Beyond Blended Learning - It's all about the pedagogy...

Mark Sivills and Josh Dean are currently working with Professor Bill Cope at the University of Illinois as part of a Hardie Fellowship.

Its not the technology - it's the pedagogy

There are two important ideas which I am encountering again and again on this fellowship (both of which were referred to by a colleague (@GrantRMac) in a reply to an earlier post on blended learning.)

The first is the notion that we are moving beyond the notion of blended learning as a separate entity. This is in the sense that while there are currently perceived differences between face-to-face, blended and online learning - Kalantzis and Cope (2017) assert that there ought to be and will be no difference between pedagogy in online learning, blended and face-to-face learning.

The second is the notion of technology as 'pedagogically neutral' meaning that whatever the technology is that we may use, in and of itself it will provide no 'real' benefit beyond efficiency. The 'real' benefits from technology come from how we use it - what pedagogical choices do we make - and what kind of pedagogies are we using the technology to support?

Combined - these two ideas mean that there is perhaps less need to consider 'blended learning' as a thing separate from any other type of learning. There is simply 'good' pedagogy which can be made even better with the affordances of technology.

What do we mean by 'good pedagogy'?

Kalantzis and Cope outline their position in e-Learning Ecologies: Principles for New Learning and Assessment describing didactic pedagogy, reflexive pedagogy and why reflexive is generally more desirable than didactic.

Didactic Pedagogy typically consists of:

- Direct instructional guidance
- Focus on cognition
- Focus on the individual learner
- Emphasis on a narrow range of epistemic processes by which they can demonstrate that they can replicate disciplinary knowledge; "a pedagogy of mimesis and replication."
The relationship of knowledge dissemination between teacher and learner is represented here:

Didactic Learning, from E-Learning Ecologies, Kalantzis and Cope (2017)

Reflexive Pedagogy typically consists of:

- A shift of agency where "the learner has considerable scope and responsibility for epistemic action, albeit within the frame of reference of an activity sequence that has been scaffolded by the instructor."
- Focus on artefacts and knowledge representations constructed by the learner in the process of their construction
- Focus on social sources of knowledge
- Wide range of epistemic processes
The relationship of knowledge construction between learner, peers and teacher is represented here - which deliberately still has the teacher at the centre - guiding the learning.

Reflexive Learning, from E-Learning Ecologies, Kalantzis and Cope (2017)

In most cases, Reflexive Pedagogy is more desirable than Didactic Pedagogy

In this video Bill Cope outlines the differences between didactic pedagogy and reflexive pedagogy and why the latter is more desirable than the former.

This has been an ongoing debate for at least the last two centuries and is perhaps a question of what we value. The argument goes that didactic pedagogy in the classroom should produce learners who are good at receiving, replicating and applying information in familiar situations while reflexive pedagogy in the classroom should produce learners who are good at creating knowledge and working in unfamiliar situations. Which do or should we value more?

Ctitical Thinking Image, from: 

Technology is 'pedagogically neutral' - it can add both 'nothing' and 'everything'

Cope and Kalantzis (2017) argue that it can add 'nothing' if it is used to reinforce didactic pedagogy but it can add 'everything' if it it used to reinforce reflexive pedagogy.

Technology provides us with affordances which can be used to reinforce didactic ways of learning (making no difference) or can be used reflexively to provide learners with new ways of learning and creating knowledge (making all the difference.)

For example some ways in which technology can add nothing can be through:

The Flipped Classroom - this issue is discussed here - may add 'nothing' more than efficiency if it merely moves a didactic lecture from inside to outside the classroom.

The Learning Management System (LMS) -  which can be used to reinforce didactic presentation of knowledge to be absorbed with retrospective testing.

e-Textbooks - discussed here, despite some additional features fundamentally hasn't changed - "just as textbooks have for centuries, the e-textbook summarizes knowledge, lays it out in a systematic order, and speaks in the singular, authoritative voice of the author."

Intelligent tutors and games and Computer Adaptive Tests likewise are all capable of revitalising and reinforcing didactic models of learning.

Note that it is not the case that this has to be so - Kalantzis and Cope (2017) believe that technology can simultaneously be the "everything" - that technology provides the affordances to change the way we learn in non-didactic, more reflexive ways.

Technology provides us with 7 e-learning affordances

7 e-learning affordances, from
Ubiquitous Learning - anywhere, anytime - removing the constrictions of the physical classroom, the timetable and the didactic teacher - student relationship

Active Knowledge making - learners can design meanings for themselves, constructing knowledge, becoming creative and critical thinkers

Multimodal Meaning - allowing learners to not only experience but create multimodal artifacts containing text, image, sound, data

Recursive Feedback - formative assessment from teachers and peers, in particular ongoing a repeated recursive feedback which continually builds knowledge and understanding, reducing the need for summatiove retrospective testing

Collaborative Knowledge - knowledge you can reach for and use

Metacognition - thinking about thinking

Differentiated Learning - each according to their interest and need

These ideas are introduced in this video:

What might this mean for us (teachers, learners, leaders in classrooms of all types)?

Some questions that investigating these pedagogies and affordances has raised for me include:

What kind of pedagogy do we value most? Didactic or Reflexive?

Do we subscribe to models of learning that are didactic, and concentrate on direct instruction and assessment through factual recall and application of certain bodies of knowledge - or do we subscribe to models of learning that are reflexive and concentrate on learners making meaning, constructing knowledge and applying it in new and innovative ways?

Are we using technology to reinforce didactic pedagogy, or are we using it to support reflexive pedagogy?

When introducing new technologies - are we valuing efficiencies more highly or as highly as pedagogical improvements?

If we evaluate existing use of technology in the classroom - are we separating the efficiencies from the pedagogy?

If we are using technology to for example flip the classroom - are we just moving lectures around or are we using it to support reflexive pedagogies such as project based learning and active knowledge construction?

If we are using for example a Learning Management System (LMS) - are we using it to replicate and reinforce didactic pedagogy - or are we using it to enable ubiquitous learning and multimodal knowledge construction according to interest and need?

If we are using technology for assessment - is it simply replicating item-response testing - or are we using it to enable recursive formative feedback where summative assessment begins to fall to the background?

Certainly don't have all the answers to these questions! But I've seen some very interesting technological solutions in both the College of Education and College of Mathematics at the University of Illinois to some of these problems and will post more on them soon!


Kalantzis, M. and Cope, W. 2017. e-Learning Ecologies: Principles for New Learning and Assessment 


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