In Learning Design, Pedagogy First, Medium Second

Also published on the Educational Technology and Change Journal

It's common to hear the argument "we need to use social media in learning because that what the kids are doing." This position has merit but there's a lot that's packed into statement and this can sometimees cause confusion. The sentiment is correct in that there is a desire to engage with school age students on their terms. However, often this gets wrapped up in intentions for more learner centred and collaborative pedagogical stances. That's fine (if that's what you want), but it's important to make a distinction between the medium and the pedagogy. Although the affordance of social media to clearly towards to collaborative.

It's also interesting that this statement is often tied in with increasing the engagement of learners who are not engaged. It's almost like we are saying "let's speak their language." Again, this has merit. But it's important to understand that this is part of a bigger picture. Choosing the right communication channel is important if it will mean greater chance of validity with a particular group of learners. However, this will only take you so far. What most important is good learning design. Take your pedagogical stance, design the learning, and choose the mediums to deliver this learning appropriately. If you are taking a participatory or collaborative stance this could well involve internet based tools. I won't go further on this track as I've been this road before.

What I will say is that it's easier to talk in terms of communication channels. Teenager are communicating through facebook because they can. We now have additional communication channels. These supplement what we had before - talking, telephone, email. They allow people to be in contact in times and places where they couldn't before. We should be interested in using such channels for learning. Expressing the issue in this way takes the edge of statement: "we need to use it because they are using it". It also takes it away from merging it with the pedagogical debates.

Overall, I think it's useful to seperate the tool you use to deliver the learning away from the learning design process. Starting with the medium in mind is dangerous in that it can determine how you teach.

Acquisition or Participation

Also published on the Educational Technology and Change Journal

When you think about the various options for using technology in teaching and learning there is a stark contrast between those that come from the Web 2.0 movement which are often free/easy to use; and those that come from the commercial software companies - expensive and often cumbersome. Overall, you can also draw a pedagogical dividing line between these two areas - acquisition or participation.

Acquisition is all about preserving what we have, transmitting the knowledge in the way we have done in formal education. I'm talking here about web conferencing system, Learner Management Systems (I mean the core products not the added on interactive stuff), Lecture capture systems. They are complex, bandwidth heavy and are usually accompanied by a manual or require expensive training and support.

Participation is about... well participation, collaboration, knowledge construction, all that stuff. The tools to achieve these are usually stand-alone, free, easy to use, graphically impressive, and have build in communities of support to draw on.

I wonder why this is. Perhaps it's because commercial companies know they can make money from building a product that fulfills what the customer wants rather than what some people think they should want; it might be that it's more natural to make a tool about communication and collaboration online than it is to build something that is all about preserving the face-to-face lecture, it's certainly easier.

Whatever the reason, it feels from where I'm sitting that acquisition stuff is made the priority. No matter what it costs we want technologies to preserve what we do already. Ok, there is all this collaborative stuff but we can think about later once I get my head around this LMS control panel!

I'm simplifying things of course. The divide isn't that stark and in reality you need a combination of both. What's interesting is that if ever we want evidence for the dominant pedagogical model we only need to look at how we are using technology. Despite all the affordances for collaboration and communication it's the transmission we want it for.