Let’s make sure that these mediated formats are really aimed at facilitating student learning and the construction of procedural knowledge.
In his thought-provoking article in The Conversation, “The problem with online learning? It doesn’t teach people to think“Robert Danisch argues that online learning focuses on ‘knowing that’ at the expense of ‘knowing how’, and that the latter is not possible in a distance learning environment. Dr. Danisch’s article offers a good opportunity to uncover several common amalgams, confusions, and puzzles regarding the growing, albeit problematic, popularity of e-learning.
In fact, my opening sentence above – which uses the language in Dr. Danisch’s article, but terminology that is also prevalent throughout the teaching and learning discourse – already contains an example of confusion terminology and an example of conceptual confusion, as I will explain. And, while Dr. Danisch’s conclusion – that we should be asking what “know how” opportunities are being eliminated by moving courses online, rather than asking how we might bring programs permanently online – sets a conundrum. important, I will suggest another one. But let’s start with the terminological amalgams and conceptual confusions.
Information versus knowledge
One of the most glaring confusions in the learning literature involves the use of the terms ‘information’ and ‘knowledge’ interchangeably. Dr. Danisch’s carefully drawn distinction between “know-that” and “know-how” partially disentangles related but distinct concepts. Allow me to go a little deeper in order to delimit their independence on the one hand and, perhaps paradoxically, their interdependence on the other hand, the latter in no way supporting the common and problematic confusion of the two concepts.
Now I will grant that there is is a sense in which the information is a form of knowledge, but in doing so we must consider information – essentially “know-that” – as being, at best, a form of what is often called “declarative” knowledge (a form of which at one end of the spectrum is very basic, although it could very well be sophisticated and robust at the other end; more on that below).
And, if we grant this information is a form of knowledge, albeit of the “declarative”/”know-it” type, then Dr. Danisch’s distinction between “know-it” and “know-how” will somewhat dissociate the concepts of information and knowledge. Notwithstanding the prioritization of “know-how” by Dr. Danisch, the distinction between the two types of knowledge makes it possible to understand the Interdependence on these two types of knowledge without amalgamating them.
That is to say that the “know-how” – more commonly called “procedural” knowledge – requires certain basic declarative knowledge (“know-that”): in order to “know how” to do something effectively, efficiently, safely, appropriately, etc., the person who undertakes this activity must “know how” thissuch and such is the case, that if I do ‘this’, an unfortunate ‘that’ might result, and so on. So it’s not as if procedural knowledge is unrelated to, or generated without the benefit of, information (or varying degrees of declarative knowledge).
But curiously, the opposite is also true: since there are many different levels of sophistication and complexity of declarative (“know-that”) knowledge, getting to the stage of acquiring a Deep level of declarative knowledge about something actually requires some form of of procedure knowledge (“know-How? ‘Or’ What“), a form of action, although of a cognitive type, applied to lower levels of declarative knowledge – actions such as comparing, interpreting, analyzing, synthesizing, etc. how”).
Thus, in addition to the more popular place of procedural knowledge (“know-how”), it is important to recognize that they require a certain degree of declarative knowledge (“know-that”) and, conversely, higher, more robust forms of declarative knowledge require more sophisticated processes of cognitive-procedural knowledge, or “know-how”. The two are interdependent, in other words.
However, notwithstanding my assertion of the Interdependence between the two types of knowledge, I agree with Dr. Danisch that “know-how” can be considered a higher form of knowledge and is indeed more difficult, although I would say not quite impossible, to generate/create/acquire online courses or those delivered remotely. But let’s explore online and distance learning and delivery first, as these terms present us with several confusions.
Distance learning vs distance delivery
The terms “online/distance learning” and “online/distance delivery” are confusing at best and misleading at worst. The term “online/remote learningis misleading insofar as it suggests that the process of student learning (as opposed to the process of teacher instruction) actually takes place in these technology-mediated formats – i.e., during students’ online work sessions or during a distance learning course. And while that may be partially true (depending on the type and degree of student engagement and activity during an online course), it’s probably only marginally the case. The reality – which, frankly, is not that different from the reality of learning in the context of in-person classrooms – is that the bulk of learning must go through activities beyond the context and timing of online/remote sessions (or, for that matter, beyond the context and timing of face-to-face classroom sessions).
And the term “online/remote deliveryis somewhat confusing, if not entirely inaccurate, as it is not entirely clear what is being ‘delivered’ – is it education, information, knowledge? “Delivery” makes knowledge seem to be neatly bundled together, like a bundle from Amazon, and delivered metaphorically to the doorstep of students’ minds as they happily watch a video, read notes and presentations PowerPoint online. At best, what the online/remote format delivers is nothing but information, perhaps basic declarative knowledge, but not the solid “know-how” or procedural knowledge that is surely the education goal.
The “know-how” of students at this stage – when reading online or listening in a distance lecture – is the “know-how” to listen and read, with the associated ability to remember what was heard and read; all this is necessary but insufficient for any meaning of procedure knowledge building.
These basic “know-how” are greatly aided by the trainer. Although Dr. Danisch suggests that imitation, engagement and interaction with students (and presumably between students as well) – all of the mechanisms by which some of the “know-how” methods can be modeled and demonstrated by instructors, and tested by students – are impossible in a remote environment. That’s why he opposes the trend of moving so much education online.
I’m not convinced that modeling “know-how” is impossible, at least in hybrid formats. But since we moved quickly to move our courses online, there may not have been enough time to do so in a way that kept instructors’ modeling of the thought process to a minimum, let alone trial and error time (procedure, application). for students. And this, ultimately, brings me to a two-pronged riddle, but not quite the one identified by Dr. Danisch.
Beyond the “delivery” of information
The most pressing conundrum I see is that, given the likelihood that at least some courses will continue to be offered online or through hybrid distance-learning formats, we need to build “know-how”/building mechanisms of procedural knowledge for meaningful and deep learning in remote platforms. In other words, there must be enough time to go beyond providing information, to allow modeling of the procedure and practice of the process, all with the aim of providing the basis for the students’ work. beyond the online/remote class.
Enter the other side of the two-pronged conundrum – the content cover albatross. As long as the courts have the sole mandate to cover (regardless of this means) large amounts of content (i.e. very basic level declarative information or knowledge), there will never be enough time, energy or patience to get close, even from a distance , the domain of “know-how” or the process of generating meaningful procedural knowledge.
It takes no longer – although it requires more sophisticated technology – for an instructor to demonstrate a procedure remotely than on a whiteboard in the classroom; similarly, it is not impossible to pause in a distance format and have students imitate the procedure that has been demonstrated, but apply it to a new problem.
No, it’s not ideal, but it’s neither impossible nor necessarily ineffective, if the context allows it, and if sufficient thought has been given. It seems to me that a shift is needed, from a marathon view of “information delivery” to a structured program on the triumvirate of a necessary degree of declarative (information) knowledge, guided demonstration/modeling by an instructor of the procedure (analysis, comparison, synthesis, interpretation, etc.), and a preliminary and participative student application (a first test of “know-how”).
This would allow students to continue the learning process – in practice the “know-how” processes – beyond the duration of their online engagement. It’s nothing more (and nothing less) than the old-fashioned concept of “homework!” Since when this disappear?
What I mean is that working from home is more than an hour of passive listening to someone delivering information; it comes after students have seen a procedural demonstration and tried it out themselves, all under the guidance of the instructor (and possibly TAs), who can then correct any procedural errors before the students “practice – and thus reinforce – those mistakes as they continue their search for procedural knowledge at home.
And while I’m not advocating for a massive move of classes to an online format, or even a hybrid remote format, I think there’s room to rethink what we’re doing when we get our students’ attention. , whether on a screen or in a room. With the pandemic, we’ve heard “I can’t wait to get back to how things used to be” so often. Well, while technology-assisted instruction is not a panacea to educational challenges, it is here to stay. Let us at least ensure that these mediated formats, when employed, are genuinely intended to facilitate student learning and the construction of procedural knowledge.
Charles Morrison is a retired professor of music theory who taught at Wilfrid Laurier University.