New Theories

I just finished reading this post by Steve Wheeler about learning theories for a digital age. I don’t know about whether these new theories are making older theories as anachronistic as he thinks. While connectivism and other  learning theories are enhancing our understanding of how humans learn, it’s not as if the new ideas render all that old work obsolete. In fact, I think it scaffolds our understanding of education quite nicely. If we go back a mere fifty years ago, there were only a few people interested in explaining how we learn. If we go back a hundred, there were even less. What Dewey said in the 1930’s, was amplified by others throughout the 60’s and is presently augmented to reflect our current way of thinking in the modern day. Sure, Steve’s not suggesting we forget where we came from – at least I hope he’s not – but Dewey resonates as an overarching theory as much as connectivism applies to how we learn online. Perhaps that’s because the shifting of what an “experience” exists as. An experience in 1930 is different (contextually and functionally) than an experience is today. Our perspective is broader (although our focus may be narrower).

Dewey could never have anticipated YouTube, but in a way we can watch a video on YouTube, experience it, and then attempt to practice it in our own reality. Dewey certainly thought that experiential learning was doing something and learning from it. While we can draw a parallel between watching a YouTube video and listening to a lecture in the 1930’s, I wonder if there’s enough of a difference between the two (referencing R.E. Mayer’s work with multimedia learning, Innis’ work with communication theory) that they are cognitively different. Factoring in motivation (typically YouTube videos are viewed with purpose, lectures, well, we all know about them) may have a big difference in whether or not information is retained. I think it’s incredibly valuable to return to the foundations of educational theory to ground ourselves and think about what we know.

Hot and Cool Media

I’ve been reading a lot of Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan, and not been blogging a lot about it because I’m not sure how those ideas affect education per se. Innis is well known for his time and space-biased media, which basically states that the mode of media used to transport knowledge has a time or space bias. Time-biased media are long lasting but do not travel. Space-biased media are portable, but not necessarily long lasting. I suspect that Innis would have rethought this concept now, considering that almost all media are long lasting and almost immediately available worldwide. McLuhan has further pushed the idea to hot and cool media – which works better as a continuum than as an either/or dichotomy. Cool media is high in participation, which is the prevaling trend – media is becoming universally higher in participation.

Perhaps it’s time to reframe the media classifications that have served us well for the last fifty years. Certainly it’s difficult to classify some of the trends we’re seeing. How do you classify a viral video? What constitutes participation in it? Does continuing the viral aspect of it through e-mail How does someone classify a mashup? Do these classifications make sense anymore? I guess I’ll have to get reading some more modern media and communication theory to see what has been done in this realm.