Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Gatekeeping

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Jan 29, 1999

Posted to the Node 30 January 1999

Helen Chappel-Hayios writes, I wonder if you would agree that one of the things that have pushed the change to learner centeredness is an even more fundamental change in the value of information. With information readily available by the gigabyte it's value is not as information per se, but in what we are able to do with it, how we turn it to something of value.


Employers even now! need people who can access and then use information in innovative ways. This would seem to suggest increasingly more, rather than less, space for constructivist approaches and much less reliance on standardized testing.

This doesn't follow. It would follow only if the only way one may access and use information in innovative ways is through constructivist learning. But this statement surely isn't true. I think that many people (myself included) can acquire information in non-constructivist ways and yet still apply that information in innovative ways.

In any case - and this has come up in some of the discussions I've had - the assumption here is that learning in the future will be more learner-centred. And to a large degree that's true. But there will be aspects of learning which are not learner-centred, and I would suggest that testing and evaluation is one of those.

This is because there are other stake-holders in education. Many people are fond of saying that employer needs should drive education. Others (myself included) say that social needs should drive education. These people will play a role in shaping the future of learning, even if they are not directly involved in the educational system.

For example, nobody would agree that Novell CNE tests are learner-centred. And nobody (I think) would argue that success in such tests requires a constructivist approach to learning. And certainly the people who demand CNE certification, and the people who apply such tests, don't care how the testee's learning was acquired. Rather, they are responding to the demands of employers who require that new hires have acquired this and that set of knowledge.

We could debate for the rest of the year (and some have) whether this is good or right or even the best way of conducting learning. But that is not my objective here. I am trying to predict what will happen. And what will happen is that the constructivists will not win an overwhelming victory, and especially, they will not win in the area of testing.

I think that to see this, one needs to view learning from the non-constructivist point of view. Such people view educational institutions not only as conveyers of learning, but also as gatekeepers. Their role is at least in part to keep people who have not acquired knowledge from acting as though they have.

To people who are sceptical of constructivist methods, constructivism amounts to a throwing open of the gates. This is particularly so in the case of institutions which have done away with testing entirely. Such methodology will not be trusted, say, in the business community. So - ironically - the more educational institutions turn toward constructivist methods (which they will, because learning itself will be increasingly learner-oriented), the more the demand will be pressed for standardized testing.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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