Teaching and Learning in a Net-Centric World

Downe’s great summary article, but…….

The good news is that Stephen Downes has posted the  full text from a chapter he wrote for New Models of Open and Distance Learning in Open Education: from OERs to MOOCs, Editors: Mohamed Jemni, Kinshuk, Mohamed Koutheair Khribi,  2016.

This is good news for two reasons – the first is that the full Springer book retails for $139 – but you can get it as an ebook for ONLY $109!!. This means the text is basically unavailable to the vast number of practitioners and scholars who would likely find it of great use.   The second reason is that it is a really good historical summary – describing the dance of education and technology as they have evolved with each other over the past half a century.

The bad news is that the very first sentence of the chapter (and first of the whole book!) is blatantly false.  Stephen writes “Historically most learning that has ever taken place has taken   place in a classroom with a teacher giving instruction and students reading books and writing on paper.”

Surely Stephen is not arguing that he “learned” to program the Painted Porch Mud in the 1980’s; devised Connectivism, or co-invented MOOCs by sitting in a “classroom with a teacher giving instructions”! In fact only a very tiny fraction of the “learning” that has ever taken place historically and of course 100% pre-historically, has occurred in a classroom. Only beginning in  the 19th Century have a few children of rich minorities been able to learn part of what they learned in life in a classroom. For the vast majority there were no classrooms for them to attend.   Even more so today, learning takes place from Google and Wikipedia searchers, from mass media, from social connection and the innumerable historical and pre-historic ways of learning – observation, apprenticeship, story-telling, guided practice and many more ways of learning.

Obviously Stephen’s mistake is to conflate learning with formal education. It is common enough because it is in the interests of teachers, educators and professors to promote their work context and their own self-interest by elevating education to encompass all forms of learning- but it does not. That is why it is especially strange to find this slip from Stephen Downes who has build a career and inspired many, based upon his championing of learning – and not only that subset that happens in classrooms. It is especially ironical that within the essay Stephen covers formal and non formal learning and argues that both have benefited from the wealth of online resources and communities.

Having gotten this irritation out of my system, let me strongly recommend this chapter. It helps if you mentally do a cut and paste and switch ‘education’ for ‘learning’. Perhaps Stephen will do it for us.

As with all of Stephen’s writing you get very clear, precise and knowledgeable argument, illustration and rationale.  And similarity with all his writing as you always get a good dose of “Downism” – where Stephen injects his personal insights, experiences, opinions and convictions.  The sections on PLE’s and PLN’s are especially good as is Stephen’s overview of connectivism. Strangely, this overview chapter ends without a summary or conclusion, but PERHAPS you have to cough up the $139 for that. So as not to make the same mistake with this post, let me again recommend this article for anyone trying to figure how both ‘learning’ and ‘education’ have evolved to both exploit and create technologies and pedagogies to make the most of our networked world.



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1 Comment

  1. September 1, 2016    

    Hello Prof. Terry, I’m agree with the expression “the text is basically unavailable to the vast number of practitioners and scholars who would likely find it of great use”, the example is ME!
    The book is a contradiction with the OER movement, although OPEN is not FREE, the free access is a foundation that is at the root of OER very necessary for professionals in the developing countries.

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