by Donald Clark
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.