2 Quality education

What is quality education? Is there any way we can ensure effective, engaging learning? To answer such questions, it is probably a good idea to start by an understanding of how learning occurs, as well as basic knowledge of the systems and tools that best support learning. Higher education in most countries seem to stick to the lecture as the key factor in quality education.

by Sven Åke Bjørke, June 2016 (Revised version)

Lectures – the most appropriate tool for learning?

Universities traditionally educate less than ten percent of the population. The target group of students used to be an elite of the most academically gifted. They have as a rule been able to take care of themselves and learn what they were supposed to, regardless of the quality of the education delivered. Times and circumstances change. When half or more of the population go to college or university education, the basic premises for tertiary education also must change.  It seems, more often than not, that universities remain to discover this.

Maybe we can agree that if many of the students lose their motivation to learn more or search for new knowledge after three or five years’ study, there is probably room for improvements in the way education is delivered?

Publish or teach?

The traditional university lecturer has his main focus on research, not on teaching.  He is rewarded for what he publishes, not for how he teaches. If he fails to publish, he risks being “punished” by being given more classes to teach. If he publishes a lot, the reward is more time for research, less teaching.

The traditional university lecturer has a high academic degree in his subject. As a rule he has little or no pedagogical training. He will most likely teach the same way as his favorite lecturer did when he was a student himself.  His favorite way of communicating with his students will be one-way lecturing for one or two hours, and otherwise make himself as little available to the students as possible.

In other words: the world is changing fast, while the universities deliver education that is static and as if we still were in the 20thcentury. The prevailing model of education was designed for the industrial age:  the student  works alone, in competition with peers for the best grades,  and is expected to absorb the information given by the teacher and reproduce it for the exam. The communication is between the student and the teacher, mostly one way only. Cooperating with other students is often perceived as cheating.  At times it might become close to parodical: Copy, cram and parrot it back! The best parrot gets the best grade. From a comedian’s perspective, the conclusion is “The five minute university”.


Students busy searching for information – and discussing it online and F2F

The Copy, Cram and Reproduce (CCR) approach to education does not always work for the Net Gen mind in the information age.

What works?

We have fairly good ideas about what factors are needed for quality education in the Information Age. It is not enough to focus on one or two of these. All the factors are needed to achieve synergy in a holistic learning environment.

The most important are listed below:

1. Engaged teachers with broad and deep subject knowledge combined with pedagogical skills
“Teachers need to be actively engaged in, and passionate about, teaching and learning”…(and) “provide students with multiple opportunities and alternatives for developing learning strategies based on the surface and deep levels of learning leading to students building constructions of this learning” (Hattie, 2009, p.36). Whether on campus or online, this is always the case. However, The Teacher Is Not The Most Important Factor When It Comes To Learning..  The entire learning environment isAn engaged teacher will in many cases also engage the students. Rather than remaining as passive receivers of information, they will become interested and active learners, and a crucial part of that learning environment.

2. Clear, concrete and challenging learning goals set at an appropriate level
Students need to have a “very accurate understanding of their achievement levels across the subjects” (Hattie, 2009, p.44). (Useful in this connection might be Bloom’s taxonomy for critical and creative thinking and Bigg’s SOLO taxonomy). Intended learning outcomes should clearly state what to learn and to what level by using correct forms of verbs.
To maximise the quality of learning outcomes, we, as academics, need to develop courses in ways that provide students with teaching and learning materials, tasks and experiences which are authentic, real-world and relevant; are constructive, sequential and interlinked; require students to use and engage with progressively higher order cognitive processes;are aligned with each other and the desired learning outcomes; andprovide challenge, interest and motivation to learn.
Course Design through Constructive Alignment
3. A well-structured, rich and varied learning environment with emphasis on cooperative learning with plenty of feedback opportunities from teachers and peers and vice versa
 “It is the feedback to the teacher about what students can and cannot do that is more powerful than feedback to the student, and it necessitates a different way of interacting and respecting students” (Hattie, 2009, p.4). Crucial is the “power of feedback to teachers on what is happening in the classroom so they can ascertain “How am I going?” in achieving the learning intentions” (Hattie, 2009, p.181)
4. Clear progress plans with time frames
The more students feel challenged, and the greater the academic demand on students – the more students are engaged with instruction. “Increasing allocated time, without increasing productive time, is unlikely to improve educational performance” (Hattie, 2009, p.185)

5. A learning centered more than teacher centered approach
“It is what the teacher get the students to do in the class that emerged as the strongest component of the accomplished teacher’s repertoire, rather than what the teacher, specifically, does”  (Hattie, 2009, p.35) “It is not the knowledge or ideas, but the learner’s construction of knowledge and ideas that is critical”…So often learners become passive recipients of teachers’ lessons…but the aim is to make students active in the learning process – through actions by the teachers and others – until the students reach the stage where they become their own teachers” (Hattie, 2009, p.37).

John Hattie’s findings indicate as decisive: “the teacher’s ability to identify essential representations of the subject; guide learning through classroom interactions; monitor learning and provide feedback; attend to affective attributes; and influence student outcomes, which includes students view of the teaching quality.

To achieve active learning in class, there are seven steps:

  1. define learning intentions;
  2. ensure awareness of and know success criteria of performance;
  3. build commitment and engagement in the learning task;
  4. presentation of the lesson;
  5. guided practice (work is marked and corrective work);
  6. closure; and
  7. independent practice.”

Students’ work is marked in class and they may do corrective work. The teacher should combine direct instruction with strategy instruction with extended, deliberate practice. There should be emphasis on meta-cognition.

It is important for the teacher to communicate the intention of the lesson and the notion of what success means for these intentions. It is also important  to teach cognitive strategies intended to lead to improved learning outcomes. Emphasis must be put on teachers enabling students to learn and use strategies such as summarizing, questioning, clarifying, and predicting.

Dialogue between teacher and students around text must be encouraged. Students may take turns as teacher and lead dialogue to bring meaning to the written word with assistance to learn to monitor their own learning and thinking. The teacher may also consider a form of demonstrating to students what success looks like; typically consist of a problem statement and the appropriate steps to a solution.

Three steps: introductory phase, acquisition/training phase, test phase (assess learning). This may reduce cognitive load for students such that they concentrate on the processes that lead to the correct answer and not just providing an answer
(Research and proven practices by dr John Hattie)..

6. Students are trained to attribute success or failure to factors such as effort rather than ability
This is crucial for motivation. If a student is a “performer” rather than a “learner”, she will tend to attribute success or failure to factors outside her control. A “learner” will tend to attribute success or failure to level of own effort  (Bjørke and Øysæd, 2010, p.6.5).

7. A learning environment ensuring that “errors” are welcomed, as they are key levers for enhancing learning (Hattie, 2009, p.4).  “Teaching needs to be more related to choosing appropriately challenging learning intentions and success criteria, enabling the students to attain these goals by monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness …, and creating a safe  and cooperative climate to make and learn from errors, from each other (teacher, students and peers), and optimize feedback” (Hattie, 2009, p.113)..

8. Appropriate use of technology
 Computers are used effectively
“a) when there is a diversity of teaching strategies;
b) when there is  a pretraining in the use of computers as a teaching and learning tool;
c) when there are multiple opportunities for learning;
d) when the student, not teacher, is in “control” of learning;
e) when peer learning is optimized; and
f) when feedback is optimized” (Hattie, 2009, p.221-233).


A good learning environment requires social engagement. Learning increases with activities

We cannot just throw technology into a classroom and hope it will work well. The pedagogy must change. Emphasis must be on customised, collaborative learning. Cut back on lecturing.

Broadcast learning does not go well with the Net Gen students. Students must be empowered to collaborate.

Students are collaborators, not competitors.
The Online Learning Charade: No Buildings, No School Yards, No Education

Technology can be important when appropriately used but is very unlikely – ever – to replace the teacher. “This technology will revolutionise education”  is a statement that we have heard repeatedly. Technology will of course impact on how education is delivered. However, what’s important after all is what takes place in each student’s brain.

Technology is a tool

Emphasis is not on Technology. Technology is just a question of tools.  The question is. how do you activate the students using the tools? Encourage the students to access subject matter experts available on the internet.

Emphasis must be on life-long learning rather than learning for tests. Focus on how to learn, unlearn and relearn. Schools are places to learn rather than teach. Net Geners need to learn “Information literacy”: how to search for information, analyze and synthesise it and critically assess it. Education for the mass production- and industrial age was about absorbing content and reproduce it.

Education for the information age is more about active engagement, critical assessment, solve real problems, navigating in the digital world,  how to search, find and assess and what do with the information found. The inquiry method is increasingly relevant. Students explore in groups. The teacher is more mentor than lecturer (but that as well!).

The teacher should use the technology to get to know each student, and assist in customising the learning environment. Ideally, the learning environment should offer choice, customisation, transparency, integrity, collaboration, fun, speed and innovation.


The international online class can meet in virtual rooms any time at any place. At times they may also meet F2F some place in the world. Here an international group of students meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

We do not have to uncritically accept all John Hattie’s findings. However, it is probably wise to consider his points when experimenting with building new learning environments, and ask ourselves questions about what actually does work or not.

Whatever teaching approach we want to use, it should be fairly obvious that there is a mismatch between the traditional university and the demands from a “postmodern” education. The good old lecture might not be appropriate any more.

Many universities invest heavily in computers and infrastructure for transmitting lectures synchronously to students outside campus. These investments are expensive, and nevertheless tend not to function without problems.  There is always the risk of electricity failure or broadband failure. The sound or picture quality might not be good enough. An excellent on-campus lecturer might not quite perform on a computer screen.  Much of the experience of synchronous education indicate too much waiting, waste of time,  low quality transmission and low learning outcomes. The quality of a lecture may improve if just taped and made available as a learning resource asynchronously. The quality and flexibility clearly increase. Examples are the TED lectures. http://www.ted.com/

Otherwise the rule is to make taped lectures short and focused. Just taping an ordinary on-campus lecture is difficult to make worthwhile listening to.  The key question in post-modern education is probably whether or not the traditional lecture really is that important for a good learning environment.  Considering the eight points mentioned above, there are probably other learning activities that are more decisive to good learning outcomes.

Photos. Å. Bjørke



Next:  Can online education be a driving force for quality in education?


Home  About  1 Introduction  2 Quality education  3 E-pedagogy
4 Self-instructional   5 Collaborative    6 Make courses
7 Design VLEs   8 Assessment  9 Transition  10  ToC