As mentioned in last weeks blog Education policy tends to focus on institutions and management rather than on learners and professionals. These big picture issues not only allow politicians to show how well (value for money) they spend our tax-pounds (School buildings), but also to retain the political assumptions behind the policy. Critically the current approach to policy formulation hides both the context within which education operates and ignores the learning and teaching process itself. Education policy continues to remain concerned with discussing the business model and not the learning-process. So lets look at what education policy might be if it was the learning that really mattered and it we focussed on learner-centred approaches.
This blog is concerned with promoting the Open Context Model of Learning and the post-Web 2.0 views of Education of the Learner-Generated Contexts Group. As a group we also realise that you have to change education policy to get the kind of systemic transformation necessary to implement the learner-centred approaches we advocate. As a result we have already spent some time reviewing what a learner-centred policy in the 21st Century might consist of. Over the past two years we have surveyed a range educational professionals on what their preferred policy might be in a project called the Policy Forest. So let’s examine what happened when we offered a range of possible policy statements reflecting traditional, web 2.0 and learner-centred approaches.
If you would rather take the survey before learning of its outcomes then download the Policy-Forest-survey.
Educational institutions are driven by both the educational targets (reinforced by inspection) and the CSR spending profiles (re-inforced by auditing), that government imposes on them. Ultimately then the learning and teaching process exists within a framework that is both instigated through, and also policed by, educational policy formulations. And policy addresses a limited range of issues based more on what can be modelled than on a vision of learning. The degree of freedom for educational professionals to stray beyond policy is increasingly proscribed, but inventive and passionate teachers and lecturers, and learners too, always find ways to circumvent this with fun and innovation. In the end however pedagogy, the delivery of subject-based education, is measured as successful if the results match the management profile offered and draw down all the available funding; at best learning is merely a proxy for management efficiency.
Nigel Ecclesfield and I have discussed the process of educational policy formulation between ministers and civil servants in more depth in an article for Greenwich University, (download doc here) but in this posting I want to look at what policy might be if learning and learners mattered by examining the results of our Policy Forest survey.
The survey was originally developed by looking at Becta’s second Harnessing Technology e-learning policy document in 2008, situating it in the overall educational policy context and then trying to map out what elements this policy is trying to address and also what hidden structure it reflects. We decided that the policy, with a focus on Technology-Enhanced Learning, reflected eleven elements, as follows;
Policy Context; how educational policy is determined and defines the education system
System; how the educational system is managed and run.
Institution; the role that institutions play within the education system
Architecture; how the networked architecture of the system links together the elements under discussion here.
Software; how educational software is defined and used
Teachers; the role teachers play within the overall system & the learning process
Learning Process; how learning relationships between learner and teacher are defined
Outcomes; how learning is measured and detarmined as being successful
Space; locations where learning occurs and their relationship to the learner
Learners; the assumed role of learners in the learning process
Context; social context in which learners are situated
This eleven part structure, which we have tried to reflect hierarchically in terms of how it weighs down on the learner (with social context as an adjunct), was then used as a basis for developing a similarly structured Web 2.0 policy. We derived these eleven statements from our ownWeb 2.0 use, from Stephen Downes e-Learning 2.0 and from O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 definitions, such as “web as a platform” as well as “permanent beta”, interactivity, reputation, trust and so on.
After this we then we applied the same process to our own learner-generated contexts principles, generating a total of thirty three (33) possible policy statements to be selected from.
Then, with these policy statements in place I rewrote them so that we could create a single sheet survey form then I used a web-based random number generator to randomize the layout of the survey sheet. This also served to hide the 11 elements of structure. Which also allowed us to observe which elements had the greatest importance in the minds of those surveyed.
Somewhat surprisingly, but consistently ever since, the outcomes typically comprise 6/7 learner-generated contexts statements, 3/4 web 2.0 statements and 0/1 Government policy statements, as follows.
|1||Learning a mixture of formal, non-formal & informal processes||LGC|
|2||Adaptive Institutions respond collaboratively to learner needs||LGC|
|3||Learners are producers and consumers of learning resources||Web 2.0|
|4||Multi-skilled teachers co-ordinate knowledge creation||LGC|
|5||Open Architecture of Participation enables multiple learning networks||LGC|
|6||Teachers as learning brokers||Web 2.0|
|7||Learners collaborative producers of negotiated learning activities||LGC|
|8||Provision of educational software improved by technically confident teachers||DCSF|
|9||Learners technically competent to organise their own learning spaces||LGC|
|10||Social software points to and provides learning resources||Web 2.0|
|11||Policy developed iteratively by Learning and Policy Professionals||LGC|
Whilst pleased that nominally LGC-based statements predominate in the survey results, on reflection I realized that the choice was between learner-centred policy and technology-driven policy and management-targets policy. Any serious educator will emphasise learning. The problem we face is that current policy formulations deliver management targets, which sadly, are inimical to learning, however much sense they make to Ministers and Permanent Private Secretaries. (See next week for a fuller discussion of this).
Since this analysis we have carried out two further policy forest surveys which have resulted in the following preferred policy statements, with the first statement getting 100% backing 3 times out of 4 and being significantly the most popular statement overall;
1. Learning a mixture of formal, non-formal & informal processes
2. Adaptive Institutions respond collaboratively to learner needs
3. Teachers as multi-skilled learning co-ordinators
4. Collaborative Learning Validated by peers, mentors and advocates
So, not unlike #BectaX, this survey prioritises multi-context, multi-modal learning processes involving brokering, collaboration and partnerships. All we need then is for Education policy to be actually focused on building the infrastructure that supports such learning behaviours, rather than being focussed on management outcomes; which is why we have a permanent call for better leadership rather than better experiences. Consequently I repeat my call from last week for a Web 2.0 CPD programme for all teaching professionals (£1,000 each) to be instigated in the new parliament to enable this. This should be a new version of the Web 1.0 NGfL ICT Literacy programme of the 90s (my TaLENT project still here) and could be focused around developing Digital Literacy Development Frameworks (JISC view, Shock of The Old view) for all institutions.
Policy Forest Analysis
In the Greenwich article we summarised our surveys and arrived at the following conclusions about the results and the process. We concluded that what we need in a 21st Century Educational Policy is;
a) greater learner-centeredness,
b) a trust in learners and professionals and their relationships,
c) the development of digital learning networks,
d) policy formulation that is responsive to the learning process and not directed at managers.
I would argue that this is pretty much where #BectaX ended up and is also a pretty clear summary of how we can develop an education system that is “fit for context” in a participative Knowledge Economy.