higher education and information dumps

Been thinking lately about the nature of learning at higher ed institutions – and how it effects content development for online courses.

In an “old” episode of a  TWiT, This Week in Tech podcast (from May 31, 2009), they were discussing the shift to new media especially among young people, and how universities haven’t really caught on yet. The whole episode is interesting, but at about 50 minutes in, a comment from Don Trapscott really resonated for me:

…if somebody was frozen a hundred years ago and they miraculously came alive today and they looked around at the professions, a doctor in an operating theatre or a pilot in a jet, they’d think “Wow has the world has ever changed”. And technology has been at the heart of it. While if they walked into a lecture theatre at a typical university or in a classroom, they’d breathe a sigh of relief, they’d say this something I recognize…               transcript

The model has remained basically the same: lecturer up front (or behind the learning management system) pours out knowledge to brains that will hold onto it until they’re tested on it. Information dump. Students are tested on knowledge and how well they retain it, so they develop strategies accordingly.

Then just today I came across a comment from Cathy Moore, author of the blog Making Change – ideas for lively elearning. (It’s also from months ago – what can I say, it’s impossible to really stay up to date.) What Cathy says ties in well with the quote above, I think:

I agree that a lot of instructional design as it’s currently practiced has been influenced by thinkers in higher education. Since in higher ed the goal really is to get knowledge into people’s brains and not necessarily to have them use that knowledge, it makes sense that a lot of the models and theory put knowledge first.

Her comment was on a post about focussing on actions rather than “learning objectives”.  After the first time I read that post I tried to pay more attention to the learning objectives written for content I was developing. Many of the objectives started with the words “know”, or “recognize”, or other similar terms for “get this in the head and hold on to it”. Cathy’s blog emphasizes the action that your learners need to perform (maybe with the help of some missing knowledge) and developing activities that support that active goal.

The question that seems to be lacking in a lot of higher ed offerings: “What do you want to do with that knowledge?”… (besides pass the exam 😉 ).

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