Wednesday, 29 June 2011

It's hard to make practical use of pedagogical theories

We want our greater understanding of pedagogy to matter, to make a different. I've been looking closely at different pedagogical theories as part of my studies. It's interesting and challenging in equal measure. But at the back of my mind there's a so what factor which bugs me. In my role, there are very few situations where I can envisage making explicit use of pedagogical theory. Certainly, it's essential to have a good grasp but I want this knowledge to matter at a practical level.

So what are the issues?

The first point would be that they are abstract concepts. Of course they are, this is the point. But thinking about a practical learning design scenario there's a lot the educator has to do to make use of a theory. It's almost as if you read about a theory and then let it subconsciously effect your practice. Basically, the link between theory and practice has to be done by the educator which is a lot of work.

Which theory? Each theory makes it's own claims to get to the essence of learning and how best to teach/facilitate. For the educator, this means some form of value judgement about which to favour. Am I right about this? Certainly, this is how it feels as I read about them. I'm not saying this is bad but it makes it hard for the average educator to make decisions about their own teaching and learning.

Are they really so different? Of course, they are if you have the time to read and reread the important papers concerning each theory. Just reading the highlines can lead to confusing and a sense that some overlap with others. I found that ones with the word construct somewhere in the title take a while to nail as distinct entities.

Research around pedagogy is important and interesting. Long may it continue. But what we need are more conscious effort to make sense, make use and make them matter in the real world of education.

Answers on a postcard.... In my next post I will explore how I'm thinking about making use of the conversational framework to facilitate this process.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Public/Private sector e-learning: the differences

There are different types of e-learning courses. I going to draw a divide between public and private sector courses purely to help my thinking. The divide is, of course, not that simple but it's a useful starting point for this post.

Appearance is the most obvious difference and this is down to money. The content of the private sector world is dynamically displayed, well designed and often involves bespoke video. The interaction is with the software and often restricted to the odd multiple choice instant feedback job. It's mostly about absorbing the content. It's more about web design than learning design. Pedagogy is firmly didactic and pedagogical thought seems lacking.

For the public sector, there is little money to sink into creating content to the same dynamic, multimedia standard. One area I am starting to explore is the easy creation of web content so that educators are less likely to whack on a powerpoint or word document. Making the content bespoke to a purely online course is an important step which many have not taken. The DIY nature means that it seems less valid to just put content up. They need to look good for this to work. Within education, there is unwritten understanding that learning activities are required regardless of this. However, I'm sure some would make do with just providing content if they could. Hiding behind making the content dynamic would make this easier.

Often, people bemoan the poor look and feel of VLEs. This is a fair point when compared to some of the communication/collaboration tools out there. It's not fair, however, if they are comparing to whizzy graphics of an expensively put together e-learning course. Pedagogically, such courses have less going for them even if they look the part.

This is not to suggest that HE online courses have good learning design across the board. Far from it, my job is try and facilitate this process and we have a way to go just to get everyone listening. However, there is conscious effort to make this happen. Private companies who get into e-learning steer clear of the asynchronous learning-type activities because they want to produce a produce and then sell that product. Ongoing costs are not on the agenda and facilitators cost.

A pertinent point to make is that this is largely what the customers want. Learners of all ages are used to being thrown content and then make to make sense of it themselves. They are not clamouring for a scaffolded learning process. They are not used to it and it seems too hard. All the better if the content they are given looks and sounds great.

Overall, there are massive differences with learning activities, software interaction, use of multimedia, look and feel and pedagogical design. My observation for this post is that private companies concentrate creating impressive looking, well designed software and where they produce courses themselves they often don't go much further with the pedagogy. Is this a bad thing? I guess it's just an observation.