Does learning about teaching in formal education match this?

Riel and Pollin (2004) talk about a view of learning that sees learning occurring

through engagement in authentic experiences involving the active manipulation and experimentation with ideas and artifacts – rather than through an accumulation of static knowledge (p. 17)

They cite people such as Bruner and Dewey supporting that observation.

When I read that, I can’t but help reflect on what passes for “learning about teaching” within universities.

Authentic experience

Does such learning about teaching occur “through engagement in authentic experiences”?


Based on my experiences at two institutions, it largely involves

  • Accessing face-to-face and online instructions on how-to use a specific technology.
  • Attending sessions talking about different teaching methods or practices.
  • Being told about the new institutionally mandated technology or practice.
  • For a very lucky few, engaged with an expert in instructional design or instructional technology about the design of the next offering of a course.

Little learning actually takes place in the midst of teaching – the ultimate authentic experience.

Active manipulation

Does such learning allow and enable the “active manipulation and experimentation with ideas and artifacts”?


Based on my experience, the processes, policies, and tools used to teach within universities are increasingly set in stone. Clever folk have identified the correct solution and you shall use them as intended.

Active manipulation and experimentation is frowned upon as inefficient and likely to impact equity and equality.

Most of the technological environments (whether they be open source or proprietary) are fixed. Any notion of using some technology that is not officially approved, or modifying an existing technology is frowned upon.

Does this contribute to the limitations of university e-learning?

If, learning occurs through authentic experience and active manipulation, and the university approach to learning about teaching (especially with e-learning) doesn’t effectively support either of these requirements, then is there any wonder that the quality of university e-learning is seen as having a few limitations?


Riel, M., & Polin, L. (2004). Online learning communities: Common ground and critical differences in designing technical environments. In S. A. Barab, R. Kling, & J. Gray (Eds.), Designing for Virtual Communities in the Service of Learning (pp. 16–50). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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