Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Module 1: Learning Theory and Educational Technology (EDUC 8845)

For regular readers, be advised that this is the first in a number of blog postings devoted to specific assignments within my Ph.D. program. Your feedback is still welcome as always. 

Critique Siemens’s “metaphors of educators.” Which of these metaphors best describes the role you believe an instructor should take in a digital classroom or workplace? Is there a better metaphor to reflect your view of the role of instructors?

Siemens (2008), in discussing learning theories generally and Connectivism specifically, describes a number of metaphors for educators. Metaphors are useful constructs to conceptualize a given position, role, or other abstract concept. Consider that the most commonly used term for an organized learning structure, the course, is itself a metaphor describing a predetermined path not unlike a golf course or the course a ship follows. In Siemens' case, he is calling into question the role of the educator as the source of knowledge. Increased access to information via the Internet and other innovative technologies, Siemens argues, calls for a re-examination of the metaphors commonly used to encapsulate the role of the educator.

While Siemens' treatment of the metaphors is relatively even-handed, he makes his point of view clear, arguing that educators in the digital age must balance content expertise with the facilitation of learning through connection with information and resources. It is important to point out that in this component of the discussion Siemens is referring specifically to instructors, those who interact directly with learners, using the metaphors to describe how an instructor interacts with the learner during the learning process. Later Siemens pays brief attention to the role of instructional designers. I was somewhat dismayed by this distinction given that the role of the instructional designer is both of primary interest to me, and of growing importance in higher education. I believe this treatment denotes a bias that deserves further consideration. Higher education has traditionally integrated a number of arguably disparate responsibilities into the role of the instructor. He or she has historically been responsible for the creation of the course, selection of the content, delivery of the instruction, creation and delivery of the assessment, and interpretation of the results. More and more frequently, however, these duties are being disaggregated among individuals who possess specialized knowledge and expertise. It still falls on the instructor to deliver and facilitate the instruction, but instructional designers, psychometricians, and other specialists are playing a larger and more prominent role as members of a learning team. Consequently, I believe that any valid metaphor for an “educator” must be applicable to more than just the instructor.

Based on this interpretation, I believe the Curatorial model of the educator to be the most relevant and accurate depiction of the educator in any of his or her functional positions. Despite Siemens’ omission of the instructional designer from his description, the metaphor is still very solid when applied more broadly. A museum curator designs and sets up exhibits intended to intrigue and engage viewers. He or she does not strive to provide viewers with everything they need to know about a particular topic, but rather strives to prompt further questions that will facilitate continued learning after leaving the exhibit. He or she recognizes that each person will perceive and interact with the exhibit differently, but rather than attempting to limit this “variance” he or she recognizes the value that learner control and personal experience have on the process of learning. Clive Shepherd makes a similar argument for the development of “learning environments” over courses. He suggests that informal learning is perhaps more powerful than formal learning and that recognition of this requires designers and instructors to develop learning spaces that allow the learner to explore through agency, not control. Indeed, the importance of informal learning and learner control is growing in recognition among many instructional designers, prompting many such as Jane Bozarth and Jane Hart to focus on its untapped potential and value.

As a curriculum developer and instructional designer, I can attest to the importance of proper design, but I also recognize the value of the spontaneous, organic kind of learning that only flexibility and open-endedness can provide. An instructor is important in most cases, true, but as technology transforms education, other roles are beginning to emerge as equally important. The Curator metaphor is broad enough and flexible enough to accommodate both the emerging reality of learning in a digital world, and the many roles that make up the design and facilitation of learning in that reality.

Siemens, G. (2008). Learning and knowing in networks: Changing roles for educators and designers. Paper presented to ITFORUM. Retrieved from http://it.coe.uga.edu/itforum/Paper105/Siemens.pdf 


  1. The curatorial model displays great accuracy with what teachers normally do in and outside of the classroom. How do you think the curatotial model compares to the role of concierge'?

  2. The concierge model seems more directly involved in instruction while the curatorial model seems to balance direct interaction with effective design. As a curriculum developer, I am obviously biased but I prefer the emphasis on design.