Why is education an open field for public opinions where so many with no training in teaching are convinced their views are as valid or competent as the professional educators’?
Perhaps deep down we believe we are experts at educating children because the human race has practiced simple forms of education over millions of years of evolution. Humans have the longest childhood among all species. A necessary requirement for becoming an adult is learning how to operate in a complex environment. We are born with instructions that demand us to teach our children how to walk, speak, use tools, and understand social norms.
Parents take pride in the way they “educate” their children at home. This learning period in anyone’s life is deeply emotional. Early years of parental education is a period of attachment during which children and parents establish strong bonding.
In contrast, as a recent invention in our long history, school is an artificial extension of a social relationship created and nurtured beyond the family home boundaries. Teachers never achieve the same status of trusted relationship with children not only because they missed the early opportunity to imprint attitudes, but also because their institutional goals serve a different purpose. Despite the dedication of millions of teachers, the connection between children and school is very thin and fragile. Schools are meant to serve a different master whose interest is to produce a workforce capable of supporting its socio-economic domain.
Many educational initiatives attempt to describe themselves as “student-centric”, or caring for “children’s wellbeing” don’t’ tell the entire story, which is the fact that they are designed to comply with the demands of the political system that funds them, and which in turn are separated by so many levels of bureaucratic layers from the individual families. They want to be close to the students, but the gap between individual families and state-wide social systems is so wide, they cannot ever achieve the ‘kinship’ status.
The relationship between schools and parents is difficult and the main reason it has worked so far is because of its practical value. This invisible contract worked for a few hundred years despite many difficulties because the parents and schools in the end served the same master. As children learned skills they need as members of the future workforce in a society representing their ‘natural’ habitat, parents have no choice but to accept the school’s role in preparing their children to survive as adults. Plus, parents need to go to work and someone has to mind their children while they are away from home; they have to outsource the education to people outside the immediate family.
How can schools give their students life skills? What worked in the past two hundred years doesn’t necessarily work in the next fifty years. In Australia the unemployment rate is now 5.4%. If you think this is a good rate, compare this with the unemployment rate in 1970: 0.9%. In 1951 it was even lower: 0.3%! In absolute numbers, we have 656,400 unemployed people today versus 78,000 unemployed people then. Schools were doing wonders; if you had education you got a job, no question asked. Today, good school education does not give any guarantees.
The lack of certainty plays on one essential evolutionary concern: our children have strong bodies and sharp minds that can figure out how to solve problems during their adult lives (in line with the culture they belong to). There is no other profession, other than medical care, that is so directly linked to our survival as a species. Medicine has been a mysterious secret protected by a few since the dawn of mankind. It needs access to scarce materials and know-how and it cannot be practiced at home. Education, on the other hand, that is another story. Key to survival of the individual, the tribe and its culture, it has remained a part of us as probably the oldest occupation that we still practice without even knowing. This is why people are so passionate when it comes to education.
How splendid is Larnaca in September! The weather has an almost equatorial feel with perfect conditions day and night. It is pleasantly warm from sunset until late morning and bearably hot during the day; the sea has a calming presence with its magic blue and the colourful umbrellas peppered along the beach, and palm trees happily giving the final stamp of approval for everyone to stay worry free, relax and have a good time with friends.
Meanwhile at the Sun Beach hotel, a team made of colleagues from UK, Australia, Greece and Cyprus met in a big and bright conference room to discuss Learning Design. The group that gathered in Larnaca representing many years of experience in this field planned to establish a broad conceptual framework as a springboard for the further development of the Learning Design as a methodology.
This has been a perfectly timed workshop. The idea came up last year in December during the LAMS Conference in Sydney, to develop something that would bring all the research related to Learning Design into one contiguous body of work that captures the essence of Learning Design for the benefit of those who are interested in this methodology. The ICEM Conference 2012 (starting in the second half of the week) in Nicosia and Professor James Dalziel’s work on the ALTC National Teaching Fellowship proved to be a great catalyst for excellent collaboration.
Two important things came out of this work: (1) a comprehensive timeline of major events, formation of communities, publications and initiatives that occurred in the field of Learning Design over the past ten years or so, and (2) a high level map of the field of Learning Design (see below).
This is a great beginning for the consolidation of the knowledge generated through research, publications, conferences and many projects implemented in the past decade. The shared view signals an opportunity not only for a more productive academic research in this field, but also for helping teachers around the world, software developers, educational consultants and institutions to adopt Learning Design methodology for a more effective way of teaching students acquire knowledge and learn new skills.
The workshop and its outcomes felt like a strong direction setter and the team agreed unanimously that this event will be referred to in the history of this field as Larnaca Declaration on Learning Design.
The notion of sharing learning designs in schools is not new. It goes back to many, many years and it has been practiced in form of sharing teaching experience since the beginning of time. Thousands of years ago, in its simplest form, the transfer of learning design as “design knowledge” applied to a certain context, meant copying, mirroring others’ way of teaching students or trainees, meticulously keeping instruction details intact.
One of the oldest practice took place in the military. The learning design was shared by many instructors in an effort to discipline their soldiers. Closer to our times, generations of teachers learned the learning designs and applied them over generations helping student acquire simple knowledge that barely changed over time. Later, while the number of learning designs were quite reduced at the beginning of the industrial revolution, as the education system become more sophisticated, various disciplines started to form learning designs modelled around their history and cultural background differing more and more from one another.
It is only recently that we came up with the idea of learning design as a template that can be replicated as a step-by-step repeatable process and be used as a tool to support effectively the pedagogical practice. Why the need? Firstly, teachers have to deal with an increasingly complex curriculum and performance requirements. Secondly, the body of knowledge has grown so much, something needs to be done to help the teachers do administrative work faster so that they have more time to focus on interacting with students and perform higher order activities.
This is where the technology is both the culprit and the saviour. While it is widely recognised learning design implemented with technology can make things much easier to re-use, the actual sharing could be costly. There are technologies that offer improved solutions (LAMS International), but their patchy adoption prevents major productivity achievements. Education system need to adopt learning design systems across the entire organisation (meaning region, state, country) to make real progress in reaping the potential rewards.