by Stephen Downes
Mar 16, 2016
There are some pretty good images in this all-too-brief 'Philosophy in Figures' Tumblr blog. The one that caught my eye is the 'philosophy of science' image that has been circulating recently on Facebook (without attribution, natch). You could locate me somewhere on the border of instrumentalism and relativism, and metaphysically eliminativist. The diagram is interesting because for each approach in the philosophy of science, there is a corresponding approach in educational theory (many of the adherents in education appear not to know anything about these bases). So, for example, for various flavours of constructivism, we have various flavours of constructive empiricism. Naive instructivism takes us all the way over to realism (which is why 'content knowledge' is so much more important than structure or process).
I have commented on numerous occasions that one of the main products elite universities sell is not high-quality learning (they're really no better than anyone else) but rather access to networks of power and influence. That's why we see the same names from the same schools show up over and over again in research and news reports - the people who run media are writing about their friends from Yale or wherever who run businesses or research. Poor students, meanwhile, even if given access to the same 'education', are locked out of this support network. So why does "the edtech market remains focused squarely on content delivery and assessment." This is a big part of what I'm trying to accomplish with personal learning. Not just tools that connect students to mentors, projects and coaching (though these help), but also, tools that connect them to each other. Support networks shouldn't just be something the elites have, they should be something everybody has.
Though the focus of this article in on access to public archives, many of the same concerns apply to educational resources. The author considers the nature of openness, drawing for example from Popper's work, and notes that it consists not only of the absence of barriers but also something like the ability to comprehend and use the resources. These constitute the basic types of threats to openness: first, archival, where "where threats to funding become a threat to limit access to archives"; second, societal, "when people no longer value or understand archives"; and third, resistance to openness "because of cultural reasons or for security reasons." Only the first of these is treated in any detail, in an extended 'Part 2', but I think the overall framework is of value. Image: Open Society. See the complete set of presentations from the Threats to Openness conference.
MOOCs are impacting learning in many ways, says the author (11 page PDF), and the overall result is that we're looking at pedagogy differently. Interestingly, though, "MOOCs showcase the developments which online learning and other innovations have been encouraging for some time: they are not so much initiating these developments as acting as an accelerant for them," according to the author. For example, we're seeing such things as course unbundling, separation of delivery and development, separation of assessment from delivery, separation of certification, and more. The author looks at these in some depth. And hee makes it clear that we're at the beginning of the phenomenon, not the end: "What is clear is that extensive investment needs to be made in learning design for MOOCs and that such design needs to take full account of not only what we now know about adult learning." Image: Brian R. Gumm.
There's a bit of a sense in which I feel this is a post from ten years ago, but I am faced with the inescapable fact that learning management systems (LMSs) haven't really changed in that time. And they've been emplying the same disjointed design all that time:
The author recommends Open Learning XML, which is the 'markup language' edX provides for course authoring (note that i see no sign of this in the OpenEdX tools I'm using). It "prompts the course author to think holistically about how the course design fits together and how the courseware operates as a whole instead of considering each piece separately." This is indeed a better approach. It's also something FutureLearn does particularly well.
Inge de Warrd diagrams the results of her stidy of FuutureLearn open online course participants. "The key inhibitors or enablers of self-directed, informal learning are: motivation and learning goals," she writes. "Motivation (in most cases intrinsic motivation) keeps them wanting to learn more, which is not the same as following all the content of the MOOC, simply absorbing that content which is relevant to the learner. And if the learning goal/s are not felt as being benefited by the MOOC, learners stop engaging in the MOOC. The learning goals (which can be professionally or personally driven, or both for those happy with their jobs) are what make learners move above and beyond: they will solve tech problems, they will connect to others, they will overcome lack of confidence, they will organise their learning against the time constraints."
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