A while ago, I argued for an activity-based curriculum. The point was to rebel against the usual content-based curriculum, and push us to more meaningful learning. And, of late, I’ve had a chance to reexamine both the curriculum ideas, and the pedagogical implications.
So I’ve been in a situation where I’ve been handed a curriculum already developed, and the content is already being fleshed out. In trying to move beyond good, albeit traditional, elearning, I’ve been working hard on the notion of what a meaningful activity (read: practice, task, etc) would be. As context, we’re working here within a pre-class, in-class, and post-class model.
As a consequence, I’m pushing an alternative to what would be content presentation pre-class, practice and group discussion in-class, and simulation and summary assessment as post-class. While this is not too far from traditional blended learning, I’m also trying to get better alignment with what learners will be doing after the learning experience with sufficient practice.
So for each module, I’m looking for a meaningful practice. For even a knowledge based task, I’m asking learners to develop something that requires them to integrate the knowledge, not just present and test. And revisit the knowledge several times. So, for example, if learners are looking at types of hacking attacks, I ask them to create a defense plan as a pre-class task. They’ll get a chance to self-evaluate, and instructor feedback, before generating a second attempt. In many ways, it doesn’t matter what they create as long as they’re making a suitably sincere effort, it’s the processing that matters.
A colleague asked whether this meant that they’d always generate a product of learning, and my preliminary answer was yes, and then I realized that there was another way to view it. It could also be the trace of the learner in a simulation, but in some sense that’s a product as well. The important point is to have learners perform and create an output of that performance as a manifestation of their thinking. It’s not taking knowledge tests (if it absolutely has to be known cold ‘in the head’, you’ve got the excuse for a tarted-up drill-and-kill, but make sure it absolutely does), but processing information in meaningful ways.
In-class, they’ll still be doing practice and reflection, but they should be processing and/or practicing. For example, discussing and comparing the guides, and maybe then an activity that refreshes their knowledge of the attacks. The team came up with a game that has one side giving hints about an attack, and the other side trying to guess it.
After class, it’s more elaborated practice. For instance, they might be implementing their defenses in a sim, or refining their attacks, or… The activities need to reinforce and build, reactivating and reapplying the knowledge in ways that mimic how it will be used in the performance context so that practice is both meaningful and spaced.
I’m still working within the existing paradigm, but the work I’m inspired by is the work of Roger Schank and his team at Socratic Arts, where they’re rethinking the curriculum more comprehensively, where they get the subject matter experts (SMEs) to sit down and come up with a series of activities that are the curriculum. This is what I intended, but at this point I’m still working within an already underway curriculum. Even this small change will be better learning, and we will get to the curriculum as well ;).