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Changing the ways we teach and learn

May 18th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I am towards the end of a long series of meetings, hence the limited posts on this site of late. Whilst the meetings have involved far too much travel (and I wonder if some could have been better done by video), they have allowed me the privilege of meeting and talking to many interesting, motivated and talented teachers, researchers and developers from all over Europe.

Here is just a few reflections on the discussions I have had.

Compared to even two years ago, there seems to be increasing interest and understanding by teachers of the potential of using the the web for learning and especially of using Web 2.0 and social software applications. Especially there appears to be an understanding of supporting learners in constructing their own meanings and understandings, rather than passively consuming materials. Although this may be because many of those I have met are involved in projects, teachers seem more confident about their own learning and about developing their own learning materials. And there is a real excitement about the potential of using multimedia for learning, once more not just consuming but creating audio and video.

This may be just the people I mix with, but many teachers also seem to understand the Learning Management Systems and Virtual Learning Environments are for managing students, rather than providing an active tool for learning.

All this ids important. For years researchers have been saying that a major barrier to the uptake of e-learning has been the attitude of teachers, based on their lack of understanding of the technologies and their poteial for learning. I am not sure if this is true, but I think there is a change underway.

However, there remain very real barriers. Many teachers, whilst aware of the possibilities of new media, say the education system makes it difficult for them to change existing tecahing and learning practice. The reasons vary but include lack of infrastructure, lack of understanding and support from management, an overly prescriptive curriculum, lack of time, and rigid and individualistic assessment practices.

I would see these as real tensions. Teachers are increasingly adapting to the way learners are using new technologies in their daily life. And for the first time we are seeing generations of teachers who themselves have grown up with the internet. Yet still education systems are remarkably conservative and remarkably resilient to changes in society.

This leads to discussions about change. Can teachers themselves initiate such change bottom up through introducing new technologies and pedagogies in their own practice. Can we drive change through modernising teacher training? How effective are projects in embedding change? How about ‘innovation champions’? Can we persuade managements of the potential new ways of tecahing and learning offer? How effective is lobbying for changes in policy – for top down driven innovation.

I suspect the answer is all of these.But I think we have to move beyond the change management idea. This is not going to be an orderly change from ‘old’ policy and practice to a shiny new world of technology enhanced learning. It will be messy. the problem is not the modernisation of schools, but rather that our schooling systems are increasingly dysfunctional within our society and increasingly irrelevant to the way many young people communicate and develop understandings and meanings.

But I still tend to think changes in teaching and learning may come from outside the education systems. It has always seemed odd to me that most research, development and resources in the use of technology for learning have been focused on those already in education – in other words giving more to those that had. The greatest potential of Technology Enhanced Learning is to open up learning to everyone in our societies – to socially disadvantaged people, to different age groups, to those in work and those unemployed. And it is here that we are possibly more free for institutional inertia to experiment and to innovate, to develop new pedagogic approaches and new patterns of playing, working and learning.

In time who knows – the educational establishment may learn from the practice of learning outside the school.

One Response to “Changing the ways we teach and learn”

  1. Technology enhanced learning finds its own glass-ceiling in a top-down driven educational organisation. Going beyond the hype of the new, teachers who have had three to four years of experience using new technologies are able to understand how much it is about the learning. Networked learning. People are known to have learnt with teachers, without teachers and in spite of them. But it’s hard to be networked in a group.

    We are probably exploring the limits of doing more. More courses, more blog posts, more spreading of the message. This is just the tip of the iceberg of change. The change is probably in the making and we are sailing through it. Paradigm shift will be when these differences between online/offline/blended learning become the reality of what they are: blurred. Adapting to the new is the natural step. Sustaining adapting is hard work for everyone. I agree some other structures outside education will have to change in order to simplify so much patchwork adapting to a truly different world.

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