Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Learning Objectives...Subjectively learning...learning subjectives...

I originally intended to do this over the weekend as part of RhizoRadio, but other "to-do" items kicked in and we're back to good-ol' text. I am hitting the rewind  button (and you can't stop me), to go back to Week 1 of Rhizo15.  The topic of Week 1 (as we are about to enter Week 4) is Learning Subjectives.  When the topic came out my head was so steeped in EDDE802 that the topic didn't even make much sense to me.  It felt like a (rhizomaticaly induced) learning hallucination. I haven't read other people's thoughts on the topic of Week 1 just yet - until I get my brain wrapped around it (don't want to just add "me too!" to the discussion).

So, now that the semester is over, and I have a little more breathing room, I am back to week 1 and I get the joke (har har - learning objectives subjectives). So the basic idea is that we live in a world full of knowledge, there are many ways of going about learning something. In some cases we aren't even sure what we will learn as part of the educational journey, and in many cases we don't have clean assessments that can assess if learners have learned what we set out to learn....but wait - we didn't set out to learn something specific.  As RhizoDave asks: How do we design for learning where we don't know where we are going? How does one provide enough structure so that people know what we are talking about?

The discussion that Dave has set us on reminds me a lot of Montessori education, apprenticeships, and experiential learning in general. To some extent, both due to my day job, and due to my instructional design background I tend to think in terms of discreet nuggets of information, in terms of specific skills, in terms of curricula, and in terms of programs.  You can't really sell a program in college if you try to approach it without learning objectives. What are learner's paying for? What can people who employ those learners expect?  I hate to use the term - but it's what comes to mind - to some extent higher education is a bit like a factory.  We try to develop learners to be lifelong learners and independent thinkers, but what comes out the door at graduation time needs to be quantifiable. Students who are part of Program A should be able to do and/or know x, y, z within a certain margin of error. To use management lingo, think of it as the five nines of education.  Lifelong learning and independent thinking, in addition to being nifty catch phrases, are also unquantifiable. Accreditation agencies do not like the unquantifiable, hence it's pretty hard to develop courses for programs with those subjective parameters.

I think it would be pretty interesting to work on a course where the final outcome isn't predefined and learners can develop their own plan and start exploring it.  I've done this before with learners through an independent study. I think Dave last year also shared his syllabus for one of the courses he teaches where something similar happens there as well.  I think that it is possible for a master (in a master-apprentice relationship) to assess if a learner has a good enough understanding of what was set-out to be learned by those learners even if the objectives developed are fuzzy (using pass/not pass language). I don't think that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to assessment and it needs to be undertaken and negotiated with each learner.  To some extent it requires the instructor to be present on the journey - not a tour-guide in the journey but as someone who co-experiences the journey. This way, through the co-experience and the (hopefully) rounder/greater knowledge and experience that the instructor has - then the learning that occurred with the learner can be assessed and vouched for.

Does learning to be vouched for?  In most cases no.  We learn every day but no one vouches for us that we have learned something.  We just are able to demonstrate what we know and it is our actions that speak volumes for what we have learned in the past. However, in some instance - such as higher education - where credits are involved and some sort of vouching for is part of the educational transaction - then yes - in those instances learning and expertise needs some vouching from a higher authority. The more I think of this, the odder it becomes.  We (as learners and graduates) get currency for our skills from the University.  The university delegates this task to academic departments, who in turn delegate it to their instructors and faculty. Those instructors sometimes are nameless  to the learners; I am hard pressed to remember the names of most professors of my Bachelor's degree for example. There is a lot of trust flowing down from University-as-entity to the human interaction (vis-a-vis the instructor). I am wondering how such trust relationships are reinforced  and strengthened  when learning is subjective.  Maybe I should stop thinking about this at the moment, I may have gone off the Rhizome on this topic and I am having a Matrix moment ;-)

Your thoughts?

† after I finished writing this post, and successfully avoided the Matrix, the thing that came to mind was a Shepard and his flock. The Shepard and his herding dog can provide boundaries to help learners navigate certain areas, and to help them avoid rabbit holes and false starts - that is IF avoid those things is desirable.  Sometimes it's part of the educational experience to learn to navigate those things on your own and to figure out your own way... Only context and the assistance of a Shepard can help determine this for specific learning situations.

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