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Apr 28

General thoughts on who owns the learning in an online learning context

The traditional view of teaching and learning places the tutor at the centre of all knowledge distribution, with the students accepting all that is said and done passively, as is found in the traditional lecture.  The tutor owns the learning; the students do not.  If the students go and investigate the information further that is up to them but they view the tutor as the first point of all information and knowledge.  There is a slow change especially in Western societies where the tutor is beginning to be viewed more as a guide to the learning and the students view themselves or each other as the first point of educational contact.  
 

This change is, and shall continue to be, facilitated by the use of various online technologies such as blogs, wikis, discussion forums, youtube, and other online tools.  They are providing avenues for much more distributed and networked opportunities for learning.  Do note that I am not talking about learners learning through passive means such as reading information from blogs, wikipedia and so on but interacting with the information and becoming much more engaged with their learning process: knowledge construction within a controlled learning environment.  
 

Question here then is who controls the learning environment? Who sets the pace of learning? That's a subject of current debate! Even though I am talking about adult learners, there is a debate among academics over whether or not children should be more in control of their learning. 

 

In my opinion, good, effective learning is not a product of traditional learning where learners are sitting in a class listening to a lecturer or tutor; it is a product of active learning engagement.  By this, I mean to debate, discuss, analyse, synthesis, reflect and criticise information.  The debating and discussions should not be just between the students and the tutor but between students as well.  The discussions should be driven by analysing and synthesising information, critically thinking about the ideas presented, and then developing new ideas to present at another discussion or debate session.  As could be imagined, this cycle of analysis, synthesis, reflection, critical thinking and further discussions and debates can lead to the construction of new knowledge and new ideas. 

 

Using technologies, this means to post ideas on a blog to encourage debate and discussion, analysing the content of the discussion, synthesise ideas and use this to feed into the reflection and critical examination of own ideas then configuring these ideas and present them at the next online discussion perhaps as a new blog post. To participate in discussion forums, where again ideas and questions are posted and debated among learners. To take part in wiki activities through constructing wiki pages and discussing the page's content; discussing edits that need changing in a collaborative, social learning environment. To use these tools in such a way that encourages learners not to passively read information, but to become actively engaged in their own learning and their own knowledge development. The management and control of the learning is passed more onto the learner, and is especially the case in a networked, distributed learning environment.

 

Someone asked me recently if whether all not all this knowledge generation is a good idea and if whether or not, therefore, allowing students to control more of their learning is a good thing.  In my opinion I do not think that too much knowledge construction is a bad thing as long as this knowledge is being constructed within a controlled, defined learning environment that involves the cycle of debate, discuss, analysis, synthesis, reflection and critical thinking as mentioned earlier.  

 

What is dangerous, however, is a debate between people who know little about a subject, and publish their thoughts as if they are facts.  This is dangerous because someone with little information analysis skills could come along and believe that what is being said by a particular person is true.  This is why information analysis skills are very important in the digital, information age and should be taught as soon as possible in schools and colleges.  In order for information on the Internet to be used properly, the information must first be identified as being reliable, authentic, valid, and accurate.  Also, remember to never trust any one source as fact!

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