Some strange things seem to be happening in the learning technology and T&L debates at the moment. There appears to be a growing presence of an anti-tech resistance, challenging the efficacy of technology (and those who use it). Some of these ‘think pieces’ question the motivations of those using technology in their class (both students and teachers), demean the status of social media as an active and fertile ground for intellectual debate, try and institute blanket bans for the good of the learner and actively argue that we need to ‘get back to chalk’. These have become battle lines in a fake war between protectors and challengers, defenders of the faith versus the barbarians at the gate. The innocent victims in all this posturing and puffery are the engaged teachers and learners (thanks @antonycoombsHE for the input). We can see the small bubbles of evidence for this assertion increasingly breaking through to the surface Let’s take Facebook as the canary in the coal mine;
There are universities who ban Facebook from fixed PCs in labs and student spaces (on the suggestion of other students, apparently)
The continued resistance (and active calls to ban) the use of student devices in lectures and tutorials, because of the assertion that ‘they will just be checking their Facebook’
On the other hand, a lot of Facebook led pilots at a delivery or curricula level have failed because students don’t like ‘their’ Facebook being hijacked for learning (although there is a lot of evidence that they are stopping using Facebook entirely, or use it to talk to each other, not the teacher!)
Universities wanting to hold some sway of what their staff say on social media to present a unanimity of opinion (including Facebook).
In the end, these are pointless battles in an entirely distracting conflict. We are arguing about the toss and not about the game. It doesn’t matter what devices are in their hands. What matters most is good teaching. Does it matter that you have a pair of red shoes on? No. What matters is that they make you feel good. It matters that they help people identify or find you. It matters that they stop that puddle you stepped in from making your socks a squidgy mess. What matters is the experiences that people participate in. Good teaching at its heart is the creation and facilitation of experience. There is an old marketing truism that I have always found insightful. People don’t buy ¼ inch drill bits, they but ¼ inch holes. Good teaching is not the fact that someone has a MacBook open or that you have created a PowerPoint slide or even that you have knowledge that you believe someone else needs to become an expert. Good teaching creates environments and conditions for learning experiences to happen. And the creation and nourishment of any experience is a product of a complex interplay of environmental factors. Good teachers hold and move the faders on those factors in order to achieve some form of synergy. Technology is without doubt one of those factors but by itself is like breathing only the nitrogen part of the air.
Good teaching is device/platform/OS agnostic
The kind of devices that people use or the sometimes desperate need to find a use for a piece of technology in teaching (Pokémon GO, it is the new Snapchat) become the easier conversations to have, especially amongst learning technologists and educational developers. Yes, the type of technology being used can and does influence the experiences people learn from. And yes, if the technology doesn’t work it can impact on that experience as well. And yes again, maybe a new platform or social media will seed good ideas and promote innovation. None of these assertions are wrong. But (and there is always a but), by themselves they are the less confronting conversation to have, because they are ignoring the elephant in the room. Good teaching is a hard thing to do. Good teaching is a challenging and emotionally draining thing to do. Good teaching lifts you high and can smack you down, sometimes in the space of a single class. Good teaching sees devices and uses them when they can contribute or challenge or transform what you are trying to do in your class.
Denial is not an instrument of good teaching
Making someone turn a device off in order to help them learn is not a critical approach to teaching. I used to work with a teacher who brought a bucket of water into his classroom and said ‘if I hear a phone go off, it goes into the water’. Why have we become so afraid of a phone? Sure, you may want a debate or discussion that asks people to engage, visually and actively. But what kind of learning can devices help with? Learning about how people learn. So, what actually goes on behind that sea of glowing white apples you see in your lecture? Have they all got Facebook open? Probably. Are they chatting with their mates? Yeah. Are they looking up words and definitions on Wikipedia? Almost certainly. How about providing them with a backchannel for conversation using a twitter hashtag, so that you can answer questions. How about providing them with a list of sites where they can check up definitions of words that match the kind of materials you use. Denial just leads to resistance and rebellion. Nothing good will come of it.
Good teaching is enabled by good communications. Technology changes the way we communicate
I am not describing all technology as simply instrumental tools, without power to influence good teaching. The way technology is used to collaborate, share, critique, engage (this list is endless) shapes the way we communicate. Creativity is democratised. Identity is fluid. Spaces are safe and dangerous. Risk is minimised and multiplied. People learn differently. To ignore social media and its transformative community of practices would be a dangerous ignorance. That doesn’t mean we have to all communicate through twitter in 140 characters, nor does it mean that crowdsourcing and Yelp recommendations will replace academic knowledge as the purest form of thought. But it is in those very defences against using technology that one of the most fundamental tensions in higher education lies; you are either with us or against us. It is a polarised debate, with no middle ground and a series of entrenched positions backed with rigid institutional structures and policies and with all the risk dumped heavily on the shoulders of students. If they choose to deny themselves the use of technology to live their lives, will that help them pass? How strong is the gravitational pull of a 2:1? Does the view of Professor Dr Jones requiring them to only use printed book sources for their essay outweigh their need for employable skills? So, how do they respond? They tell us to use our technology better; we want better PowerPoints, we want the VLE to do stuff to help us learn. And when we can be left on our own to study and prepare and learn (like we are for 90% of our HE experience), we will do things our way. We will use social media, we will chat with each other using whatever apps we like, we will share cool stuff and be visual and we will communicate and engage with people all over the world sharing knowledge, experiences and expertise. Because that is what we do. That is how we communicate and live our lives.
It doesn’t matter what is in their hands, it will be there and it will be used. It is none of our concern whether it is in their hands or not. Knowing it is in their hands empowers both them and us to make better learning experiences.
Title image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/karolfranks/7266270182
Part 3 of this extended blog post will focus on how to ‘do’ post-digital learning experiences and make them work as part of an integrated approach to learning and curriculum design. And the glue that holds these approaches together is design thinking. Design thinking represents an interesting conceptual framework in which to think about teaching and learning. Meinel and Leifer (2010) describe four tenets or rules of a design thinking approach;
The human rule – all design activity is ultimately social in nature
The ambiguity rule – design thinkers must preserve ambiguity
The re-design rule – all design is re-design
The tangibility rule – making ideas tangible always facilitates communication
These frames help explore solutions for what design thinkers called ‘wicked problems’; difficult, intractable, nebulous or impossibly contrary questions that challenge the structures and fabrics of practice. In higher education, wicked problems are pervasive and disruptive for evolving and emerging practices. They arise from the relationship between learners and teachers, between the faculty and institution, between the centre and the Schools, between technology and things remaining the same as they have always been. But within the design thinking approach there are some perceptive and practical insights that can inform the idea of learning experiences as a critical factor in learning and teaching design.
Human – Teaching and learning is a human activity. It is social and is guided and shaped by the mores, tropes and vagaries of human communication. Identity, status, privilege, roles, language and intent are pushed into a sense of hyper-reality in the context of education.
Ambiguity is a parlour trick we often use to ensure the fourth wall remains unbreakable. And next week, you will find out the secret of passing the exam, this week I will tempt, next week I will taunt, maybe a bit of tease the following week. But ambiguity also can be a positive, taking the next step without knowing what is underfoot; leaping off a cliff hoping there will be someone there to catch you. Ambiguity is more than a cliff-hanger. It is a function of learning as an adult, because life is ambiguous.
Re-design – Almost all teaching is a process of redesign, whether its curation, remixing, re-purposing, summarising, aggregating, commenting.
Tangibility – making it and keeping it real. Case studies, application, life experience, problem solving, practicality, it’s all there in what most people call good teaching and learning.
Post-digital learning experiences are a design thinking process. How do we break the intractable nooses of institutional entropy, technological tensions and the incongruity of expectation? How do we design tangibility, ambiguity and humanity into teaching and learning so that outcomes are enhanced, durability of learning continues to extend, transferability of experience is enhanced and the effectiveness of education is exponentially increased? How do we do design thinking for learning? This post will explore how to design learning experiences relevant for the post-digital age. The PDLE idea comes from applying a design thinking approach to the wicked problem of teaching and learning in a modern institution, with modern learners and modern disciplines. It comes from the debate constructed so often in my blog about what happens if we do nothing. What happens if we ignore the changes in learners, learning and society and carry on advocating the holy virtue of pen, paper and note taking? What happens if we ask people to turn their devices off in order to learn or demonise them for wasting time on frivolous uses of technology? Because often, that is where we are and that is the entrenched position defended to the death by the pure of heart from the marauding techno-hordes. It comes from the way people design stuff other than learning. Art, media, careers, discoveries, business, innovation and their lives.
Found is the first of the post-digital learning experiences because it is the one closest to my own practice. The notion of making sense from discovery is at the heart of learning. It has not all been written or discovered. There are huge swathes of undiscovered countries. At the core of found are two very powerful learning experiences; bricolage and discovery. Found represents a way of explaining the sheer capacity of knowledges. Found is a way of understanding something, explaining something, adding a sense of the undiscovered and the unknown;
Asking the question without knowing the answer
Story without an ending
Problems without solutions
As a learning experience found can have many guises. From the discovery of new and exciting ways of thinking and seeing, to the co-opting of knowledge from diverse disciplines in order to have insights into your own. From seeing an image and telling a story, through to the remix and re-purposing culture of digital media making, through to the finding of meaning, found can change the way learning happens. However, much of modern learning uses found in its paste tense form. Knowledge has already been found, and the job of the academy is to present you that knowledge. The job of the research academic is to find out more. The student is not the finder. The student is the repeater of found knowledge. The student is the next in the chain of Chinese whispers. In a modern bricolage culture, found is no longer a past tense. It is a sense of future discovery; it is a label for artefacts and raw material. Learning experiences that build on found enhance curiosity, complex linkages, independent thinking, collective intelligence, the progression of knowledge and an educational ambition that sets to to make that sure that there is more than that to be found. Knowledge as an experience is not static in a found learning design. It is a body of active pieces waiting to be reconstructed, reinterpreted, rediscovered and reused.
There has been an incredibly large amount written about making (in a post-digital world). For a much better exposition of this idea, I point you to the work of David Gauntlett and his brilliant piece on making called ‘Making is Connecting’. Making is a core learning experience. It is rooted in conceptual frameworks like creativity, problem solving, tactility, abstract thinking and practicality. Maker spaces have traditionally been the realm of engineering and sciences but I have been advocating the creation of maker spaces for a wide variety of disciplines. I am working on what a maker space would like look for the social sciences. At the core of making for me is the concept of owning. The learner owns the experience, the space, the outcome and the solutions. Making challenges the theoretical safety net of HE to be realised in a practical environment. Equally, creativity is a fundamental. Technology has democratised creativity. Technology has made your ability to make with others, share with contemporaries and make your making available exponentially wider and easier. Everyone is creative in some way. Creating learning experiences that provide people with the opportunity to make something opens up avenues of learning that consumption and reception can never replicate. It might be as simple as a case or simulation right through to technology-led practices like media making, app development, product design or innovation. There is a growing movement to make making more explicit and tactile, maker spaces and labs, simple to use but complex apps that allow everything from music making, to knowledge presentation through to design work to be done on a tablet. Making is a design activity that is multi-sensual, trans-disciplinary and a tookkit for life-long learning.
I have written a lot about identity in a post-digital age. It is a complex thing, caught flash hard in the debates about safety, responsibility, expression and citizenship. Identity as a learning experience is inherently trans-disciplinary, providing a skill relevant across learning trajectories. Without re-hashing the debates about digital identity (that you can see splashed through my blog history), there are some key aspects relevant to learning design. Identity formation is a critical learning experience; what is your identity within a discipline? Where do you fit into traditions and discourses? Identity sharing is a learning experience at the heart of effective portfolio learning, professional development and connected experiences. Identity development is a 21st century skill, knowing how to use and develop, manage and nuance multiple identities for different aspects of your life. I have written a lot about the digital stranger (the person who reveals only small slices of themselves in an on-line environment, made easier by avatars, light touch registrations and the blurring of identity in social media) and how fleeting connections with people can shape thinking and development of beliefs and practice. One of my favourite writers, Stephen Brookfield (1984) really nailed this idea in an article called ‘Tales from the dark side: a phenomenography of adult critical reflection’ In this seminal piece, he talks about how identity impacts directly on how we reflect critically as practitioners, identifying senses like impostership (the idea that reflection is not for the ‘likes of me’, cultural suicide (that to be true and honest in reflection could be shaming of friends) and lost innocence (that reflection troubles to address ambiguities best left unaddressed) as darker sides of identity interacting with communication, reflection and the practices of teaching.
From the way media can be shared and critiqued, to peer assessment, through to exploring and interrogating the necessity of anonymous double blind marking, identity is a learning experience that crosses through much of the learning activity we engage in. And like the rest of these learning experiences, it is not the sole domain of our students. Identity is at the heart of teaching practice too. The cult of the expert, the theatricality of the fourth wall in a lecture, the capacity to always be right and the artifice that protects poor assessment and feedback from anything other than student satisfaction criticism are all informed by crisis’ and concepts of identity.
‘Play is at the heart of human behaviour, encouraging healthy relationships, enhanced literacy and creativity (Saracho & Spodek, 1998) and a better developed approach to work and career (Hartung, 2002). Play is not risk free, with some arguing that the best learning should hurt (Mann, 1996). Margitay-Becht and Herrera (2010) note that ‘fun is learning’ and observed little resistance by staff to engaging in fun activities such as virtual worlds and gaming but much higher resistance from the students, who wanted their experiences rooted in reality and play for the times after learning.’
We all play. Life is full of play. And play is equal parts fun and risk. Some of the most fun we have ever have is when we play with risk. Jumping from planes, falling off slippery dips or singing our signature song at Karaoke, this time in front of a live audience (I will tell you mine, if you share yours. All song titles in the comments!). Play is great. Trouble is that learning can be so damned serious. Brows get furrowed. Stress balls are made from competing deadlines. It seems that we are happy when are students aren’t having fun but worrying and stressing. Part of life. And then there is us. Where has the fun gone in our jobs? Counting down the months, weeks, days, hours and minutes to holidays. The stress of tenure and the worry that if even the smallest thing goes wrong, we are back searching on jobs.ac.uk. Failure isn’t an option when it comes to pedagogy. NSS scores, student evaluations, the push to higher and higher student achievement have driven all the fun and experimentation out of teaching. So, how do we bring play back into learning? We have to encourage students to experiment, to fail, to fall flat on their faces or find themselves succeeding despite their best efforts, all in safe way. It is no longer acceptable to simply get a degree in the UK. You need a good degree (although hopefully this stupidity is now changing). We have to support a culture where play and experimentation are natural components of good teaching. Where we learn as much from failure as we do from success and we bring students along with us on the ride. That way they don’t feel like guinea pigs when they are paying £9000 fees.
Play means a chance to use games, digital storytelling, media making, Lego, role plays and other mechanisms that break reality and put people into slightly uncomfortable roles. I used to run a class where I used a thing called interactive case studies. These were all set around a restaurant where certain characters created a scenario for HR or management students. I asked for a few volunteers from the class to play these characters. I gave each ‘actor’ some basic character traits and asked them to improvise the characters based around them (simple traits like ‘always brought things back to them’ or ‘always lies’ or ‘will always support character Doris, even when she is wrong). Sometimes it worked, and other times I had to step in, moderate and lead. But every time I ran it, it was fun. People laughed and played. I gave people who weren’t feeling comfortable to chance to ‘tag’ another student into their role. This was a safe space. There were no grades, no pressure, some risk of public performance, but it was all about learning. It tapped into identity, roles, perceptions and attitudes, all crucial skills for people management. We learn through play. It doesn’t have to infantalise or regress people. Adults play. But experimentation and play, whether it be through humour, or simulation or gamification are effective post-digital learning experiences.
Life is chaotic, messy, non-linear, traumatic, joyful, unexpected and unpredictable. Memory is much the same. Learning however, is in the main structured, scaffolded, episodic and linear. This tension could afford education with a unique opportunity to develop skills in navigating, leveraging and riding the chaos. Instead, it tries to control it and at worst ignore it, assuming normalcy and norms dominate. This norm driven perspective assumes for example, that the jobs that existed when a student started their degree look exactly like the world they will enter three years later.
Discontinuity as a learning experience takes the fear and uncertainty that arises from not knowing if there is something waiting for your next foot fall and learns from the calculations, assumptions and sometimes faith (in the truly atheist sense) that goes through your brain in the split second before you step. It lets the learner enter the story at the middle, or the end and work through the problem in reverse, identifying and challenging assumptions. It shows them the natural end of a discourse and asks them to reverse engineer how we got there. To identify what assumptions were inherent in the debate and what shaped arguments, discoveries or transformative moments. It drops them in the centre of a problem, like the middle of a maze and encourages then to find and deduct their way out. Chaos is equally as powerful a learning experience. The wash of not knowing what is happening, that slight out of control feeling that eventually coalesces (usually around assessment time) has been part of higher education for years. It can be dizzying, challenging and uncomfortable, like many of the things we experience in life and work. Replicating even a dash of that through discursive activities, breaking of routines, cracking the fourth wall or challenging power structures brings an element of safe free fall into learning. And it makes for authentic experiences that replicate the way we in part live our lives. All of which brings us to…
This is an interesting concept, not less for the debates around what is authentic. Authenticity as a learning experience is rooted in ensuring that what the learner does feels and in effect is real. Realness is a very fuzzy concept in an on-line world. From the variability of identity to the mask of reality that on-line interaction can afford participants, defining something as authentic is difficult. We may have defined authenticity in learning pre-digital age as things like field trips, simulations, model offices, work based learning or professional practice. But in a more complex learning world what can constitute as authentic? At a simple level, it is about making sure that the learning experience means something, that it is not simply a test of character, or the rite of passage afforded to those who get to experience higher education, as an ivory tower hall of rotating knives. At a more concrete level, it is about the skills required to develop ethical frameworks, approaches to working with and supporting people, developing and changing the world, and an academic/student relationship that is built on a dialogue or a conversation where each are shaped by the interaction, not a monologue delivered by someone who will never know your name. Authentic experiences are not easy to facilitate, in fact, I would argue that it is the hardest of the PDLE. It is inherently personal. Authentic experiences rely on trust, the developing of a relationship, the exchange of experiences and the realization that learning is a complex amalgam of the interpersonal and personal.
‘…it’s through participation in communities that deep learning occurs. People don’t learn to become physicists by memorizing formulas; rather it’s the implicit practices that matter most. Indeed, knowing only the explicit, mouthing the formulas, is exactly what gives an outsider away. Insiders know more. By coming to inhabit the relevant community, they get to know not just the “standard” answers, but the real questions, sensibilities, and aesthetics, and why they matter.’ (Brown 2001)
Community is something that people crave for from a university experience. Being part of a learning community (as opposed to a community of learners) is empowering. But equally when that community can crowd-source knowledge and solve problems, when that community can leverage the power of the massive and through technology can span location, engage in social behaviours and create and share knowledge then it becomes truly transformative. Community learning experiences build on the social aspects of learning; collaboration, collective assessment and engagement, group work etc and social media changes that game entirely.
‘Social media has facilitated a complex, co-created and immediate form of learning response, where content and openness challenge the closed, structured nature of modern higher education . Social media has had significant impacts on the way learners connect with people and with the knowledge they require in order to learn across a variety of contexts. Social media support more than user interactivity, they support the development and application of user-generated content, collaborative learning, network formation, critical inquiry, relationship building, information literacy, dynamic searching and reflection.’
A social media community is far more than Facebook and Twitter. Social media explore innovative pedagogical practices like making, ideation, creation, critique, sociality, connected practice, crowd-sourcing, entrepreneurship, digital citizenship, media making, identity, politics and policy. And that is just the start. The communities that form on social media are equally fleeting as they are lasting, large as they are intimate, collaborative as they individual. They support lurkers, talkers, loud mouths, itinerants and learners. Social media are being used by your students now. They may be consuming yours, making their own, using their existing networks to find out stuff or leaving others because they have developed and moved on. Yes, they can have arseholes in them, but so can a bus. Yes, they have trolls, but so does a classroom. Community formation and development through social media is not a ‘trend’, it isn’t ‘new’ nor will it go away like fax-based learning (was that ever a thing?). Social media is for the foreseeable future how the internet is wired. It is how society is increasingly wired and it is how many people form and nurture their communities, inside and outside work. Sure, not everyone is an expert or a natural at social media. Not everyone likes talking on phones neither. Doesn’t mean we never used them for work.
There you have them. Seven post-digital learning experiences. None of them are ‘new’. They are all built on good teaching practices that we have done ourselves or experienced. They are rooted in deep traditions of experience, both socially and professionally. They are not exclusively digital, but they are amplified and enhanced in a digital environment. Technology makes them more possible and multiplies their potential. They will work in off-line, blended and on-line environments because in a post-digital institution, there is no discernible difference. They will will in open, free learning and closed residential experiences. I know, we have made them work. This is the shape of learning in the 21st century. It is complex for sure. It is not as simple as a voice in the room and the furious scribbling of pens. It is not something that can be summarised in a high stakes exam. But to be honest; effective, active, real learning has never been that anyway.
So, five months ago, I left you, dear reader, with a challenge; how do we re-imagine learning for a post-digital world? Five months on, I have come back to this challenge with some new perspectives, some learned experiences and a significant amount of re-imagining of my own. At the heart of that is a proposal for a new approach to designing teaching and learning. An approach that recognises learning outside the transmission and that through the construction and encouragement of experience provides a context for learning to happen in a way that aligns with the conduct of a post-digital life. This design process build experiences into the learning and teaching by shaping the way engagement, interaction, assessment and feedback is undertaken. They are post-digital learning experiences (PDLE); found, making, identity, play, discontinuity, authenticity and community. Inter-weaving these experiences through teaching and learning can shape, influence and enhance the opportunities for students to learn, to share learning and to teach others. They are part of a post-digital world, made accessible through social media, serious gaming, personal and collective spaces, apps, making, remixing, bricolage and sharing. In this blog, we will discuss the context of learning experiences leading to part 3 which will talk about the PDLE model.
So, where did we leave the debate at the end of part 1?
‘Last time on Peter Bryant rants about innovation…’
What I am promising from the next two posts is not a solution in a box. It is not an easily defined pedagogy like social constructivism or connectivism. It is not clean or neat. It is messy and chaotic. The common factor – the belief that the status quo is not inevitable, that the perception of equilibrium is changeable. That innovation is not a buzzword, nor is a dirty word. This is the first part of a three-part article. Parts two and three, which will be published after summer, outline what I am calling a ‘learning experience’ approach to teaching and learning in a post-digital world. How do we leverage the massive potential of modern learning in a higher education context? How do make higher education better and more relevant to the community who clearly value the contribution that a higher education can make? How do we empower teachers and learners to change and make the persuasive case to the institution to change along with them?
Learning Experiences, Mark 1
Higher education is more than a series of readings, lectures, class activities, feedback followed by an endless line of tests and essays Education is a lived experience. The process of learning, collectively, individually, on-line or face-to-face is in part, a construct of the way it is experienced. We know learning and teaching spaces influence the way way we teach, we know environments are critical to shaping learning. We also know that doing, seeing, practising and succeeding/failing are all fertile sites for learning. It is these assumptions that makes the idea of lifelong learning so compelling and aspirational. If learning at a higher level only occurs at the moments when we are exposed to transmission pedagogies, then it can then be argued that itself learning can stop. We can stop consuming; we can stop listening to the message, read Facebook and life our lives in splendid isolation. We can stop learning for life. But that is not the case. Each experience we have, however hard to describe, de-construct or explain is a learning one. It puts context on the other stuff we have learnt. It augments, affirms or contradicts baseline knowledge, higher order skills or more complex critical thought. It translates theory into practice and research into doing.
Knowles in his seminal text ‘The Modern Practice of Adult Education’ describes what he calls ‘learning experiences’. These fit into teaching and learning process as connective tissue and sinew, they weave the gaps knowledge and skills, integrating the problems, scenarios, applications and schemas in the learner’s brain through the thematic links within and between disciplines. He describes this type of learning design as an art form, rather than a process, because it is not a prescribed science. This is not something that can be applied universally. It is messy and chaotic (see part 1). It often requires a guide, a guru or a light to illuminate a path. It is a framework that allows people to understand and evaluate the experience through their own filters. I have read this book many times. I like the theory of andragogy. I like the skills set he puts forward for teaching adults. But there is more to this book that than the words and ideas contained within. The book is a learned experience for me. I learnt about teaching by doing some of the things that Knowles suggests. This copy of the book was my fathers. It still has slips of papers marking key sections that he thought relevant to his PhD in the 1980s. I learnt about teaching from watching him, good and bad. One of the sections he has marked is about learning experiences co-incidentally. It is the section that argues how learning is constructed through sensory experiences, from concrete to abstract, from direct, purposeful and contrived experiences like observation, simulations and demonstration right up to the burgeoning new fields of semiotics driven by media and computers (Film-strips! Slides! Teaching Machine Programs!). This book is far more than a workbook on adult teaching. Informing my practice directly through instruction and reinforcing, challenging and explaining the context in where my practice rests, it is a living, breathing map of sensory learned experiences. And it was my dad’s.
Learning happens when it is experienced. Transmission pedagogies like lectures and class teaching are still learning experiences. However, they are often one-way, de-contextualized and essentially normative. The learner’s experience lacks relevance to the process, as the teacher often creates an experience that privileges consumption as the only mode of active learning. Modern assessment practice does much the same. Consume, repeat, consume, repeat, sometimes apply, some combine, but always repeat. You see a number of research studies that say attending lectures increase student achievement (as an argument against lecture capture), that writing things down with a pen increases recall (as an argument against devices in classrooms) and that exams that reward memory are what employers want to assure and certify learning (as an argument against diverse assessment practices). These are not experiences that dominate post-digital living.
Learning Experiences in a post-digital world (Mark II)
So why is any of this different to what it was in say 1970? Aside from the progression from the film-strip to the glorious VHS tape to YouTube, are learning experiences any different in the post-digital world? I guess it is too easy to simply say yes. Like most things, there is evidence and there is opinion. The evidence part is easy (cite 2014, cite 2011, cite 2018). The opinion, as always, is much harder, especially as I would like to convince you of my opinion, by not citing the opinion of others (what a tangled web we weave!). So, in the time honoured tradition of academics everywhere, here is a list of five reasons why my opinion is what it is.
All our students are already using technology to a wide variety of degrees.
This is a simple assertion. All of us are using technology; from cash machines, to smartphones, to laptops to tablets to our oyster card. Each of these pieces of technology serves a purpose. They change the way we do things. They change the language we use and they shift core practices around processes (such as paying, communications, processing and thinking). There are no universal rules about this. Generations after us are not naturally better than their parents at being technologically adept. These technologies are simply there. They develop, change and progress like most other means. In your classroom you have an array of devices more powerful than any of the ones that went before. There are ways to use that technology for the benefits of learners and learning. Instant communications, collaborations, interactions outside the classroom, annotations, engagement with readings, critical thought, right down to managing the calendar. These skills are not native, nor are they uniform. But they have been learnt through experience. From the first time you swiped left or right on an iPad to learning that not carrying money and getting on the last Tube was pretty damned convenient, even if crowded and hot.
All the jobs students will do are shaped in part by technology
We use technology to do all our jobs. You are reading a blog now. Almost every discipline has been impacted by technology; from research practice to visual rhetoric through to open access. How do we integrate these changes into curricula, teaching and assessment? Like any other programme/design process, we are research informed, we maintain rigour and we understand what skills and knowledge graduates will need to be develop expertise and understanding. Technology is just another part of that. Technology can make, stimulate or replicate experiences. Technology can help simulate real world employment situations, global phenomena or inter-personal scenarios. Technology can develop the communication, collaboration, identity or teamwork skills required in most modern workplaces. Technology skills such as media making, coding, social media or searching are critical trans-disciplinary concepts. Experience is at the core of these practices (and it is how we translate learning into working).
Technology is not a scorched earth approach to teaching
No institution wants to replace you with robots after recording your lectures. There is no replacement for the interaction and engagement face to face contact supports (either live or facilitated on-line). Technology does what it says on the box. It enhances, it adds, it disrupts and it transforms. Technology is not cheaper, faster, better or more. It is not an either/or choice. This is not a judgement call that marks on-line as better than face-to-face or that residential education makes on-line learning look like the poor cousin. Whether this is technology students use outside the classroom, or the innovative, flexible spaces were are looking to create within; Technology does not teach. Technology does not make people learn. You do. Students do. Experience does.
Technology can make things possible that you previously thought impossible
One of the great potentials of technology is change. Technology for education represents a wonderful catalyst for change. One colleague commented to me recently that they have been waiting for the technology to catch up with their thinking. Maybe thinking about technology will change the way we think about assessment, challenge some of our assumptions about feedback, maybe it will open a door or close another. Maybe technology will shift the lecture from being bounded by transmission pedagogies to being discursive and interactive. We advocate for technologies to be more than an economic replacement of one practice with another. They are a chance for a rethink, a chance inspiration or a series of experiments that allow you to embed some play and fun into your teaching and learning.
Technology does enhance learning
Give it a go. The gap between what our learners see and understand as their on-line learning experience and the face to face experience is narrowing. It is all just learning. The capabilities required to search quickly, determine the veracity of information and do this whilst doing three other things are developing rapidly. These skills are by no means universal or natural, but they are developing and they are shaping how people learn. From students being able to re-watch lectures 8 or 9 times to make sure they understood concepts to being able to access a support network at 4am through twitter (or just to know when the Library lift is out of order) technology is enhancing learning right now.
What is a learning experience in the post-digital age?
Learning experiences are still the connective tissue in the process of learning and teaching. With all the routine and standards around quality assurance and enhancement, much of our focus is almost entirely on the skeleton of learning; the curricula, learning outcomes and modes of assessment. Then there are the methodologies of teaching; lecture, tutorial, seminar, class, group work, exam, field trip or discussion. These are structured and shaped by expensive embedded infrastructure that itself shapes the type of teaching done within it. Teaching rooms with a front and a back. Projectors that can be seen by all and controlled by one. Four walls that contain what happens within them. Timetables, administration and practices that dictate massive over intimate. Technology that replicates and reassures the existing practice as a safe and comfortable blanket of conformed practice. A safe experience. A timely experience. A didactic experience that feels the same as the ones that shaped who we are. But in the end, for all the predictions and the manufactured nostalgia, Back to the Future II was not a documentary, nor was it written by a futurist or a genius. What we imagined as the future of education in 1985 is not what it should be in 2015, because it is not the 18 year old us that is experiencing it. It is the next generation and they are not us, as we are not our parents (Heaven forbid!). What technology, social media, and the impacts of technology on life, love and work have done is change that equation. Experiences are virtual and real, they are offline and online and they are dangerous, risky, traumatic, joyful, connected, isolating and overwhelming. And they are ours and they are theirs.
The next part of this blog post will look at seven learning experiences that I propose make up a model of post-digital learning. These experiences are not the exclusive domain of technology and the modern. Far from it. But, they are facilitated more effectively in a post digital institution, drawing from trans-disciplinary knowledge and rooted in a society that has been transformed (disrupted) by interactive and collaborative technology. They are the bits between curricula and teaching practice. They are the things that shape how we teach and how something is learnt. I believe that they can work in predictable and unpredictable ways, across disciplines and levels. Once again, that is opinion. The reality only comes from when you experience it.
And now, some music to make you think (or forget). I have been in an Australian music mode recently. Music is a great example of a learned experience. I am always learning about music through experience. Not books, or being told that these are the 100 tracks I have to listen to. I live it. I experience it. So, do the same. They are both poems of lived experience. Maybe you will like these two tracks, or maybe they will make you find the connections, the relationships, the lineage or the opposites. or maybe, by experiencing it, you will decide that it is not for you. Either way, it is up to you.
A part of this piece was previously published in an amended form on the LSE LTI Blog*