…a 21st-century education should prepare students to be knowledge creators - not simply receptacles of existing knowledge.
Educause Review published an amazing book exerpt this month, chapter 12 from Course Management Systems for Learning: Beyond Accidental Pedagogy
(this chapter is written by Van Weigel).
I say amazing mainly because I had so many ‘aha’ or ‘yeah!’ experiences while reading the chapter. Generally Van Weigel analyses the failure of the current generation of Course Management Systems (CMS, a.k.a. LMS: Learning Management Systems, such as Janisons, WebCT, Blackboard or Moodle etc.) to engage participants in critical thinking, knowledge creation and discovery based learning. Van Weigel links the reason for this failure to the adoption of the familiar classroom categories of lectures (content), discussions, and exams (”with the occasional opportunity to chat with the professor or other students ‘after class’”), leading to the “classroom on steroids” model of e-learning.
One of the great weaknesses of the contemporary CMS is its facile acceptance of behaviorist approaches to learning, which emphasize parceling up knowledge or skills into bite-sized chunks that can be easily digested.
Van Weigel then identifies four learner-focused capabilities that he would like to see in the next generation of learning technology platforms to counter these issues. A critical thinking capability involves the learner in understanding and managing his or her own learning processes. This might be achieved by providing the technology/communication system that allows participants to explore a problem or unfamiliar knowledge domain (alone or in a group) and then reflect on their own experiences and the experiences/performances of others (peers or experts).
The second capability highlighted by Van Weigel is the Self-confidence Capability which is linked to the absence of meaningful challenge within face-to-face and online learning (”What is the challenge of a video game if you can reach level ten in the first couple of tries - or if there are no levels of difficulty to begin with?”).
One promising aproach in the development of self-confidence skills is to encourage students to grapple with complex and ill-defined problems in the context of collaborative “think tank” groups.
Linking to Van Weigel’s third capability for the next generation of CMSs: a peer-learning capability. Of course this already occurs in the classroom as well as the online tools of today, but usually the focus of this “peer learning” is to discuss and digest the presented material, rather than discover the material. Van Weigel is proposing a different peer learning, one that “raises their overall awareness of the value of tacit information resources (through skill inventories and the formation of virtual communities)”.
A Knowledge Management Capability is Van Weigel’s final capability for the CMS of the future:
The skills required by knowledge-based economies are not absorption and recall, but discovery and discernment.
The ability to filter the important from the insignificant will become one of the most necessary skills for avoiding information overload!
Van Weigel goes on to define how these capabilities might be made possible using discovery-based learning (restoring the adventure of learning!), incorporating community educators, team teaching and cross-disciplinery education, knowledge creation tools such as Wikis and Web publishing, and Teaching to learn - involving participants in the teaching process.
Can any single CMS package - in this generation or the next - embody these capabilities? Probably not. It is more realistic, at least in the near term, to speak of CMS “solutions” that involve the integration of two or three “off-the-shelf” applications […] The key is to craft solutions that are elegently simple and do not impose a substantial tax on professional time.
I can’t help thinking how class and student blogs, perhaps a class wiki, an email group and, most importantly, interactive, fun activities both in and out of the classroom might help us move towards this exciting future of education - one that enables learners to become knowledge creators rather than knowledge receivers!