Pedagogy can be described as the art or science of teaching. The question of appropriate pedagogies for distance and computer-based learning when a human teacher may or may not be involved in the teaching process has been addressed and responded to in many ways. After a brief review of different pedagogical models, a contribution-oriented pedagogical approach in which students find, create, submit, and/or share resources using a Web-based course-support environment is identified as a model that is particularly valuable for forms of distance and computer-based learning. Examples of the model in practice, issues with managing the model, and future trends related to the model are also discussed.
A pedagogical approach requires an underlying learning philosophy and a general strategy for implementation—the instructional strategy. It also involves specific ideas for the realization of practice requirements and implications for the teacher—what Europeans call the “didactics.” There are many learning theories and instructional strategies that can form a basis for a pedagogical approach (see for example, http://www.emtech.net/learning_theories.htm). The traditional underlying learning model in distance education has been one of knowledge acquisition via an instructivist philosophy. This involves stressing the importance of objectives that exist separately from the learner. Instruction is designed to relate each of the objectives in sequence, and thus learners are the recipients of predetermined material (Reeves & Reeves, 1997). Pedagogies relating to an instructive philosophy emphasize what the teacher (or course-design team) will do, present, provide, and assess (Gagne & Briggs, 1974). The responsibility of course-design teams for distance and computer-based learning based on an instructivist philosophy is to prepare, in advance, high-quality materials “usually in the form of a narrative, where learners are led through a learning sequence by a well-choreographed story” (Oliver & Herrington, 2003, p. 154).
There are alternative learning philosophies that either differ from a knowledge-acquisition approach or can exist as complements to it. A typical example is constructivism. Constructivist theories stress the need for an active construction of meaning in order for learning to occur. Constructivist principles include active learning, goal setting and self-direction, authentic learning, articulation, collaboration, intentional learning, social interaction, collective knowledge sharing, and metacognitive processes such as reflection (Oliver & McLoughlin, 1999). An important aspect of a constructivist pedagogy is generative learning activities. Students, through their learning activities, generate something, which they use to “test their ideas with each other…becoming active investigators, seekers, and problem solvers” (Grabinger, Dunlap, & Duffield, 1997, p. 10). Teachers are facilitators of these generation processes rather than presenters of knowledge. Pedagogical strategies related to constructivist theories include “student-centered approaches,” problem-based learning, and experiential learning (Hirumi, 2002). A distinction can be made between constructivist activities where the cases and problems that students encounter are prestructured, and constructionist where students design and construct their own materials (Jonassen, Myers, & McKillop, 1996).
Sfard (1998), in contrast, does not use the terms constructivism or constructionalism, but instead focuses on learning as becoming a member of a community of practice, learning from the community but also contributing to it, which she calls a participation model of learning. She contrasts the acquisition and participation models of learning and argues that both are necessary (see Figure 1).
Comparing the acquisition and participation models (Collis & Moonen, 2001, p. 22; summarized from Sfard, 1998, pp. 5-7)