All Learning Is Hybrid Learning: The Idea of ‘The Organizing Technology’

By Steve Eskow
Editor, Hybrid vs. Virtual Issues

Our vocabularies conceal as well as reveal, our conceptual tools often build walls where we need windows.

Consider the instruction on college campuses prior to the arrival of the Internet: a hybrid made up of various forms of reading, writing, listening, making — learning technologies all. And the forms of those learning technologies were, and are, varied and blended: “listening” and “speaking” include forms as diverse as the mass lecture, the small group discussion, the individual tutorial.  “Reading”: in the library, that old great technology, or on the lawn, or in one’s dorm room. And the hands-on lab. And bulletin boards. And of course, more recently, the media technologies that could bring in distant lecturers or music or drama via radio, television, film, 35mm slides . . .

uh_manoaThe campus has always been the scene of blended learning.

However, the master technology — what I’ll call “the organizing technology” — is the one that is usually unremarked and unnoticed, yet it sets the terms and conditions for all the others. And that technology is, of course, the “campus” itself: a piece of real estate in a particular geography; and a set of buildings whose shape and environment allowed or disallowed what sorts of instructional activities could go on within them.

And, of course, the master limitation of the campus was its setting in a particular space: only those who were invited to that space, and whose life conditions allowed them to accept the offer, could study at the college, could benefit from all the other technologies of instruction and learning that it housed.

International education and service-learning  support the case, not refute it. If you wanted to learn in a workplace, or a community agency, or another country, you had to leave the campus for that kind of “blended” learning. Such forms of experiential learning do not “blend” with the campus, but require leaving it. And, of course, such episodes away from “campus” had to “blend” with the rhythms and routines set by the master technology, the campus: fitted into a “semester,” or a spring or summer break.

acer_manoaThe search for ways to avoid the restraints and limitations of the “campus” are almost as old as the campus itself: the search for a university without walls includes university extension and its various forms: circuit-riding teachers; correspondence study; instruction by radio and television.

Distance learning is the negation of place-bound learning.

So what is being called “hybrid” or “blended” learning is the addition of Internet-based learning to the other learning technologies available to the campus-based student. The organizing technology, the master technology, of such hybrids is the campus, and students must live with the limitations as well as the benefits imposed by a particular piece of geography and the buildings erected upon it.

The discussion, then — the argument — is not between the champions of “blended” learning and those who propose all-online learning.

The struggle is between learning defined and organized by one technology — the “campus” — and another — call it “cyberspace” or “Internet” for now — that wants to exploit the possibilities of a technology that frees instruction and learning from the traditional constraints of space, place, and time.

And “blended” learning continues the hegemony of the campus: it does not end it.

One Response

  1. Steve makes a good case with one exception. He asserts that, “Distance learning is the negation of place-bound learning.” With “negation” being the point of confusion.

    This declarative is not supported by his facts, premises, connective logic, or conclusion. I don’t necessarily disagree, but I would like him to fill in the blanks.

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