“We should be able to find effective and efficient ways to deliver content”. I have heard this statement many times, in multiple forms and in a variety of higher education (HE) settings. I have a number of concerns about that view and its implications.
The use of the phrase “deliver content”, often as a substitute for “teaching”, is problematic for many reasons. It conveys a sense of pure transmission, of pouring information (not knowledge) from a tutor to his or her students, in the hope that vessels can be filled. This view of learning and teaching in HE must be challenged at every opportunity. And while we’re on the topic of “delivery”, there are many things we can do with, in, on and about learning. “Deliver” is not one of them. To be clear: you cannot “deliver learning”. However hard you try.
Now, the “content” bit. If your name is Netflix, Disney or indeed a big publisher, probably content is king. The job of a University, however, is not to produce or “deliver content”. Rather, it is to enable successful learning through quality teaching. In HE, content is not king. Context is. What matters is what students and tutors do with that content, why they do it, how they do it and who they do it with. Designing effective scaffolds to enable learners to make sense of, critique and apply that content is key to successful learning experiences across different modes of study. Delivering content is one thing. Teaching well, in its many forms and guises, is another. We should steer clear of devaluing the latter into the former.
Good learning hinges on the quality of pedagogic design and teaching practice. Good teaching practice can often rescue poor design, but no design, however good, will compensate for bad teaching practice. A proven way to design for effective learning is to redesign - regularly, iteratively and in teams. A team approach to course and module design in the form of facilitated workshops is also an opportunity to model teaching practice. The evidence suggests that such workshops, involving the course team, learning designers, learning technologists, students and employers, constitute time well invested.
A final word about blends. The term “blended learning” traditionally suggests the combination of face-to-face teaching with online learning, usually supported by a range of digital technologies. Most, if not all current campus-based university courses are de facto blended. However, the integration of face-to-face and online components is just one dimension of pedagogic design. In other words, “face-to-faceness” and “onlineness” offer a narrow perspective on what blended learning is and entails. At the University of Portsmouth, we use the term “blended and connected learning” to describe our institutional approach to learning and teaching. We expect our students to engage with their studies through activities that enable them to take ownership of and critique new concepts, ideas and feedback; in and outside the classroom, synchronously and asynchronously, individually and in teams;
for the development and application of subject knowledge, professional and digital skills.
Bombarding students with content without appropriate and context-sensitive scaffolds is not conducive to successful blended and connected learning experiences. “Read this, watch that and come back with three key points” will not cut it. If we are to excel in pedagogic design and teaching practice, we need to be far more creative than that.
Padilla Rodriguez, B. C., & Armellini, A. (Eds.). (2021). Cases on Active Blended Learning in Higher Education. IGI Global. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-7998-7856-8
About the Author
Alejandro (Ale) Armellini is Professor and Dean of Digital and Distributed Learning at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom. His key role is to provide leadership in digital learning and learning innovation, including on-campus and distance provision, across all Faculties. Before joining Portsmouth, Ale was Dean of Learning and Teaching at the University of Northampton, where he was the strategic lead for the redesign of all programmes for active blended learning. Ale is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. Ale’s research and doctoral supervision focus on learning innovation, blended and online pedagogy, institutional capacity building and open practices. He holds visiting professorships at several UK and overseas universities. His latest co-edited book is Cases on Active Blended Learning in Higher Education (2021).