Monday, July 4, 2016

E-Learning Educator As An Agent of Change

For individuals who are educators, trainers, instructional designers and CLO's, the greatest challenge that they face is to unlearn a good part of their training. The reason for doing this is because all of our training in our individual areas of expertise was based upon the premise that the vision and goals of education would not change at an unmanageable rate because that had been our past experience. However, with the rise of the world wide web and rapid changes in technology, the whole face of education, training and instructional design was disrupted and new skillsets were required in order to function effectively in the new environment of the online world. Whether you are part of a business organization or formal education, standing at the front of a classroom or training room, lecturing and reading bullet points off a slide is no longer conducive for preparing learners for the world that they will live and work in.

 "WHY? You Ask?"

 All learners, adult and younger, need to be engaged as partners in their own learning. We can no longer treat them as a passive audience hanging on our every word. In order for deeper learning to take place, learners need to be engaged in challenging, inspiring, and intriguing conversations where their own intrinsic motivation drives them to seek to learn more.

E-Learning Educators: The Exponential Growth of Knowledge and Professional Knowledge Silos

With the advance of technology, access to the world wide web became much easier and also very useful for the important skillset of "collaborative knowledge work". Knowledge across the disciplines advanced at an exponential rate to such a point that professional knowledge repositories were needed in order for the various disciplines to collect, authenticate and share knowledge with members of a particular discipline anywhere in the world. In the past, this type of knowledge sharing was very time sensitive because the methods of distribution via letter, telephone and even professional journal were hindered by the technology limitations of the times. The Internet changed all of that for business organizations as well as for formal education. The sharing and transmission of discipline knowledge from anywhere in the world became much, much faster.

Although transmission of knowledge is faster, it is not perfect since we still need to overcome the "synchronous vs. asynchronous" dilemma and the problem of antiquated infrastructure in many parts of the world. 
At this point in time, most scientific disciplines have their own online silo of professional knowledge complete with blogs, journals and discussion areas.

The Evolution of Professional Knowledge Silos to Cross Disciplinary Learning Networks

If we are to move away from the industrial economy mindset with its viewpoints on the purpose and vision of education, we need to look at areas that exist online that are still tied to this anachronistic model of education and training. The creation and use of separate subjects within a brick and mortar schools were designed that way to serve the industrial economy which stated that the purpose of education was to create efficient workers within designated disciplines which had distinct borders and to create generations of perpetual consumers. Therefore, creating and maintaining online versions of these professional silos of knowledge maintains a bondage to this type of mindset.


Two realizations that shone a spotlight on the inadequacies of this mindset were based on the changing needs of a rapidly developing digital society:

  1. Many of the real world problems that we face today and some that have defied solution require a cross-disciplinary approach if we are to arrive at viable solutions. This means that in order to solve a complex problem, the skillsets required may involve the professional knowledge of mathematicians, geophysicists, and cultural anthropologists if the problem deals with saving artifacts from ancient excavation sites in the Middle East near active earth fault lines. The options are: (a) talk to each of these specialists separately, or (b) have these specialist collaborate with each other. One of the problems that arises with option (b) is the "protectionist professional mindset" in which the professionals guard their silo of knowledge jealously. In other words, free and open collaboration with people of other disciplines is guarded.
  2. In order for innovation to grow in a healthy manner, the purpose of education should reflect the needs of the times we live in. This means that education needs to prepare learners to become effective agents of change who are tasked with the creation of new knowledge and skillsets.

Some disciplines have already began the necessary transformation to become cross-disciplinary learning networks. The professionals who now support the STEM initiative (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) now collaborate and share knowledge in an attempt to solve complex real world problems. Some have taken a step further and support the STEAM initiative which recognizes the great contributions that the Arts can make to STEM. The need for the skillsets that involve creativity is an essential to helping learners innovate in a digital world.
There is a growing movement in the research communities at universities to collaborate with other disciplines that might help shed light on a tasked problem. The process starts by making a comparison between the traditional versus the cross disciplinary approach.

Credit: Lina Markauskaite

In the quest to represent disciplinary knowledge in a cross disciplinary format it is important to make sure that you are not just creating large knowledge silos. What makes the difference in this instance is inter-network collaboration where relationships exist between the various knowledge networks. This is what lays the foundation for global learning communities dedicated to open collaboration and innovative thinking. Perhaps a simple analogy would be to consider the global learning community to be like a large sandbox in which when one learning network is tasked with solving a complex real world problem, it invites other learning networks to join them in solving the problem. These learning networks are not restrained by geography or time.

The question that needs to be asked is:

"What steps needed to be taken within formal education and business organizations to help bring about the development of cross disciplinary online learning networks?"

To begin to answer this question requires that we start with changes in formal education because it is here that learners receive the training to enter various professions, including the profession of education:

  1. At the university and college level, there needs to be a re-evaluation of the vision and purpose of education within the context of the needs of 21st century societies that more and more live in an online world. This is the world that they use for satisfying the basic needs of life, for seeking information on world events and for building their knowledge and skillsets in areas that are personally of interest to them. They want the flexibility of having more control over their everyday life.
  2. The concept of M.O.O.C.S needs to be re-evaluated as to who is best served by this construct in its present form. If it serves the bottom line of the university or college more than the learners, then we have a serious problem. If the pedagogy used within the M.O.O.C. is merely the same pedagogy that has been used for decades in brick and mortar schools except now it is transferred uncritically to the online environment then it is misrepresentation of the worst order.
  3.  Faculties of education need to replace the industrial mindset of treating learners as a "tabula rasa" or blank slate to be filled with information and need to systematically teach learners how to learn and collaborate in an online environment. They need to foster the idea of collaboration with professional cross disciplinary networks to create new knowledge and skillsets and to be instigators of effective change. 
  4. This cross disciplinary knowledge process must be one that is systemic through the higher education learning community because the learners that seek out higher education need re-assurance that university and college education is in sync with the real world they will work and live in.

 I would edit the above quote to state:

 "if (collaboration within an organization) could be decided by engineering or scientific or mathematical means alone, it would have been. (In other words) 21st century complex real world problems can not be effectively solved using knowledge silos and professional protectionist mindsets."

Next--the exciting developing world of learning networks, learning communities and learning portals.

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