Sunday, March 8, 2009

Engagement is learning

Well, here is the inaugural post for what I intend to be long and enjoyable journey through the edublogosphere! 

Because education is concerned with learning, and 'learning' and the way it's defined is somewhat contentious (to say the least) I would like to venture out and ask the question: Can learning ever occur if a learner is not engaged with the process and content of the learning? Put another way, if a learner IS engaged, does it therefore follow that they are learning? Can a learner be engaged but not learning? 

I don't think so, and that's a huge part of the benefit of e-learning opportunities.  Not many other tools in education have such a power to draw the learner in and help them to see things in different ways, and to be constantly discovering the 'new'. And discovering something new and getting a thrill out of it is, in itself, engagement.

I was looking at the weblogged wiki yesterday (this is Will Richardson's wiki), in particular what he had to say about connective writing, '...the ability to publish in a variety of media with the intention of connecting it to others who share an interest (or passion) in the topic'. 

I really believe this is the way forward for engaging students in authentic learning. This is what Web 2.0 is all about.


  1. "Can learning ever occur if a learner is not engaged with the process and content of the learning?"

    Put an eleven-year-old on a traditional British grammar-school conveyor belt, feed him conjugations and declensions, terrorise him with weekly tests which elevate success to a matter of life or death … and he emerges able to manipulate abstract language systems to the satisfaction of the assessor without a glimmer of understanding of, let alone motivation to grasp, what Latin is all about. Then overlay this framework of gibberish with German and Russian, both of which – for a variety of reasons lacking in Latin – totally absorb the now-thirteen-year-old, and the learning trajectory shoots vertically off the graph.

    Rote-learning is dead - long live rote-learning ...

    Et Nunc Aliquid Omnino Diversi:

  2. Thanks, Tony - loved the youtube clip too - haven't seen that in years! It struck me as I was watching the end of the clip - could that have been the world's first example of a Wordle?!

    I think there must be value in all learning, even if it is not appreciated at the time. In language learning there's certain amount of rote-learning (unless you're completely immersed and acquiring it through osmosis), but that rote-learning becomes the basis for 'noticing' other language features when that learner is developmentally ready to learn them. And perhaps they wouldn't be noticed if they didn't have that basis in rote? Hmmm. Chunk-dechunk-rechunk.

  3. But when engagement with process and content are replaced by nothing more sophisticated than the Monty Python foot? Which flies in the face of all we believe and perpetuate about affective filters and such-like ...

    Or maybe it doesn't. Perhaps we're into that murky twilight zone of tangential learning, where Teacher thinks he's conveying one thing, but Learner seizes on 'something completely different'. In this (obviously personal) case: mathematical-logical patterns rather than learning Latin.

    So maybe embedding well-chosen video clips of global catastrophes into the class blog is no bad way of opening up opportunities for changing the world ...

  4. Re the engaged/process - I guess the risk with new technology is that students can be engaged in what they are creating rather than the intended learning. By this I mean that they are so taken up with making an animation about a legend, that the animation process is what they are learning rather than intended learning which was re-creating a legend. At the end of the day, does this matter... not quite sure

  5. I agree, I'm not too sure that it does matter. If they are engaged, and creating something (and sharing it), what more could a teacher ask for!

    But I can see how someone might get so taken up in the technical aspect of it that they come out the other end without a big picture of the intended learning (the legend itself, in this case).

    Maybe as teachers using technology we have to be extra careful to design our activities so that students can't help but engage with the content at a high-order level. If the animation involved taking something else and synthesising it to make something new, then I say mission accomplished!

  6. If the T is involved overtly in education in the broadest sense, then yes, the kind of peripheral learning that comes from the means, rather than the end, is (imo) unquestionably of great value and totally legitimate. After all, school is very much a place where Life as We Know It is atomised and then re-synthesised, and it probably doesn't matter at all which subject lessons supply which bits of the puzzle.

    But when busy, fee-paying adults sign up for a course of focused online training, then I think they have a right to resent the kind of technological side-tracking which costs them time and effort they haven't budgeted for and poses obstacles to them gaining what they have paid for. For instance: despite the huge steps forward in VLE/LMS design over just the past five years, even such ubiquitous platforms as Moodle can cause infuriatingly frequent loss of work through something as simple as the wiki freezing (irretrievably - veritable permafrost sets in), merely because a lengthy discussion page has become overladen with text or a simple table has been pasted in.

    That said, we're getting there ... he wrote, as his York-to-London train arrived at King's Cross. And no, onboard wifi wasn't possible five years ago either, least of all for free!

  7. Where do you get the time? Interesting though!