tweet technology

Technology. Everyone wants to learn it and everyone wants the “key” that might open up the door to these skills.

Truth is, there is no easy way! I’ve been mucking about and learning as I go – for a long time. And that’s what I love about technology and education. I can learn by riding my waves of motivation – surfing toward possibility. There is so much damn possibility!  However, how best can you learn to get up on the surfboard and feel the power and freedom of that wave? How?

Well, most teachers learn by doing and trying and struggling.  I do think there is an easier way – you can benefit from a course. However, IMHO and from my own experience being wrong – most technology courses are given in the wrong manner.

I was prompted to think about this after commenting on Jeremy Harmer’s blog post about technology and by default, his own efforts to learn an audio recording program. I commented that I thought despite how most training programs work – that an embedded approach is the best way to “teach” technology.

What do I mean? Well, as the above tweet so nicely relates, it is about making technology the servant, the means and not the king or product. Technology should be taught in the process of teaching other things – it should not be the focus. Programs are ill effective when they take the, “Let’s learn how to do subtitles” approach.

I’ve been there, I’ve done it and it effects little change in teachers. They get a nice little diploma, maybe a pay raise, maybe a confidence boost but that’s mostly it (except for those spark plugs and you don’t ever teach them – they’d learn even if exiled on the moon).  Why do I think this direct,  technology course approach is ineffective? Because we learn by doing but even more so with technology through “purposeful” doing.

One thinker extraordinaire is Michael Polyani (the lesser known of a family of thinkers and of many amazing Hungarian intellectuals of his era). I read him extensively while in university, especially his “Personal Knowledge“.  To me, he is brilliant in his explanation and support of “tacit knowledge” over explicit or what he called, “focal knowledge”.  As he famously said, “We can know more than we can tell.” This speaks volumes for both language trainers and teachers.

Focal or explicit knowledge (or Polyani would say, “knowing” for knowledge is never a static phenomena) is something we are directly attending to. We can count it and define it and share it. Tacit knowledge is an ability or skill to solve a problem based on one’s own problems and concerns. It is very difficult to show another person or “transfer”. Both have a place but some things (like skills, like technology) are not very well transferred by way of explicit knowing. You must learn it indirectly.  [and please note, I'm massacring Polyani's subtle thought - he'd never so brutally divide these two ways of knowing...]

To explain by way of a good metaphor, let’s think of an apprentice. An apprentice might go to school but more often than not, he/she observes, tries, imitates, practices. They don’t follow strict steps or listen to someone tell them how to lathe a 3/8 inch pipe. They do it but most importantly, they do it as an actual, real and personal thing. Not just for the sake of learning….. They don’t think, “Wow, I’m learning how to lathe a pipe!”  What they are thinking is, “this will work well and fit perfectly”.

It is kind of like looped feedback. You model the technology in use and teachers learn by seeing it in use as it should be and then using it not in and of its own sake but for an outcome that is non technology related. You see, we never use technology in order to use technology (or few of us do, maybe those unfortunates showing off their latest ipad while doing squat). We learn technology by using it as a means to something else.

Let me give a practical example. Take the usual course on “Moodle” . You go there and learn and practice tutorials on how everything works. Then maybe you do a final project to show how brilliantly you can “do” moodle. My way is completely different. You don’t take a course in moodle. You’d say take a course in curriculum development and learn moodle as you learn about curriculum development and develop your online syllabus. Two different animals.  You learn tacitly. You make it personal.

In my own teacher training classes, I have got trainees using technology to produce learning outcomes that aren’t technology related. That’s the way to go. And of course, I got many teachers saying, I can’t do that! However, they always managed – LOL! And that’s how we learn, we struggle and we try but not in the name of technological competence but in the attempt to do something else, communicate something else.  Technology is a means, not an end.

Let me list a few more examples of how this would work (and will work in my new TESOL certificate course).

I’d love to know what you others think about learning technology through a course which isn’t “about” technology? Also, shouldn’t we be hiring teacher trainers that are good with technology – that can model it in every day class instruction, so teachers can learn it indirectly, tacitly?

embedded training