Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Learning Design, Positioning and Video-based teaching

I had a great chat to Mi today about her PhD. We talked about the difficulties concerning the fact on the one hand we are interested in technologies which haven't really worked (IMS Learning Design) but which puzzle us as to why not (because they seemed like good ideas). On the other hand, something exciting is happening around video-based OER, as exemplified by the Khan Academy.

I think these two apparently separate issues in e-learning are related. One of the central criticisms of Learning Design lies in the fact that teachers are different. Rather, it is not the design of learning sequences that determines its success, but the way it is taught. This is uncomfortable for those learning technologists who wish to relegate the teacher to the role of 'coordinator of learning', but the individual human skills of teaching are fundamental in the success of learners' experiences. It is merely surprising that we find this surprising: but it means that some of the theories of learning are simply wrong.

I think Positioning Theory is a better theory for characterising the relational nature of teacher-learner engagements. Indeed, with large-scale technical implementations like learning design, before you talk about the positioning between teachers and learners, you have to talk about the positioning between learning technologists and teachers - because the teachers have to be convinced that the technology is a good idea before they'll even start to use it!

But let's leave LD for a second, and look at OER video.
I think Positioning Theory helps to understand why the Khan Academy videos are so popular and (apparently) effective. The key is to understand the way Khan presents his knowledge in these videos. Unlike a video lecture like this one:

Khan's audience is not sat in front of him in a lecture room; they are you and me on the web. He is talking directly at us. That positions us differently to begin with. We are not "spying on some special expert knowledge in a holy place of learning". Instead "we are invited to Sal Khan's probability party on YouTube". That makes us feel different I think before we get started.

But Khan reinforces this 'invitation to a party' feel with his very up-beat presentation style. I have analysed this in more depth by looking at the 'knowledge performances' in the videos (see I think a high degree of openness in the 'person form' of the knowledge (that's Khan saying "this is what I know and I think it's fun") opens up the positioning with the audience. Because it is hand-written on-the-spot, the content-form of his video is strongly tied with the person form, and has a spontaneity about it which again invites the audience in. I think also, he is always aware that people will dip in and out of his videos; that the video itself is a 'tool' for learning and that the tool is in the control of the learner. Once again, there is some good positioning in that: it acknowledges the multiple storylines in each of his viewers heads, and equips each of them with tools to develop their own storylines as they wish.

Finally, the ethos of what Khan is doing is something admirable, and which we can all relate aspects of to our own storylines to. So we listen to him.

There is likely to be a need to stimulate video-based learning but to have criteria for what might be effective and what might not be. There may be a way of looking at video-based learning from the angle of its positioning and the ways in which individuals perform their knowledge through the technology that can help us make these judgements. But the insight into the importance of positioning belongs to our work on IMS Learning Design, because having attempted to distil the essence of learning into sequences of activities, we realised what was missing, and what it was that teachers actually do with their students.

Finally, here's my bit of 'positioning': my own revealing of self through marking the iTEC deliverable document (which is driving me crazy) and my improvisation. I wonder if revealing improvisations through video might also be a way of positioning people in empowering ways...

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