Saturday, January 22, 2005

In defense of learning "management"

In an excellent post James Farmer has started a dialogue on blogs and the future of online learning environments, making a most valid contrast between educational software designed to provide closed, centralized control (chorus of booing) vs. software that allows open, decentralized learner independence (delirious applause). In this context he also makes a critical point regarding the issue of learner blog “ownership”, which I won’t summarize here, but which really, really needs to be defined by both educators and their institutions.

Boy, do we ever need to move towards software that allows open, decentralized learner independence - all for it - and the post provides some cogent analysis and examples of how to do it. But I’m worried by how this contrast (closed, centralized vs. open, decentralized) has been framed, because closed, centralized control (bad) is equated with “managed” and management”.

So what's the problem?

The problem is that the concept of management is one of the all-time great things we humans have come up with. I know that in the post the word “management” is referred to in the context of current learning management systems and their limitations, but unfortunately the edublogosphere has picked up the meme “management = bad” from this post and I think it’s a mistake for educators to think that way.

Now I’d certainly agree that “bad management = bad”, or that “Dilbert’s clueless yet authoritarian pointy-haired boss = bad” or that “top-down, closed, centralized control = bad” (well, usually). And I hope that’s what everyone means. But reading this, I’m not sure:

We’re obsessed with management, I reckon. Managing our finances, managing our workplaces, managing our kids schooling, managing our expectations, managing our knowledge, managing things to such a degree that we have squashed personality, differences, argument and life.
If we understand management as visualizing a desired future, establishing that as a goal (say, the best schooling possible for our kids) then coordinating and scheduling resources and tasks to achieve that vision, then, well, management doesn’t squash “personality, differences, argument and life”, management empowers these things.

So for teachers, management is a pretty important ability to help students be able to achieve, because it helps students to be active, independent, and to have a voice. For school administrators, management allows teachers the freedom to focus on facilitating their students’ learning (bad management, of course, impedes this, as do clueless yet authoritarian pointy-haired bosses).

As a business English teacher/consultant in Latin America, I work with adult learners in multinational companies. The overall success rate of our learning programs is, basically, unacceptable. As a result, thousands of people feel stuck, frustrated, and voiceless within their own organizations, and one of the two main reasons for this is a lack of learning management (I’ll discuss both reasons in upcoming posts). Words have power, so let's not use the word "management" as a synonym for what's wrong with learning software or education in general.

30 Comments:

At January 22, 2005 at 11:48 PM, Blogger aaron said...

Great post Cleve! I responded here:
http://www.eastasiacenter.net/apcampbell/2005/01/23#a310

 
At January 23, 2005 at 11:36 AM, Blogger Nathan Lowell said...

This is an excellent notion, Cleve.

We need to get "Management" back. The problem with "management" is that it equates to censorship and control in too many minds.

 
At January 24, 2005 at 12:36 PM, Blogger Bee said...

Unfortunately this is what it has come to mean when dialogue is curtailed, ideas are prevented to flow and the knowledge to be shared is of difficult access or limited to a priviledged few.

Some management systems and platforms allow this to happen more than others and this is the point I think James is trying to make.

My two cents of real ;-)

 
At January 24, 2005 at 1:28 PM, Blogger Cleve said...

Hi Bee! You're exactly right, and I understand, appreciate, and agree 100% with James' specific point regarding LMSs and platforms.
My concern was two-fold:
1) I think we're throwing the baby out with the bathwater when we use the term "management" as a catch-all phrase for systems/platforms that impede dialogue and limit info flow, and
2) I don't think our lives are overmanaged. I think they may be badly managed (e.g. over-controlled), or unmanaged, and often we screw things up by trying to "control" others, but in general the better we manage our lives the better we achieve our goals, which as teachers means we help learners.
OK, gotta go do my overdue work for our course! I'm behind...sorry!

 
At January 24, 2005 at 7:15 PM, Blogger Bruna said...

I'm looking forward to hearing more about this comment:

"voiceless within their own organizations, and one of the two main reasons for this is a lack of learning management"

Is this a reference to "learning management" or learning how to manage or ?

 
At January 24, 2005 at 9:30 PM, Blogger Cleve said...

Hi Bruna! Sorry about the ambiguity...I mean "learning management" as in organizing corporate language programs so that the program achieves the goal of helping students acquire the communication skills they need to feel comfortable at work and to develop their career. This entails, for example, realistic goal-setting (no "Speak English in 10 days!" stuff!), a variety of assessment tools, a learner-centered program that promotes active, independent, accountable students, measurement, and job-centered material and teaching methods.

 
At January 25, 2005 at 7:09 AM, Blogger Omar Johnstone said...

Expropriating a word is often a labor of Sisyphus, but the only alternative that comes to mind is 'husband' as a verb, and rather than conjure up the whole Herstory thing, I'd prefer to address your ultimate point:

"The overall success rate of our learning programs is, basically, unacceptable. As a result, thousands of people feel stuck, frustrated, and voiceless within their own organizations, and one of the two main reasons for this is a lack of learning management".

Here, I do understand "management" as direction from a cluless but authoritarian "learning manager". So let's explore that.

You come to me and say: "I want to improve my English", so I understand that you want me to guide you towards that goal. At this point I feel warm waves of admiration wash over me and then set about designing a program for you to realize your dreams: but, in fact, I am totally clueless about how to do that since, no knowing you, your life, your work, your dreams, I have no inkling of what you want to use English for.

Learning management, whatever there may be of it, must come from the learner. A successful student is an independent student, and an independent student is a self-motivating learner. Such students know what they want to do, and set about doing it. Those who don't know what they want need to be guided to that point, and they will not achieve much of anything until they can start from GO.

So what can a teacher do? My role, as I see it, is to facilitate a natural process. To help learning along by offering prudent advice, by revealing resources, and by constant encouragement. I cannot teach anyone anything, but I can help people in lots of other ways.

This, I think, is husbanding. It is what the Arabs call "tarbiyyah", the act of helping something to grow.

 
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