Friday, February 22, 2013

Reaping what we sow

I've been reflecting on the kinds of learning that are actually possible in different scenarios. Take a fairly generic breakdown of types of learning as described by Illeris (2009):
  1. Cumulative - low-level conditioning
  2. Assimulative - learning by addition
  3. Accommodative - learning that includes an element of unlearning or reformation
  4. Transformative - restructuring of a fundamental nature, e.g. of the personality
Mandatory training is an area that has seen increasing use of 'e-learning'. The kinds of subjects involved are fairly momentous, for example, equality and diversity. We would all like to live in a society that values difference and where people can get on with their jobs enjoying the sense of dignity and respect that helps keep them well motivated to function optimally in an organisation. But what kind of learning is required to move an individual from a position of 'hardened bigot' to 'respectful admirer of difference'? That would surely require accommodative or transformative learning. Is that possible in an 'e-learning' package? Let's say this is hard, but perhaps not impossible. Then add in the situation, the context, within which that 'e-learning' package is used: e.g. where 'learners' are time-poor, the main motive is one of compulsion and monitoring by 'big brother'; the materials themselves are electronic 'page-turners' and their assessment is aimed at ensuring you've read through, not that you have become a 'better person'.
Train Crash at Montparnasse 1895 It is precisely because of these kinds of scenarios that networked learning needs to stand up and get promoted as an alternative vision for how learning and learners can benefit. Anyone involved in the educational enterprise has a duty to take a critical stance in respect to what is being passed off as 'e-learning'. A good place to begin in order to inform that critique would be the Manifesto written by Beaty et al. I know that is wishful thinking, especially in the face of assertive managerialist and cost/benefit-driven cultures. These cultures undermine education that aspires to learning that is more effective, not to say profound. But what will the real cost to society, organisations and individuals be if all the really important things we are supposed to be and know are 'learned' in such an impoverished way? How do people learn? Can we really load people with 'quick fix' or 'tick-box' learning and expect the same outcomes as we would from when we participate in "learning and teaching environments...  that seek to encourage dialogue, exchange of ideas, intrinsic approaches to study and engagement." (Beaty et al 2002, p6)? I cant put a price on that.

Beaty L, Hodgson V, Mann S and McConnell D (2002) Towards e-quality in networked e-learning in higher education. [Online] Available at:
Illeris K (2009) A comprehensive understanding of human learning. In: K. Illeris ed. Contemporary Theories of Learning. London; New York: Routledge. 7–20.