Monday, 15 April 2013

Sugata Mitra, understanding teaching practice ad hominem and the role of the LT

Just responding to a forum post on the #ocTEL website and though I would write this down as a blog.

Having spoken with Sugata at the 2009 ALT-C, it was clear to me that the idea of 4-5 kids working together was the key, and the problem solving inquiry based learning style. He certainly has a style that makes this type of learning fun, and a personality to back this up, which makes me think if this success is a result of him (ad hominem) or of his pedagogy.

I wonder how well these ideas ‘scale’ or ‘transfer’ too. For example i have read critiques of Montessori practice that point right back to her (ad-hominem) as the success factor. I wonder how much this can be said of Mitra’s methodology, (or homeschool for that matter)…

I guess what I am coming to is that I believe it is the ‘personality’ of the tutor as much as anything that motivates learning. Learners will adapt to their tutor's style if s/he has passion for the subject.

 I think this is problematic from a tech perspective as the ‘techs’ are trying to create ‘replicable’ or ‘transferrable’ pedagogic situations but they will work one year and then fail mysteriously the next, and then work again.

The ‘learning’ part of ‘learning technology’ means that suddenly all the rules of ‘technological development’ (eg. replicability, consistency) do not apply any more. 

This is a headache in one sense, but when we start to fit the technology around the tutor (ad hominem) as well as the learning context or educational content, we can stop worrying about trying to embed technology in the same way and concentrate on personalised technology choices that empower people to teach and learn

It certainly broadens the task of an LT, but I think that with the diverse array of technology choices, the conversations we have with tutors can be more along the lines of ‘what do you feel comfortable with trying’ and less the exasperated ‘but don’t you see that if you use lecture capture, VLE, [take your pick] it will be better for everyone’.

Its like taking the constructivism that eLearning bods cherish, and actually applying it to our own practice – ie taking our tutors one step at a time into their ‘zones of proximal development’ rather than forcing new technology paint-by-numbers style on peoples working practices.


  1. Hi Phil

    Thanks for this post, I agree that personality can have a lot to do with successful projects, and in then engaging others to also develop whatever the opportunity was. I suppose one of the challenges then is not only that repetitions produce different results, but how to help those less naturally gifted in the personality area to also be successful in thier methods. As you say, 'personalised technology choices that empower people to teach and learn'.

    The personal approach is great, but how would you suggest scaling that?

  2. Hi Clare, To be honest, I'm not too sure how you can scale this - perhaps by creaating what has been termed in other blogs on #octel as a 'culture of elearning'.

    i think what I am talking about is making the step in culture from 'pushing technology' to 'promoting technology', so it is a natural part of the teaching decisions that we make, rather than a bolt-on.

    So when the teacher thinks "how am i going to express this content to the students" its done with a recognition of the type of person they are, and the technology that they are familiar with, rather than "how x did it" or "using this or that technology". This is a never ending path of self-development for educators, and in my exp, this is much of their private motivations for working in education.

    The ideal 'culture of TEL' needs to be diverse, and collaborative in terms of practice sharing. Their conversations with the Learning Technologists need to reflect values as well as technology, I guess that is what I am saying...

  3. Just to add to this with a link to another post:

    perhaps creating a culture of elearning is by being open as an academic and learning what this means. See Jenny Mackness' blog on this...