3 things came together recently that made me think about the creation of materials for student learning
- My current institution has been looking at various content creation tools to replace the functions we used to get with Wimba Create (it uses word to create simple web packages – and it is no longer supported as the company no longer exists)
- The last institution I worked for has just closed down its excellent content creation team due to the “current financial climate”
- I was looking at a really interesting job that looked at eLearning as having 3 main areas; support, pedagogic enhancement, content creation
So I wondered, I spend a fair amount of time talking about the advantages of social media and the transition of teachers from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side” and connectivist learning and Dave Cormier’s rhizomatic learning and how in the internet age we are about students as the co-creators of learning. If this is all true then does it imply that we shouldn’t spending time making materials, we should instead spend that time interacting with our students?
In theory the best learning experience is when we are working one to one or in small groups with someone who is an expert in the field we are learning (see scaffolding and Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development). This does of course rely on the expert being able to express themselves clearly, understanding how to build on prior knowledge and being able to identify where a learner is going wrong. This recent research from the British Journal of Educational Technology shows this is also true when working online.
The first problem is its not scalable, we cant afford to provide every student with constant one to one support from an expert throughout their academic life. So although this should form part of a students learning experience it can not be their whole learning experience.
The second problem is that unplanned and unstructured learning is not always the most effective use of time (I know a vast amount about eLearning and if you spent 30 minutes with me you would certainly learn something, but its a big field so if I had time to prepare and knew the area of interest you would learn both more and more relevant things). So staff need to spend time considering what they are going to teach and it makes sense to use content to provide a structure to this.
Regarding the decision of finding or making content – I wrote about this before (Finding Content, Making Content)
So as with most things the answer is complicated, most learning will require at least some content, the more time spent on the content (either finding it or making) the better it is likely to be, however we are often limited by time and money.
So we should make content but we should consider
- What the cost/benefit ratio is (time spent making)/(time used X number of users)
- Is it sufficiently “better” than existing materials to justify creating
- Is it based on good pedagogy
- Does it encourage students to interact
- Will it improve the teachers teaching
- Can it be reused (in bits or in full)
- Can it be easily updated
If we do make content like this then is should not only improve teaching and learning but it could also encourage all connectivist learning I mentioned earlier.
One final thing, learning technologists are often better and faster at making more advanced online content than academics. So assuming similar rates of pay it is a sensible financial decision for the institution to get a learning technologist to work with the academic to create content and this is also an opportunity to use the LTs pedagogic knowledge to help ensure that the finished product is effective and properly used by the academic (but that is a whole other post)