Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Beyond Content

...and beyond teaching?

Yesterday, I said that I thought that too much emphasis does seem to be placed on getting the content out there and not enough, perhaps, on the teaching or facilitation around that content. While I think there's no replacement for a good teacher to help someone progress through their learning, Derek Morrison at the Auricle blog introduced me to a different way of thinking about the "content problem" that Sebastian Fiedler wonders about.

Auricle: "But we all know (don't we?) that a load of content online, no matter how prestigious the source, does not e-learning make; a fact recognized by David Wiley's Open Learning Support (OLS) project, a pilot research project launched last April in collaboration with MIT."

As I said, it's not the content that makes MIT. Then I said, "it's the teaching." Well, that was probably a simplification. It's the teaching and learning. And while we can't re-create the MIT experience around it's content, the Open Learning Support project fascinates me as a way to at least create some additional, and I think needed, piece of the puzzle--a learning community. What a great idea to create an open space where those folks who want to take advantage of the MIT content can also engage with other learners!

We educational progressivists like to tout the notions of learner-centered classrooms and constructivism, and maybe this project, with its "self-organizing" learning communities will end up showing just how powerful such ideas can be. But will these open communities really take us not just beyond content but also beyond the need for teaching?

I don't think so. Derek also references Gilly Salmon's 5-stage model, suggesting (I think) that this kind of progression may be missing in some of the OLS project communities. In order for a learning community to advance, it needs someone to tend it. It may be that effective self-organizing learning communities can be successful if someone (or a few someones) in the community take on a facilitative role.

But it does feel to me like content plus community are still not quite enough. Facilitation seems to me to be key. I'm eager to see what the OLS tells us about this!


At 12:17 PM, Blogger Matthew Buckley said...

"In order for a learning community to advance, it needs someone to tend it."

This is an interesting notion. I think you are correct, tending does need to occur, but isn't it possible for the users themselves to do this tending?

This seems to be the idea behind Eric Raymond's Cathedral and the Bazaar. He mentions that he was/is shocked at success of Linux. There is no central driving force, rather "several thousand developers scattered all over the planet, connected only by the tenuous strands of the Internet".

You can argue that you still need an expert to guide the process, but I'm not so sure. If the content is there, then students will become experts, and assist others as they learn. You could almost argue that if they figure it out themselves they will understand the content better than if they simply had somebody 'give' it to them. And if they are teaching it to others they will understand the content even more.

Just a few thoughts...


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