Choosing a model
This chapter covers a range of different design models or approaches to teaching. There are many more that could have been included. However, it is clear that there is a choice of possible models, depending on a number of factors, most of which are listed in Chapter 5, Building an Effective Learning Environment.
Your choice of model will then depend very much on the context in which you are teaching. However, I have suggested that a key criterion should be the suitability of the design model for developing the knowledge and skills that learners will need in a digital age. Other critical factors will be the demands of the subject domain, characteristics of the learners you will likely be teaching, the resources available, especially in terms of supporting learners, and probably most important of all, your own views and beliefs about what constitutes ‘good teaching.’
Furthermore, the models by and large are not mutually exclusive. They can probably be mixed and matched to a certain degree, but there are limitations in doing this. Moreover, a consistent approach will be less confusing not only to learners, but also to you as a teacher or instructor.
So: how would you go about choosing an appropriate design model? I set out below in Figure 6.20 one way of doing this. I have chosen five criteria as headings along the top of the table:
- epistemological basis: in what epistemological view of knowledge is this model based? Does the model suggest a view of knowledge as content that must be learned, does the model suggest a rigid (‘correct’) way of designing learning (objectivist)? Or does the model suggest that learning is a dynamic process and knowledge needs to be discovered and is constantly changing (constructivist)? Does the model suggest that knowledge lies in the connections and interpretations of different nodes or people on networks and that connections matter more in terms of creating and communicating knowledge than the individual nodes or people on the network (connectivist)? Or is the model epistemologically neutral, in that one could use the same model to teach from different epistemological positions?
- 20th century learning: does this design model lead to the kind of learning that would prepare people for an industrial society, with standardised learning outcomes, will it help identify and select a relatively small elite for higher education or senior positions in society, does it enable learning to be easily organised into similarly performing groups of learners?
- 21st century learning: does the model encourage the development of the soft skills and the effective management of knowledge needed in a digital world? Does the model enable and support the appropriate educational use of the affordances of new technologies? Does it provide the kind of educational support that learners need to succeed in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world? Does it enable and encourage learners to become global citizens?
- academic quality: does it lead to deep understanding and transformative learning? Does it enable students to become experts in their chosen subject domain?
- flexibility: does the model meet the needs of the diversity of learners today? Does it encourage open and flexible access to learning? Does it help teachers and instructors to adapt their teaching to ever changing circumstances?
Now these are my criteria, and you may well want to use different criteria (cost is another important factor), but I have drawn up the table this way because it has helped me consider better where I stand on the different models. Where I think the model is strong on a particular criterion, I have given it three stars, where weak, one star, and n/a for not applicable. Again, you may – no, should – rank the models differently. (See, that’s why I’m a constructivist – if I was an objectivist, I’d tell you what damned criteria to use!)
It can be seen that the only model that ranks highly on all three criteria of 21st century learning, academic quality and flexibility is online collaborative learning. Experiential learning and agile design also score highly. Transmissive lectures come out worst. This is a pretty fair reflection of my preferences. However, if you are teaching first year civil engineering to over 500 students, your criteria and rankings will almost certainly be different from mine. So please see Figure 6.20 as a heuristic device and not a general recommendation.
Common design characteristics
It is worth noting that, once again, there is extensive research and experience that point to the key factors to be taken into consideration in the successful implementation of teaching, whichever design model is being used. In essence we are talking about using best practices in the design of teaching. Although different design models have different approaches to teaching, there is a significant number of the core principles in the design of teaching and learning that extend across several of the design models. These can be summarised as follows:
- know your students: identify the key characteristics of the students you will be or could be teaching, and how that will influence your methods of teaching
- know what you are trying to achieve: in any particular course or program what are the critical areas of content and the particular skills or learning outcomes that students need to achieve as a result of your teaching? What is the best way to identify and assess these desired outcomes?
- know how students learn: what drives learning for your students? How do you engage or motivate students? How can you best support that learning?
- know how to implement this knowledge: What kind of learning environment do you need to create to support student learning? What design model(s) will work best for you within that environment?
- know how to use technology to support your teaching: this is really a sub-set of the previous point, and is discussed in much more detail in other chapters
- know what resources you have, and what can be done within the constraints you have to work with
- ensure that the assessment of students actually measures the intended learning outcomes – and unintended ones.
Design models and the quality of teaching and learning
Lastly, the review of different models indicate some of the key issues around quality:
- first, what students learn is more likely to be influenced by choosing an appropriate design model for the context in which you are teaching, than by focusing on a particular technology or delivery method. Technology and delivery method are more about access and flexibility and hence learner characteristics than they are about learning. Learning is affected more by pedagogy and the design of instruction.
- second, different design models are likely to lead to different kinds of learning outcomes. This is why there is so much emphasis in this book on being clear about what knowledge and skills are needed in a digital age. These are bound to vary somewhat across different subject domains, but only to a limited degree. Understanding of content is always going to be important, but the skills of independent learning, critical thinking, innovation and creativity are even more important. Which design model is most likely to help develop these skills in your students?
- third, quality depends not only on the choice of an appropriate design model, but also on how that approach to teaching is implemented. Online collaborative learning can be done well, or it can be done badly. The same applies to other design models. Following core design principles is critical for the successful use of any particular design model. Also there is considerable research on what the conditions are for success in using some of the newer models. The findings from such research need to be applied when implementing a particular model.
- lastly students and teachers get better with practice. If you are moving to a new design model, give yourself (and your students) time to get comfortable with it. It will probably take two or three courses where the new model is applied before you begin to feel comfortable that it is producing the results you were hoping for. However, it is better to make some mistakes along the way than to continue to teach comfortably, but not produce the graduates that are needed in the future.
Even when we have chosen a particular design model or teaching approach, though, it still has to be implemented. The remaining chapters in this book will focus then on implementation.