Last week I spoke at the opening night of RELEARN2020, a learning innovation festival from the team at Learnlife Barcelona. It was a tremendous event with many of those that I admire in our sector speaking, stimulating, and sparking global conversations.

Whilst there’s something to be said for speaking on opening night, the video of my presentation was shared across the globe hundreds of times, something I had not anticipated and so because of this I have decided it was worthy of a follow-up article. 

The session was titled “Has Pedagogy had its day?”. A title to provoke, as was the order of the day, a title to spark conversation and discussion.

First a little of my background: my introduction to pedagogy was way back in the nineties whilst enrolled in a teaching degree. Four career changes later I wound up back in education where I’ve now been for a total of seventeen years. My real experience however is not with pedagogy but with heutagogy. I am a qualified vocational & training educator and I spent six years teaching in the Higher Education sector. What I saw there and the work we achieved moving a suite of postgraduate courses online (this was 15 years ago now) has had a significant impact on the work I later led in the K-12 sector. Working alongside the curriculum experts (our educators) and instructional designers we moved the whole of senior years curriculum online (for a blended mode of delivery) that launched in 2017.

Now I’m never one to follow the crowd, and in education, there are so many frameworks, methodologies, and pedagogies that I’ve purposefully never aligned myself to just one. I prefer to pick and choose, incorporating and melding them into the best of breed for my client, the school, the students, and the educators I work with and support.

I don’t think anyone can deny however that the model most dominant in K-12 settings is pedagogy (over heutagogy & andragogy). In my presentation, I explained why I think heutagogy is worthy of consideration in K-12, particularly in the middle to senior years. If we are serious about dismantling the constructs of the current paradigm, we need to consider all options and heutagogy has much to offer. 

In the recently released World Economic Forum Future Jobs 2020 Report they note that the skills gap we face in the lead up to 2025 (scarily not that far off) includes critical thinking and analysis, problem-solving and self-management. This places Heutagogy in the lead as the delivery model that can support the acquisition and development of these very skills. Heutagogy (also known as self-determined learning) is a student-centered instructional strategy that emphasises the development of autonomy, capacity, and capability. The goal of heutagogy is to teach lifelong learning and to produce learners who are well equipped to manage the complexities of today’s workplace, and as best we can tomorrow’s workplace too.

One comment I’ve heard over and over from educators this year was that senior students would in fact be far better prepared this year for tertiary studies than ever before due to their experience of remote learning through this period of school closures. What’s frustrating about this is why wasn’t this considered before now, wasn’t it obvious that there was a huge disconnect between secondary and tertiary education models? Perhaps like the current situation we find ourselves in, everyone agrees that there must be change but few have the courage to act.

In 2014 I returned from the ISTE conference in the US and informed my fellow executives that in the US, across the majority of states back then, it had become mandatory for students to complete a minimum of one online unit in preparation for further studies. We knew when preparing to launch our blended model in 2017, that our students would be far better prepared than most for tertiary studies, the world of work and indeed lifelong learning. It was a move that made many educators feel uneasy however it was an ‘opt in’ model so that those who were looking for a challenge would have that opportunity and be provided support and upskilling in instructional design and Heutagogical practices. As it turned out the educators and students found themselves in a fortunate position this year as they were far better prepared for the challenges they faced this year as schools here in Melbourne closed, many for 140+ days due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The students who were in that first cohort to move online in 2017 were only weeks into their final year (Year 12/VCE) when schools closed but with three years of preparation, the feedback was that they felt they had all the skills and tools they needed to feel confident, be effective and finish strong. 

Prior to COVID, many schools were pursuing initiatives that would help them improve the student learning experience and drive better outcomes, as they had begun to realise that by helping teachers build expertise with online spaces and digital tools, they can better achieve their goals. 

The aim of my presentation was to highlight that as schools moved to remote learning, and particularly those who managed to deliver online learning true to its definition of providing both asynchronous and synchronous learning, we had naturally seen a drift towards heutagogy occurring, right down to the primary years. 

Academic Exchange Quarterly ISSN 1096-1453 Volume 23, Issue 1 Spring 2019

It is the courageous leaders that will take the lead now, ensuring they don’t let this rare opportunity to rethink schooling go to waste, playing the long term, strategic game to carve a unique niche in the marketplace that will secure their enrolments long into the future.  

I remain passionate about the technological tools and the underpinning architecture to support student learning and I’m driven by my own poor experience of schooling. My focus is always on the students, their needs, and how we can empower them to take responsibility for their learning. I want to ensure that every child leaves school prepared to solve the problems they will face in the future head-on which is what makes heutagogy so appealing.

I concluded my presentation with a quote attributed to Winston Churchill:

 “Never let a good crisis go to waste”

By using this quote, I meant that TODAY, we as school leaders and educators, have an amazing opportunity to do things differently. Educators across the globe have shown outstanding resilience and flexibility, pushing their practice even further towards Heutagogy during what was a highly stressful year for many. Now as we stop to draw breath and turn our attention to 2021, we must remember to take full advantage of the current environment. We need to reflect and focus on what worked for, and empowered, students and incorporate those successes into regular daily practice. 

The video has now been uploaded to my own website and you can view it below:

Has pedagogy had its day? screenshot

Link to the follow up Interview in January 2021 with the folks from Cohort 21:

Last week’s confusion around school closures in the face of continuing Coronavirus outbreaks had people baffled as the Independent Schools and Education Department Schools were taking very different stances.

To me it seemed obvious that many Independent Schools responded far faster in enforcing students returning from China remain in isolation. Last week the Education Department was hesitant to isolate students and when one of their Schools did it became news headlines: “Melbourne primary school defies state coronavirus advice and isolates students”. This week they have flipped and as the virus spreads globally and is at risk of becoming a pandemic, the Department is now enforcing the isolation recommendation below, but at what cost?

Today the Australian Government Department of Health has stated:

  • If you have travelled from Hubei Province within the past 14 days, you must isolate yourself until 14 days have elapsed after leaving Hubei Province.
  • If you have left, or transited through, mainland China on or after 1 February 2020 you must isolate yourself until 14 days after leaving China.
  • If you have been in close contact with a confirmed case of novel coronavirus, you must isolate yourself for 14 days after last contact with the confirmed case.

There are many underlying issues at play here, political volley-balling, political correctness and even racism, or perhaps the fear of being seen to be racist. However, what most people don’t understand is that many schools, and almost ALL independent schools and Higher Education Institutions have Learning Management Systems (LMS) that allow students to access their classes when they can’t attend a campus. Many are still as not as advanced as they should be but in the case of emergency situations like this, they could be the lifeline these students (and their schools) need.

I was employed as a Director of eLearning in 2019 with the task of selecting and deploying an LMS to support online & blended learning to ensure that every student could continue their education whether they were at Ski School at Mt Buller for three months of the year, on an exchange trip to France, in the Children’s Hospital unwell or in the case that the School had had to be shut down due to a power outage…or even a health pandemic. Coincidentally just as I began my role Australia was hit by the Swine Flu outbreak and several schools were closed across the State of Victoria at that time. I remember reading about a great moment of leapfrogging by a rural school who immediately responded by executing, seemingly overnight, a Learning Management System. This enabled schooling to continue with students accessing their classes and their teachers online via web conferencing. It is a moment etched in my mind, a classic example of making a firm decision, taking a calculated risk, embracing the solution and bringing the community along for the ride.

That was 2009 and have we not learnt anything? Did schools not complete risk assessments back then? If they did, what were the outcomes and recommendations and why were they not acted upon?

I would suggest that the investment in an LMS would not only provide an alternative virtual location for your School, but it could also mitigate risk. The risk could be huge and there have already been headlines focused on the impact on our economy if all our International students are delayed entry or self-isolating by the time Uni’s reopen in March. On a smaller scale think of your local schools, particularly those with international borders and the impact the loss of students would have at that level. Of course, it’s not as simple as everyone turning on an LMS tomorrow, like everything it takes time. We took five years to reach the point where EVERY educator had the training, knowledge and confidence to present their content online and I’m not talking about just whacking up hundreds of PowerPoints and .pdf’s either but thoughtfully curated content based on mastery learning and with UX principals top of mind. By 2017 the whole senior year’s curriculum was ready to be delivered in a blended model and given that every school’s senior cohorts are high-risk cohorts due to the focus on their results, future pathways, parent pressures and by the fact that they are the highest fee payers etc it makes sense to start there. In the US many states mandate that senior students must complete a minimum of one subject online to graduate, as a way of ensuring they are ready for higher education and the future of work.

With so many reasons for implementing an LMS, the time is now, what school board wouldn’t approve the expense when weighed against the risk right now?