3.2 Choose approach?

by Sven Åke Bjørke, July 2016

Choosing the pedagogical approach

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn
Alvin Toffler

Choosing the pedagogical approach obviously is related to what we want to achieve. If we want our students to become champions in doing quizzes and reproduce the correct answers in standardized tests; pure instructivist teaching is probably sufficient. The students then need to copy, cram and reproduce information fragments. Deep understanding or higher levels of understanding in Bloom’s taxonomy of knowledge are not required.

The 4 Cs: Four key qualities for the Information Age:   Be Creative,  efficient Communicator, Critical thinker and Collaborator

If we want our students to be creative, critical thinkers with collaborative skills, if we want them to communicate efficiently with others, be proactive and take independent initiative, we have to do something in addition to train our students in copy, cram and reproduce.

If we expect students after three or five years of tertiary education to be self-disciplined, diligent, demonstrate critical inquisitive curiosity and deep subject understanding, we probably have to plan for that in our study programs as well. We cannot expect these qualities to be intuitively developed. On the contrary, if we are not conscious about these issues we risk limiting their creativity. If we want our students to be innovative, we might have to consider going beyond Bloom’s taxonomy, and think in a hierarchy of creativity:

“Ultimately, in order to progress to a culture of innovation, it is necessary that something is created which has value. This fits very well with the habits of the mind shown below:

  1. Creating, Imagining and Innovating
  2. Thinking Interdependently

In an online course, all the tools of the Internet, especially those that allow a student to create an environment depend upon the characteristics above and are part of the students’ way of learning” (Turner, 2014). Creativity is not enough. Critical thinking must also be added to the list of skills to be trained.

Online lecturing might not be as important as teachers would like to think. Emphasis must be more on customised, collaborative learning, less on lecturing. Broadcast learning does not go well with the Net Gen students. Students must be empowered to collaborate. Students are collaborators, not competitors. Online lecturing is not the only appropriate tool in modern education.

Skills for the information age

The Pearson 2014 Learning report emphasises that the three “Rs” (“reading, (w)riting and (a)rithmetic in learning are important but no longer enough.

21st century skills (Pearson)

21st century skills (Pearson)

“…social understanding is also integral to a new range of abilities which educationalists have identified as ‘21st century skills’, including communication, working in teams and problem-solving”.
“As Andreas Schleicher, OECD deputy director for education, puts it: “The world economy no longer pays for what people know but for what they can do with what they know.” So far, however, understanding how best to teach these skills has suffered from even poorer data than those available for traditional ones, or even from a lack of outcomes definitions. The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is seeking to fill the void. In April 2014 it released the results from a problem-solving section included for the first time in the 2012 test, and in 2015 it aims to test collaborative working”.  No doubt, teamwork and collaborative studies will be an important part of the 21st century skills, no matter how they are defined.

Information literacy

We have to train our students in information literacy; the ability to search, assess and sort valid and relevant information, find new aspects, construct new knowledge and apply it in concrete problem solving. They should be able to spot the difference between facts, science, best available knowledge and practices on one hand and speculations, unsubstantiated opinions, fiction, fantasy, fairytales and deceitful propaganda on the other. They need training if we want our students to be able to apply gained knowledge and heuristics in solving hitherto unknown problems. They will undoubtedly have to “venture into unknown terrain” throughout their professional careers.

The DIKW-pyramid: Data - Information - Knowledge - Wisdom: Data can be structured to information. Data and information can be disseminated. Knowledge and understanding must be built in each person or within a group
The DIKW-pyramid: Data – Information – Knowledge – Wisdom: Data can be structured to information. Data and information can be disseminated. Knowledge and understanding must be built in each person or within a group. Wisdom – or the classical Greek expression: Phronesis: Sufficient and adequate Knowledge and insight  to apply it in problem solving and make the right decisions. 

If we want our students to be capable in cross-cultural communication, to use various communication media and build personal, international networks for later professional use, we should plan for it and integrate it in our educational infrastructure.

Summit primary school in Silicon valley, California, systematically works on attitudes in their education

Summit primary school in Silicon valley, California, systematically works on attitudes in their education

Furthermore, intrinsic motivation for dynamic, life-long learning ensuring continuous currency in information and knowledge must be encouraged from the very beginning in tertiary education. We cannot expect students to develop these attitudes just because somebody happens to mention it in the next anniversary speech.

Integrity, high ethical standards, self-direction and good abilities in arts and aesthetics must deliberately and systematically be integrated in the educational system if we think these qualities are important. There is no standard way to achieve this. Solid pedagogical insight, experience and deep subject knowledge are necessary for any faculty to develop and deliver high quality education.

Pictures: Å. Bjørke. (Click on picture to get full size)

Inquiry-based learning

To learn efficiently, students must be motivated and curious. Challenge a small group of students: “What would you like to know or understand?”. Make a list! This is somewhat parallell to the challenge a master student has when s/he is told to decide a topic for his or her thesis. “Don’t know” is not a good enough answer. The next challenge is to make appropriate research questions. Asking precise and relevant questions is not easy. The process can be quite rewarding and entail much learning.

When the list is made, and the first hesitant research questions formulated, the teacher takes the role of the guide. Do you think all can understand the question? Can it be rephrased to increase relevancy and precision? Can it be simplified?

The next step is to search for information. What information is reliable and relevant? How do you assess that? Again, the teacher, the guide on the side, can help with information literacy. Maybe the question needs to be refined again?

One thing is to access the information. The next step for the student or the group is to present it so others can understand what they have learned. Reification – making a concrete product for others to see is usually motivating. “Make a 10 minutes lecture and present to class”; “Make a blog or a wiki. Write one page. Add grapichs and pictures!”. “Ask others for comments or questions!” “Based on the feedback from peers and others, improve the blog page or the lecture!”

Ask the students what they have learned about the topic and their learning process. Ask them to reflect and assess their own work. Add the result as a comment to the blog-page, or turn it into a blog-discussion. When using blogs, the group might consider electing a blog editor.

Wolpert-Gawron (2016) What the Heck is Inquiry-Based Learning?

Productive failure

Productive failure is a method where students are given complex problems to solve without prior instruction. Working in collaboration, the students are expected to use their prior knowledge to consider possible solutions.. They are then asked to evaluate the process and explain their best answer. At times they will fail to find a solution. By struggling with the problem, they nevertheless gain a deeper understanding. At the end of the process, the teacher may explain concepts and methods essential for a solution. Students  are consolidating their knowledge by comparing and critically assessing the different answers.

The pedagogy requires students to embrace challenge and uncertainty. They may feel unconfident at first, but this experience can help them become more creative and resilient. In order to implement learning with productive failure, teachers will need a deep understanding of the topic and may need to make fundamental changes to how they teach,

Open University (2016) Innovating pedagogy 2016, Exploring new forms of teaching, learning and assessment, to guide educators and policy makers , OU Innovation report.

Learning for the future?


Challenge based learning:


Problem and Project Based Learning


Transformative pedagogy




Information literacy and critical thinking




Next: Challenges in online education


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