Monday, 14 June 2010

Balancing theory and practice in e-learning advice

Recently I've been involved in a project where I seem to have assumed the role of balancing theory and practice in the context of the design and delivery of educational use of learning technologies. It's not surprising that my natural tendencies have let me to fulfil more of the practical side of things rather than the theoretical pedagogical. This is partly because this is where my skills mainly lie although I am developing my pedagogical knowledge (what I call the academic underpinning). But it's also partly because I think this is the area that can often get lost where theory gets overplayed. In a course situation, you need that balance as there is a tendency to concentrate on the theory without allowing the participants the time and space to play with the various tools. In one-to-one consultation with educators approaching learning technologies from scratch you need a bias towards the practical. This may seem wrong but here's why:

I work in an academic culture where teaching is part of what the researchers do. You would think that such people would be minded to treat the use of learning technologies in an action researcher capacity (in the way put forward by Laurillard, 2008). But they don't. Teaching and the design of their teaching isn't something that your average HE academic will approach by reading about the pedagogical underpinnings or recent research into this or that use of a particular tool. They are more likely to ask their colleague what they used and what for (if anything). This is not criticism of them. It's a reflection on the culture surrounding all teaching I think.

In this regard, I would always advocate a practical approach when advising people about using learning technologies in their teaching. Using the phrase "this tool lends itself to..." is better than "this tool has the technological affordance of..." which in turn is better than "the pedagogical underpinning of this tool is..."

When I say better I mean in the context of talking to a sceptical, slightly negative academic who has been told to talk to you about this e-learning "thing".

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