Week 2 of Bonk Online: What color is your learning parachute?

I don’t mean to be too snarky here, but this week’s topic in Curt Bonk’s “Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success” is “Addressing Diversity and Learning Styles.”  I have little patience for “learning styles,” and someone posted to the online discussion a pretty good video from someone named Daniel T. Willingham at UVa on why “Learning Styles Don’t Exist:”

I’m not sure it is as clear as Willingham suggests here– I don’t think that is as simple as “good teaching is good teaching” for the same reason that the claim “good writing is good writing” is clearly not true.  It depends on context and purpose and audience.  Having said that, Willingham makes a good point that some things require visual learning skills and others require auditory learning skills (just to use one dichotomy here), and that’s that.  Maybe some people are better at remembering images versus words, but that isn’t about a learning skill in the sense that you can’t use audio stimulus to teach about images and vice-versa.

The other thing that struck me about Bonk’s model of learning of read/reflect/display/do (R2D2– get it?  Ah yes, of course I appreciate a good Star Wars pun!) is this has nothing to do with online pedagogy per se.  In other words, to the extent that this model of learning is true (and it frankly borders on being just common sense to me), it’s also true for face to face learning, too.  So, what’s unique about this in the online context?

More interesting for me tonight is “5 Things I’ve Learned From MOOCs About How I Learn” from Audrey Watters.   Peers do matter– and the level of conversation in Bonk’s class varies widely, as you might expect with 1200 or so people participating– lectures blow, and teachers matter.  And last but far from least, there’s this:

5: The platform matters. Last week Lisa Lane wrote about her decision to “leave an open class,” namely Curt Bonk’s “Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success.” It’s not the professor or the material that prompted her decision, she writes.

“It’s the classroom. I wanted to attend to see the new CourseSites from Blackboard, which is being touted as Bb’s “open” LMS. Maybe it would be innovative! A new LMS. I’m always very interested in learning management systems, and what they can do.

“Well, it’s the same old Blackboard, with more white space, nicer fonts and some cool icons.”

All of my online teacher has been facilitated with some combination of eCollege and my own wordpress installations of different flavors, and lately, I’ve relied on wordpress for the “meat and potato” parts of the classes– posting stuff, hosting discussions, etc.– and used eCollege for the gradebook function.  So my experience with Blackboard is quite limited.  

That said, I can say with some authority that Blackboard really really blows.  Knowing what I know now, I cannot imagine who could possibly be happy about using this set-up– well, other than instructors who have been forced to use it and who don’t know anything different.  Maybe Bb is dramatically easier on the backend for IT people to administer or something, but other than that, I cannot for the life of me figure out why any institution would voluntarily choose it as a CMS/LMS platform.

Can anyone help me out and answer the why question on this one for me?

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4 Responses to Week 2 of Bonk Online: What color is your learning parachute?

  1. Alex Reid says:

    The problem with learning styles might be related to the problems of platform design. That is, if you have a poor theory of learning that might contribute to the poor design of a learning platform. Though Willingham’s video might be over-simplified for public consumption, I do know that he is expressing the widely held view of cognitive scientists in regards to learning styles. As I have encountered those arguments, the basic view is that educational theorists extrapolate wildly from cogsci research. I would tend to agree, in part because in looking at the brain one is looking at only a small part of the cognitive network involved in learning.

    That said, I don’t think Bb’s problem is that it has adopted a faulty “learning styles” approach. My view (which is hardly unique) is that Bb is designed and marketed to technophobic faculty who 1) want to easily port their lecture-driven “pedagogy” to the web and 2) fear the prospect of students gaining too much control over the classroom. So the problems with Bb are the historical problems with the lecture-centered classroom, only they are intensified by the shift online. As you and I both know, the challenge of teaching online is developing a productive sociality. On the other hand, the traditional classroom pedagogy focuses on managing the nascent sociality of 20 or 30 or more people sitting a room together. Bringing that focus online is a bad idea.

    • Steve Krause says:

      I agree, and what’s interesting/ironic to me is that this week’s Bonk class is about creative/cooperative/collaborative learning in online environments. And yet it sure seems awfully difficult to do any of these things inside the Blackboard shell, Bonk’s approach is basically “sage on the stage” video lectures, and how creative/cooperative/collaborative can you be in a space that has hundreds (maybe a thousand?) more or less anonymous participants?

      More later, but I’ll say this: MOOCs ain’t the answer.

  2. uksuperiorpapers says:

    As always it is the parents and teachers who must make education relevant to students. Technology should become nothing more than a tool. Where all can obtain access to hardware and applications.On the one hand I bet using technology is not exactly learning – just as using a remote control does not teach you about television. We are the slaves to the technology; not the technologist.

  3. Bill H-D says:

    One reason Blackboard offers poor support for teaching and learning is that it is not designed or marketed to teachers, but rather to administrators. They buyer is not the end user. Neither teachers nor students buy bb directly, nor do they have a chance to.

    For administrators, Blackboard does a few things very well, and these account for much of its sales success. One is that it offers a container for courses as they currently exist at any institution (no need to change course/section/department distinctions, etc.). Another is that it integrates with SIS and Bursar systems to ensure that courses are silos to which only those who have paid are admitted.

    Blackboard’s function, then, is not to foster teaching and learning with any measurable degree of effectiveness. Rather, its job is to replace the physical plant with a high degree of fidelity and minimal bureaucratic disruption. It does both of those well. This is why institutions buy it.

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