April 5, 2020

Learning Hasn’t Changed

This post was last updated on April 16th, 2020 at 12:54 pm

As we all work to navigate our new realities, we’re still driven by structures, mandates and paradigms. I don’t say that as being necessarily bad but it’s true. It’s comforting to be careful with language and calling this time “emergency remote learning” is useful. The linked article and others written by folks like AJ Juliani help to frame what’s happening to schools.

But learning is still learning. George Couros’ school vs learning chart highlight many of the paradigms educators are recognizing and working to dismantle. The term online learning has been interpreted as the formal course work that I’ve been involved in for years. When schools talk about online learning, that’s what they mean. But Stephen Downes wrote something that reminded me that we need to be careful with equating online learning with formal education.

It’s a post worth reading as it challenged me with my own bias about online learning. He argues that while this time and place for educators is indeed difficult and less than ideal, it’s important not to define online learning as
being “planned, deliberate and thoughtful in the sense that online courses often take months or even years to develop, not days or weeks.” I think I get caught up in that definition and forgot my own experience with learning in online spaces. Stephen articulates my own feelings well:

Online learning is far more than online courses and programs. It always has been. While inside the institution it has been difficult to imagine learning as anything other than courses and programs, outside the institution, over the last three or four decades, online learning has been something very different. Throughout my career I have drawn from the wellspring of creativity that is the wider internet to introduce educators to things like learning communities, blogs, social software, MOOCs, personal learning environments, and most recently, decentralized technology.

All that learning was never required or graded. No question my best and most impactful learning in online spaces has come from these spaces and interactions. The one cavaet here is that some children and adults too perhaps, have not yet been able to take ownership of their learning. But even that statement can probably be argued. Whether your 5, 15 or 55, you probably have used the internet in some way shape or form to drive your own learning. That’s online learning at its best.

Learning hasn’t changed but the teaching has changed. So as teachers begin to embark on emergency remote learning, let’s remember learning will happen with or without teachers. But teachers can support and foster online and remote learning for even greater gains. If there’s anything we should be focusing on, it’s agency.

I’ll leave you with my favourite Stephen Downe’s quotes, one I often use in presentations.