When it comes to delivering training, my preference to use a social constructivist approach is based on my belief that everyone has something to contribute and that I am not necessarily the expert, or the only expert about a topic. I like to harness the ‘resources’ of other people’s expertise in my teaching. I feel that people generally gain more satisfaction and active learning from participation than absorption. This feeling is supported by years spent delivering training and getting feedback; being involved in their own learning has been very gratifying for many teachers. (There are also many comments from these teachers that their students don’t care to be active learners. They just want to be fed the answers. That idea is for another blog post.)
I came across an interesting piece of research via a New Yorker article called “Why facts don’t change our minds”. Two professors, Sloman and Fernbach, found that “when it comes to new technologies, incomplete understanding is empowering.” Our incomplete knowledge about stuff actually helps to protect us as a group. We use a “division of cognitive labour” to help us make progress; if we all spent time working out how to programme the web before we used it, we wouldn’t have gotten very far. The ability to accept someone else’s thinking or outputs and to use it stops us from being in the dark ages. This is where people are willing to accept being trained or mentored by others they trust (The idea of social capital to be discussed in yet another blog post :-)). They essentially piggyback on others to get a step up. There is no point reinventing the wheel; just use the knowledge others can provide. Luckily for us as trainers, this behaviour means we have many attendees in our upcoming webinar on ‘Online learning: What works?’. This is part of the Future Teacher 3.0 series of webinars that you are welcome to join.
This trait can also work against us as people can have strong feelings about things they don’t understand, and talking to others with similar feelings can reinforce misconceptions. Many of my fellow trainers have encountered naysayers in our groups, or people who are so resistant to new ideas they are practically ‘dismantling the wheel’. This can also be dangerous in a community of knowledge where misconceptions can be spread like wildfire due to ‘confirmation bias’. Sloman and Fernback suggest that to counter such aggressive ignorance, people should be challenged to explain their thinking based on facts and research. I remember a teacher who proclaimed that using technology didn’t work since there was no improvement in his classes. This teacher had simply brought laptops into the class, but did nothing more. He didn’t redesign his learning activities to take advantage of the affordances of the technology. This is why we are approaching the topic of online learning ‘from the ground up’ by looking at strategies for designing active learning, rather than describing how to use online tools. We’ll be looking at ‘visible learning’ and ‘effect sizes’, a concept researched by John Hattie and I hope to have time to introduce Puentedura’s SAMR model. The latter has been criticised for not being based on empirical research, but some tools are useful despite not knowing their pedigree ;-). If it helps a teacher to evaluate their approach to learning activity design and to make a difference to the learner, a blunt instrument is better than no instrument at all.
This brings us full circle to the idea of using a social constructivist approach to the upcoming webinar. Much as I would like to have lots of discussion and chat over a ‘presentation-style’ webinar, the numbers attending mean that this is going to start off more like an interactive lecture, than a small-group discussion. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; there are possibly some threshold concepts we need to communicate before people can have a reasonable discussion. Rather than continuing on my preferred ‘teaching style’, I am going to practice what we preach and consider the best alignment of practice with the optimum learning gains we can achieve. My co-presenter, Alistair McNaught, and I look forward to seeing you online on March 31. Future sessions will also feature my esteemed colleague, Ron Mitchell.