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Vygotsky and the pedagogcy of e-learning – the conference version

May 10th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

This week is the deadline for applications for Online Educa Berlin. Online Educa may not be the most prestigious of educational research conferences, but it is a great crack. So, I went to make a proposal. Obviously, the Educa people have been giving some serious thought to how to improve the quality of presentations (they are even asking for examples of your PowerPoint slides) And they have a completely new application form which I quite like. It starts off innocuously enough, asking fro a 500 word abstract. Here’s mine – on (no surprises here), Vygosky.

“Pedagogic approaches to e-learning remain problematic. Whilst many researchers have proposed constructivist approaches to learning, in reality there remains a gap between espoused and actual uses of Technology for learning. Technology has tended to be introduced within the present paradigms of educational and institutional organisation and management. Educational technology has focused on the management of learning rather than active learning.

This is the more so when it comes to work based learning where technology has been seen primarily as an extension of exiting training practices.

This presentation will explore research and development vbeing undertaken though a number of European projects including the Research Programme funded Mature project on knowledge maturing and the Lifelong Learning Programme G8WAY project. Both are seeking to develop new pedagogic approaches to learning using social software and web 2.0 – the first for knowledge development and maturing and the second for supporting  young people in educational transitions.

Both projects are seeking to develop and implement Personal Learning Environments  as a new approach to the development of e-learning tools (Wilson et al, 2006) that are no longer focused on integrated learning platforms such as VLEs or course management systems. In contrast, these PLEs are made-up of a collection of loosely coupled tools, including Web 2.0 technologies, used for working, learning, reflection and collaboration with others. PLEs can be seen as the spaces in which people interact and communicate and whose ultimate result is learning and the development of collective know-how. A PLE can use social software for informal learning which is learner driven, problem-based and motivated by interest – not as a process triggered by a single learning provider, but as a continuing activity.

Both projects are also seeking to develop new pedagogic approaches to social learning and knowledge development and sharing.

The presentation will examine the work of the Russian phschologist, Vygotsky, Vygotsky’s research focused on school based learning. He developed the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) which is the gap between “actual developmental level” which children can accomplish independently and the “potential developmental level” which children can accomplish when they are interacting with others who are more capable peers or adults.

In Vygotsky’s view, interactions with the social environment, including peer interaction and/or scaffolding, are important ways to facilitate individual cognitive growth and knowledge acquisition.

Vygotsky also emphasized the importance of the social nature of imagination play for development. He saw the imaginary situations created in play as zones of proximal development that operate as mental support system (Fleer, 2008).

Vygotsky stressed the importance of support for learning through a More Knowledge Other, a teacher or peer, This idea corresponds to the use of Personal Learning Networks to suppoort learning.

The paper will examine how the work of Vygostky, including the idea of scaffolding learning, can be used to develop pedagogic approaches to informal and self motivated learning and how it can assist us in developing learning environments including in the school and in the workplace.”

Then the questions get hard. In addition, they say, teh conference will be focusing on practical outcomes – so all proposals will need to answer four key questions. What did we do> Why? With what results> With what impact? Here is my answer.

“Although this may seem a theoretical presentation it is not intended as such. Instead I wish to make the links between pedagogy and practice in a vivid and radical way..

What did we do?

We researched pedagogic approaches to learning looking in particular at how young people use computers and Web 2.0 for learning and sought to explain, make sense and meanings from this.We went on to design and develop tools for social learning (a PLE) in communities of practice and in the workplace and are currently evaluating the use of those tools. We also established processes of developing ‘mini learning activities’ to scaffold learning within a Zone of Proximal Development. We provided tools to support peer group learning and collaboration. We developed workshops for teachers and others who support learning to explain how to use such a pedagogic approach and to use the tools.We told others about our ideas at Online Educa Berlin!

Why did we do it?

We observed a growing gap between the ways in which young people (and not just young people) use computers for work and for play and for learning and the pedagogic and institutional approaches to education in schools and in the workplace. We looked for pedagogic theories which could support the social construction of learning and learning through Personal Learning Networks and in communities of practice.

We were seeking to develop new pedagogic approaches which could support informal learning and lifelong learning and bring together learning from the school, from home and from the workplace. We wanted to stimulate curiosity and release the creative potential of learners.

With what results?

It is really to early to tell. There is growing interest in our pedagogic approach from researchers and developers. And our early evaluation of designs with users are favourable. Teachers too are increasingly adopting our approach to social land creative learning. We have a number of pilots currently running with early adopters participating. By the time of the conference we will be able to show much more of our work and the results of our trials.

With what impact?

At one level we can point to a high impact. People are interested in our approach to learning. We have many teachers and trainers signing up for workshops. A number of projects are adopting this approach. Evaluation work with enterprises – so called application partners – is encouraging. But the real impact can only be measured over a longer time period. Will  this be just interesting project and research work which never moves beyond a pilot stage or can we change practice on a wider level. We think we can!”

And finally they ask for web references and multimedia! Here you go.

Pontydysgu blogs posts on Vygotsky –

Pontydysgu wiki on Vyrgotsky –

Video of presentation at debate on PLEs –

Slidecast – PLEs: the future of Learning –

Mature project –

G8WAY project –  g8way.0u.nt

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