React vs Respond

Seth Godin's latest post Retribution reminded me of some earlier work I'd done this year around trying to re-think (and re-name) the concept of Distance Education. In particular this quote:

"We can react or respond, as my friend Zig used to say. When we react to a medicine, that's a bad thing. When we respond, it's working."

In a very broad and generalised way I'd suggest that education, and educational technology in particular, has fallen in to the trap of being purely reactive. The actions and behaviour enacted and embodied in educational institutions are those that are sadly unproductive, inhumane and counter-productive. Jumping on bandwagons, mindlessly following trends, buying into the hype are purely reactive traits based almost entirely on emotion.

Which seems at odds with the goal of education being as a vehicle and a space for thinking and learning.

My original idea was to rethink Distance Education as being Responsive Education. It came from my experience of Responsive Web Design practices.

The term Responsive Design has been part of the web lexicon for the last 4–5 years and essentially means:

...the same HTML is served to all devices… page elements reshuffle as the screen size grows or shrinks.

In this case the “content” of the page is exactly the same, but how it is presented changes to suit the device that the users is accessing the site.

What if Education looked like that:

The same Education is served to all students… locations, spaces, assessment and content reshuffle to suit the learning context.

My original aim for this shift was to actually shift discussion and effort into areas of "effective action" as Seth discusses. In doing so we could create a system that is responsive to the learner and develop students who respond to that experience.

It's a proactive, relational, interactive, symbiotic vision that directly combats the dystopian vision of leaners as automatons.

With this model as a foundation my thoughts would be to bring in ideas like learning design patterns and Interaction as Language which nicely fit with the concept of Pattern Languages.

Commentary

David Jones: I think we largely agree on the current status of ed tech in higher ed. But I'm struggling to see how responsive design can help. I think this comes from the way I've interpreted some of your description.

First, the phrase "same education" gives me pause. I tend to see "education" and "same" as incompatible. Nothing about is and ever should be the same.

Second, the notion of the automagic reshuffle challenges me. Sounds an awful lot like some of the AI/Learning Analytics algorithmic solutions. *shudder* Which goes against the point about learners as automatons, so I know that's not what you meant.

Lastly, not sure how all this adds up to "effective action", what that might mean, and what it might look like

Tim Klapdor You picked up on some good points there David. I think there's a big difference between the technical solution of Responsive Design and the actual practice of it.

Going from a Desktop only site design to one that *works* across browsers and devices forces a major rethink and questioning of many practices and suppositions that were standard in the former.

Responsive Design becomes a trigger for a major over haul of content strategy, information architecture, user experience and visual design. It might seem like an "automagic reshuffle", and in many ways it should look like that, but under the hood are significant changes that actually allow that to happen. Ones that algorithms can't help you with because they are human. I think it is possible to develop an education that is the same - but only because it is designed from the outset to be customisable, flexible, responsive and experienced differently. Personalised and contextualised to suit the individual. Responsive Web Design is model for that because as a user you only see and experience the website that suits your context - not the other variants and variations that have been built and design for.

I think it is possible to develop an education is the "same" - but only because it is designed from the outset to be customisable, flexible, responsive and experienced differently - personalised and contextualised to suit the individuals experience. Responsive Web Design is model that demonstrates that practice because as a user you only see and experience the website that suits your context - not the other variants and variations that have been built and design for.