The Role of the Teacher
Why do we need teachers, and not just literacy and libraries? Teachers provide a roadmap through material, create syllabi of appropriate learning content for particular purposes (“courses”), support learner progress and assist learners who experience difficulties. Teachers also certify the competence of the learner on successful completion of studies, eg for professional licensing, employment etc.
New model learning does not make the role of teacher redundant but, rather, changes it from being the guardian of knowledge, released little by little to students, to that of learning facilitator or coach, guiding learners through a personal exploration of the mass of readily available information.
The Role of the Higher Education Institution
Traditionally universities encompass both teaching and research. Students wish to learn from those at the forefront of their respective fields. But teaching and research are very different activities and are often seen as competing priorities or demands by faculty.
There may be some merit in the approach of “poor” teaching, ie of simply throwing knowledge at students and allowing them to get on with it, after all that is what they will face after graduation. But a better model for higher education is the gradual weaning of students from carefully packaged and sequenced learning to making sense of a mass of facts rather than an abdication of teaching responsibility by those who would sooner be conducting research.
Should there be a separation of teaching and research functions, with individuals following the path they are most inclined to? Should there be a cascading of the teaching function, with top researchers supervising research students, who in turn boost their incomes by assisting taught students? There is certainly need to recognize teaching as a valuable activity in its own right.
The increasing demand for learning of greater variety and flexibility is likely to attract for-profit learning providers in force. This in turn will force traditional institutions to become more flexible and competitive. There will likely be scope for fruitful partnerships between traditional and for-profit institutions. The entry of more providers will raise the issue of quality assurance as learners need to be alert to bogus institutions offering degrees up to doctorate without need for academic study.
Institutionalized learning will become more “modular” with students choosing from a larger number of smaller learning blocks. Blocks delivered by different institutions will count towards a single qualification. A much wider range of study options will need validation for qualification purposes. Cohesion in the learner’s knowledge model should be encouraged, eg by the availability of a personal tutor/counsellor to guide the learning process.
The School Sector
Traditionally schools have not only delivered factual learning but have participated in preparing their students for citizenship. Will (or should) schools be exempt from the learning revolution? Though socialization and citizenship training are essential parts of maturation, recent years have seen homeschooling and so-called “virtual” schooling growing in popularity. There is no reason why academic and social development have to be delievred together. Technology such as the Internet increase immensely the potential for homeschooling, either for the whole or part of a child’s education, eg students attending a conventional school may opt to take certain subjects online.
Face-to-Face v Distance Learning
Traditionalists may cite face-to-face instruction as the only legitimate form of learning partly due to the interaction between teacher and learner. But in many mass educational situations the great majority of interaction is the one-way transferrence of knowledge from teacher to learner (ie the lecture). Distance learning done well can actually promote more two-way teacher-learner and learner-learner interaction.
Due to the increasing (financial) need for students to take part-time jobs there are now relatively few actual full-time face-to-face students . Also the increasingly modular nature of degrees, a positive step providing increased individualization, means learners may find it difficult to schedule time together for group work. But group work is a necessary part of learning since economic activity, and society as a whole, demands co-operation and collaboration. Technology-mediated communication provides means for group working without the need for spatial or temporal proximity.
The 20th century saw formal education taking more and more time from more and more people. The 21st century is likely to see the demand for learning accelerate. However this learning will be met in increasingly flexible ways, through part-time, distance, open and blended learning which will include, but not exclusively consist of, on-campus classroom tuition.
Educational Technology (aka Learning Technology, Instructional Technology) is the application of technology to support learning, ie technology-mediated learning.
In traditional juvenile education (school) learning is delivered by teachers trained in teaching (ie the psychology of how we learn) and also having sufficient subject knowledge. In traditional post-school education learning is delivered by subject experts often with little or no teaching training.
The higher the level of learning, the less likely the teacher will be trained to teach, eg UK university lecturers are not required to hold any teaching certification. Indeed there is some argument that the higher the level of students the more able they should be, and the more beneficial for them, to be taught by subject experts rather than teaching experts.
In technology-mediated learning there is greater need for systematic approach to the design of the learning experience. Such an approach demands the contribution of a whole range of skill sets as indicated below.
Interaction between subject expert, instructional designer, technical specialists and educational technologist.
Subject experts are those traditionally referred to as faculty. Their role is to determine the learning outcome(s) of a particular piece of learning and to provide the content that will constitute that learning.
Instructional designers are the educationalists. They bring an understanding of how people learn and are able to shape the learning outcomes and content provided by the subject experts into an effective learning experience.
Technical specialists have been involved in education for some time but are assuming increasing significance with the growth of online learning. The skills they bring include Web design, graphic design, client and server side scripting, streaming media, XML, Java programming, multimedia authoring, server / systems administration etc etc etc. They are likely to be freelancers, selected and employed on a project by project basis.
Educational technologists / learning technologists / instructional technologists are members of a relatively new profession. As their various titles suggest they possess knowledge both of learning and of the technologies that can support learning. Often their role is to provide an interface between the different contributors to the technology-mediated learning experience.