Do we need new pedagogies? Really?

I was engaged in an online discussion recently, and frankly annoyed. There are a lot of commentators pushing for pedagogy to catch up with technology, or for technology to catch up with pedagogy. And don’t even get me started when someone starts throwing around things like heutagogy.

So I wanted to reflect on three things in this post

  • The nature of innovation in teaching
  • Technology and Pedagogy
  • The language we use around technology and pedagogy

The first and the ignition point was Bob Harrison posting the link to a press release. Bob is a great advocate for learning, teaching and technology and I know we share a lot of views, but the press release he linked to really annoyed me.

blog 001New approach needed to deliver on technology’s potential in schools

“School systems need to find more effective ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning  to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills. “Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge. To deliver on the promises technology holds, countries need to invest more effectively and ensure that teachers are at the forefront of designing and implementing this change.”

Bob took this as “New approach to pedagogy needed to get the most from technology”. And that is a call that many echo (and retweeted). But what does it really mean, especially in Schools and Further Education. I take it as meaning we need to innovate the way we teach, but in FE and schools we regulate the curriculum and we ‘train’ teachers to deliver, and have inspectors going in to “examine”. The rhetoric in all cases, from governance of colleges and schools, to government and inspectors is one of innovation and trying new things. But the reality for the practitioner is that once you have found a method that works, and your students are getting good (or even better than the average), then you don’t want to change practice for fear of risking the grades your students are getting now. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Wait for someone else to try a new teaching method, don’t put yourself in the firing line.

In higher education, if you innovate there is a risk that it will impact negatively on the National Student Survey results. Even if you enhance your teaching, it might show your colleague’s module to be taught less well? So even if you enhance your module, the course scores might go down because the students will look at your colleague’s module and wished they had enhanced their practice. And with the addition of the Teaching Excellence Framework innovation may become less desirable.

So let’s not blame teachers or lecturers, or put the load on them until we have processes in place that enable and encourage them to innovate, and along with that allow them to try new approaches and fail at them.

The second thing is the idea that we need “new pedagogies” for technology.

I am probably going to be told I am wrong by someone, but as far as I am concerned, at all levels of education (and probably life) you only need three approaches.

  • Constructivism – where you construct understanding and knowledge through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences.
  • Instructivism – where you are told things, given the content.
  • Connectivism – Which, whilst having a long and complex definition ultimately refers to the way in which we learn by being connected to people, communities, information and data (possibly in this simple definition it is similar to constructivism.

In none of these do we mention technology. In all of these technology can be helpful. The key is getting learners to understand about their own effective learning practices and then allowing tools (technology?) to be used to help, either with making learning more efficient, effective or enjoyable. The same is true of teachers and lecturers, help them understand how learning takes place, give them to tools to make learning efficient, effective and enjoyable.

Blog 002

We don’t need new pedagogies, we are fine with the ones we have. I know cos I am still learning stuff!

Finally, the language we use around technology and pedagogy, the rhetoric.

Andragogy, Pedagogy, heutagogy, Connectivism, Constructivism, trans-disciplinarity, Intra-disciplinarity, inter-disciplinarity, managed learning environment, virtual learning environment, personal learning environment, putting an e or m in front of anything. I could fill a page with this stuff. It all helps to drive off the lecturers who just want some quick wins on improving their teaching. They don’t want or need all of the theory, they are busy, they have lots of students and they just want to get on with teaching and helping students. So let’s stick to plain language when we talk about this stuff.


  1. Absolutely. For all his (recent) faults, Clay Shirky said it best – that technology is only useful when it becomes sufficiently transparent to be invisible. He didn’t say anything about new pedagogies (until recently).

  2. Thanks for this post. I agree with a lot of what you suggest about the impact of NSS and top-down approaches like curriculum regulation and inspection. I don’t favour your prescription of ‘simple’ theories (chosen by you). To me that seems like another ‘provider’ approach. Why not look at what good teachers do and how they innovate? In my experience they are thoughtful, committed and observant people who make usually incremental and occasionally radical changes in their practice with learners. They will usually work within constraints even as they seek to change them. They will learn within their networks and especially from colleagues and may occasionally seek training or look for writings and even theories to help explain their experiences and possibly change their practice. But the study of theory will come from the grounded perspective of practice and that is complex rather than simple.
    Anyway, enough – I thank you for making me think about something I really should blog.

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