Talking to Fish: From Packaging to Scaffolding (The Higher Ed Edition)

In our Heutagogy Community of Practice this past week, a link to a blog post by Jane Hart was shared as an example of a heutagogical practice in the workplace of the future (a side note: the future is actually now). Here’s the link:

The changing role of L & D: from “packaging” to “scaffolding”plus “social capability building”

Here’s a snippet of that post:

. . . how the future is about moving on from a focus on organizing others’ learning by “packaging” up lots of content, delivering it to them “on a plate”, and then managing access to it all.

Rather the future is going to be more about “scaffolding“.  I mean by this, working in partnership with the relevant team or group in the organization to help to provide a framework – ie the infrastructure (platforms, tools etc) as well as the right conditions for learning and performance support and improvement to take place.

And furthermore, rather than trying to design, create, deliver or even “control” what happens there, there is also a need for a focus on “building the new personal and social capabilities” that are are going to be required by the new “connected workers”, in order for them to work and learn effectively in the digitally connected workplace

The framework in that post has me thinking about its applicability to higher education. I think higher education has gotten really good at packaging: we package courses, degrees,  majors, and now MOOCs (of the “x” kind particularly) are just really big packages  (as if selling education in bulk at Costco). We package all of this stuff in time-based wrappers — credit hours, quarters/semesters, and seat time — with diplomas as the pretty bows on the top. And while there’s also some interesting un-packaging going on (think competency based education; think Prior Learning Assessment), and some fabulous teaching/learning/assessment practices within the packages, I think we still get stuck in the paradigm and our belief systems. And then it’s like talking to a fish about water: as fish, it’s hard to see our belief systems are just belief systems and ways of doing things because that’s just how we do things.

Thanks to lemonhalf on Flickr for making this image available for use.

Thanks to lemonhalf on Flickr for making this image available for use.

But what if higher education challenged this package model of content-wrapped-in-time and moved toward providing different infrastructures and conditions for learning, and also helped people get networked and connected in their learning (digitally, and in other ways)? What if we aimed for the 3rd and 4th rows of Jane Hart’s diagram, below?

How might this apply to higher education? What might it look like?

Jane Hart's diagram for moving from packaging to scaffolding and social capability building.

Jane Hart’s diagram for moving from packaging to scaffolding and social capability building.

I’m not at all suggesting there’s not a place for content in higher education — learning is usually about learning something, and why wouldn’t these somethings be organized into categories (dare I say more packages) we call academic disciplines?  I recently read my colleague’s blog post about the Khan Academy on Rauschenberg’s Bed and was once again reminded that content, and content expertise, matters.

But I also like to spend my time thinking about if there might just be a different way to go about it all.

Like talking to a fish about water: how would we know something could be different unless we jumped out of the pond once in a while to see what might be out there? It will certainly be different, and it just also might be better.

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