The following is the penultimate section from the Processes section of chapter 2 of my thesis. It aims to talk about the types of processes used for learning and teaching (including e-learning). It seeks to use the lens of teleological and ateleological processes. This version has been finished quickly and could be made better. I’m trying hard to get “good enough” done and out so I can make progress. I guess supervisor feedback will tell the tale.

A related aside

Before I leap into the section of the thesis, I’d like to raise some thoughts that occurred while working on this section. An example of Jon Udell’s idea of getting a half-baked idea out there. This one is considerably less than half-baked, I’m formulating it as I write this.

Almost without exception the processes used by “official” instructional designers appear to be teleological processes. I do not have a lot of time for teleological processes and hence this makes me question. Are they teleological? What would an ateleological approach to designing a course look like? Does that question make sense?

If you talk about how most university courses get created then, at least at my institution, most don’t have instructional designers involved. Consequently most pay only the vaguest lip service to methodologies.

In fact, most courses aren’t designed. They are tweaked from the previous offering. In most cases, tweaked equals copied. Is this teleological design? It’s getting late, time for bed.

I think the nonsensical querying in the above gives some indication that I need to come back to this at a latter date. Any pointers more than gladly welcome.

Learning and teaching processes

The previous sections examined the various strategic and management policies used by universities to inform the context within which learning and teaching takes place. This section examines the processes used to design and deliver learning and teaching within Universities. While the design of e-learning has been argued to be different in various ways (Irlbeck, Kays et al. 2006) the assumption here is that those differences are part of the same spectrum of processes and thus both e-learning and “non e-learning” are covered within the same section.

For Biggs (2001) the design of effective teaching involves three steps:

  1. Specification of desired outcomes to make clear what it is the students have to learn and to what level of skill or understanding.
  2. Teaching/learning activities are arranged so that students perform tasks that make it likely that they will attain the desired outcomes.
  3. Assessment is developed to determine if the outcomes are attained at varying levels of acceptability.

A lack of alignment between any of these makes it possible for students to escape with inadequate learning (Biggs 2001). Phillips (2005) describes outcomes-centred subject design that has a similar initial focus on learning outcomes but a slightly different set of subsequent steps: assessment tasks, learning activities and then content.

The design of learning and teaching within a university may follow a variety of different models. Many university teaching staff, in the absence of formal teaching qualifications, fall back onto the use of the didactic methods with which they were taught (Phillips 2005). More formal and systematic approaches to the design of learning and teaching, often called instructional design, can be traced back to World War II and the large number of psychologist and educators conducting research and developing training materials for the military services (Reiser 2001). Work in the early to mid-1960s led to a variety of concepts being linked together to form processes or models for systematically designing instructional materials (Reiser 2001). The majority, if not all, of these models are highly teleological and often reduce to the components of Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation, which are seen to operate within a linear sequence (Sims 2006) These models for the design of instruction tend to be modifications and elaborations of a basic problem-solving model tailored to the needs of instructional design (Smith and Ragan 2005). The connection with teleological processes is illustrated by Introna’s (1996) identification of problem-solving as the design process for teleological design (see Table 2.2).

Alternate models that have impacted on instructional design practices include rapid prototyping which focuses on the early development of a prototype before putting it through a series of rapid tryout and revision cycles until final release (Reiser 2001). While moving along the teleological/ateleological spectrum prototyping still retains teleological assumptions. For example, even though the design of the product is refined through experimentation, it still aims to achieve a specified goal and design occurs through the actions of explicit designers.

The teleological emphasis in instructional design models means that examples of situated towards the ateleological end of the spectrum are very rare. Irlbeck et al (2006) describe one, the Three-Phase Design (3PD) instructional design model, that is based on emergence theory and subsequently is designed to operate from the bottom-up through agent interaction following local rules and through use of feedback loops.

The 3PD model was developed to develop new perspectives on instructional design to respond to the requirement of online distance education for practices that are complex, flexible, dynamic and organic (Irlbeck, Kays et al. 2006). The teleological emphasis in much of discussion of e-learning course design still remains. For example, the development of effective, large-scale e-learning courses require well-understood development methodologies that require a clear articulation of what is to be achieved, independent of the technology and a development process to develop the course in the most efficient manner (Manton, Fernandez et al. 2004).

Even with the predominance of the teleological approach to the design of learning and teaching there are acknowledged weaknesses. The linear implementation models are partly to blame for current instructional design approaches being only moderately successful in taking advantage of the online medium (Irlbeck, Kays et al. 2006). The main criticisms of the ADDIE process are a lack of flexibility between stages and a tendency to result in identikit solutions (Manton, Fernandez et al. 2004).

As with the above processes there remain significant questions about the ability to develop a teleological blueprint for the design of learning and teaching. E-learning pedagogies are probabilistic in that there is no such thing as the perfect approach due to the diverse contexts, the diversity of the students and the varying teaching and learning demands of particular courses (Nichols and Anderson 2005). As with other branches of the social sciences there is no unifying mature theory in education and consequently a diversity of ideas, approaches and theories coexist in various states of cohesion and tension (Dillon and Ahlberg 2006). As they progress through their careers teachers will tend to hold different theories of teaching (Biggs 1999). The development of instructional systems depends on the character of the problem, there is no one best way, no optimal solution. Instead, everything depends on the situation and the skills available (Davis 1996).

Any approach to one technology and pedagogy for all is pretty much doomed to flap and then crash (Salmon 2005). Apart from the above reasons there are also those associated with the technology. Technological artifacts often generate new, unforeseen behaviours that may deviate from initial intentions, it is likely that secondary changes in patterns and behaviours will occur that will not be predictable (Westera 2004). E-learning practice cannot remain static because e-learning pedagogies are evolving through the continual emergence of new modes of practice and enhanced technological tools (Nichols and Anderson 2005).

Finally, there are views that make different assumptions. Dalsgaard (2006) argues that learning cannot be managed, only facilitated which suggests that the learning activities of students cannot be structured or pre-determined. Subsequently, the approach to e-learning is not to provide a single integrated system, instead it is to enable personal choice of a variety of loosely joined personal tools for indepdent construction and enagement in social networks (Dalsgaard 2006). Goodyear and Ellis (2008) that e-learning, rather than being a technological intervention, actually depends on a web of skilful activity, human relationships and subtle adjustements to a changing material environment and requires more organic or ecological methods of analysis and design.


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