I recently read a blog provocatively entitled “Are Teachers Obsolete?”. Of course, like any good headline, it was written to grab your attention. I don’t believe that teachers are a dying species, but it did for me raise the question of whether some ways of “teaching” should not be confined to history….
Whilst not wanting to get too hung up over definitions of “teaching” and “facilitating learning”, for me the primary difference is about ownership and responsibility. Teaching is traditionally, in the prescriptive form, about the passive transfer of knowledge by an acknowledged expert. As such, the teacher owns the process and is held responsible.
If, on the other hand, we take a more descriptive approach to teaching we arrive at learning facilitation: that is, an active process and the responsibility of the individual learner who takes ownership and makes their own decisions as to how they will use the information.
And this is the direction young learners are moving in. A recent survey showed that schoolchildren are now far more likely to use Google to find information than to ask an adult. Our position as “experts” in the value-chain of knowledge transfer is changing.
That scenario is being mirrored in the workplace. A few years ago, I was approached by a disgruntled colleague who was complaining about the lack of opportunity for personal development. I pointed out to her that as her role had developed she had taken on additional responsibilities and was now managing people and taking decisions. At the same time, ongoing mentoring and support was constantly available.
But it was no good. She insisted that she “wanted to go on a course”. When it came to deciding which course she wanted, she was somewhat less clear. I got the distinct impression that any course would have done, as long as it involved formal training.
That scenario is unlikely to be repeated today. Just five years later, another recent survey has shown that the vast majority of senior managers prefer informal learning to formal training courses. That position is likely to extend across all levels of an organisation as the power of Enterprise Social networks such as Yammer help people to learn from each other. Like teachers, workplace trainers will need to change and adapt if they are to survive. L&D departments will need to morph into “Coaching and Mentoring Teams” and opportunities for collaborative and social learning will need to be actively encouraged
The move from prescriptive to facilitated “learning” poses some exciting challenges for those of us who are committed to the use of technology in education. Not least is the issue of how to manage the enormous repositories of information that are now available to learners. A Harvard Business Review study showed that in 2009 alone, more data was made openly available than in the whole history of mankind up until the end of 2008! That explosion of information and the learning opportunities it represents is scary. What sort of LMS can handle that?
I confidently believe that elearning will remain firmly at the heart of this revolution and I am already coming across the term “eLearning 2.0” (Does anyone know anything that is not “2.0”?). However, elearning will, like teachers, need to adapt and change. For example, producing expensive Hollywood blockbuster elearning courses may no longer be appropriate when perhaps a well-produced “bite-sized” trailer can provide all the relevant information and a much more intense learning experience.
We cannot expect that in the future elearning will meet all the needs of our learners. However, with the appropriate content and high “production values” it can still provide the framework from which other informal or collaborative learning experiences can be hung. And of course, we do start from a good place. Remember, it’s elearning – not eTeaching!