Saturday, June 5, 2010

PL 18/10: Who is learning?

Filed under: LATINA — plinius @ 10:52 am

Learning and teaching are facing deep changes.

Notes for NORDINFOlit 10 in Finland.

By deep change I mean change at the core of individuals and institutions.  Surface change can be handled by established routines and concepts. Deep change creates breaks between the past and the future.

They disrupt the comfort of familiar procedures. They force us to develop new ways of working and new ways of thinking. Individuals and organizations must, so to speak, reinvent or recreate themselves.

Some relevant authors:

  • Wittgenstein: to learn a language is to learn a way of life
  • Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, paradigmatic change
  • Foucault: epistemic systems

Even if deep change is necessary, it is seldom popular. During the transition people have to work harder than before. We often have to master new skills and to participate in organizational struggles at the same time.


Case One: Cinema

A well-known example from the field of acting is the transition from theatre to cinema.

Some of the early moving pictures were simply filmed theatre. The camera was treated as one more spectator. At first the new technology did not change the form of acting.

But people soon discovered that film was a very different medium. Close-ups removed the need for large and dramatic gestures – and created new styles of acting.  Cutting broke with the classical rules of theatrical unity (time, space, action). Copying led to Hollywood, “the star system” and world wide distribution of popular films. A totally different cultural economy was created.

The theatre has survived as a vital form of art. But the sector is small relative to the cinema.

Case Two: Lectures

Blackboard teaching is one of the great traditional teaching formats.

At its best, blackboard teaching is a sophisticated art. It has been developed for centuries. Teacher, class and blackboard constitute a complex unity. The teacher’s task is demanding: she has to talk and write in parallell – engaging and involving the class at the same time.

The blackboard is an interactive presentation tool.

During the last fifty years, new tools have been added. First we got the overhead projector showing pre-prepared plastic slides. Then came the video projector.

The last ten or fifteen years have been dominated by Powerpoint. The program allows teachers and lectures to create and store digital slide sets on computers.  In professional conferences, Powerpoint has become the normal form of presentation.

From my point of view, Powerpoint is filmed theatre. It repeats a traditional form in a digital format. Participants and organizers do not love Powerpoint lectures, but they see no alternative.

But deep change is coming – from different corners. Let me mention five:

  • Visual slides increasingly replace the verbal ones
  • Short and pointed “mini-lectures” replace long talks
  • Series of rapid mini-lectures by different people replace the one-person format
    • This format is called Pecha Kucha in Japanese.
    • In Oulu, Northern Finland there are a number of philosophers who use the format.
    • The northernmost city in the world that has hosted Pecha Kucha nights is Rovaniemi.
  • Slide sharing on the web means that slide sets can be reused by other presenters – and studied by people beyond the original audience.
  • Video taping of lectures means that the lectures themselves can be reused

Copying and cloud computing is creating a new mass medium based on lectures.

How do libraries respond?

Disruptive change

Economists and historians speak about disruptive technologies.

Firearms destroyed the role of mounted knights. The typing press created the first mass media – books and pamphlets – and undermined the position of illuminated manuscripts. Steamships killed the clippers. The Big Switch – electricity – transformed life at home and work.

Digital technology is equally disruptive.

From a macro point of view we may distinguish between four major social systems: technology, economy, society and culture. Some major trends are significant:

  • Digital technology replaces manual processing of symbols with digital processing
  • Industrial and agricultual mass production continues. But the dominating role in the economy passes to knowledge based sectors. Education, innovation and research are our new heavy industries.
  • Societies – the social arenas in which we operate – are becoming regional (European, African, …) and global in scope rather than national.
  • Culture – the constellation of practices and values that give meaning and order to our lives – are losing their self-evident, authoritative character. Increasingly, groups and individuals construct the cultures they inhabit.

It is possible to find many contradictory trends and developments. But they are better seen as responses to the discomfort created by the dominating trends.

Walking and talking

Deep change is infrequent and therefore hard to grasp.

Most of us are accustomed to gradual change processes. We are not prepared to tackle the practical and theoretical consequences of great change.

We may find concepts and images that approach the reality of deep change. But ultimately we have to test the new rather than talk about it.

Most subjects at school or university are dominated by a scholastic approach to learning. New topics are introduced by the teacher, who talks about them. Students should learn to talk – or write – like the teacher. Learning is verbal imitation.

Practicing the subjects comes afterwards, if at all. The talk precedes the walk.

Experiential learning

Faced with deep change, the scholastic approach fails. Deep change happens at the core – and calls for experiential learning.

Students that want to learn new forms of learning, and teachers that want to learn new forms of teaching, cannot do this within the old forms. They must take a jump into the new – and learn from there. The walk precedes the talk.

Such a jump need not be final. If they dislike what they find, they can always go back.

But some sort of break is necessary.

In traditional schooling we learn to improve the way we play the scholastic game. In deep digital learning we try to create a new game.

Play and games are metaphors. From a theoretical perspective we can also say that

  • traditional schooling is based on first-order learning (understanding the code)
  • digital learning requires second-order learning (rewriting the code)

Who is learning?

Learning occurs

  • in individuals (individual learning)
  • in small groups (team learning)
  • in organizations (organizational learning)

We can even say that states and cultures learn. They do not hire teachers or go to school, but they learn from their experiences.

How fast they learn, is another matter. After the Reformation, Protestants and Catholics needed a century of war to learn the need for religious tolerance.

It took the Soviet Union ten years to learn that Afghanistan could not be managed from Moscow. Western forces are still taking bloody classes in Afghan studies.

Case Three: Learning platforms

Schools and universities use complex information systems to design, deliver and document education.

In very broad terms, we can distinguish between three phases of learning management:

  1. Traditional academic management systems based on paper documents
  2. Learning Management Systems (LMS) based on proprietary software and licensed learning materials
  3. Non-profit modular systems based on cloud computing and Open Educational Resources (OER)

Like Powerpoint, LMS repeats a traditional form in a digital format.

The change from (1) to (2) is moderate. The change from (2) to (3) is disruptive.

Teachers, teacher organizations, textbook publishers and academic authorities are not disturbed by LMS systems. Most of them are sceptical to OER and cloud computing.

How do libraries respond?

Talk and walk

To master deep change, individuals, groups and organizations must shift from first-order to second-order learning.

  • The best way is to learn from experience.
  • The next best is to learn from the experience of other people.

Case Four: Public libraries

How do other libraries respond?

Case Five: Participants say


  • 0900-0945. Lecture
  • 0945-1030. Virtual field work:
    • explore a new resource on L&T 2.0
    • take (rough) notes in your blog and publish as draft
  • 1030-1045. Rework and publish your notes
  • 1045-1115. Share notes and experiences in pairs (outside or inside)
  • 1115-1200. Plenary discussion


Great bloggers

Recent reports


Useful networks

  • Del & Bruk
    • A Norwegian network for digital educators
  • infed
    • The encyclopedia of informal education
  • Wikipedia
    • Compare articles on same topic in different languages

Selected gurus




  1. PS 9/09. Skills and commitment. Learning under new conditions.
  2. PS 5/09. Big change. Introductory notes for LATINA lecture in Cracow.
  3. PL 69/09: Appropriate learning and teaching. How education is changing – a story from Rwanda.
  4. PL 64/09: Phones for development. Excellent survey from The Economist – and its library relevance.
  5. PL 59/09: Living and Learning with New Media. Summary of well-written US report on digital youth culture.
  6. PL 39/09. Big change in 2009. When web 1.0 meets web 2.0 in practice.
  7. PL 26/09. Knowledge society. A new historical stage.
  8. PL 32/09. Computers everywhere. Mobile PCs on campus
  9. PL 19/09. Private, personal, public. Blogs move boundaries, but do not abolish them.
  10. PL 13/09. One billion internet users. Latest statistics on global web traffic.
  11. PL 5/09. Trend-spotting. Featuring Michael Stephens.
  12. PL 4/09. Libraries and the public sphereNew spaces for public debate.
  13. PL 56/08. Don’t wait for leaders. Carpe diem. Act now.
  14. PL 55/08. Digital history. A great tradition turns to the web.


From Jon Mott

…  the problem with the “one-stop-shop” Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) (another frequently-used term for the CMS) is that it is aimed at both learning administration and learning facilitation. …

Both administration and pedagogy are necessary in schools. They are also completely different in what infrastructure they require. This (in my opinion) has been the great failing of VLEs – they all try to squeeze the round pedagogy peg into the square administration hole.

It hasn’t worked very well. Trying to coax collaboration in what is effectively an administrative environment, without the porous walls that social media thrives on, hasn’t worked. The ‘walled garden’ of the VLE is just not as fertile as the juicy jungle outside, and not enough seeds blow in on the wind …

Blackboard and every other CMS / VLE have become exceedingly efficient course content and course administrivia management tools. If data from BYU’s Blackboard usage surveys can be taken as a reasonable guide, most faculty members use Blackboard for administrative, not teaching and learing, purposes, i.e., content dissemination, announcements, e-mail, and gradebooking (70% plus use Bb for these purposes).

Dramatically smaller portions (less than 30%) use the teaching and learning tools provided Blackboard (e.g., quizzes, discussion boards, groups, etc.). Increasingly, they’re going to the cloud to use tools that are far better and more flexible than those provided natively inside the CMS.

… LMSs roundly fail in three significant ways:

  • The rigidity and underlying design of the tool “drives/dictates the nature of interaction (instructors-learner, learner-learner, learner-content).”
  • The interface is too focused on “What do the designers/administrators want/need to do?” rather than on “What does the end user want/need to do?”
  • “Large, centralized, mono-culture tools limit options. Diversity in tools and choices are vital to learners and learning ecology.”

… today’s CMSs do not support continuous, cumulative learning throughout a student’s career at an institution, let alone throughout their life after they exit our institutions ….  how many of us would use Facebook if Facebook deleted our friend connections and pictures every four months?

The fundamental dilemma with the CMS as we know it today is that it is largely a course-centric, lecture-model reinforcing technology with its center of gravity in institutional efficiency and convenience.

As such, it is a technology that inclines instructors and students to “automate the past,” replicating previous practice using new, more efficient and more expensive tools instead of innovating around what really matters – authentic teaching, learning, and assessment behaviors.

Source: Deja Vu All Over Again – Blackboard Still Stuck in the Innovator’s Dilemma


1 Comment »

  1. […] Changes Posted on June 10, 2010 by sarastefs This post is a response to Tord’s Hoivik’s lecture on “Who is learning” . […]

    Pingback by Changes | sarastef infolit — Thursday, June 10, 2010 @ 7:38 am

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