Theory vs. Practice (Part 1 of a Quest)

If Pedagogy (or andragogy or huetgogy) are teaching practices driven by beliefs about learning, or a framework that defines what teaching (or learning) practices are employed, why aren’t we talking as much about learning theory as we are about practices?

This morning I was reminded of visits I used to have with my favorite publisher’s representative. I always liked when he came to visit because he would listen carefully to what I was trying to do in the classroom with my students and he would then make a list of books to send me. We always ended with me saying, “I will take a look, but in the end, what I want to do with my students isn’t in a textbook.”  He would invariably reply, “When you are ready to write that text, let me know. I think it will be great.”

Fast forward to now, I haven’t written that text, but I have curated and designed materials for three of my own courses to move fully over to open text, and I have been a vocal advocate for open pedagogy. When I found the open pedagogy world about 5 years ago, I felt like I had come home. People were talking about the kinds of things I had been doing in my classroom, and describing learning the way I conceived of it. I have had many words or terms to describe my approach to teaching over the years, but this was the first time I felt like I had a framework and the links between the kinds of things I have espoused about teaching and learning all seemed to come together. Since then, I have followed this movement and watched the turns, developments, and the fractures and splinter groups within the community. (Maybe it was never truly one community, but that is a discussion for a different post.) Most recently, I was captured by Rajiv Jhangiani’s 5 R’s for Open Pedagogy: Respect; Reciprocate, Risk, Reach, and Resist—not only for the values he espouses around his conception of Open Pedagogy, but also his acknowledgement and comfort with a variety of meanings for open pedagogy. I think the discourse around defining a pedagogy is really important; it is through this kind of discourse that deeper meaning, meaningful alignment between actions and values, and better understanding happens.

More importantly, I realized this morning, this type of critical discourse, enables transformative learning—and the link to my dissertation lit up in my mind.

As I thought about it, and reflected on all the conversations on twitter and in blogs over the past few years, the back and forth on whether to define or not to define, whether it is a pedagogy or a set of practices related to open materials, I realized for me what has been missing is not about practices, but about the why of those practices. Not the why in terms of values, but the why in terms of how does it work for learning?

I have seen references to learning theories in discussions online—and I suspect, there have been many more in person conversations and that I have missed. Today though, the links between open pedagogy  and transformative learning theory made a huge amount of sense.

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