In Learning Design, Pedagogy First, Medium Second

Tom PreskettBy Tom Preskett

It’s common to hear the argument “We need to use social media in learning because that what the kids are doing.” This statement has merit, but there’s a lot that’s packed into it, and this can sometimes cause confusion.

The sentiment is correct in that there is a desire to engage with school age students on their terms. However, often this gets wrapped up in intentions for more learner centred and collaborative pedagogical stances. That’s fine (if that’s what you want), but it’s important to make a distinction between the medium and the pedagogy. However, the affordance of social media clearly leans towards collaborative uses.

It’s also interesting that this statement is often tied in with increasing the engagement of learners who are not engaged. It’s almost like we are saying “Let’s speak their language.” Again, this has merit. But it’s important to understand that this is part of a bigger picture. Choosing the right communication channel is important if it will mean greater chance of validity with a particular group of learners.

However, this will only take you so far. What is most important is good learning design. Take your pedagogical stance, design the learning, and choose the mediums to deliver this learning appropriately. If you are taking a participatory or collaborative stance, this could well involve internet based tools. I won’t go further on this track as I’ve been on this road before.

What I will say is that it’s easier to talk in terms of communication channels. Teenagers are communicating through facebook because they can. We now have additional communication channels. These supplement what we had before – talking, telephone, email. They allow people to be in contact in times and places where they couldn’t before. We should be interested in using such channels for learning. Expressing the issue in this way takes the edge off statements such as “We need to use it because they are using it.” It also removes it from the pedagogical debates.

Overall, I think it’s useful to separate the tool you use to deliver the learning from the learning design process. Starting with the medium in mind is dangerous in that it can determine how you teach.

8 Responses

  1. I don’t believe there have been many articles in ETC with which I have agreed more enthusiastically than this. A question I always want to ask when examining a new learning activity is “what are the students learning?” In too many instances, what I have seen in activities reminds me of a line from Macbeth–“full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

    Fun and engaging activities are great, and it should not take too much thinking to be sure that they teach something valuable, too.

  2. Tom,

    I always enjoy reading your posts, and this one is no exception.

    I have seen this happen over and over in schools – they get a grant for the newest technology – computers in the classroom, graphing calculators, SmartBoards, whatever. Then one of several things may happen. This wonderful new technology sits and collects dust. Or teachers use the technology without a clear learning design – to use your phrase. Or the one teacher who was behind the purchase uses it with his/her students until he/she leaves. In the best of all worlds, the administration and the staff all get on board and learn how to create a rich learning experience for their students.

    I think you are right that social media has the same opportunities and the same pitfalls of any media used in an educational setting. What the students will learn needs to come first in the design.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Tom–I totally agree that we need to keep the educational objectives (what the students will learn) up front. But I also know that when I take those objectives and design a lesson plan for a face-to-face classroom, it is a different methodology and a different pedagogy than when I design that material for an online course.

  4. Tom, Judith’s point above can be generalized this way:

    “In learning design the situation is first, and the situation influences the pedagogy and limits the choice of media.”

    Suppose my objective is to involve my students in the theory and practice of dialogue.

    My “situation” is this:

    I have 350 students who meet one a week in lecture hall and twice a week in sections of 30 which are taught by graduate students.

    That “situation” influences, perhaps determines, my pedagogical possibilities and my media alternatives.

    So: it isn’t a progression from pedagogy to media, but a dialogue between media and pedagogy as framed and shaped in a particular situation.

  5. Whole-hearted agreement about the focus on sound pedagogy/andragogy and emphasis on “learning design”… but I think subjugating the delivery experience is like serving a t-bone on a paper towel. In a digital context. the manner in which you engage the learner has a massive impact on the whole of the learning experience. It matters immensely.

  6. I may not agree completely with the thesis of defining the pedagogy first before the medium. Because of my observation that historically, it was in fact the medium of communications that defined the teaching methods. Consider the time before the written word, obviously the early humans can’t design a pedagogy based on the written word. Similarly, before Gutenberg, there was no designed pedagogy based on the printed word. Likewise before the advent of the internet, it was impossible even for the best educator to design an online course. It is a natural course of learning to adapt to new medium of communications rather than the medium adapting to a learning design.

    • Very good point. I guess on further thought there is a middle ground. We think first how we can use this new medium to enhance existing best practices, and we think next how we can use it to expand best practices.

  7. Got it right, Jun. The medium is the message. When educators finally get it, education will enter the 21st century. -Jim S

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