Monday, November 17, 2014

POTCert Week 11: Introduction to Online Education Theory

Larry Sanger, Individual Knowledge in the Internet Age (2010)
Jaron Lanier, Does the Digital Classroom Enfeeble the Mind (2010)
George Siemens, Networks, Ecologies, and Curatorial Teaching (2007)

For years I've watched the corporate world jump on the latest idea, whether it's related to management, leadership, customer service, marketing, employee development or whatever else, based on the phenomenal success of one company or the other or on the latest best seller written about one of those subjects. I watched as one group of managers campaigned for adopting the new idea making it sound like the cure all solution, trying to replicate or implement it, in many cases without enough thought to why was it successful in the first place, how it was implemented, what were the kind of adjustments that had to be made for it to succeed, how long did it take, what corporate culture allowed it to be successful, what are the possible risks, cost, unwanted consequences etc., while on the other side another group demonized it without a second look at what we could learn from it, twisting every part of it and every word to prove why it wouldn't work, or just simply pulled rank to stop it.

 I enjoy change and I get very excited about new ideas and possibilities, but an unjustified "either or " or "all or nothing" attitudes towards different options frustrates me.

I think something similar seems to, sometimes, happen in education when a new tool, space or theory is proposed. One of my experiences of that was after I joined my first MOOC (massive Open Online Course) sometime in 2011. I lurked a lot, participated little, but I learned and I expanded my learning network, in fact that's how I got to know about POTCert. There were those who wrote about it as the best thing that ever happened and the solution to all the problems in education and on the other side there were those who openly labeled it a useless idea. As a learner I liked some things and was frustrated by other aspects of the MOOC and I am still working on figuring it out.

As I mentioned in previous posts, while my preference is experiential learning style (which is more constructivist), I've used several pedagogical styles in the same course and I believe that this should and can be applied to online learning. As for the connectivist style, I have to say I am still learning about it. I need to have enough experience in it as a learner to make educated decisions when I am thinking about using it as a trainer.

I love the possibilities that the internet brings but I am not blind to how it can be misused, or to that there are some unwanted side effects already visible and that there may be more to be discovered.

Lanier says that we don't know about the working of the brain, and I can agree that for a long time we didn't and that we may still not know enough, but luckily neuroscience is finally taking a closer look at how we learn and how this knowledge impacts education. Here are some examples:

In any case, we have several well established learning theories that inform instructional designers and educators as they create courses with observable results and they can still inform them as they use computers and the internet tools to enhance the learning opportunities and experiences. What I agree with Lanier on is that computers and the internet in education need to be used more effectively and creatively to enhance and deepen the learning and not only because it's the latest fad someone is promoting.  I agree with him that we need more spaceships.

These are a couple of examples of how computers and the internet allowed for a learning experience that would not have been possible without them:

Larry Sanger's article in my opinion is another all or nothing view, predicting the end of everything "good" in education. I have so many examples to respond to each point but this will make the post too long. However I will just say something brief about the first point.

As a learner I was never good at or enjoyed memorizing facts especially when I couldn't see the benefit. I recognize that there are subjects where memorizing facts is important and unfortunately in the education system in Egypt there's no distinction. In the Public Schools it's all about cramming huge amounts of content only to dump it in a test and mostly forget it right after. The example that Sanger took of historical dates is exactly why I hated history as a student (sorry Lisa). The funny thing is that many years later I went and studied the full Egyptian history with the related archaeology to obtain a license as a tourist guide, and I enjoyed it tremendously. Did I change? No. The main difference was the way it was introduced and it was relevant. I still don't like nor understand the purpose behind making children memorize dates. I would love my niece who's 11 to be curious about the history, the sequence of events and what lead to them, the consequences. I would love her to be able to draw comparisons between historical events and what happens now and learn from it all and none of this requires her to memorize the dates.

A comment titled Learning Has Not Changed... much posted in response to the article by Susan Fowler under her user name referencegirl says more of what I wanted to say. Thank you Susan. :)

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