Tuesday, April 21, 2015

E-Learning: Bringing It Together--Characteristics of Practiced Discernment-Part II

One stark realization that all educators need to come to terms with is that education in the 21st century is not about teaching learners all the content that we know. The simple truth is that learners can find more knowledge on the Internet on most subjects than we can teach them in several lifetimes. What we need to do is to educate or mentor them on how to learn in an online world where they could easily drown in information.

This is the reason why mentoring learners so that they develop the skillset of practiced discernment is such an important critical literacy in the 21st century. One of the skills of practiced discernment is the ability of the learner to probe information that they come across on the Internet to see if it is authenticate and accurate. If the goal is to accumulate truthful information that allows for a balanced and accurate picture of a real world problem, then the student needs to be mentored on how to ask the right questions. If we fail to make this mentoring effort, then we cast students adrift in a sea of information in which they will drown in and be unable to contribute to new knowledge and skill sets in meaningful ways.

Credit: Slate photos/Thinkstock & Anton Sokolov
A learner can only ask the right questions if the mentor or instructor himself or herself is a practitioner of this skill. Unfortunately, this is a skill set that does not come naturally to adults as well as younger learners. This is the "tipping point" of this argument.

"It is not enough that a mentor has a sound grounding in learning principles, they also need to have developed a mastery of practiced discernment themselves."

This probing mindset understands that information on the web is NOT the same as knowledge on the web and that they should not be used as interchangeable terms.

So, what are some examples of these "probing questions"?

Instructors who educate students with regards to critical thinking skills will recognize and relate to these questions. It is not that instructors have not tried to instill such questioning skills but it is the fact that these skills have not been integrated into the way learners think about Internet information and knowledge. Some examples are as follows:

  1. Is this information that is being presented opinion or fact? There are still many adults who do not know the difference between these two concepts!
  2. Does the author(s) of the information have the expertise to speak with authority on the issue presented?
  3. Does the author have a specific bias in the selection of information and its presentation or does the author make a valid attempt to objectively present both sides of the issue described? Is the evidence offered on both sides of the issue complete and stated accurately?
  4. Are the arguments presented by the author supported by verifiable evidence? Is the evidence offered directly germane to the issue? Is the evidence current or or is it dated and has been declared invalid by peers in the discipline?
These examples are by no means complete but they do show the required probing that learners need to develop as a skill set when dealing with the Internet. In order for learners to take such skill sets seriously they need to see that they have a personal stake in seeking the truth. If we expect learners to become agents of change and create new knowledge and skillsets, then they need to know how to interpret, analyze, synthesize and create through discerning what is useful and valid on the Internet and what is not.
Distraction is a problem that needs to be dealt with because as the following graphic illustrates, the magnitude of distractive influences is much larger than we would imagine.

Obviously, there are other skills that complement practiced discernment and you will probably see other possibilities. Feel free to suggest them.

Next... The Evolution of E-Learning---Bold But Necessary Steps?

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