Expert designer: Another assumption PLEs question

In a serious of blog posts (starting with this one) I’ve been trying to develop a list of fundamental assumptions about learning and teaching at Universities which the various concepts associated with personal learning environments (PLEs) bring into question.

This post attempts to add another.

The expert designer

Experts only

Within the practice of learning and teaching at universities there are a number of levels that assume the need for an expert designer (or a small group thereof). These include:

  • Senior management (and their consultants);
    Any important decision must be made by the small group of senior managers. Typically they will draw on “experts” to provide analysis and recommendations and then the senior management (or manager) will make the decision.

    Senior management is difficult and requires great skills and foresight and subsequently couldn’t just be left to normal people to make the decision. They don’t have the skill.

  • Learning design; and
    The design a university course is performed by the academic (or small group thereof) with demonstrable discipline expertise in the form of PhDs. They might be aided by their consultants, the instructional designers and other technical staff, but in the end it is the academic staff who make the decisions.

    After all, learning all about a discipline area is difficult. It requires great depth and breadth of knowledge to understand how best to do this. You couldn’t leave this sort of thing up to the learners. They don’t have the knowledge to do this.

  • Provision of information technology systems.
    Information technology is complex and complicated. There is a broad chasm of difference between looking after your home PC and managing large, complex and important enterprise systems. Such a task requires enterprise IT experts, and their consultants, to make these difficult decision and ensure that the organisation isn’t losing money.

    You can’t simply leave information technology decisions up to the end-user. They don’t have this breadth and depth of knowledge. They would make mistakes. It would waste resources.

And the list could go on for each of the professional groups or divisions that infest a modern university. Ordering textbooks, booking travel, looking after gardens and buildings, all of these activities, as implemented in a modern organisation, assume that there is a need for the experts to take control.

Problems with this approach

The main problem with this tendency is “one size fits all”. The central, small group of designers can never fully understand the diversity of all of their clients and in many cases could never efficiently provide a customised service to each of them. For example, a university course is never customised for an individual student’s pre-existing knowledge – even though this is one of the things we know is important for learning.

Web 2.0, social media and other advances in technology are bringing this practice into question. Increasingly there are abundant, inexpensive and simple to use tools which users can adopt, and more importantly, adapt to their own preferences. These tools, through the use of standards, can be used to access organisational services (if they are configured appropriately).

It’s becoming possible for the end-user to use the tools they already know. Rather than being forced to use the tools selected by the central IT folk of the organisation they now work for or are studying at.

Related to this is that this approach assumes that the “non-experts” actually need the input of the experts. Increasingly with IT you don’t. Similarly, many folk can learn things quite effectively all of the time through informal learning without the need for the discipline expert. The need and supposed rise of lifelong learning means that this trend should only increase.

Following on from this is the assumption that the experts really are experts. I’m sure anyone that has worked within an organisation can point to organisational decisions which demonstrably suggest that the experts weren’t so expert.

5 thoughts on “Expert designer: Another assumption PLEs question

  1. Pingback: “Big” systems - another assumption “PLEs” overthrow « The Weblog of (a) David Jones

  2. I’m not sure I understand this point? There will always be experts because it is more efficient for an organization to use division of labour techniques to maximize greater skill levels and greater productivity as a whole. The organisation has to trust the experts to provide the information from their area of expertise. Without trust the organization would be less efficient as it would need multiple experts in the same field rather than in multiple fields. More experts leads to more diversity and should be reflected in upper management processes to harness this diversity. “One size fits all” would indicate that management is attempting the opposite, attempting to have one person who is an expert in all fields.

    I would have thought that PLEs would lead to MORE specialization as it is far easier to build a targeted learning path to turn out experts. I see the greater challenge will be to build “bridging students” that can communicate effectively between peaks of knowledge to aid in knowledge transfer, lest we lose all the efficiency of having experts in the first place.

  3. G’day Tony,

    There may be some confusion here.

    I think I may take the response to the comment to another post. Give me more space to comment and a better editing interface.

    The asymetrical quality of the editing interface – i.e. interface to write a post being much better to write a comment – might be an indication of the preference to the blog owner or perhaps an encouragement to folk to use their own blogs to write their comments, but link back to the post.


  4. Pingback: More on the expert designer - efficiency and effectiveness « The Weblog of (a) David Jones

  5. Pingback: Kant - separation of reason and experience « The Weblog of (a) David Jones

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