On learning and instructional design

On the Online Toys and Tools discussion forum,  Sirin Soyoz from Istambul states

As far as I experience, it is instructional design that facilitates learning and learners must take on new roles in the learning process.

This is very much the discussion now taking place in Week 6 of the FOC08 course, which I am also following  and participating in so I have decided to bring them together. Connecting thoughts, weaving threads and ideas.

Like Stephen, I am skeptic of words like “must” and a universal solution. I question the whole industry of e-moderation, e-facilitation that has come in the wake of the e-hype and forces people into fragmented views and compartments.

While instructional design may seem an efficient way of accomplishing tasks,  I do not see it necessarily conducing to learning. Instructional design is just another name for teaching –  acting upon or transmitting (through various methods, techniques and psychological & motivational maneuvers) the content or behaviour deemed to be correct or required for a certain end. So its motives reside outside the learners even if they are requested to take part and may influence the design.

Learning, on the other hand,  is a continuous personal quest towards sense making, expressing it and making it work so as to accomplish not only our individual but also collective needs. Beautiful design, instruction, role taking may facilitate learning but are not a pre-condition for it to occur. Children learn different strategies and have insights while playing without any conscious design or control on the part of their parents.

As Stephen illustrates well, in for some people in some groups or the software community, learning occurs in spite of

commonality of purpose (some people are professionals, others merely interested), far from universal motivation to learn (others signed on for any of a variety of motives) and certainly no professional e-moderation.

He asks:

Given the absence of the elements claimed to be necessary to support learning – the absence of instructional design, the absence of professional e-moderation, the absence of commonality of purpose – then we have to ask, what is it, really, that is fostering the learning in such a situation.

As I see it, from my own experience as a learner/teacher/mother/daughter/wife/citizen and many other perspectives I have acquired during my life, learning happens continuously consciously and unconsciously, by being immersed in life and not separated from it. We observe, relate to others, read, compare and contrast, expose ourselves, dip into the pool of collective knowledge trying to find answers to our questions, try, fail and endlessly repeat what seems to us the correct pattern with slight variations trying to perfect whatever we find incomplete or lacking.

Very often we learn incidentally through exposure, immersion and observing what does not work or went wrong, which is not necessarily very “efficient” if measured against “time and ROI” which seem to drive everyone’s actions nowadays.

I must say I have been very fortunate to have had many people who walked with me along the way – they shared with me some of their own insight,  sometimes held my hand,  sometimes instructed me, sometimes nudged or challenged me to overcome self-built obstacles – they helped me stretch a bit further each time. There are many roads that lead to knowledge and we cannot take them all as this experiment/course well illustrates. Each one of us will follow our own path according to background, assumptions, choices and needs.

However, do we all have the choice, the time, the people and the resources to learn, expand and share our knowledge with others ? Does the economy/society we live in today allow for and recognize this kind of learning ? How can theories map a dynamic process? (remembering that the map is not the territory). Is it possible to measure and evaluate it? What for and how? Don’t we prescribe and obfuscate emergence by enforcing a model, a theory?

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