Why the right software is important

Many will have seen John Stephenson’s online paradigm (2001) that illustrates the importance of alignment of expectations between learners and teaching approaches. I wanted to take this idea a bit further and consider the importance of technology and teaching philosophy.

I would argue that teaching philosophy is largely developed from ones values and beliefs manifest itself in the ‘teachers’ pedagogical approach. Pedagogical theory can be learned, but it is much more problematic for it to transcend into ones core beliefs and values which are the most important factor in governing our actions. I know this is complex and am reminded of Hay McBeer core drivers which are argued to be at the root of what we do, but that is not the focus of this Blog.

Values and beliefs inform the individuals teaching philosophy, but equally a Virtual Learning Environment has a teaching philosophy derived from its programmers, designers, and company philosophy including its sales team! This is important as how can the student expect a coherent learning experience without alignment. What sort of mixed message is sent out if the software has a social constructivist philosophy and the teachers a didactic ’empty vessel’ approach? And of course there are other dimensions here such as the organisations philosophy and the individual programmes philosophy.


The diagram above attempts illustrate the importance of philosophies drawing on an ecological metaphor. The rainforest being the rich learning ecosystem where social constructivist philosophies of the software, teachers, and expectations of the learners are aligned. This is opposed the didactic software and teaching philosophy that acts to ‘dessertify’ any student expectation that is anything other than to be the passive receiver of information. Clearly, it is more likely that a mixed set of philosophies and expectations will be found and this manifests itself as either a free range farm with diversity of crops intermixed with weeds and bugs, to the monoculture of a apparently healthy crop but devoid of variety and kept ‘orderly’ by a tightly controlled regime of pesticides and herbicides.

The point my diagram is trying to illustrate is that alignment of expectations is dependent on the alignment of multiple philosophies that combine to give the learner experience. If any one of these are at odds there will be a greater or lesser degree of discordance, but lets not discount technology, as it is potentially a bulwark against other deficient philosophies.

Version 2 of the diagram in response to Jonny’s comment.


8 thoughts on “Why the right software is important

  1. Jonny Dyer

    I think the idea of the diagram is fantastic. I’m a little confused by the ecological references though. If I can apply my ever-so-simplistic interpretations of the four main quarters, then:

    didactic teaching (DT) = teacher defined journey.
    facilitative teaching (FT) = learner defined journey.
    Instructional Philosophy (IP) = lots of teacher defined stuff/content/resources
    Social Constructivist Philosophy (SP) = no stuff/content/ resources followed by bespoke creation.


    DT + IP = lots of stuff and pre determined pathways = intensive farming. highly ‘efficient’ teaching led sausage machine.
    DT + SP = lots of direction but no resources to work with (tenuous desert?).

    Now I agree with the two titles (though the mixture of farming and habitats is a wee bit confusing), but by swapping over the top two, it starts to make sense.

    I could babble more – but I’ll stop and see what come back first

  2. Stephen Powell

    Yup, agree with the confusion but it is hard to come up with enough good metaphors in the same topic. Also another confusion I think as farming is a person mad process and product whereas ecosystems are natural products if you see what I mean. So I think I need to stick with the farming metaphors and have tried to tweak em:^)

    So in the top diagram where I had a desert I was thinking of a place I wouldn’t want to be, but as you point out this muddled things somewhat. I do like the DT, FT…… though and that could replace the attempted metaphors as it is more descriptive.

  3. Vix

    I’m not entirely sure here, but it looks to me as if you have just posted the same diagram twice. Did you change it? I totally agree that the right software is important, but the facilitation of that software can make a huge differenc. The right software won’t help if the faciitation is inappropriate. I take it from your diagram (and subsequent reply to Jonny) that you’d rather be in the rainforest?

    When you talk about Low Alignment Expectations, do you mean that the student is not expecting much? But when you talk about High Alignment Expectations you mean that the student expect high things from the facilitator and their learning experience? If so, would that student, if the right facitliator managed to re-engage them, potentially shift down to the right and need to be in the rainforest? Would they then be right to expect a change in facitiatative style? Or would they drown?

  4. Stephen Powell

    Oops, yes fixed now! Yes I prefer the rainforest, but not sure the metaphor works.

    Low alignment (after Stephenson) refers to the fact that the student might be expecting to work in a self-directed way, however the teacher/tutor is expecting to work in a more traditional and teachers led way. So each others expectations are misaligned.

    The question you ask is interesting. If I as a student sign up for a directed experience, then perhaps that is what I should get. If I sign up for a self-directed experience then that is what I should get. So I suppose for me it is important to sort this out at the start with a clear understanding about what is on offer and how each party expects to proceed.

    However, from a personal point of view, I would’ want to be involved in something that had a teacher led approach with little expectations that the students would be self-directed and take responsibility and control for their own learning.

  5. Glen

    Hi Stephen

    You might be interested in an e-teaching qualification that is being developed in chch that is making a real effort to move to some of the paradigms that you are talking about. I will email you with some more details about it.


  6. Rick

    Very interesting. I’m always looking for ways to describe what I think in graphic terms and rarely succeed; this is a big help.
    You mention Stephenson (2001). Do you have a full reference for that?


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