Tony Bates on epistemology, course design and e-learning

June 28, 2010

Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

So there you go.

I mispronounced epistemology several times during a class last year. This is probably why: from Greek ἐπιστήμη. It’s like the symbol formerly known as Prince. My professor pronounced it so it sounded nearly sensual: \i-ˌpis-tə-ˈmä-lə-jē\. I’d probably get it right if I remembered the second syllable is pissed.

Why would you take a class where you have to pronounce epistemology anyway? Yawn. Anyway, my nemesis. Epistemology. Perhaps I’ll fake sneeze when I say it next time so half the class says gesundheit! (American translation: gazoontite) and only the other half is thinking DOH! I’ve had trouble with mispronunciations ever since I can remember leaving me wondering if I’m phonetically challenged or just dumb.

Isn’t this just the best digressive start EVER? Can you even digress if you’ve not yet focused at all? Apparently.

Tony Bates. Author of Books. Ph.D. in educational administration. Global consultant. Brilliant. Probably can pronounce that word with ease….answers three questions that end up being words to work by.

  • Design deliberately. He says the design of an e-learning course reflect the (often unconscious) epistemological position of the instructor/course designers SO if you want to exploit the learner-centered social constructivist approach to today’s social learning supportive technologies, you need to deliberately design. He notes that LMSs (the ones without collaborative tools) tend to be used in a objectivist way which implies that we’re behind the eight ball to start with. You may not agree but I think a lot of people just go with the gut.
  • View e-learning as a curricular and instructional decision. Dr. Bates thinks we tend to see e-learning mainly as a ‘delivery’ decision. He suggests that it become a curriculum decision too especially if technology tools are deliberately chosen and used to support a particular epistemology (noting that slow uptake of web 2.0 tools is that they don’t support the predominant objectivist approach in North America).
  • Use. Understand. Share. Be helpful.Instructors should certainly know how to use the Internet and computers, but much more important is that have a good understanding of epistemologies, learning theory and instructional design; alternatively they need to be prepared to work collaboratively and respectfully with those that do have this knowledge.”

I think this gets at the core of what needs to be done to solve problems around poor e-learning courses and, as Dr. Bates notes, slow uptake of social learning. Of course he speaks of higher ed, where it’s more acceptable to talk about epistemologies and pedagogies and social constructivism (because they are in the business of learning). Talk like that is mostly poo-pooed in corporations. Perhaps it shouldn’t be. Theory application to design – especially when unconscious decisions are at play – seems to be one way to break out of a rut.

I haven’t supported all of this in the past. I’ve gone with the gut. Banned the blah blah blah stuff from my work vocabulary. This is probably why I sway toward starting e-learning with “course” in mind. Or content. You?

  • Miranda Welch

    You said “talk like that is mostly poo-pooed in corporations”. I come up against this all time and have a theory….in workplace learning there are two paths into “training” (using the common term not my preferred term – 1) you're really good at what you do at work so they get you to train others , or 2) you're an HR generalist who likes the idea of being at the front of the room – and hey! – if you can deliver training you can design it too!. Neither path recognizes the specialist skills involved in designing a really effective online learning experience. These people who 'fall' into it design using the frameworks and tools that they know and experienced as learners themselves – it is self-perpetuating. Some places send staff on 'train the trainer' courses, but even these are mainly focussed on delivery rather than design. I tear my hair out when I hear staff complain about how boring elearning courses are.
    The answer? – well I want to write something about the futility of banging heads on brick walls but perhaps I should be more positive since I am at the start of another day in 'corporate poo'. I'll keep up the good work at my end, and you and Tony Bates keep doing what you do so well.

  • jclarey

    Miranda – I think you're right on the mark when it comes to the background of many in the “training” field (not my preferred term either). Can you imagine if the lawyer, engineer, or medical professional just winged it. You put on that band aid so well, you can now suture that guy up….there's the tools over there. So we live with the same old same old. I like Tony's ending message too…all we can do is keep at it.

  • Pingback: Deliberate design, andragogy, and social media applications « (me) in process()

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