How can you know what’s worth researching in technology enhanced learning?

By this stage I have learnt by experience that hitching your wagon to the latest shiny new technology as an opportunity for technology enhanced learning can leave me with egg on my face. I’ll spare my blushes and won’t name here what, in the past, I’ve championed as the next big thing. In recent years I have even become sceptical about the merits of most new innovations and new products as I have seen those around me get caught up in what I perceive as fashion trends. I remember watching the launch of the iPad live online and was dubious about its merits. Later other, wiser than me, people articulated how it was essentially a device for consuming rather than creating content, so it was limited as device for learning. The addition of a camera and improved text input has changed this a little. I still watch the debate about tablets for learning with interest but I’m not sure I am ready to jump in.
So what are the areas of specialization in technology-enhanced learning am I interested in? What is worth researching in depth that won’t be out of fashion next year? Here’s my list for today (it will, of course, be different next week):
  • Curriculum design for online learning – How can lecturers design, develop, teach and assess fully online courses? How can theory and research inform instructional design?
  • Supporting student reflection and independent learning – How can TEL help students become reflective learners and can social networking support this? (By the way, I haven’t come across the term “independent learning” in a while – is it out of fashion?)
  • Social tools for researchers – Has the uptake of social networking increased at all for researchers and research students? Can these tools help increase collaboration, sharing and impact on isolation?
  • Institutions’ responses to disruptive innovations such as MOOCs – Can this breakdown of higher education’s “marketplace” be an opportunity to reassess and refocus the purpose of university education?
And yes, I am aware of the zeitgeist-yness of MOOCs as a topic but open access to information has been around for a while now and MOOCs appear to be the next step in a ongoing push for open access.

The role of resistance in learning

I’m reading Contemporary Theories of Learning (2009), edited by Knud Illeris which is a series of essays about learning by theorists. As usual with a stimulating book like this I have to put it down every few pages and sort out my own thoughts.

In Illeris’ own chapter, he talks about barriers to learning which break-down essentially into those barriers which are a defence and those which are resistance. It is the latter that I am most interested in i.e those which is caused by the learning situation itself because “often when one does not just accept something, the possibility of learning something significantly new emerges.”

As an advisor to lecturing staff on the use of technology-enhanced learning, I have had experiences where colleagues have resisted or even rejected changing their approach to teaching. But now I come to think of it, some of those who had the most defensive reactions are the ones who have travelled furthest in adopting technology. I know the theory that involving emotions can aid learning, but negative emotions? I had only thought before that antithetical reactions to my training or advice would lead to entrenched views but maybe together with staff who react badly we can create, synthesise, something new?

So would it be possible to deliberately manufacture resistance in, say, a staff training session and what would that look like? How about asking them to discuss a provocative statement such as “In the future teachers will be obsolete”. Perhaps this is a bit loose but it has a challenging emotion connection for most lecturers.