Learning versus training: why we need to think differently about multimedia education.

September 24, 2009

A discussion during the exam commission for the CFC in multimedia highlighted clearly why the subject fits uncomfortably within this system.

The certification is one of “competences”: it defines, transmits and tests specific expertise in a designated domain. Even in the area of graphic design which entails such amorphous concepts as visual sensibility and creativity, the qualification upholds and protects a certain approach and aesthetic.

Such a system is comfortable for students, teachers and administrators; “you know where you are”. It is clear and controllable. Such systems have been shown to be desirable in a stable economy, with limited competition[i]; organisations in such an economy tend to perform better when employees conform to a set of rules.

However, we now live in a highly competitive, rapidly changing, environment: there is no longer the clear demarcation between jobs, nor the stability of employment that allows for such specialized demarcation. Certainly in multimedia, the very principles on which the règlement are based are inappropriate to the demands of the market. The job of Multimedia Designer requires flexibility, adaptability, creativity and the ability to transcend traditional subject area boundaries. These qualities, processes of thought, attitudes and behaviours cannot be acquired through the traditional structure Training is no longer sufficient; learning is required.

The traditional system is based on a model of external control: fixed subject hours, presence sheets, evaluation, and assessment. Indeed, the règlement not only tries to define the content of the education, but the amount of hours spent on each subsection therein and the precise content of each course. What students learn in such an environment is reliance, conformity and how to “play” the system: which subjects count most, which teachers are most strict and the preferences of each which will lead to a good grade.

A perceptive frame of reference (perceived reality) arising from the stable, traditional conditions has difficulty in adapting to the requirements of the new economy. Different “frames” lead to misunderstanding and tension due to varying understandings of basic values and goals (different interpretations of “creativity” for example) [ii]. Indeed, in the Swiss system the structures in place seem to be accepted as absolute necessities, without which chaos will reign. Until an alternative is at least perceived there is very little one can do to provide the learning environment necessary to achieve the stated ends.

Getting students to take responsibility, engage a subject and learn takes other conditions and a different environment. What we are trying to teach entails what Chandler terms as an “innovative, supportive, organisational culture”. This is essentially a student-oriented model, which requires:

  • Trust
  • Freedom
  • Challenging Projects
  • Organisational Encouragement
  • Supervising (not directing) Encouragement

Emphasis must be on formative evaluation, not grading. The teacher must foster intrinsic motivation and the structure and discipline in no longer centred on form, but on engagement and the more demanding rigour of logical clarity coming from the student.

[i] Unravelling the Determinant and Consequences of an Innovative – Supportive Organisational Culture.

G.N. Chandler, 2000

[ii] See ‘Multi-level Theorising about Creativity in Organisations: a sensemaking perspective.’

R. Drazin, M. Glynn and R. Kazanjian, 1999

The impossibility of it…

September 13, 2009

I am overwhelmed by the impossibility of it – all this energy; all these personalities with different experience, expectations, sensitivities, possibilities; intelligences. How to enthuse them, build up their confidence; allow them their individuality while keeping them on a road that goes somewhere? To provided discipline without de-motivating; to allow them to take responsibility for themselves.

What interests me is the process of school: what is really happening? What is really being learnt? The BIG questions:

  • What is really interesting?
  • What is relevant?
  • What do you need to know?
  • How do you learn it?
  • What is the role of school in this process? How can I best use it?
  • Who Am I? What is my character? How do I behave and react? What are my habits?
  • What is my motivation?
  • What do I want to become? How do I need to change to achieve this?