Reimagining Online Education ~ Stephen Downes

Stephen Downes provides a typically wise critique of another of those really dumb ‘reimagining education’ pieces that does not reimagine education at all – it just reinforces what is already wrong with it. His points are all sound and worth reflecting on. Though a little strained, I quite like Stephen’s metaphor:

“Education doesn’t more features. It needs authentic propulsion and sound aerodynamic design. Sadly, most educational professionals don’t study aerodynamics, they study ornithology.”

I could extend the metaphor a little further. While many educators are stuck on ornithology (and some stopped looking any further than the archeopteryx), I think many educational researchers, at least in e-learning, are looking at more ways to tweak propellor-driven biplanes or trying to make airport check-ins more efficient. Some are looking at jet planes and rocket ships. Some are exploring helicopters and hovercraft. Perhaps a few are wondering how to build personal teleporters.

What education actually needs, though, is a thorough critical reconsideration of the entire transport system, taking into consideration what people want from it, why they choose to travel in the first place, their levels of comfort, their levels of risk, what the constraints are, what effects it has on the broader ecosystem, how it affects people’s psyches, how it stimulates them, and how it changes social patterns, amongst many other things. There’s a really important place for bicycles, buses, trains, ships, boats, footpaths, skateboards, snowmobiles, gliders, skis, horse-drawn buggies, hoverboards and all the rich diversity of transportation devices and infrastructure we have invented and will invent. It’s not one science: it’s a host of technologies and, above all, it’s a system invented by and for humans.

Bearing that in mind, education really needs a better metaphor than travel from A to B. At the very least, there is an indefinitely large range of more important and interesting stuff happening between A and B than ever happens at the destination, there’s a great deal of important stuff to say about the comfort and stimulation of the passengers in transit, and, often, ‘B’ is not where they want or need to be anyway.

Address of the bookmark:

I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor and Associate Dean, Learning & Assessment, at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology, and I teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems. I am a proud Canadian, though I was born in the UK. I am married, with two grown-up children, and three growing-up grandchildren. We all live in beautiful Vancouver.

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