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The curriculum is dead; long live learning

I came across this thought-provoking podcast today. Randy Bass, the presenter, starts from the position that "Our concept of learning has expanded at a rate far outpacing our notion of teaching, an issue that applies to the design and delivery of learning experiences" (source).

He goes on to discuss and give examples of how, in higher education, working from this stance is a positive place to start questioning assumptions around educational design and the central position of the curriculum. He looks at "high impact" (situated learning) and "low impact" (formal course) learning, before "looking at a range of strategies from team design-which engages instructional technologists, librarians, and other academic staff - to e-portfolios-which shift the center away from the formal curriculum" (source).

The statement that "Our concept of learning has expanded at a rate far outpacing our notion of teaching" struck a real chord, and the notion of teaching appears to be falling further and further behind. Something that I am still thinking about is Bass's suggestion that design teams are the way to go, rather than keeping the focus on individual educators, with the theory that the change in course design will in turn encourage shifts in teaching practice. This sounds like a lot of sense, although I wonder about some of the avoidance behaviour that may result! Bass doesn't suggest that educators are not supported, however; he emphasises the need for continued support. Definitely food for thought!

A highly recommended listen (53 minutes) you can also download his presentation slides by clicking this link.

Image sourceMore Fonz by Afroswede

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Comment by Hazel Owen on April 17, 2012 at 14:25

I've been meaning to reply... Thanks so much for your comments, and for the link to the article, Bronwyn, and to the TED Talk mentioned at the end of the podcast, John.

Really good to hear what you've been experiencing at Otago Polytechnic, Bronwyn, and some of the thinking that is being employed. The shift away from objectives, I guess, goes hand in hand with a focus on process rather than end product. Also, once the focus shifts to the experience rather than the objectives, the learner themself becomes central - with all of their alliances, knowledge / experiences in other domains and communities (such as giving birth!), as well as the complex interweaving of emotions, conflicting beliefs - all of which, when it happens, contribute to the (sometimes painful) process of transformative learning.

Thought your point about the pressures of war to force innovation was a key one, John...wonder what the catalyst will be for education...

Comment by John S. Oliver on April 1, 2012 at 17:34


This is podcast reminds me of Google Maps. It is like having a very high satellite view of the patterns and connections of the many items on this community.


Also this reminds me of the paintings of the era when there were both horses & buggies on the roads as well as the first generation of cars. There was a transitional phase that is much like what is happening today in education.


This reminds me of how painful it must be these days to be in the meetings of leaders of education. On the one hand those who have been there the longest have the most power but are the least in touch with the newest developments in technology. The newest teachers and other players have the least to loose and were most recently in the semi-digital classrooms. This has to be the most crazy at the college and university level. Some of the incoming students have been using eportfolios for years. And others have been restricted from any technology. All those freshmen are on the same playing field with the same milestones to reach in the allotted time. Add to that the international students that range from web savvy to barely able to operate a word processor.


This also reminds me of the major transition in the US Navy when they shifted from battleships to aircraft carriers. That happened before and during WWII in the heat of battle. It took the pressures of war to force innovations.


Here is the link to the TED Talk at the end of this podcast.

Comment by bronwyn hegarty on April 1, 2012 at 11:10

People may also be interested in the written article on this topic. Bass, R. (2012) Disrupting ourselves: The problem learning in higher education. Educause Review, March/April, 22-33.

This article totally describes what we are trying to do in the curriculum development projects at the Educational Development Centre at Otago Polytechnic. This was a great find, affirming that what we have been trying to do in the organisation since 2007 is regarded as effective, and the best way forward. What is not recognised by most lecturers is the need to design from the experiential phase of learning rather than from the objectives.

What do you actually want the students to experience, and how will you help them get this experience? And how will you guide them to find the information they need to understand the experience? For example, midwives need to know how to 'catch a baby' so when designing curriculum a good place to start is: what do they actually need to know to understand the birthing experience? I believe that lecturers think of this when writing course objectives but why not let the students think what they need to know guided by the lecturers in a constructivist model of learning. Preferably not actually giving birth but many do or have done prior to taking the course. Do they get RPL for this experience? No. Food for thought though isn't it. Competency-based skills still need to be taught I agree, so a mix of what George Siemens (2005) regards as learning in the transmission domain may be more applicable for this in the form of courses with other learning enabled in the acquisition and emergence domains where self-generated learning (create own objectives etc), inquiry-based learning and reflective and critical thinking are valued. Bronwyn

Siemens, G. (2005). Learning Development Cycle: Bridging Learning Design and Modern Knowledge Needs. elearnspace: everything elearning. Retrieved from

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