Let’s sit back and really reflect on the pedagogy that is at the core of what we, as online educators, are trying to do.
Definition of Pedagogy
One definition of pedagogy in Wiktionary says
- The profession of teaching
- The activities of educating, teaching or instructing
Wikipedia has a much longer page on Pedagogy. At one point it said Pedagogy is the art or science of being a teacher, generally refers to strategies of instruction, or a style of instruction. The word comes from the Ancient Greek παιδαγωγέω (paidagōgeō; from παῖς (child) and ἄγω (lead)): literally, “to lead the child”.
Moodle in three short paragraphs
The heart of Moodle is courses that contain activities and resources. There are about 20 different types of activities available (forums, glossaries, wikis, assignments, quizzes, choices (polls), scorm players, databases etc) and each can be customised quite a lot. The main power of this activity-based model comes in combining the activities into sequences and groups, which can help you guide participants through learning paths. Thus, each activity can build on the outcomes of previous ones.
There are a number of other tools that make it easier to build communities of learners, including blogs, messaging, participant lists etc, as well as useful tools like grading, reports, integration with other systems and so on.
For more about Moodle, see http://moodle.org, and particularly the main community “course” called Using Moodle. It’s crowded and busy these days, but jump in and you’ll soon find interesting stuff I’m sure. The developers and the users are deliberately forced to mix in the same forums. The other great place to start is our online documentation which is a community-developed wiki site.
Social Constructionism as a Referent
I have these five points on a slide which I use in every presentation I do. They are useful referents taken from research that apply to education in general, boiled down into a simple list that I carry around under the moniker of “social constructionism”.
- All of us are potential teachers as well as learners – in a true collaborative environment we are both.
It’s so important to recognise and remember this.
I think this perspective helps us retain some humility as teachers and fight the (very natural!) tendency to consolidate all your history and assume the revered position of “wise source of knowledge”.
It helps us keep our eyes open for opportunities to allow the other participants in our learning situation to share their ideas with us and to remind us to listen carefully and ask good questions that elicit more from others.
I find I need to constantly remind myself of this point, especially when the culture of a situation pushes me into a central role (like now!)
- We learn particularly well from the act of creating or expressing something for others to see.
For most of us this is basically “learning by doing”, and is fairly obvious, yet it’s worth reminding ourselves of it.
It’s surprising how much online learning is still just presenting static information, giving students little opportunity to practice the activities they are learning about. I often see online teachers spending a great deal of time constructing perfect resources for their course, which no doubt is a terrific learning experience for them, but then they deny their students that same learning experience. Even textbooks often do a better job, with exercises after every chapter and so on.
Most importantly, such learning is best when you are expressing and presenting posts, projects, assignments, constructions etc for others to see. In this situation your personal “stakes” are a lot higher, and a lot of self-checking and reflection takes place that increases learning. Seymour Papert (the inventor of logo) famously described the process of constructing something for others to see as a very powerful learning experience, and really this sort of thinking goes right back to Socrates and beyond.
- We learn a lot by just observing the activity of our peers.
Basically this is about “classroom culture”, or learning by osmosis. Humans are good at watching each other and learning what to do in a given situation through cues from others.
For example, if you walk into a lecture theatre where everyone is sitting in seats, facing the front, listening quietly to the teacher at the front and taking notes, then that’s most likely what you are going to do too, right?
If you are in a less rigid class where people are asking questions all the time, then it’s likely you’ll feel freer to do so too. By doing so you’ll be learning about both the subject itself and the meta-subject of how learning occurs from overhearing the discussions of your peers and the kinds of questions that get asked, leading to a richer multi-dimensional immersion in learning.
- By understanding the contexts of others, we can teach in a more transformational way (constructivism)
As you probably know from experience, advice from a mentor or friend can provide better, more timely and customised learning experience than with someone who doesn’t know you and is speaking to a hundred people.
If we understand the background of the people we are speaking to then we can customise our language and our expression of concepts in ways that are best suited to the audience. You can choose metaphors that you know the audience will relate to. You can use jargon where it helps or avoid jargon when it gets in the way.
Again this is a pretty basic idea – every guide to public speaking talks about knowing your audience – but in online learning we need to be particular mindful of this because we often have not met these people in person and don’t have access to many visual and auditory cues.
- A learning environment needs to be flexible and adaptable, so that it can quickly respond to the needs of the participants within it.
Combining all the above, if you as a learning facilitator want to take advantage of your growing knowledge about your participants, giving them tailored opportunities to share ideas, ask questions and express their knowledge, then you need an environment which is flexible, both in time and space.
If you discover that you need to throw your schedule out the window because your participants know a lot less than you’d expected when you first designed the course, you should be able to readjust the schedule, and easily add new activities to help everyone (or just one group) catch up. Likewise, some great ideas for a simulation or something may have come up during discussions, so you should be able to add those later in the course.
Timewise, your participants may be spread over different timezones, or maybe they live in the same timezone but have differing free time, so you should be able to offer asynchronous activities where people can work together but at different times.
Jason Cole from Open University recently referred to these as “Martin’s five laws” (ha!) but really they are referents: guiding concepts that I personally find useful to refer to whenever I need to make a decision in any given educational situation. In particular I find them useful for building communities of learners.
I guess you probably find a lot of this familiar, even if you use different terms. If not there is a lot of research about constructionism, constructivism and social Constructionism which you can find out more about in some of my more formal papers.