Sunday, 1 September 2013
Learners as producers
For the longest time teachers and lecturers have held the monopoly on the production of academic content. They create lesson plans, produce resources, devise marking schemes and search around for activities and games they can repurpose to use in teaching sessions. Although the production of content has been the preserve of the teacher and the academic since the formalisation of education, increasingly, we also see learners creating their own content. They have the tools, they own the technology, and they have the confidence to use them, not only informally, but increasingly in formal learning contexts. Many are prolific and proficient in producing blogs, podcasts, videos and photos for sharing on the web. They can do it all using the simple smartphone in their pocket. This user generated content trend is apparent not only in universities and colleges but also in the compulsory education sectors.
What are the implications of this trend? There are many of course, but in this post I want to draw your attention to just 5 key areas which I believe educators need to pay attention to.
Firstly, the traditional role of teachers is changing. Teachers won’t be redundant in the new technology rich learning economy, but they will need to adapt as conditions change, becoming guides and mentors rather than instructors. As teachers switch from directors to co-producers, from pedagogues to co-learners, they begin to realise the power of peer production, and the deeper engagement students can achieve when they research and learn for themselves. This shift was going to happen anyway, even before learners started to create their own content. Teacher roles have been moving from didactic to facilitative roles ever since constructivist theories started to enter into teacher training curricula.
Secondly, as partly as a result of the first trend, learners are becoming more central to the learning process. Where once students were seen as the passive recipients, and end products of schooling, now they are an integral part of the learning process and play an active role in their own education. Students are assuming greater responsibility for their own learning, and in so doing, are gaining greater insights into the process of learning by creating their own content around their studies. Personalised learning and the student experience are central components in the mission statements of many leading universities worldwide. Student centred learning is clearly where education providers recognise they should locate themselves. Teachers now need to wake up to the fact that they don’t teach subjects, they teach people.
Thirdly, content can become more engaging because students invest their own time, energy and vision into creating it. That gives them personal ownership of their learning. They place their own individual stamp on the content they create, and then share it within their personal learning environment and across their peer network. Thereby, in gaining an audience for their content, they are spurred on further to develop, refine and perfect not only their content, but indirectly and probably unwittingly, their understanding of the knowledge that content contains. There is little that is more motivating than gaining an audience that appreciates your knowledge and skills. Social media tools such as blogs and video sharing sites facilitate this process, but on a global scale.
Fourthly, students are becoming evaluators as well as producers of learning content. Because they produce content, they also consume content, and this puts them in an ideal position to assess the quality, relevance and provenance of the content they encounter. Also, many learners find out how to produce their content to an acceptable standard by evaluating other people’s content, and although useful guidance can come from experts such as teachers and lecturers, increasingly, auto-didacticism is taking a central place in the student experience.
Finally, the context in which the content is produced is assuming more importance. The importance of the situatedness of learning at all levels cannot be overemphasised. Some of the strongest experiences and lessons we learn are rooted in authentic contexts, cultures and activities. In work-based learning this is particularly vital, as it enables workers to embed themselves within their culture of their work and learn more deeply about the social, political, technical and economic contexts that are specific to their employment.
Some readers may argue that this is an idealistic position to adopt regarding self learning and user generated content. My response would be – look around you and see what is happening inside and outside the classroom. Learners are more resilient and able than many teachers give them credit for. They have unprecedented access to a large array of new technologies. They connect and communicate in ways previous generations could only imagine. Most importantly, creating, repurposing, organising and sharing content are a way of life for this generation. They are identified and maintain their identities through their social media and are very familiar with the terrain. Schools, colleges and universities that support the ethos of student generated content will find themselves tapping directly into the rich motherlode of creativity and innovation this generation of learners offers.