Innovation without change? (Again)

I recently participated in an online group colloquia led by Bruce Dixon from Modern Learners, who are doing great things in the education space. Amongst other things, we discussed whether we thought that the schools that we taught in were catering for the modern learners that inhabit our classrooms. The resounding opinion was that they were not. This is no surprise as emerging scholarly analysis shows this loud and clear. In fact, much effort is now directed towards building explanations of why teaching practice is not shifting in response to the changing contexts of teaching. See here my own small amount of research that provides a brief background on this work, with a focus on teacher beliefs about knowledge. In summary, the dominant pedagogies that we all rely on have not changed in any significant way. We embrace the ubiquity of technology and then return to the didactic pedagogy of transmission of knowledge (Wright & Parchoma, 2011).

To prompt discussion, Bruce provided the following idea to reflect on, as first advocated by Seymour Papert. Perhaps we have forgotten that students in our care come to school to learn how to learn.  What are your thoughts here?  What does it mean to learn?

Looking Back.

Why the lack of significant pedagogical change in our education system? I have written elsewhere on this blog about the paradox of innovation without change, which to be brutally honest, means there has been little innovation in teaching practice. It is time to be honest.

Within this context, it is worth giving time to the following ideas.

“Schools and schooling have a long history and practices that persist over time even after the origins of the practice are long forgotten” (Bigum, 2012). Drawing on Actor Network Theory, Bigum argues that past ways of doing things, play a role in not only what can be done but also on what can be imagined is significant. An online version of this paper is available below.

What tracks laid down long ago do you think continue to frame and shape present day pedagogies, so that predominantly transmissionist pedagogies persist in our classrooms?

Please gift me with your thoughts.


Bigum, C. (2012). Edges, exponentials & education: disenthralling the digital. In L. Rowan (Ed.), Transformative approaches to new technologies and student diversity in futures oriented classrooms: Future Proofing Education (pp. 29-43). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer. Retrieved from

Wright, S., & Parchoma, G. (2011). Technologies for learning? An actor-network theory critique of ‘affordances’ in research on mobile learning. Research in Learning Technology, 19(3), 247-258.

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  1. I have enjoyed many mind challenging conversations with Bruce Dixon in Lorne at the now defunct Expanding Learning Horizons conferences. Provocative discussions always resulting in much reflection and pedagogical change in my classrooms. Years later it is still hard to find examples of teachers truly embracing the power of technology to improve learning outcomes.

  2. “What tracks laid down long ago do you think continue to frame and shape present day pedagogies, so that predominantly transmissionist pedagogies persist in our classrooms?”

    Without thinking about it too deeply, I guess these tracks are laid through a number of stations:

    The people – the teachers – in a school, predominantly. Is it true that our default way of teaching / “doing education” is how we ourselves were taught? In some cases, yes, in some, no. We were enculturated into a certain way of doing things, which is a sticky mess to move on from.

    Is it political? i.e., the skill of learning how to learn is not valued enough by the people in charge of determining national assessment foci? Which means in order to be a “successful teacher” we must help students do well on tests.

    I don’t know, and at this point, I’m actually a bit over talking about the why. I’d rather talk about the what now. What can I do as a teacher who cares about modern learning and modern students (for lack of better words). What can I do as a teacher with no admin support. This is where I want to spend my time – thinking about how I can facilitate modern learning experiences to the kids I’m going to see on Monday.

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  3. Hi Matt,

    Always ask why. If not for yourself, for others as a provocation.
    Especially in an open forum as their are some who will not ask these questions for themselves.

    You are right though. When the shit hits the proverbial fan in the classroom setting, close the classroom door, ignore the distractions and prioritise your students and enjoy what they have to offer. They will then enjoy what you too have to offer. That in the end is good pedagogy…leading them to learning.


  4. Hi Simon,
    ‘What tracks laid down long ago do you think continue to frame and shape present day pedagogies, so that predominantly transmissionist pedagogies persist in our classrooms?’

    To answer your question-
    I think what keeps us bound are a number of things. This is a complex issue that cannot be simplified, but one thing I see again and again with teachers resistant to change is that they themselves are not learners. They are content driven and linear. The industrial model is linear- students start at one end, and as Sugata Mitra said- to become submissive photocopies of each other. Problem is, we know that won’t work for the future, but appear powerless to effect the necessary change. One simple thing would do the world of good- teachers should be learners. Too many do what they do year in and year out with little thought about improvement. This unfortunately is backed up by the linear expectations of education as a whole. Let’s break the bonds- give basic fundamentals, then let students follow their interests. While universities continue to say students must do prerequisites to get into courses and then achievement test entrance, there seems little point in making changes at school level. That’s why there is a barrier to change.

  5. Hi Simon,
    I’ll pose you a question…
    If you could change one thing to effect global educational reform, what would it be?

    • On small thing? Actually, one large thing….create time for teachers so that they have time to participate in online learning and become self-directed learners.

  6. It would certainly be in my top 3 as well. The concept of Rheingold’s co-learners would not be a possibility if educators continue to only view themselves a teachers instead of learners as well. And teachers never have time to be learners as they use all their time teaching.

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