concept. The learners are responsible for their decision. The ownership of learning and self direction is important. This would be context dependent.

3. Experience. Such experience would be based on active participation, constructive activities and collaboration among the learners.

4. Readiness to learn.

5. Orientation to learn. These need to be contextualized, and experiential in basis. Adult learners would then reflect, generalize the theory and principles behind and test it in real life to see if works.

6. Motivation – extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

Let me quote an example of why learning merely by rote learning of fact could be problematic.  Suppose I have learnt about some facts about a medical research, and thought that it is the truth.  What happens if such fact is based on poor research as highlighted in this research paper retraction?  Should a researcher question the source of information, and check on the validity of the research findings?

On conversation, here is a learning conversation that I prepared last year. I would argue that through a conversation, both the teacher and learner could learn together.  Often, we assume that the facts and principles relating to a theory is true.  Through this previous post, I have learnt that conversation would clarify a lot of our understanding of each others’ perspectives.  So, to me, online learning relates to conversation.

How much guidance should then be given in an online course?  In this post relating to new models of learning, it seems that we still need to provide some instructions that are essential to the course, and the content knowledge is important here.  However, if we are to reflect on the availability of the Open Educational Resources, then isn’t the content of MIT’s OER already available for the last decade?  Can we assume that remembering all the content in the OER in the long term is what constitutes learning?  If such assumption is correct, then why would MIT emphasise the importance of engagement and interaction with their professors as what constitutes a valuable learning experience in education?  In other words novices should be given the right guidance in order to learn effectively.  However, such guidance would best be offered as a choice rather than a mandate, in order for the novices to develop and grow his/her learning progressively.  The use of technology could assist the learners in achieving some of the learning goals, without much instruction by the instructors, as reported in many researches – based on mobile learning and conversation – and with peer-to-peer learning.  The use of Computer based quizzes and assessment is an example where students could achieve mastery through repeated practice.  However, this would only be true when knowledge is known, and that the students could understand and apply the knowledge acquired when tested.

Finally, can online conversation be part of the education and pedagogy at this digital age?  I argue here:

What I could see would be a pattern of education and learning with the following features:

1. Future of education and learning and Future of education. This is a transitional period where the traditional pedagogy, together with instructivism, constructivism, social constructivism will be applied in courses with a teaching and education focus, followed by a gradual movement towards more learner-centred approaches towards personalised learning, when those educators and learners fully mastered the skills and could learn more independently or inter-dependently.

MOOC seems to appeal more to experienced educators and learners (also with the older aged groups participants with the past MOOCs – CCK, PLENK2010, CRITLIT), but when the topics are more analytical and specialized like Learning Analytics, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, or elementary mathematics or high school subjects, then it seems that these courses would attract the young learners (teens, K-12, or HE undergraduates, or young graduate students).  These are based on both research and observation, and although there are many assumptions behind such assertions, I reckon the motivations behind doing the courses have always been based on a few basic ones:

(1) Learners who are of the younger aged group would need to acquire qualifications, such as a Diploma, a Degree  – Bachelor etc. and so learning within a school system is what they are looking for (or at least, what is available from a credential point of view).  This is what the potential employers are looking for, and what the learners are expecting to achieve upon graduation from the institution.

For young learners, educators who are in the K-12 and HE, the pattern of school system would still persist for another five to ten years, with basically a system which is framed under the existing pedagogical frameworks of instructivism, coupled with social constructivism, where I have elaborated here.  This is also in alignment with the zone of proximal development where novice learners would be guided by the sage on the stage or on the side.  The purpose of instruction, both formal and informal, is to stimulate growth and development. “The only good instruction received in childhood is the one that precedes and guides development” (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 48). Therefore, “good learning” would be in advance of development. Development takes place within zones of proximal development by first determining the learner’s current understanding. Next, the processes are stimulated through interactions with teachers and peers in an educational environment. Last, development leads from collaboration to independence in new understanding.

(2) Learners and/or educators who are of an older aged group, like the adults in the 30-50 age group are more likely to have by passed the normal education period, and so their needs might be the pursue of an advanced degree (graduate qualification – graduate certificate/diploma, Masters or Doctorate qualifications), and/or they might prefer to learn in an informal manner, pursuing the  life-long and life-wide learning through informal means, by learning with and through learning networks and communities, technology and medias.

(3) Learners and/or educators who are after 50s aged group would likely pursue their interests in a different manner as compared to (1) and (2).

As Heli mentioned in her post on Research about MOOC pedagogy:

“I know from myself that I want to broaden my perspective now when I am retired and I have time. I do not follow any courses any more, but I follow many interesting conferences, sessions etc. I feel free to participate, I have learned the basic skills for it. The biggest age group seem to be 55+ years, so I am not the only one. We experienced people could organize something interesting, integrating our experiences to this new online life. I am tired to hear that old people have stopped learning.”

This is an interesting trend, and I do think MOOCs which are designed with the pedagogy to support human beings are more aligned with those with an older aged group of learners, though it could equally be applicable to that of (1) & (2) if educators and learners understand why they are the agents to support and nurture the younger learners and educators so they could develop themselves in their learning journey.

In summary, MOOCs could be designed with different pedagogy, based on different target educators and learners, and would still serve their purposes.  In the long run, I would see a transitional period of pedagogy from traditional behavioural, cognitive and social constructivist moving towards a more emergent, connectivist and open sourced education ecology, with all pedagogy compensating for each others’ weaknesses, and a learner-centred approach supported by both education authorities, educators and learners coming into fruition, and community as alternative basis of education.

Refer to this for further details on MITx and post here.

So, I think online conversation is an essential part of learning and education and should be the focus of a pedagogy to support human being.

Postscript: Useful article here

16 thoughts on “#Change11 Can Online Conversation be the focus of a pedagogy?

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