Changing Role of Educators

In light of the speed of information growth and change today, educators must let technology and networked learning enter their lives and classrooms: books are no longer sufficient sources of knowledge. As Edgar Morin said: “The major responsibility of education is to arm every single person for the vital combat for lucidity” (Siemens, virtual class) Guiding and facilitating the growth of learners’ networked learning is the most important role of an educator in the twenty-first century.

Here is an example of a situation that greatly affected me: “John’s English skills were tested in May 2009. He did not join any classroom-based courses because of family and work commitments. However, he was motivated to improve his language skills and learned on his own. In May 2010 he wanted to begin to study at a university but the testing center refused to test him because he had not taken any classes in the meantime. They assumed that he had not improved his language skills at all. They disregarded the value of personal learning on a daily basis. John was devastated and forced to take classes, delaying the achievement of his professional goals and success in Canada. ”

This story shows that educators need to change, quickly.  Learning does not happen in a classroom; it happens in the brain, which swims in a vast ocean of knowledge across networks. Personal learning enabled by making connections with people and content daily must be recognized and acknowledged. Ideally, the assessors would have made a judgment call and assessed him on his actual language artifacts instead of using a bureaucratic standard to measure progress.

What are appropriate responses?

To keep up with the speed of information change and avoid credentialism, today’s educators should:

–          Exercise less control and focus on listening. Educators need to help learners have more control over their learning paths, by updating their systems as in the above example, so they work for the learner/client and not the other way round. Education is not an assembly line; listen and adjust to the learners’ needs.

–          Promote the use of portfolios for personal learning assessments. Learners must maintain the portfolios. Educators should spend more time facilitating the process of ‘growing’ portfolios; regularly teach meta-cognitive skills needed for learning.

–          Teach how to learn on the go. Learning also happens outside the classroom hence the changed role for educators. Educators need to help learners draw knowledge quickly from a variety of sources and share their knowledge and experiences with their peers. It is critical for educators to provide information literacy training; again, less control, more guidance.

–          Create more open resources, e.g. www.alison.com.  It’s a phenomenal place where you can take any course you want and get a diploma. You can also join a group and get the same diploma with an educational institution. CCK11 works similarly: the course is open to anyone in the world but you can do it for credit through the University of Manitoba.

What are impediments to change?

Change will not happen on its own. All stakeholders – educators, learners, institutions – must be willing to change. The following issues are potential obstacles:

–          Adult learner context – The mindset of adult learners could constitute an impediment, even if educators change. Learners who experienced a full education cycle in a country with a high power distance index will find it difficult to shift the focus from the teacher as the centre of their personal learning environment to themselves.

–          Access to technology – Educators/Learners living in remote regions in Manitoba, have little or no access to the Internet. Information Communication Technology (ICT) skills vary widely from one person to another. Successful networked learning requires good ICT skills and an open mind to try new things in real time.

To sum up, this quote from Tom Whitby nicely explains how world-wide networks can help us learn faster, “Before Twitter teachers were limited to interacting with teachers they knew in their building or district. Now, they are limited to whatever range they have with Twitter. With the proper strategies, that can create a huge jump in numbers of opinions and a bigger step toward relevance for the teacher.” Let’s not limit the learners to what they learn in a classroom; let’s get them ready for the lucidity race of the twenty-first century. But in doing so, we must acknowledge their efforts and give them credit for their self-directed learning.

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