& The Pull of Learning
I started these posts by looking at the outcomes of #BectaX and identified three possible policy outcomes that would reflect the debates and proposals that group of motivators and builders came up with; Infrastructure, Collaboration & Participation. I suggested wrapping them up in a Web 2.0 programme of CPD for all educational professionals. In election week, with a plethora of suggestions for education policies post-election, I am going to look at how Obliquity might help and why learning is a Pull that fits well in an emerging world of social media.
The Push of Education Policy
In the Education Guardian on Tuesday in an article highlighting what universities can offer the economic recovery Steve Smith of Universities UK complained “two days to go and still no one is listening to us” Well as lastfridaymob discovered at the last election governments behave in a mad panic and drag Treasury money to wherever the vote winners are. Policy wonks and ministers don’t listen. So whilst his three points concerning students, research and internationalisation are relevant they aren’t vote winners. Nor are social and digital inclusion. As discussed in “Developing Learner-centred Policy” Policy Wonks, Ministers and the Civil Service decide policy and they don’t want the confusion of professionals with differing agendas. And only policy about schools and Universities wins votes (allegedly). And this government has presided over the wholesale dismantling of Adult Education and significantly damaged FE, because they know better; and yet know nothing about modes of education they haven’t experienced.
Steve Smith sounds like he believes in the target culture model (which his tenure at Exeter would tend to support) and sounds hurt that he is being ignored despite opting in. The problem of believing in any policy made in order to manipulate a “model” of the real word is what John Kay’s Obliquity is about. We achieve best when we aren’t directly planning that desired achievement, or “it is better to travel openly than arrive at a pre-determined destination”. On Policy Kay says that we look for a tube map, the perfectly clear representation of a complex reality, but we should be designing for co-evolution. To paraphrase my Dad’s favourite joke, if that is your map you shouldn’t start from here.
Peter Whatmore, an ex-head of the Institute of Education so less of a target chaser now, describes his “10 Education issues” for the new government (list at end of post). Some of these have Obliquity at their heart and in the main they are possible proposals to move to from a high-stakes assessment driven system, where any success is ascribed to the policy-maker, to one where we have a socially inclusive system with teachers and learners at its heart. All his points are very do-able, but only given a massive culture change. My experience is that in a Daily Mail driven, old media-hounded policy world education ministers want certainty, and they want the reward for providing it. Or put another way, don’t ask an education minister about learning. This is certain; we have the wrong policy system around learning, one based on the “push” of education.
Push and Pull
A hot new topic in the web world right now is Pull which is about how the Semantic Web might transform businesses and two new books, Pull and The Power of Pull discuss this. Pull starts with the dramatic statement. “In a time of drastic change it is LEARNERS who inherit the future.” Of course the Semantic Web will only transform those businesses already transformed by the ICT, network and digital revolutions; who have embedded “developmental e-maturity” in their operational processes. A good discussion of Pull by Confused of Calcutta on his blog opens out the issues for our consideration.
There’s not enough to go around,
Elites do the deciding,
Organisations must be hierarchical,
People must be moulded,
Bigger is better,
Demand can be forecast,
Resources can be allocated centrally,
Demand can be met.
More precisely Push is about predictability. Which pretty much describes the assumptions in the policy landscape we have been discussing here. Three Head Boys each offer predictability as a solution, and the other two rubbish the thought and offer their version of predictability. In a world of economic and ecological turmoil Education looks like it can be cosily packaged as predictable, with an added dash of discipline.
The Pull of Learning
What is fascinating with Learning is that it is a Pull activity, which is about relationships and the socially embedded practices of co-creation; John Seeley Brown is a co-author of The Power of Pull. Pull is user-centred,or in our case learner-centred. What emerged from the future-facing conclusions at #BectaX was a mapping of a set of Pull activities which could be summarised as “Learning is Delicious,” and could be seen as providing hints to the direction that learner-centred learning could co-evolve using the affordances of social media and the natural openness we have to learning new things rather than digesting a syllabus. So the social media activism of #BectaX appears to be about enabling the Pull solutions of learning rather than the Push traditions of education.
The Obliquity of Policy means that we should provide;
infrastructure that allows the co-evolution of learning to emerge from
collaboration between teacher’s professionalism and learner’s enthusiasms.
participation that believes that “learning is delicious”
Which means that on May 6th we might want a hung parliament so that once the Push of campaigning is over we might get some Pull from citizens and learners into the debate and effect a learner-centred culture change.
Getting into Obliquity
I’m a big fan of Mike Wesch and his cultural anthropology of YouTube, which gives deep insights into social media usage. He is himself an outstanding example of Obliquity because he learnt all he needed to know in order to analyse YouTube from his anthropological research in New Guinea and how we can construct identity in a social media world. You might prefer the summative Machine is Us/ing US but at TED this year he explained his anthropological underpinnings. He is a classic Gladwell Outlier who was born at the right time to allow the Obliquity of social media to strike him;
Appendix; Peter Whatmore’s 10 Policy points
1 Accept that the country needs a high-quality education “system” rather than a pecking order of schools and colleges. Local authorities have a vital role. Links and transitions between the phases are crucially important. Competition works for sports and some cultural events, but learners are often better served by collaboration.
2 Realise that, if the desire to reduce the achievement gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged is genuine, those who currently gain the least from education need to receive the most resources and have the best teachers.
3 Learn from Sure Start and from the excellent longitudinal research on preschooling that universal, high-quality, free nursery provision makes sound educational, social and economic sense.
4 Grasp that teachers are the solution not the problem. This means the profession attracting, and keeping, the most talented and the best-motivated people (Teach First has gone some way towards this). It also means the government allowing teachers reasonable autonomy in how they teach.
5 Limit the national curriculum to core subjects and those topics deemed essential to preserving our heritage, maintaining our national culture, and extending our international understanding.
6 Restore assessment to its vital role in teaching and learning, and outlaw the disastrous and divisive league tables.
7 Restrict inspection to ensuring that failing institutions are identified and improved rather than attempting the impossible task of sorting all schools and colleges into finely graded categories.
8 Extend pedagogical expertise by encouraging well-planned pilot experiments in teaching and learning, monitoring and professionally evaluating their outcomes, and disseminating emerging innovatory good practice.
9 Ensure that further education emerges from its Cinderella role and that part-time university students are given the support they deserve.
10 Establish a democratically elected standing commission – accessible to all citizens online – to consider and recommend future changes to the education system, thereby easing the strangulation of educational thinking by party politics.