Harnessing heutagogy?

We recently covered the concept of heutagogy in my DTCE class. Many of the concepts appeal to me, particularly in light of this week’s focus on connectivism and the concept of modern learning being embodied in the networks of tools, people, knowledge repositories and other ‘nodes’ within the web of our understanding and the reach of our influence as opposed to what is stored in our minds.

I described this as ‘learning to create, curate and facilitate’ our own ecology of resources, or learning landscape. I feel that this is an accurate view of much of my own learning, and how I’m approaching study, as well as work-based learning.  In particular, over the last year I’ve been actively improving my baking skills and repertoire, and I would certainly class this as a heutagogical effort.

It did get me thinking though, that this is (certainly in the case of my university work) only a part of what is going on; without the classes and online material, I would likely be rudderless.

I believe that the teacher exists (at least in the context of university or formal 18+ education) to structure and define a course of learning; to say “this is what is important in this subject area” with some level of authority – whether the student agrees with their perspective on that or not, they are guiding the conversation, filtering the ecology of resources, and providing a starting point for the student.

In the vastness of the information landscape at everyone’s fingertips, without this guide, the student can easily become bogged down, miss the big picture and indeed massive sections of the potential curriculum.

My own question then, becomes – if we recognise the limitations of the approaches of traditional teacher-led education, and the overwhelming possibilities of heutagogy and the social, connected learning sphere, can these be meshed in some way to provide a stronger whole? Is there a way of embedding heutagogical aspects within learning programmes? Can you incorporate it into instructional design even?

I suppose what I’m talking about is an instructor who leads the learner through the broad content field, giving them the tools to harness their own ideas and generate their own learning opportunities; getting involved where necessary, and stepping back where not.

Assessment seems to be one of the thorns in this idea. As soon as you provide essay questions or mandate numbers of blog posts or set quizzes, the idea of heutagogy and traditional teaching meshing becomes difficult because the teacher is now controlling the student’s focus more tightly, or mandating the expression and form of their learning.

Heutagogy in practice

Looking at a different path, what about applying elements of heutagogy into online learning programmes for professional development…I am currently working on a large body of work that will (amongst other things) provide training to consultant radiologists, enabling them to report on PET/CT scans.

The format is quite traditional from a medical learning standpoint, but delivered online. My subject matter experts have created tutorials, which they would normally deliver as lectures. I have translated these into Storyline SCORM objects, which will be delivered via a VLE. There is some basic interactivity in the tutorials, but they are largely presentational, with audio narration to lead learners through the content (supplementary to onscreen text). The format of this is largely dictated by the subject matter; it is important for the learners to see scan images, plus concurrent explanations of elements of the images, and highlights of particular areas of importance. Video was unrealistic due to its fixed-pace nature, and lack of resolution for still images. There are also a significant number of illustrations, which I have drawn to accompany the texts.

The content is relatively dry, factual, and based on accepted standards; and sending people away to develop their own knowledge networks and research into this material would be counter to the purpose of the learning: to enable radiologists to report PET/CT competently, reliably and with a high level of agreement.

The art of radiological reporting is developed in the act of doing it; in a programme such as this, the official learning components are a small part of the whole; the rest is in observing competent reporters, reporting oneself, dual reporting (where two doctors will report on the same case and check for agreement), and in reporting cases for assessment. This course will involve reporting on around 200 cases, in observed practice and online.

Might we then incorporate and encourage the practice of heutagogy and connectivist learning within this programme?

We are setting the course area in the VLE up with a forum for learners to ask questions and post thoughts; this could provide the basis for some to network together and share experiences and identify directions of study. Could we propose a twitter hashtag for students to take their discussions outside the VLE, perhaps posting prompt questions periodically; we could have extra cases available as part of a wider #FOAMed strategy (more on this another day) for more practice opportunities, encouraging learners to step out of the VLE by suggesting reading lists and research directions.

I’m not sure right now if any of this qualifies, but at least it gets out of the VLE walled garden and into some interesting areas that might inform practice, and make for better, more engaged learners.

6 thoughts on “Harnessing heutagogy?

  1. Mark Smithers Reply

    Lovely post Nicola. Thank you. I couldn’t agree more. I love your last sentence. It’s a battle though as university administrators increasingly want everything in the walled garden.


  2. Natalie Lafferty Reply

    A super post Nicola. Articulate seems to have become prolific in medical education, we’ve replaced bullet points with clicks, and as you’ve highlighted we have a challenge to make learning more interactive and also less passive. I think there are a number of ways you can move out of the walled garden of the VLE. Whilst Twitter isn’t everyone’s cup of tea there are other tools you could use to support learning conversations and also signpost your trainees to #FOAMed and more specifically #FOAMRad if you’re working with radiologists and the networks that are out there. The challenge in the NHS is the firewalls and the accessibility of learning outside the VLE. Do you have a chance to speak to the trainees about their learning and ask how they would like to learn?

  3. Stewart Hase Reply

    Great post and wonderful to see heutagogy in action. I too would like to see what the students feel about the learning experience.

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