Introducing Connected Education

At the end of last year I added to a conversation taking place at our institution around what we call the modus operandi of the university. For years, like many others in Australia and around the world, we described the business and educational experience as Distance Education. It’s a relevant term given the beginnings as a study option by correspondence, but I questioned whether the term still holds up today.

My original argument was purely semantic, and in that sense I think that Distance Education has had its day. It has well established connotations and a tradition that doesn’t really reflect the significant changes that have been adopted by the sector over the past decade. Those working in the field may speak differently, but I am coming from an external perspective and one that is shared by our students and potential students. To me Distance Education is rooted to a specific idea and doesn’t offer any way to address the changes we need to make into the future, nor the potential for new technology to create new opportunities. Perhaps the biggest problem though is the word ‘distance’ and the attachment it has with the spatial and conceptual sense of being apart. Psychologically I think it implies the antithesis of what universities represent – institutions built around developing a community and fostering collaboration.

My suggestion therefore was to adopt and define a new term, one that implicitly creates a new vision, is simple to comprehend, is applicable and encompassing of a range of pedagogical approaches and technologies. My suggestion was Connected Education.

Since that initial discussion I’ve been incubating the idea, trying to develop it beyond just a phrase and a seed of a concept. I could see Connected Education as a way to move beyond the paradigm of Distance Education and embrace new technologies, blended and flexible learning options, professional communities and regain a sense of leadership for the sector. I could see that Connected Education could provide an opportunity to re-invent our practices and highlight the connected nature of the university within our local communities, professions, academia and the world around us. It is about promoting the bonds and ties we have to people and places rather than the distance between them. Finally, if we want to really be cool we can use the abbreviated term ConnectEd – which would go down so well with all the kids 🙂

There are a huge number of established pedagogical approaches, theoretical frameworks and established good practice out there that I don’t wish to compete with. I don’t see ConnectEd as competition in that space, instead it is a way of reframing that work, pulling it together, joining and forging links between theory, practice and technology.

My aim with ConnectEd is to try to develop a more unified vision for education, but to do so I might need to lay some ground work to provide you with my perspective on a few things for this to gel. One of the problems I have with many of the discussions and debates in education at the moment is due to the lack of clarity around some key ideas and terminology. So before moving on I want to clarify one thing:

Education ≠ Learning

Education doesn’t equal Learning, and Learning doesn’t equal Education. Learning is a cognitive function and you can apply a range of cognitive theories to explain it – Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky for example. Education is the process, practices and environments we create for learning to occur – but we never for a moment control learning. Learning is cognitive – subjective, personal and individual. Education is the broad term for what we do and how we do it, learning is narrow because it just relates to the brain. This might be controversial or in direct opposition to your thoughts – but this is my treatise, so I get to choose!

The next post will explore the concept of learning in more depth and I’ll put forward a model of learning that sits at the heart of Connected Education. For some caveats to this series read this for a quick overview of what the hell I’m doing.

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