Posted tagged ‘role’

The grassroots of learning

22 October 2014

Here’s a common scenario: I “quickly” look up something on Wikipedia, and hours later I have 47 tabs open as I delve into tangential aspects of the topic.

That’s the beauty of hypertext. A link takes you somewhere else, which contains other links that take you somewhere else yet again. The Internet is thus the perfect vehicle for explaining the concept of rhizomatic learning.

Rhizomatic learning is something that I have been superficially aware of for a while. I had read a few blog posts by Dave Cormier (the godfather of the philosophy) and I follow the intrepid Soozie Bea (a card-carrying disciple), but unfortunately I missed Dave’s #rhizo14 mooc earlier in the year.

Since I’ve been blogging about the semantics of education lately, I thought it high time to dig a little deeper.

Bamboo with rhizome

It seems to me that rhizomatic learning is the pedagogical antithesis of direct instruction. Direct instruction has pre-defined learning outcomes with pre-defined content to match. The content is typically delivered in a highly structured format.

In contrast, rhizomatic learning has no pre-defined learning outcomes nor pre-defined content. The learner almost haphazardly follows his or her own line of inquiry from one aspect of the subject matter to the next, then the next, and so forth according to whatever piques his or her interest. Thus it can not be predicted ahead of time.

Given my scientific background, I was already familiar with the rhizome. So is everyone else, incidentally, perhaps without realising it. A rhizome is the creeping rootstalk of a plant that explores the soil around it, sending out new roots and shoots as it goes along. A common example is bamboo, whose rhizome enables it to spread like wildfire.

In A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari adopt the rhizome as a metaphor for the spread of culture throughout society. That’s a massive over-simplification, of course, and quite possibly wrong. The Outsider represents the extent of my French philosophy bookshelf!

Anyway, the point I’m bumbling towards is that Dave Cormier has picked up this philosophical metaphor and applied it to the wonderful world of learning. He explains in Trying to write Rhizomatic Learning in 300 words:

“Rhizomatic Learning developed as an approach for me as a response to my experiences working with online communities. Along with some colleagues we started meeting regularly online for live interactive webcasts starting in 2005 at Edtechtalk. We learned by working together, sharing our experiences and understanding. The outcomes of those discussions were more about participating and belonging than about specific items of content – the content was already everywhere around us on the web. Our challenge was in learning how to choose, how to deal with the uncertainty of abundance and choice presented by the Internet. In translating this experience to the classroom, I try to see the open web and the connections we create between people and ideas as the curriculum for learning. In a sense, participating in the community is the curriculum.”

I note that this explanation from 2012 is somewhat different from his paper in 2008, which of course reflects the evolution of the idea. In Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum, Dave similarly mentioned the abundance of content on the Internet, and also the shrinking half-life of knowledge. He contrasted the context of traditional education – in which experts are the custodians of a canon of accepted thought, which is presumed to remain relatively stable – with today – in which knowledge changes so quickly as to make the traditional notion of education flawed.

Dave posited educational technology is a prime example. Indeed when I studied this discipline at university, much of the learning theory (for instance) enjoyed a broad canon of knowledge to which students such as myself could refer. It was even documented in textbooks. Other aspects of the subject (for instance, the rapid advances in technology, and the pedagogical shifts towards social and informal learning) could not be compared against any such canon. The development of this knowledge was so rapid that we students relied as much on each other’s recent experiences and on sharing our personal learning journeys than we did on anything the professor could supply.

“In the rhizomatic model of learning, curriculum is not driven by predefined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process. This community acts as the curriculum, spontaneously shaping, constructing, and reconstructing itself and the subject of its learning in the same way that the rhizome responds to changing environmental conditions.”

From 2008 to 2012, I see a shift in Dave’s language from Rhizomatic Education to Rhizomatic Learning. This I think is a better fit for the metaphor, as while it may be argued that the members of the community are “teaching” one another, the driving force behind the learning process is the active learner who uses the community as a resource and makes his or her own decisions along the way.

I also note the change from “the community is the curriculum” to “participating in the community is the curriculum”. Another semantic shift that I think is closer to the mark, but perhaps still not quite there. I suggest that the content created by the members of community is the curriculum. In other words, the curriculum is the output that emerges from participating in the community. So “participating in the community produces the curriculum”.

As a philosophy for learning, then, rhizomatic learning is not so different from constructivism, connectivism, and more broadly, andragogy. The distinguishing feature is the botanical imagery.

However this is where my understanding clouds over…

Is it the abundance of content “out there” that is rhizomatic?

Or is it the construction of new knowledge that is rhizomatic?

Or is it the learning journey that is undertaken by the individual learner?

Perhaps such pedantic questions are inconsequential, but the scientist in me demands clarification. So I propose the following:

 

The knowledge that is constructed by the community is the rhizome.

The process of constructing the knowledge
by the members of the community is rhizomatic education.

The process of exploring, discovering and consuming the knowledge
by the individual learner is rhizomatic learning.

 

If we return to my Wikipedia scenario, we can use it as a microcosm of the World Wide Web and the universe more broadly:

The ever-expanding Wikipedia is the rhizome.

The Wikipedians are conducting rhizomatic education.

I, the Average Joe who looks it up and loses myself in it for hours on end,
is experiencing rhizomatic learning.

In the age of Web 2.0, Average Joe may also be a Wikipedian. Hence we can all be rhizomatic educators and rhizomatic learners.

Barnstar

I also detect a certain level of defensiveness from Dave in his early paper. He prefaces his work with a quote from Henrik Ibsen’s An enemy of the People which rejoices in the evolution of “truth” in the face of conventional resistance [my interpretation], while later on he addresses the responses of the “purveyors of traditional educational knowledge” – primarily in the realms of academic publishing and intellectual property.

I think Dave was right to be defensive. Despite the pervasive learnification of education that would theoretically promote rhizomatic learning as its poster boy, anything new that threatens the status quo is typically met with outrage from those who stand to lose out.

A case in point is moocs. Dave refers to Alec Couros’s graduate course in educational technology, which was a precursor to his enormously popular #ETMOOC. While a cMOOC such as this one may be the epitome of the rhizomatic philosophy, I contend that it also applies to the xMOOC.

You see, while the xMOOC is [partly] delivered instructivistly, those darn participants still learn rhizomatically! And so the traditionalists delight in the low completion rates of moocs, while the rest of us appreciate that learning (as opposed to education) simply doesn’t work that way – especially in the digital age.

Don’t get me wrong: I am no anti-educationalist. Regular readers of my blog will not find it surprising when I point out that sometimes the rhizomatic model is not appropriate. For example, when the learner is a novice in a particular field, they don’t know what they don’t know. As I was alluding to via my tweet to Urbie in lrnchat, sometimes there is a central and stable canon of knowledge and the appointed expert is best placed to teach it to you.

I also realise that while an abundance of knowledge is indeed freely available on the Internet, not all of it is. It may be hidden in walled gardens, or not on the web at all. Soozie makes the point that information sources go beyond what the web and other technologies can channel. “Information that is filtered, classified or cleansed, consolidated or verified may also come from formal, non-formal or informal connections including teachers, friends, relatives, professional colleagues and recognized experts in the field.” But I take her point that all this is enhanced by technology.

Finally, the prominence of rhizomatic learning will inevitably increase as knowledge continues to digitise and our lens on learning continues to informalise. In this context, I think the role of the instructor needs much more consideration. While Dave maintains that the role is to provide an introduction to an existing learning community in which the student may participate, there is obviously more that we L&D pro’s must do to fulfil our purpose into the future.

On that note I’ll rest my rhizomatic deliberation on rhizomatic learning. If you want to find out more about this philosophy, I suggest you look it up on Wikipedia.

The learnification of education

30 September 2014

I start this post by thanking Angela Towndrow, a fellow Aussie whom I met virtually via a mooc, and from whom I continue to draw insights on things related to education.

After reading my previous post Let’s get rid of the instructors!, Angela pointed me to the journal article Giving Teaching Back to Education: Responding to the Disappearance of the Teacher by Gert Biesta. And I’m glad she did.

Professor Biesta’s article is a response to the marginalisation of teaching in modern society, and a call for teachers to teach, to be allowed to teach, and to have the courage to teach.

The premise of the professor’s argument is that there is a difference between “education” and “learning”:

“…the point of education is never that children or students learn, but that they learn something, that they learn this for particular purposes, and that they learn this from someone. The problem with the language of learning and with the wider ‘learnification’ of educational discourse is that it makes it far more difficult, if not impossible, to ask the crucial educational questions about content, purpose and relationships. Yet it is in relation to these dimensions, so I wish to suggest, that teaching matters and that teachers should teach and should be allowed to teach. And it is also in relation to these dimensions that the language of learning has eroded a meaningful understanding of teaching and the teacher.”

It is this learnification of educational discourse that has rendered the words I cited in my previous post – “training”, “lecture”, “course” and “teaching” – dirty. And I must confess it gives me heart to find someone of Professor Biesta’s calibre in my corner (or more accurately, to find myself in his).

Student using an iPad

In describing our general mindshift from teaching to learning, Biesta tells the story of two English schools that, upon merging, no longer wanted to call themselves a “school”. So they named their merged entity Watercliffe Meadow: A Place for Learning. Beyond the deliciously Waughian nature of this name, Biesta objects to its semantics:

“…the language of learning, particularly in its constructivist form, has repositioned the teacher from someone who is at the heart of the educational process to one who literally stands at the sideline in order to facilitate the learning of his or her ‘learners.’

Some of the arguments that have contributed to the rise of the language of learning are not without reason – there is indeed a need to challenge authoritarian forms of education; the rise of the internet does raise the question as to what makes schools special; and, to a certain extent, it cannot be denied that people can only learn for themselves and others cannot do this for them (although this does not mean that there are no limits to constructivism).

However, the language of learning falls short as an educational language, precisely because, as mentioned, the point of education is never that students learn but that they learn something, for particular purposes and that they learn it from someone. The language of learning is unable to capture these dimensions partly because learning denotes a process that, in itself, is empty with regard to content and direction; and partly because learning, at least in the English language, is an individualistic and individualising term whereas the educational question – if, for the moment we want to phrase it in terms of learning – is always a matter of learning something from someone.

From this angle it is just remarkable, if not shocking, how much policy – but increasingly also research and practice – has adopted the empty language of learning to speak about education. Yet if this is indeed the only language available, then teachers end up being a kind of process-managers of empty and in themselves directionless learning processes.”

Ouch!

I certainly agree that the language of learning pushes the sage off the stage and recasts them as a guide on the side. But I feel compelled to point out that this does not in itself render the art of facilitation devoid of educational purpose. On the contrary, I see facilitation as a means of education. Assuming the teacher has in mind a certain something for his or her children to learn, then to “teach” may mean to stage the encounter indirectly – that is, to seed, scaffold, clarify and validate – as opposed to direct instruction.

Indeed, Biesta offers the most eminent of examples in Socrates:

“…when we look more carefully at Socrates we can already see that he is not just there to facilitate any kind of learning but that, through an extremely skilful process, he is trying to bring his students to very specific insights and understandings. Seen in this way, Socrates is actually an extremely skilful didactician, because he knows all too well that to just ‘rub it in’ is unlikely to convince his students about the things he wants to convince them of.”

Biesta goes on to suggest that that Socrates was a manipulative teacher, and I whole-heartedly agree. If there were no manipulation underpinning the Socratic method, then I dare say that sales people wouldn’t use it! Yet while facilitative teaching is by definition manipulative, I implore that it need not be deemed so in the negative sense. It is rather a manifestation of the teacher exercising his or her judgement in the context of the given situation.

Students in class with teacher reading

To Biesta, it is teaching (not learning) that makes the school special. He sees teaching as a gift, and the giving of this gift as the raison d’être of the institution. So instead of thinking of a school as a place for learning, he prefers to think of it as a place for teaching.

But does this swing the pendulum too far back the other way?

Indeed I agree that we should think of a school as a place for teaching. As my rambling in Let’s get rid of the instructors! will attest, I very much advocate teaching under the right circumstances. However, just as the learnification of educational discourse devalues teaching, I believe the teacherfication of educational discourse devalues learning.

Notwithstanding the importance of our students learning something for particular purposes from someone, sometimes that “something” can not be taught because it hails from the future; which is a round-about way of saying that we need to teach our children how to learn so that we can future proof their education.

My understanding of “learning” in this sense is not empty and directionless because the teacher is there to guide and support the process. I contend that the role of the teacher can find the middle ground between the ultra-conservative view of teaching – whereby the curriculum is transmitted from state to child – and the neo-liberal view that would have us throw the curriculum out the window (except where it furthers its own agenda, of course). On this middle ground the teacher is empowered to work with the curriculum as he or she sees fit; whether that be via direct instruction, or facilitation, or perhaps even – sometimes – rhizomatic exploration.

So I advocate neither Watercliffe Meadow: A Place for Learning nor Watercliffe Meadow: A Place for Teaching. If learning skills are to be incorporated into the education that our schools give our children, then let’s call a spade a spade: Watercliffe School: A Place for Teaching and Learning.

Let’s get rid of the instructional designers!

12 August 2014

That’s the view of some user-oriented design proponents.

It’s something I remembered while writing my last blog post about user-generated content. Whereas that post explored the role of the learner in the content development process, how about their role in the broader instructional design process?

I wrote a short (1000 word) assignment on the latter at uni several years ago – in the form of a review of a chapter written by Alison Carr-Chellman and Michael Savoy – and it’s a concept that has resonated with me ever since.

Here I shall share with you that review, unadulterated from its original form, except for the graphic of the user empowerment continuum and the hyperlink to the reference, both of which I have added for this post.

Whether or not the more “progressive” design philosophies resonate with you, at the very least I hope they provoke your thinking…

Users co-designing

Introduction

Carr-Chellman & Savoy (2004) provide a broad overview of user design. They define the term user design, compare it against other methodologies of user-oriented design, identify obstacles to its successful implementation, and finally make recommendations for the direction of further research.

Definition

According to Carr-Chellman & Savoy (2004), traditional instructional design methodologies disenfranchise the user from the design process. In a corporate organisation, for example, the leaders will typically initiate the instructional design project, an expert designer will then analyse the situation and create a design, and finally, the leaders will review the design and either approve it or reject it. The role of the user, then, is simply to use the system (or perhaps circumvent it).

In contrast to traditional instructional design methodologies, user design enables the users to participate in the design process. Instead of just using the system, they are involved in its design. Furthermore, their role is more than just providing input; they are active participants in the decision-making process.

Comparison against other methodologies

Carr-Chellman & Savoy (2004) carefully distinguish user design from other methodologies of user-oriented design, namely user-centered design and emancipatory design.

User-centered design

According to Carr-Chellman & Savoy (2004), user-centered design methodologies consider the needs of the user during the design process. In educational situations, for example, the expert designer may analyse the target audience, identify their preferred learning styles, and perhaps run a pretest. In tool usage situations, he or she may distribute user surveys or conduct usability testing. The goal of these activities is to obtain extra information to assist the designer in creating a better system for the users.

The key difference between user-centered design and user design is the level of participation of the users in the design process. Under a user-centered design model, the designer considers the needs of the users, but ultimately makes the design decisions on their behalf.

Under a user design model, however, the needs of the users go beyond mere food for thought. The users are empowered to make their own design decisions and thereby assume an active role in the design process.

User empowerment continuum, featuring traditional instructional design at the lowest extremity, then user-centered design, then user design, then emancipatory design at the highest extremity.

Emancipatory design

If traditional design occupies the lowest extremity of the user empowerment continuum, and user-centered design occupies a step up from that position, then emancipatory design occupies the opposite extremity.

Emancipatory design dispenses with the role of the expert designer and elevates the role of the users, so that in effect they are the designers. This methodology charges the users with full responsibility over all facets of the design process, from initiation, through analysis, design, review, to approval. Instead of having a system imposed on them, the users have truly designed it for themselves, according to their own, independent design decisions.

Emancipatory design is founded on issues of conflict and harmony in the disciplines of social economics and industrial relations. Carr-Chellman & Savoy (2004) recognise that the goal of emancipatory design is “more to create change and vest the users and frontline workers in organisational outcomes than it is actually to create a working instructional system”. Hence, emancipatory design may not be a universal instructional design methodology.

User design

User design fits between the extremes of the user empowerment continuum. Whereas traditional design and user-centered design remove the user from the active design process, and conversely, emancipatory design removes the expert designer from the process, user design merges the roles into the shared role of “co-designer”. It strikes a balance between the two perspectives by including contributions from both parties.

Arguably, user design is a universal instructional design methodology. Whereas traditional design and user-centered design devalue the role of the users in the active design process, emancipatory design devalues the role of the expert designer.

User design, however, values both roles. It recognises the necessity of the active involvement of users, because they are the experts in their domain and will be the ones operating the system. However, users can not be expected to understand the science of design. The active involvement of an expert designer is critical in guiding the design process and driving the work towards an efficient and effective outcome.

Obstacles

Carr-Chellman & Savoy (2004) identify numerous obstacles to the successful implementation of user design, including the reluctance of designers and leaders to share their decision-making powers with users, the inclusion of users too late in the design process, the tendency to categorise users into a homogenous group, and the lack of user motivation to participate in design activities.

Further Research

Carr-Chellman & Savoy (2004) claim that research specific to user design within instruction systems is scarce, and much of the research into other user-oriented design methodologies lacks scientific rigour. Therefore, they recommend the following actions for the research community:

  1. To create a standardised language to define user design and to distinguish it from other user-oriented design methodologies,

  2. To study the implementation of user design across different variables, such as user profile, subject area and mode of delivery, and

  3. To communicate the success of user design in terms of “traditional measures of effectiveness” for the purpose of influencing policymakers.

Furthermore, Carr-Chellman & Savoy (2004) recommend that researchers adopt the participatory action research (PAR) method of inquiry. They argue that PAR democratises the research process and, consequently, is ideologically aligned with the principles of user design.

It can be argued, therefore, that Carr-Chellman & Savoy (2004) promote both user design and user research. Their vision for users is not only to assume the role of “co-designer”, but also of “co-researcher”.

Reference

Carr-Chellman, A. & Savoy, M. (2004). User-design research, in Handbook of Research on Educational Communication and Technology, 2nd ed, D. H. Jonassen (Ed), pp. 701-716, New Jersey, USA: Lawrence Erlbaum.

The caveat of the performance centre

10 February 2014

One of the more exciting ideas to emerge from the corporate learning space, which I hasten to add is yet to be realised, is to transform the Learning & Development department into a performance centre.

Rather than charging L&D Consultants with marketing the team’s lovingly crafted interventions, or reacting to random solution-first requests from the business – We need a team building workshop! – the Performance Consultant analyses the real needs of the business and identifies the relevant solutions.

This is not a novel idea. For example, I am aware of an Australian bank that established a performance centre over a decade ago, while Helen Blunden recently shared the following via an OzLearn chat:

On the face of it, this makes sense to me. I subscribe to the notion that the point of learning in the workplace is to improve performance, and the raison d’être of the performance centre is to shift our focus to its namesake.

However, I do have a caveat: If the performance centre is populated with L&D types, then the solutions they devise are probably going to be L&D oriented.

This won’t appear to pose a problem unless you appreciate that not all performance ailments are due to an L&D deficiency. On the contrary, poor performance may be caused by myriad factors such as:

Nails• A flawed process
• Obsolete technology
• Inadequate resourcing
• Noise or other disturbances
• Office politics
• Interpersonal conflict

…or any number of human conditions:

• Stress
• Sickness
• Demotivation
• Exhaustion
• Laziness

…not to mention one of my favourites offered by Joyce Seitzinger in the aforementioned Ozlearn chat:

Of course! Recruiting the right person for the role in the first place!

My point is, while poor performance may well be due to a lack of capability, it might not be either. An effective Performance Consultant must determine the root causes of the problems – whatever they may be – and respond accordingly. Do former L&D Consultants have that skillset?

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

How to become an eLearning Professional

19 November 2013

That’s the title of a free e-book to which I was flattered to be invited to contribute a chapter.

The book is introduced by the editor, Christopher Pappas, as such:

This is not your average looking, cliché reproducing, metaphysical, theory-loving free eLearning eBook. Do not expect to read any speculations, rhetorical questions, and abstractions related to eLearning. This is merely a powerful weapon in the hands of those who are truly interested in becoming the field’s Top eLearning Professionals. Make no mistake however. It’s addressed only to those with a passion for eLearning, eagerness to evolve, desperate to reach their potential, hungry for uniqueness, and ambitious enough people that want to make a difference in someone else’s life.

Cover art for How to become an eLearning Professional

The free “How to Become an eLearning Professional” eBook is filled with the knowledge, wisdom, experience and inspiration of carefully selected eLearning professionals, with long-standing, successful eLearning careers, innovative projects up their sleeves, impressive eLearning portfolios and even more impressive CVs. All of them create a highly influential eLearning team of experts, but each one has his or her own distinctive path, skills and know-how, leading to the creation of a multidimensional, and highly helpful for those who want to advance their eLearning careers, professional mosaic.

This can only mean one thing. What you are about to read is not some generic eLearning advice you could easily find in any “eLearning for Dummies” manual. This free eLearning eBook contains hot eLearning tips, secret concepts, specific steps and insider information that will help you become a top-notch eLearning professional.

No pressure then!

But in all seriousness, I stand by the advice that I offer in the book, and I appreciate the insights shared by my eminent peers.

I recommend How to become an eLearning Professional for newbies and veterans alike.