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Questions I’m no Longer Asking

I strive to strike a reasonable balance between reading blogs, books, and peer-reviewed articles. Different topics flair up in popularity (such as web 2.0 and now social media) and then fade. A few concepts have longevity such as “how effective is technology enhanced learning when contrasted with traditional classrooms?”. Questions like this are boring. And unanswerable given the tremendous number of variables involved in teaching online and in classrooms.

I’m firmly convinced of the following:
1. Learners should be in control of their own learning. Autonomy is key. Educators can initiate, curate, and guide. But meaningful learning requires learner-driven activity
2. Learners need to experience confusion and chaos in the learning process. Clarifying this chaos is the heart of learning.
3. Openness of content and interaction increases the prospect of the random connections that drive innovation
4. Learning requires time, depth of focus, critical thinking, and reflection. Ingesting new information requires time for digestion. Too many people digitally gorge without digestion time.
5. Learning is network formation. Knowledge is distributed.
6. Creation is vital. Learners have to create artifacts to share with others and to aid in re-centering exploration beyond the artifacts the educator has provided.
7. Making sense of complexity requires social and technological systems. We do the former better than the latter.

Obviously there are numerous questions that need to be addressed in terms of social/relational impact of technology, how individuals connect and create information with participative tools, and so on. But many of the previously “hot” questions about technology in education no longer interest me. Some of these include:

1. Is online learning more or less effective than learning in a classroom? Who cares. That question is irrelevant. Society answered the need to use technology through its broad adoption of the web/internet/online medium.

2. Does technology use vary by age? Nonsensical. It would only matter if people couldn’t learn new skills. They can. They do. And most software is easier to use today than it was ten years ago. Motivation, not age, is key.

3. How do learning styles influence learning online? I had a spike in blood pressure this last week when my 14 year old son came home from school and informed me he was a visual learner, but couldn’t learn audibly. They still use destructive classification structures like learning styles in schools? Educators too readily fall for an attractive model that can be easily implemented.

4. What role do blogs or microblogging [insert tool in question] play classroom or online learning? Any role you want. Answers to questions like this don’t exist in advance of exploration.

5. How can educators implement [whatever tool] into their teaching? Simple: do it. With technology, every teacher is a researcher. Find your own answers, don’t appropriate from other contexts.

6. Is connectivism a learning theory? Again, who cares. There is more evidence to support a connectivist view of learning than exists for other theories: nuerology, sociology, psychology, and philosophy support the “connectedness” aspects of knowledge and learning. Similarly, innovations, new ideas, and complex problem solving are driven by surfacing (and fostering desired) connections.

Which questions are you no longer asking about the role of technology in learning?
Which questions about technology and learning are still relevant for educators to consider?


  1. I’ve stopped asking:

    - Does technology matter? (Yes. Next!)
    - Which technology is best? (It depends. Next!)

    As far as I’m concerned the only technology question I still worry about is: How do I get there (pedagogical/mission goals) from here?

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 10:41 am | Permalink
  2. Really nice post. I tried to think up questions I’m not asking, and my main conclusion is that it’s actually really hard to think about the stuff you’re not doing and thoughts you’re not having. You know, it’s like asking “what unconscious filters for thinking about the world do you think you have?” :)

    That said, my version of your item (6), “Is this technology going to be useful in my teaching?”, is increasingly being replaced by “which of my teaching sessions does this technology best fit with?”.

    I hear questions about PowerPoint a lot. “Should we still be using PowerPoint?” “How do I make my PowerPoint slides better/more interesting/etc?” When this happens (in my hearing, anyway), I am trying to get people to reframe the question: “Is PowerPoint the best medium I could use for this specific session?” and “If I were in this class, what would I want to see on the slides?”

    Eh, small steps.

    - Chris.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 10:59 am | Permalink
  3. Chris Lott wrote:

    “Does technology use vary by age?” No, not important. But what *is* important is recognizing that there are people who are gifted and/or talented in ways that significantly impact their understanding and use of various technologies and the part they play in technologically facilitated/mediated processes. Digital native/immigrant doesn’t interest me, but finding ways to engage and support the gifted (which is what I think the digital native stuff is really talking about in the places that it matters) continues to be of critical interest. Even more so if your critical theories are even remotely correct and we believe in the premises of connected learning, autonomy, etc.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  4. I second Chris Lott’s comment – the digital native/immigrant debate is as dead as the proverbial dodo to me. I work every day with kids of a generation widely held up as de facto digital natives, and many are staggeringly info- and tech-illiterate.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 11:10 am | Permalink
  5. Matt wrote:

    I have stopped caring about any question that asks “when will the university explode/die miserably/get crushed into dust by the obviously superior system”. The death of the university has been predicted for centuries and yet they are still here – so obviously it is pointless question to ask.

    I am curious about exactly what you mean by #2 in your first list. It makes me think of the chaos and confusion they tried to use in the Gifted/Talented course I took high school. We didn’t really learn squat in that course. Ditto for the GT Advanced course based on the Montessori method. I am thinking you have a good idea of something specific, but when I think of all the times I experienced chaos and confusion in learning (which was quite frequently), I usually just got frustrated, shut down and went to watch TV. I still remember being in tears in elementary school when I couldn’t figure out negative numbers. The teacher thought we need to be self-directed and figure it out on our own, that a little confusion would do us good. I just came to the point of tears because it didn’t make sense, until my Mom finally found an encyclopedia that showed a very ordered way of understanding negative numbers. But the teacher wouldn’t show me anything because it was “self-directed learning” and I was too frustrated to care anymore. And I still hate Math to this day.

    But this is probably not the system you are proposing?

    Of course, the odd thing is that when I learned I was a visual learner it revolutionized my learning. I learned a lot about where the frustration came from – I learned it was okay if I didn’t immediately “get” how something was presented to me, and plus I had a method to figure out a way to bridge what was presented to me with the way I was.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 11:10 am | Permalink
  6. Jon K. wrote:

    I’m surprised you haven’t ruled out questions about LMS’s yet.

    I’m absolutely behind #6 of your mantra above – creation is vital. To me this is key in understanding everything about a subject. You have to create with it, use learning as a support for whatever creation you

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 11:30 am | Permalink
  7. Craig Taylor wrote:

    I’ve stopped asking:

    My Innovation Prevention Department (IT Department) ‘anything’; the answer is invariably “NO”!

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 11:37 am | Permalink
  8. Beautiful. Thank you. I’m not yet sure I agree with all your conclusions, but I have pondered them all. And I love the way you laid them out.

    One point of interest. On learning styles, it helps to know which one is easiest to learn in, but that should never rule out the other styles. A great teacher teaches in “all” styles. If I’m a visual learner, it may help me to map out a long wordy discussion. Auditory, it may help to record the material. But again, I need to be able to sometimes take it in the form it comes.

    I love your point that Creation is Vital. Seems this one is slowly gaining steam. I resist it, even though I agree. Thanks again.

    @Jon K,
    I think the questions being asked about LMS’s are still valid and open. It has not been so neatly “settled” as some would have us believe. Valid uses and poor uses need to be explored.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 11:55 am | Permalink
  9. AJ Cann wrote:

    Nice post. There is, however, an important question you need to ask. Does it save us money? There’s going to be no escaping this over the next few years.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Permalink
  10. Curtis wrote:

    I would like to suggest a few reasons why these may still be considered ‘good’ questions in today’s world.

    1. As a (lifelong) learner, this is still a question I ask on a regular basis. I am currently trying to learn French, and I have researched a number of ways to do this (some include technology, others do not). While the answer usually ends up being ‘a combination of both is best’, it is still a question I consider important since it will determine my approach. Specific softwares may help with my vocabulary, but social interaction is best for grammer, etc.

    2. To me this is similar to saying it is no longer important to ask whether or not people of different SES backgrounds perform equally at school. The answer to this question (and yours as well) is ‘yes’ based on the data we have available to us, but we need to take it one step further and continue to ask ‘why’ and ‘how do we move beyond this discrepancy’.

    3. Understanding the numerous ways in which people learn (and invariably individual preferences for learning) are still an important part of the learning process and can open up new approaches and pathways to learning for many people. I agree this shouldn’t be done in an exclusionary way (which your son’s teacher seems to favour), but it is still a valid question at an individual level. Learning online is still learning.

    4. Let’s stop and ask ‘what role do LMS have in learning’? The moment we stop asking questions like this is the moment we open ourselves to using the wrong tools for the job or (even worse?) using tools that are biased towards specific pedagogies.

    5. Teachers (and students) still need guidance when attempting to improve their teaching practice, including the adoption of new learning tools. In my work with teachers, the most requested professional development opportunity is to see how others are utilizing similar technologies. Seeing how other teachers use technology to transform their classroom can be a ‘lightbulb’ moment for many people. This is part of ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ rather than continually reinventing the wheel.

    6. Here I tend to agree with you, but what may still be an appropriate question is ‘does connectivism supersede other learning theories or support them?’ This question has enormous implications for understanding how connectivism impacts pedagogy and how new pedagogies are required if we are serious about implementing connectivism into educational institutions.

    Just a few of my thoughts. Thank you for the intriguing post, it definitely got my wheels turning. Keep up the great work you are doing.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Permalink
  11. I love nr. 4. I have this standard answer to: What is a blog? It is whatever you want it to be! :)

    @ Steve Leblanc: I so agree. Studying learning styles made me understand my way of learning (gave me a new perspective), and this understanding I feel made me more fit to pick the right web-tools for what ever form of learning or teaching I was present in – either in the classrom or while online, using my personal learning space. I believe these models can be used the way we use other tools (for good, or for worse – constructive and destructive), and a teachers or a students challenge is to use methods to increase learning.

    So, I guess I won’t be asking: How do learning styles influence learning online?, because I think it depends on how you feel that you learn best, and on how your teacher teach, and that you both need to figure out what kind of communication works best in the different forms.

    @gsiemens: Hope you have a great trip to Norway next week! How come you pick the worst weather-month in the year – again? :)

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Permalink
  12. cindyu wrote:

    I’d rather focus on the question “what do I want/need to learn today?” and “who or what can help me do that?” I’ve wasted waaayy too much time trying to just keep up with the smorgasbord of technologies that are available. It’s all good (or many of them are for various purposes) but I feel the overwhelming need to simplify. Just let me connect with people and resources easily and make re-use possible.

    By the way, I really like what Matt had to say about his learning experience – there is a balance to strike between chaos, support and self understanding that (I think) is pretty important – if not to learning – at least to our own perspectives of ourselves as capable people. Whatever helps us to consider our own learning preferences (or styles if you like) can be as positive for some as it is “destructive” as you see it.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Permalink
  13. ruthdemitroff wrote:

    I think of myself as more of a matriarch or elder trying to add a marker or two to the map of life that will make the journey a little easier, a little safer so those who follow can go much farther into the unmapped future that I will never see.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Permalink
  14. Seth wrote:

    >>Is online learning more or less >>effective than learning in a classroom?

    I think this question continues to have importance for me, because it seems to continually be a problem for others.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read or listened to someone who asserts that online education can’t/won’t work.

    That’s why I don’t know that there any questions I can leave behind. The answers to these questions need to continually re-evaluated, if only to better appreciate the answers. Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up changing my mind…

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Permalink
  15. Karl Royle wrote:

    My main question that I’m posing to educators lately is. Why do you still think digital tools and technology are ‘special’. It isn’t, everywhere else but education it’s just a normal part of life :-) the author says..use it :-)

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 2:12 am | Permalink
  16. @gsiemens An excellent thought-provoking post. Thank you.
    To be honest with you, I felt quite viscerally moved by both your assertions and your questions no longer asked.
    I expect that you have entered many learning professionals’ Top Ten People I Would Like To Work With lists.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 2:57 am | Permalink
  17. Thanks, George, for this provocative post. In agreement, as you might guess, with the whole of it, but would offer that A way of looking at the toolset of technology is to analyze the interactions we are planning for the learners – really think about the opportunities for accessing good source material, how people will engage with each other, how they will collect information and share it, how they will talk to one another and when – all of that. Imagine a matrix of pedagogical intent (down one axis) and toolset across the other. As noted – pick your tool. Who cares. Just make sure it fits the purpose / need and is easy to learn and use. I, too, get hives over people making unnecessary and overly convenient generalizations about learning styles and generational things.

    Ultimately – I think this is about avoiding laziness as designers and keeping a wide view as to the application of technology tools and building/nurturing connections for better learning experiences.


    Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 5:30 am | Permalink
  18. Laura wrote:

    I’d like to add an important question to the mix–should we be going deeper and teaching not just how to use tools, but how to create those tools? As I’ve shifted from being focused on educational technology to computer science, I’ve realized two things: 1) using technologies in learning can lead to the kinds of interests and understandings that lead to computer science; and (but?) 2) limiting exploration to tool use can shield us (and our students) from a greater understanding of how technology works and from learning how to make technology do what you want rather than be limited by what PowerPoint or any other medium offers.

    I teach middle and high school students. At the middle school level, we’ve been doing web site creation, digital storytelling and programming in Scratch. But I’ve noticed that only about 10% of any given class is really what I’d call technologically proficient. They don’t understand what a url is or what a directory structure is. I’ve gotten into heated arguments with 7th and 8th graders who save things in the wrong place. When I try to calmly go through how the folders on their computer work, I get blank stares. I worry that by having students use the increasingly easy to use tools out there, they lose the knowledge of how things work. Many wikis don’t even require markup anymore; they work just like word processors. I worry about them not understanding that Facebook doesn’t care if it works well for them, but cares if it works well for Facebook to make money off of. And the same will happen to many of the tools we use–blogs, Twitter, VoiceThread.

    I’m starting to sound like an old geezer, so I’ll stop now, but I just wanted to put that out there as something to think about. I believe in networked learning as much as the next person, but I also want students to understand what a real network is.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 5:37 am | Permalink
  19. Karl Royle wrote:

    Hi Laura, like your post, we recently found similar things in one of our research projects and developed a sort of creative but personalised should be out this week

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 5:47 am | Permalink
  20. Jon K. wrote:

    @Steve Leblanc

    I do think that LMS’s are useful (which is a contrary position among many academics) – I suspect that George thinks that LMS’s are going to be superseded by more distributed tools. Those tools may better serve the student in the long run, and as I experienced in CCK08, distributed learning tools and sources lend themselves to most of his convictions (the ones listed above).

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 6:53 am | Permalink
  21. Quinn Rose wrote:

    Brilliant post. As an educator I am right there with you on all of these questions. The quest for understanding and critical thinking goes way beyond technology-specific learning. If we just teach them the software, what they learn has an expiration date on it. What they need to understand is how to problem solve and adapt to different tools. They can do this with adequately complex board games and word puzzles. Technology-specific learning comes with context and exposure. It is beneficial to have that exposure, but I totally agree that it isn’t a matter of some overall lesson that is endemic to all classrooms. Context matters a lot, so teachers should be investigators and not robots that implement the latest hip thing into their classroom as if it were all other classrooms.

    As for learning style, I completely agree that it is so limiting when a teacher says “oh, you don’t learn well a certain way” And that the only reason for discussing learning styles is to make sure the teacher is providing instruction through a diversity of media so that everyone gets a little bit of everything. All kids should get a chance to hear, feel, see, and interact with their lesson, and we shouldn’t expect that all kids are going to pick up the lesson in the same way, but that doesn’t mean they should be categorized so that they only experience the instruction in one way that is “right” for them.

    They will get skilled at technology for the same reason they will get skilled at anything: exposure in meaningful and fun ways. Don’t decide for the kid that something isn’t worth doing because it isn’t “academic” enough. The kids drive authentic learning, so follow them where they want to go.

    Last year at the school I was working at, the question that was so futile I had to stop asking was:

    1. Can I get some access to technology in my classroom?

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 6:56 am | Permalink
  22. Nice breakthrough, thank you! – As for the big tech/classroom question I’m asking myself every day: Will it be blocked, or not?

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 9:48 am | Permalink
  23. Ebrahim wrote:

    great. this post mainly mentions the effects of technology on learning. I ask what is the effects of learning on technology?

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 10:44 am | Permalink
  24. Aiza wrote:

    This question might sound “cliche” but still it blinds me
    1. does learning enhanced by ICT really do proven efficient in the long run because it easy to have full attetion at first but after a while it kinda weary.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  25. David Glow wrote:

    Great post and discussions.

    Anyone asking “how did we build this before?” (what worked before, what content did we use before, or other versions) need to be flogged.

    Learning styles: erm…Do you want to bank on teach your kid to swim according to their “visual” or “auditory” preference? No? Didn’t think so. Doesn’t hold water, does it?

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Permalink
  26. Paul McKenzie wrote:

    Wonderful post. This totally resonates with my current thinking and practice in edtech integration. Should print off and wear a bunch of “questions I’m not asking” t-shirts to get through to my IB school colleagues. Obviously the question I’m still asking is, “How do I get through to my fellow teachers?”

    And to add to the LMS conversation. In some situations they are very useful, but their undoing can be seen in the very acronym itself. Learning Management Systems should perhaps become Learner Managed Settings. For K-12 students and teachers (and I imagine higher ed. too) these formulaic, LMS, walled gardens do little to promote true web literacies and exposure to alternative ideas. Our Moodle is increasingly being relegated to mundane tasks as students and teachers enjoy the full expression available on the web.

    Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 6:32 am | Permalink
  27. Niall Watts wrote:

    I think learner control can only develop over time with increasing maturity. It makes more sense in university than primary school. The same applies to chaos. It just makes some people lose interest and give up(maybe their learning style!) I agree on points. Definitely agree on points 4 & 6.

    I am no longer asking some of those questions but that does not mean I’m not being asked them

    Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 8:42 am | Permalink
  28. minh mcCloy wrote:

    Having to answer those question’s (& variants) on George’s list over & over again just siphons energy off from useful work.
    The intellectual cowardice/laziness of those who hide behind these questions, deflecting attention from their incompetence is shameful.

    Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Permalink
  29. @Minh – Strong words, but I agree completely. Every setting is different, but I find when the overt celebration of success doesn’t entice or shame colleagues into action, leveraging habit-forming student enthusiasm (which become expectations) eventually drowns out opposition.

    Friday, November 5, 2010 at 12:55 am | Permalink
  30. @PaulM I would like to know more about your views on/experience of ‘leveraging habit-forming student enthusiasm’ as I am faced with this challenge as a corporate learning architect and am noticing my tendency towards prescription, enticement, celebration and shame as methods for trying to encourage engagement but these methods do not sit comfortably with me and I am interested in other methods and approaches and particularly any clear, practical steps that you could recommend.

    Friday, November 5, 2010 at 5:06 am | Permalink
  31. @Lawrence – First up, as you have probably found, shame doesn’t work. If you get any response at all it tends to be the cursory and resentful digitization of old practices – Prensky’s doing things differently vs. doing different things.

    The benefit of leveraging student best-practices to drive change is the efficacy becomes immediately apparent. Sort of like just-in-time learning vs. just-in-case teaching in the PBL context. In a recent example, to get reticent teachers collaborating on a shared Google Calendar to regulate homework assignment overload, I incorporated the calendar into a learning portfolio template (Google Site) that students have begun using as a showcase and workspace for their learning and reflection. Educator buy-in was instant.

    Another example also comes from the learning portfolios, which are student-managed and personalize(able). Within tabbed pages, students have embedded subject-specific learning and reflection blogs used in classes by a handful of teachers that “get” it. About 20% of students immediately took it upon themselves to create learning blogs for subjects that do not (yet) require them. This is has all happened over the last week, but even if teacher buy-in doesn’t reach 100% (no expectations), the lessons learned are enduring enough.

    In your context, I assume you are referring to senior management adoption, practice, and modeling.

    Friday, November 5, 2010 at 6:55 am | Permalink
  32. Susan O'Grady wrote:

    Hello George, I can understand your reaction with respect to your son’s observation, however I’m wondering whether it was stated by the teacher that he wouldn’t be an effective auditory learner or this was your son’s inference. If it was the former, as an educator I am appalled, but sadly, it wouldn’t surprise me. However I’ve taught more than 2000 children during my career and my observation of them and understanding of myself is that individuals definitely function more effectively if they have the opportunity to learn according to their preferences. I am by preference a visual learner however it is certainly not the only method by which I learn. As a teacher, being cognisant of the variety of learning styles, I make a conscious effort to continually vary my stategies to accommodate each of the learners in my class, so at some stage each of them will have the opportunity to learn according to their preferences. It follows that each of them will have the opportunity to also function according to other styles so in this respect I don’t believe they are being pigeonholed at all. I’m not defining their styles, I’m appealing to all. When I was at teachers college many, many years ago we were taught to incorporate visual auditory and kinaesthetic cues into our strategies however the baby is often thrown out with the bath water and I’m sad to say, the same questions are still being asked that were being asked then. Don’t get me started on the teaching of reading !!!!

    Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 1:44 am | Permalink
  33. Kristina Farentino wrote:

    Not only should we not be worrying about the answers to these questions, we should also stop inventing strategies and approaches to whole class, lock-step learning. Differentiated instruction, for example, is a band-aid solution that does not address the problems inherent in the current educational system.

    Monday, November 8, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Permalink
  34. Every unit of instruction is an experiment, in praxis, whose outcome may or may not be learning.

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at 6:30 am | Permalink
  35. Joe Bires wrote:

    I think you need to rethink your “digestion” metaphor, processing information is a much more complex process than “digestion” which is merely a chemical process. Are you really sure all we need is more time to “digest”? How about a better method of consumption and is “digestion” merely an individual activity, I see it as more of a communal one.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Permalink
  36. Liz Wheeler wrote:

    I’d like to reprint this blog post in our December ezine. Would that be acceptable? Please email me so I can clarify my request.

    Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 12:03 am | Permalink
  37. gsiemens wrote:

    Sure, go ahead, reuse, Liz.

    Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Permalink
  38. George, Don’t you think that until there is universal understanding of strengths and weaknesses of of ed-Technology that a less pedantic posture is required?

    Isn’t that the role of a thought leader, like you have become?

    Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Permalink
  39. Chris Lott wrote:

    No CC license or the like on your posts here, George?

    Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink
  40. minh mcCloy wrote:

    What happens to generation after generation of children as we await the rapture of universal understanding? I put kids in front of a TRS-80 in 1979 – I’m over the novelty.
    That’s 30 years of answering those questions that George has listed.

    Kids I taught with tech in the 80s have kids with whom I am working now. Go visit the schools of the current batch & for the exhaustingly umpteenth time those questions are asked when attempts are made to encourage the skilling of children with the technical & cognitive tools of their world.

    I think George has made precisely the point that needs to be made by people with a wide exposure to the edusphere. Thank you George


    Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Permalink
  41. I automated a classroom in 1972 (I’ll tell you about it if you want) and have been answering these questions ever since. Like everyone else, I tire of them, but the vast majority of teacher education programs are inadequate in their treatment of ed-tech and until that changes we’re left with being apostles.

    I sense the wagons circling around George, unnecessarily because I am a fan. Also I posted references to this article on two of my sites. I.e. I am a protagonist not an antagonist. I also believe that anything worth adopting is worth examining. :-)

    Friday, November 19, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Permalink