Thursday, 19 November 2009

Don't Tell me how to Teach!

Ok, this has never actually been said to me, but it's implicit in a lot of my conversations and is a major barrier to the adoption of Learning Technologies in education. So why would they be thinking this? And what business is it of mine to poke my nose into their teaching? The simplest answer to this is that to adopt anything new you have to incorporate it into the learning design. You have to think holistically about how you teach and fit it in. This is true of any tool/method/environment. I wouldn't be doing my job properly if I didn't make this clear.

So what's the problem? It's because they don't want to go through a redesign process. A process that I would find natural and necessary. Underlying both is the natural human defense against outside influence into their course/lesson - What's wrong with what I'm doing and "don't tell me how to teach". For some, in the lazy teaching club, they teach by a bog-standard content dumping, didactic method. So here we have an added barrier. I like to think this isn't widespread but I'm sure there is no study which measures this. For others and in our Learning Technology context, there's an issue of lack of confidence/skills/understanding or what Learning Technologies have to offer. This is definitely widespread and I don't need any research to tell me that. Wrap bits of all these issues up and you get a pretty tricky situation.

And the standard result in this scenario? Add-ons. Adding on file repositories (most common), adding on a discussion forum or sometimes adding on something like audio files (often mistaken called podcasts) to give the illusion of e-learning wizardry. But what's important is that there is no threat to the existing course design, even if there hasn't really been any real design process in the first place.

So whatever you do Learning Technologists out there - DON'T TELL ME HOW TO TEACH!"


  1. Tom,

    This is the principal reason that I did a PGCE. I had encountered the refrain 'what do you know, you're not a teacher' so frequently that I decided I had to be able to claim that I was.

    Now I am a qualified teacher and I have a justifiable retort. But the plain fact is that teaching has been for so long over-professionalised as a highly individualised practise that teachers resent any interference in their so-called professional autonomy.

    I am beginning to develop a thesis that teaching should NOT be a whole career profession. I think it would be better if teachers were drawn from the ranks of other professions and occupations and only allowed to practise as a teacher for five years at a time. Thereafter they must work in another profession for 5 years before returning to teaching and so on.

    I also think that their organisation might sponsor them to be seconded to teaching thereby maintain them in touch with their salary levels.

    You might think this disruptive, but that's the point. Teachers are currently completely divorced from the world of work, the other professions and the reality of working in real enterprises. It's time that those who teach got to grips with how life operates in the real world of work and how those organisations have to face change, accountability and market competition.

  2. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for taking the time to post.

    It's an interesting idea. Credibility is very important to educators in all sector and it's an understandable human reaction. We need to change the values, system and priorities of the profession so that they become receptive to change and different ideas. In addition, making learning design an important and valued part of the profession is key. It's not at the moment and this isn't the fault of the teachers, but the education structure we have set up for ourselves.

  3. I think I've been teaching all my life.

    Not in school, that's only been the last 5 years or so. But in my various professional capacities over the last 30 years or more I've always needed to support colleagues by helping them understand new things; learn new ways of seeing things and of doing things and new ways of behaving - both as individuals and within groups.

    As a marketer one also has to 'teach' a very much larger public and with a set of tools that whilst being very sophisticated are very much blunter than those that are available to they whose responsibility is to design learning and create the environment in which it can take place for a group of 15-30 young people. Marketers design learning, test, change, test again and again until their learning design achieves the desired outcome.

    Finally, I am also a parent. I don't suppose it will surprise you to know that there's quite a lot of teaching involved in being one of these.

    We are all teachers - in one way or another. But we are also much more besides. That is, unless we are 'a teacher.

    I agree we need to 'change the values, system and priorities' but of what education is for and what we expect of it rather than the profession.

    Lawyers, Accountants, Doctors and Architects (to name some 'professionals') have all changed what it is that they do, how they do it and what they produce in response to law, new knowledge, the economy, competition and many other social factors such that they would barely recognise the work of their Victorian counterparts. Teachers on the other hand would still recognise the practice and setting of a Victorian school.

    Professionalisation of teachers has been the primary means by which they have resisted change in what they do, where and how they do it and under what conditions.

    If we are all teachers in one way or another. If we believe that the education system is fundamentally flawed, that children need to learn differently, be assessed differently, have wider experience in the community and in organisations that are 'not school'; what exactly is the argument for having a group of people who are singly devoted to 'teaching'?