Learner Pull and Educator Push

We were discussing some of the strategic investments that might underpin my University’s progress for the next 5 years (all very hand wavy as we don’t yet have the confirmed strategy for the next 5 years) and we ended up discussing Learner Push and Educator Pull – in the context of MOOCs, unsurprisingly.

We know that if all we do is push content to people then we haven’t really undertaken any of the learning experience construction that we’re supposed to. If we expect students to mysteriously know what they need and then pull it all towards them, then we’re assuming that students are automatically self-educating and this is, fairly obviously, not universally true or there would have been no need for educational institutions for… hundreds of thousands of years.

What we actually have is a combination of push and pull from both sides, maintaining the right tension if you will, and it’s something that we have to think about the moment that we talk about any kind of information storage system. A library is full of information but you have to know what you’re looking for, where to find out and you have to want to find it! I’ve discussed on other blogs my concerns about the disconnected nature of MOOCs and the possibility of students “cherry picking” courses that are of interest to them but lead nowhere in terms of the construction of a professional level of knowledge.

Mark Guzdial recently responded to a comment of mine to remind me of the Gates Foundation initiative to set up eight foundation courses based on MOOCs but that’s a foundation level focus – how do we get from there to fourth year engineers or computer scientists? Part of the job of the educator is to construct an environment where the students not only want the knowledge but they want, and here’s the tricky bit, the right knowledge. So rather than forcing content down the student’s throat (the incorrect assumption of educator push, in my opinion) we are creating an environment that inspires, guides and excites – and pushing that.

I know that my students have vast amounts of passion and energy – the problem is getting it directed in the right way!

It’s great to be talking about some of these philosophical issues as we look forward over the next 5-10 years because, of course, by itself the IT won’t fix any of our problems unless we use it correctly. As an Associate Dean (IT) and a former systems administrator, I know that spending money on IT is easy but it’s always very easy to spend a lot of money and make no progress. Good, solid, principles help a lot and, while we have a lot of things to sort out, it’s going to be interesting to see how things develop, especially with the concept of the MOOC floating above us.

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