We are challenged this week to speak to “why I teach” – and I’ll get to that point. But I thought I would start by reflecting on the learner’s perspective… why learn?
“Why learn” is best answered from the vantage point of a specific topic or course of study, and in this case, I’ll use my e-collaboration course as the context for reflection. The course is intended to bring students up to speed with social technologies and strategies for using technology to mediate collaborative learning. (Note: E-Collaboration for Instructional Technology is a graduate course in the Instructional Technology Management program at LaSalle University. As an adjunct faculty member, I am designing the course around the defined course description (and the program director’s requests), although I have some flexibility with specific learning goals. One of my Connected Courses goals is to use what I am gleaning to redesign this specific course.)
Student: Why learn collaboration technologies?
My why: In both corporate learning and development and academic instructional design, we are moving toward a more open approach to learning. Our goal in designing learning strategies is not to communicate content, but to launch students on a professional journey that no doubt requires ongoing learning. Increasingly, technology provides the access point for learning any knowledge area or skill set. We need to understand how collaborative technologies support learning in order to be able to design instruction and ongoing learning support for others. And if you never take on a role that requires you to actively design collaborative learning environments, you’ll have the skill to set up your own learning networks and activities to support your own learning goals.
Student: Why take this particular course to learn about collaborative technologies?
My why: This course will both “teach” the topic and provide deep experience in engaging with collaborative technologies. You’ll learn the why’s and how’s of e-mediated collaboration, and you’ll actually design a project that is intended to generate collaborative learning in a specific arena. While the course will delve into the use of specific technologies that are currently in use, we’ll also learn about how collaboration works so that you’ll be prepared to design for/with as-yet-unreleased technologies that you will no doubt encounter in your career.
Student: Why take coursework rather than learn in practice?
My why: Working your way through a well-considered curriculum will broaden your perspective and help you to develop a foundation of knowledge and skill that will make you better at what you do. As you work in a specific role in learning and development, your view of the field can be pretty narrow. A good graduate or certificate program expands your understanding dramatically and positions you to continue your development throughout a long career in the field. Learning alongside others who work in different areas of the field will also enrich your overall understanding of the goals and challenges of our work – and you can build your professional network from this group of peers as well.
Student: Why pursue a career in learning professions? (e.g. designer, instructor, consultant, learning facilitator, faculty member, etc.)
My Why: It has never been a more exciting time to be in the learning and development field. Yes, things are in a state of flux and jobs that currently exist are changing dramatically. But whatever your chosen role, you are entering a helping profession that supports learning – an activity that is natural for every human being, necessary for day-to-day living and working, and – if we do it right – enjoyable and fulfilling. What could be better than that?
With those reflections as a backdrop, I can see that I teach about networked collaborative learning environments because I believe these strategies are essential to our work in learning and development in every context. In a recent keynote, Catherine Cronin said that education is “the process establishing oneself as a node in a broad network of distributed creativity” – what a beautiful way to put it. I want students to have a solid understanding of collaborative online learning because it is how they will continue to learn, AND it’s how we best facilitate learning in others.
My Why I Teach
I teach to advance the profession. I’ve been in my field (learning and development) for 30+ years and have seen many, many changes in our tools and techniques. I’ve also seen improvements in our understanding of exactly how to support learning and development in workplaces as well as in academic contexts. What we do in L&D and in higher ed – facilitating learning – is vitally important to human endeavor and flourishing. We should aim to be as effective at it as we can possibly be. So I teach to support fellow professionals in learning their craft.
I teach to learn. An old Latin proverb says, “by teaching you will learn,” and I have found that to be profoundly true. My students, participants, and colleagues teach me every day. And my quest to effectively facilitate learning keeps me deeply engaged in my own learning.
I teach because it brings me great joy.