I’ve been doing instructional design for the past three years, working at the nexus of education and digital technology. I’ve managed LMSs, created SCORM files with authoring tools, and built modules, lessons, courses, and learning paths.
But at the back of my mind, I’ve always been wary of the grand promises of instructional design and online learning — that education can be scaled from dozens to thousands to millions, that learning can be quantified and tracked using web analytics, that “engagement” is the gold standard of learning.
Recently, my manager turned me on to the work of digital educator, pedagogue and Director of Digital Learning at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia Sean Michael Morris. His writing on “Critical Instructional Design” gives voice to things that I have long suspected about online learning.
Check out this quote from one of his essays “Critical Pedagogy and Learning Online”:
When we think through the whole context of learning online, it becomes apparent that it is never enough to do teaching with technology, to suffice with content and learning objectives and assessments. We must always step back and inquire:
Are students online cared for? Have we found ways within the VLE or other platform to, as bell hooks writes, “respect and care for the souls of our students”?
Have we engaged students in some way not measurable by clicks, hits, and discussion posts, or, are we letting the the technology teach in place of us?
Is learning online rich with the problem-solving Freire recommends as an alternative to “banking education”, or does it amount to a checklist for satisfactory performance and completion? Have we laid the foundation for student agency?
This just flips my lid. It connects to everything I have done previously in Digital Learning, which is to put the learner first, to privilege compassion and empathy, to match the tools to the learner not the reverse.