How Learning and Teaching are Changing

Pedagogy - the art and science of teaching; the method and practice of teaching – an understanding of how humans learn best. This is what educators are interested in. For too long ICT has been ‘sold’ to educators as an essential with little linking to why. How does it relate to pedagogy? How does it make us learn better? What has ICT got to do with that?

When we talk about ICT let’s move beyond the tools. I get tired of hearing one presentation after another espousing the latest, greatest, shrunk down, sped up, oversized, undersized piece of plastic that will supposedly transform education forever. It won’t.

Education has never been about what pencils you have in your pencil case – rather it is about people – about understanding how we learn. I’m also weary of hearing that ‘ICT will make your lessons more engaging’ – trust me it won’t. I’m sure they are already engaging and every teacher knows that those shiny bells in the corner only maintain engagement for a short time - what are you going to do then?

So why talk about ICT at all? The reason is that the way we learn as humans is fundamentally changing because of the digital revolution and as educators we need to be aware of that. Let’s quickly look at some of the exciting current thinking about learning.

Social Learning

For too long in western education there has been the over emphasis on the individual. Children come to us as empty vessels ready to be filled with whatever information (content) we think is important. This learning is mostly done independently of others. In contrast knowing (or knowledge) is about who you are, what you are doing all unfolds within a social environment - never independent from it. Embracing the social environment ICT allows for connections, communities of practice and social learning to occur like never before. How are schools prepared to deal with Social Networks (Facebook, Twitter etc) and utilise them for a new approach to learning?

Constructivism / Experiential Learning

This is not a new theory; it’s been around for over 100 years, but still many schools regard it as radical. We learn best through experience. The worst way to teach is to stand at the front of the class, passing on information (content) in a lecture style. Anyone who thinks they hold more information than the internet - well keep teaching this way - if not let’s find new ways.

This is not to say that explicit skills based teaching is not at times necessary, and the internet holds many repositories of content and millions of examples of good explicit teaching. For example see the Khan Academy, or just type your question into Google or ask Youtube and you’ll find someone will have uploaded a video teaching you how to do it. If it is a simple explicit fact that needs to be “learnt” in order to achieve a greater purpose, point the student to a place where they can find it - or better still teach them the strategy to find it so you never have to point them again. This frees you up to provide far deeper learning experiences for your students.

Gaming is one great way to develop experiential learning. Digital games such as Sim City or Civilisation and a host of others can be used to give students experiences previously unavailable to them. For example in SIM city they experience being a Mayor with all the responsibilities and consequences involved with decisions made. Use it to teach a Civics and Government Unit. The axiom of experiential learning is “I can teach you about swimming or I can let you go for a swim.” Which one is the most powerful learning experience? ICT now provides us with potential experiences previously unavailable.

Connectivism

this is a relatively new theory that is entirely relevant to the digital age and in particular, the Internet. It claims that all knowledge is now residing in the online networks. Moving on from experiential learning, Connectivism claims that the world is now moving so fast that we can no longer experience all the things we need to in order to keep up. I’m sure we can all relate to this feeling. Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge. “I store my knowledge in my friends” is an axiom for collecting knowledge through collecting people.

This theory is very relevant for the why and how we would use ICT. You can see evidence for it in Social Media, the use of Nings, Wikis, Blogs and many other devices that help students connect to whatever networks they need to assist their learning. It is our job as educators to encourage participation in these networks, including publishing work, expressing opinions, asking the network questions, commenting, tagging information and sharing it to a networked group such as Diigo and so on. Active participation is the key.

This is what makes ICT so exciting, no longer are students locked in to the reductionist methods of closed classroom doors. Rather there is a whole diverse world to navigate, to collaborate with to learn how to communicate with and to co-create with. Use whatever tool you want but keep these deeper principles in mind.

Kynan Robinson
Senior Education Consultant
New Era PD

Kynan Robinson