Web 2.0 and Emerging Learning Technologies/Andragogy and Technology
This paper explores the history of curriculum development to help understand the current theory and design of curriculum. The historical perspective is then juxtaposed to current and emerging technology to demonstrate that curriculum development theory and new technology are at odds. Designers and developers are force fitting technology into a curriculum model that dates back over 100 years. The paper suggests that new and emerging technology needs to drive new perceptions and theories of curriculum development. That new model, if based on current and emerging technology is a user driven, just in time learning model. Examples are then presented.
Topic and Problem
Curriculum and technology are at odds. While technology enjoys a life cycle of roughly one year, educational curriculum theory is well over a century old. Some may argue that curriculum theory has enjoyed such a long run because it is the best model available, others would argue that it is time for change. I belong to the later half. I intend to demonstrate through review of theories and through data on technology, school enrollments, and attrition rates that we are approaching curriculum theory backward in regard to online course development. Rather then force fitting today’s technology into a model of education that is over 100 years old and that no longer addresses the current demographics of today’s society, we need to adopt a new model of curriculum specifically for online education.
The advents of the personal computer and the Internet have revolutionized aspects of our society. Our social, cultural, and educational boundaries are no longer limited to geographical boundaries. The Internet and the computer enable us to communicate quickly, in both synchronous and asynchronous modes with people from around the world. Access to information is only a few clicks away for those who are connected. And while distance education programs date back to the early 1900’s, computers and the Internet seem to have weathered the storms of fad and popularity. Online education (the newest mode of distance learning) continues to grow in appeal to millions of students and learners across the globe. However, to ensure the continued success and appeal of online learning, a critical review of our technology and curricular beliefs needs to occur. While I believe that such critical review is important across all levels of education, and indeed must be conducted at all levels of education to enable success at any given level, I am specifically targeting post secondary, higher education. Target audiences for this level of education include both traditional and non-traditional students. However, the one consistency amongst all learners at this level is that they are adults, fully involved and engaged in their own pursuit of education.
Malcolm Knowles, in his learning theory of adults, suggests that adult learners bring personal experiences to their education that provide rich resources to build upon. He further suggests that relevance and pertinence to the real world are critical factors for adult learners. He states, “It is a natural part of the process of maturation for an adult to want (need, even) to move from dependency toward increasing self-responsibility and self-directedness” (Knowles, 1980). As I consider my experience as an online instructor and my understanding of technology in play within online courses, I more firmly believe that we are not embracing the tenets of andragogy, and that our online courses today, as built in frameworks of learning management systems, do not foster independence, self-responsibility, or self-directedness.
Andragogy comes from the Greek word for adult, aner, and suggests that at post secondary levels of education, the basic premises of pedagogy need to be supplemented to address the learning audience. While andragogy derives from the Greek word aner, meaning adult, pedagogy derives from the Greek word paidagōgeō, meaning to “lead a child” (Wikipedia, 2007). Today, however, most people use the term derived from Latin to define pedagogy, which is education. This definition still relies on the remnants of leading children through the understanding of the art and science of teaching. In today’s world where online education serves both traditional and non-traditional adult students, working only from a pedagogical standpoint with no consideration to andragogy results in a top down, teacher center approach to education that does not reflect the needs or goals of the adult learner. Students are required to follow a schedule set forth by the instructor, are guided in all aspects of assignment completion, and provided the content which they must master to pass the class. This approach to education is very dangerously similar to an ideology. While an ideological approach, “a systematic body of knowledge that demands loyalty and conformity by its adherents” (Knowles, 1980) may be appropriate for elementary aged learners, it certainly is not appropriate for the adult learner. Michael Apple in his essay Controlling the Work of Teachers suggests that teachers have been in the middle of a restructuring of their jobs. If we view the structural control of Learning Management Systems and the requirements of accrediting bodies for standardization in content between online and face to face courses, we see they both support Apple’s suggestions. Apple states, “The integration together of management control systems, reductive behaviorally based curricula, pre-specific teaching “competencies” and procedures and student responses, and pre- and post-testing, was leading to a loss of control and a separation of conception from execution” (2004). This, in effect, sums up the approach most higher education schools are currently using in their deployment of online courses.
Furthermore, not only are we currently ignoring the results of research that suggest the differences between adult learners and elementary learners, we are also not fully utilizing the power of technology available today. One only has to compare the popular technology on the Internet and attrition rates of our online courses to see that a paradox exists that needs to be more fully explored. Use rates and number of site hits confirm the popularity of the Internet and the technology that sits on top of it, while attrition rates in postsecondary education suggest a flaw in the design and use of online courses. Perhaps the answer lies in the inability for those in power to allow students control over their learning. For doing so would threaten the role of hegemony in our educational system. If we change the traditions, then we threaten what Raymond Williams calls the selective tradition:
- …that which, within the terms of an effective dominant culture, is always passed off as “the tradition,” the significant past. But always the selectivity is the point; the way in which from a whole possible area of past and present, certain meanings and practices are chosen for emphasis, certain meanings and practices are neglected and excluded (Williams, 1979).
Moving away from the traditions and models of American education within the realm of online courses would both free instructors from the restrictive controls that are placed on them through the standardization of pre-selected content and defined uses of technology. However, such a move would deviate from the norms and policies that have been firmly rooted in our educational system since 1892.
In 1892, the Committee of Ten was organized by the National Education Association to advise a model curriculum for American education. Their focus was particularly on high school curriculum, but here are some interesting recommendations they made:
- They recommended eight years of elementary education and four years of secondary education.
- They defined four different curricula as appropriate for high school. The first two followed a classical trend: classical and Latin-scientific. The second two were more contemporary: modern language and English.
- Courses that are now considered basic like foreign languages, mathematics, science, English and history were included in each curriculum.
- The goal of high school was to prepare all students to do well in life, contributing to their own well-being and society's good, and to prepare some students for college. (Weidner, 2007)
Consider Learning Management Systems (LMSs). LMSs are the framework for our online courses today, and unfortunately, they reflect the goals of our traditional education model. In a sense they provide the physical structure in which learning occurs. The log in process equates to walking through the front doors of a school. Selecting your class is similar to walking into a classroom. Dropboxes are the system to submit and receive assignments. Chats, threaded discussions and email are the means to communicate. LMSs have hitherto been built to mimic that which has constituted our educational system for the past 100 years as recommended by the Committee of Ten.
Has much in our educational system changed since the Committee of Ten made their recommendations over 100 years ago? As we consider the future of online learning in postsecondary education and the technology that supports it, we need to consider new theories upon which to base our designs. We can no longer continue to force technology into a dated and inappropriate model for online course design regardless of the loss of tradition or hegemony. As long as we continue to approach our postsecondary education from a pedagogical and ideological perspective, we will never be able to fully utilize the technology that receives such high popularity rates on the Internet.
Having said that, online education is continuing to grow phenomenally despite our inappropriate approach to online curriculum. Consider these statistics:
- Enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased by 17 percent between 1984 and 1994. Between 1994 and 2004, enrollment increased at a faster rate (21 percent), from 14.3 million to 17.3 million.
- During the 12-month 2000–2001 academic year, 56 percent (2,320) of all 2-year and 4-year Title IV-eligible, degree-granting institutions offered distance education courses for any level or audience, (i.e., courses designed for all types of students, including elementary and secondary, college, adult education, continuing and professional education, etc.) (IES National Center for Education Statistics, 2003).
Looking at the data for education and online program opportunities, one would be encouraged and somewhat frightened by the numbers. There is obviously interest and motivation in using the Internet. However, the attrition rates tell another story. Among bachelor's degree seekers beginning at a 4-year institution in 1995–96, just over half graduated from that institution within 6 years (IES National Center for Education Statistics, 2003). Meanwhile, the Internet and Internet technologies continue to enjoy increasing popularity. Currently, over 69% of Americans use the Internet in some capacity and over 50% of American households now have Internet access (Internet World Stats, 2007). Why is the Internet so popular? It is the foundation for all of our online classrooms and distance programs, yet online education struggles to retain students. The message here is that our online courses, by effort of retaining policy and tradition through curricular control, are ostracizing the very people who are making the Internet so popular: potential students.
We can begin to understand the differences between online course attrition and popular Internet sites by looking at the common elements that exist between those sites and juxtaposing them with our online course design. One such popular site is Wikipedia. Wikipedia currently has
- …over 75,000 active contributors working on more than 5,300,000 articles in more than 100 languages. As of today, there are 1,685,680 articles in English; every day hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world make tens of thousands of edits and create thousands of new articles to enhance the amount of knowledge held by the Wikipedia encyclopedia (Wikipedia, 2007).
What motivates someone to volunteer to manage Wiki servers? YouTube, another popular Internet site, has over 5.1 million videos and is growing by about 20% every few days. The total time the people of the world have spent watching YouTube since it started is over 9,000 years” (Gomes, 2006). And yet we can’t get students to participate in threaded discussions.
It is my opinion that the Internet, the foundation of online classes, is popular because it is user driven, user created, and just in time. Obviously people enjoy forming ideas, organizing content, exploring interests, and sharing information; otherwise, the Internet would have remained a relatively obscure computer based network used by the government and academics. People like to be experts, or at least participants with a voice.
In comparing online educational environments to the Internet, educational classrooms online are still based on a top down, teacher centered theory. Adult education must be student centered, problem or task-oriented and relevant to real world situations t follow the tenets of andragogy. Our current model of online education will never be student center as long as students are working within the constructs of predefined content, a structured environment such as our Learning Management Systems today, with management systems in place. The selective tradition as Williams calls it will continue to alienate students from their preferred method of engagement online. From the moment we as educators select behavioral objectives and write quantitative assessments to measure those objectives, we have taken control away from students; they are in a race to complete their work and do so better then their peers; this is an ideological approach to education. Current education is a race whose success is based not on quality but quantity. Online classes are an excellent example: students have to post one thread in response to a topic and then respond to two different students. The first post has to be completed by Sunday and the following two responses by Wednesday. The day students “walk into school”, whether click and mortar or brick and mortar, they are confined by the theories of curriculum development founded over 100 years ago. It is time for a change.
The good news is that there are models of interaction currently based on the Internet platform from which we as educators and online advocates can learn. Learning management systems will have to adapt to remain viable in online education. Education for the adult learner is moving to user driven, user controlled, just in time learning models and the signs are visible in the popularity of new technologies that support these models. Technologies that allow information to be “pushed” to a student on demand, such as RSS feeds, will become foundational in course content. Course design will have to allow students to form content as individuals and groups based on interest similar to the design behind Wikis. Our greatest challenge in online education is reconceptualizing educational theory; moving away from variations of the same and into new thoughts of curriculum and reform. It is time to stop forcing new technologies into the models of education founded over 100 years ago and start building new theories of curriculum around the technologies of today. I believe that model curriculum will be user driven, user controlled, and just in time.
- Knowles, M. D. (1980). My Farewell Address...Andragogy - No Panacea, No Ideology. Training and Development Journal, 4(8), 48-50.
- Wikipedia. (2007). Wikipedia: About. Retrieved Feb. 25, 2005, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedagogy
- Apple, M. (2004). Ideology and Curriculum, 3rd Ed., London: Routledge Farmer.
- Williams, R. (1979). Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory. In D. Rogers (Ed.), Schooling and Capitalism (pp. 204-205). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
- Weidner, L. (n.d.). The N.E.A. Committee of Ten. Retrieved Feb. 7, 2007, from http://www.nd.edu/~rbarger/www7/neacom10.html
- IES National Center for Education Statistics. (2003). Student Effort and Educational Progress: Postsecondary Persistence and Progress. Retrieved Feb. 7, 2007, from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/2003/section3/indicator20.asp
- Internet World Stats. (2007). INTERNET USAGE STATISTICS - The Big Picture World Internet Users and Population Stats. Retrieved Feb. 25, 2005, from http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm
- Wikipedia. (2007). Wikipedia: About. Retrieved Feb. 25, 2005, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:About#Wikipedia_statistics
- Gomes, L. (2006). Will All of Us Get Our 15 Minutes On a YouTube Video? Retrieved Feb. 7, 2007, from http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB115689298168048904-5wWyrSwyn6RfVfz9NwLk774VUWc_20070829.html?mod=rss_free