Redefining the Role of the Expert Educator

There once was a select group of people who through hard work, dedication and years of schooling, knew almost everything there was to know about a particular topic. They were called experts. While elsewhere, another group of people, eager for information, drove long miles to fill uncomfortable chairs in classrooms and conferences. They were called learners.

This relationship remained for generations, encouraged by the production needs of the Industrial Revolution and two World Wars. Until one day, empowered by technology and a growing sense of independence, some of the learners found other ways to get the information they craved. They made videos of it, blogged it, tweeted it, and distributed millions of copies of it. The learning landscape was suddenly awash with self-proclaimed “experts”.

As stories go, ours is no doubt simplified. Certainly, posting information online does not an expert make, but to many learners the difference can be hard to discern. However, the truth remains- that experts, once sole gatekeepers of knowledge, now have to compete with myriad information sources. For better or worse, the proliferation of free web based content has changed the learning landscape and the learner.

But has it changed the expert?

No one is suggesting that the experts’ role in education is over. In fact, data suggests that learners prefer to work with an instructor, even in an online learning environment. Rather than replace the expert, I’d like to offer 4 ways inwhich the experts’ role in education can change to meet the modern online landscape as described briefly in Chapter 2 of Online Learning, Concepts, Strategies and Application by Nada Dabbagh and Brenda Bannan-Ritland.[1]

Redefined Role of the Expert Educator

Traditional Role 1: Maintain a Singular Learning Channel

Role Redefined: Meet Learners Where They Are

I recently had a discussion with an Academic in which he questioned the effectiveness of his social media outreach efforts. A good question, but without the time or resources to invest in sophisticated tracking, it can be hard to give a definitive answer. My guess is that in his case, the older, rural audience probably wasn’t checking Facebook that often and, therefore, had minimal impact. However, for many younger learners, blogs, videos and tweets is where they expect to find information and expect it fast. My advice to that Academic: keep using online channels, if it doesn’t take too much of your time, because whether in two years or twenty, that’s where your audience is headed.

Tip: To the best of your ability, distribute content across multiple channels and track its use.

Blog: Start your own ANR blog and post your latest research findings, articles or experience. The stats section allows you to see how many people have subscribed or have visited your blog.
Website: Build a webpage using ANR’s Sitebuilder 3. Embed a Google Analytics code and track how many people visit your site.
Video: Don’t just tell them; show them by posting a demonstration on a YouTube page. Tracking capabilities let you see just how many people have viewed it. Then post the video to your blog and website.

Traditional Role 2: Oracle and Lecturer

Role Redefined: Consultant, Guide and Resource Provider

In a recent interview with Salman Khan of the Kahn Academy, he described how their research had shown that learners often described the discussion portion of the traditional classroom experience as the most useful. Yet unfortunately, much of the classroom experience involves sitting through Power Points and lectures with often only the few last minutes reserved for questions.

Kahn’s approach is sometimes called “flipping the classroom’. It simply means that experts use the web to deliver online lectures and courses so that in-person classroom time can be used to do what it does best, allow for interaction and discussion.

Tip: Move your lecture or course online: ANR can help you turn your Power Point or lecture into an interactive e-course or video.

Post your course to ANR’s Learning Management System and track enrollment, completion and assessments
Guide your learners towards the online material and use the classroom time to discuss reactions, pose meaningful questions and find answers.

Traditional Role 3: Provider of Answers

Role Redefined: Provider of Questions

What do you think?

1. Do experts really need to change, given the online learning environment?

2. As an expert, what topics would you like to learn more about? Adult learning principles? Building online courses? Using Facebook, Twitter and Blogs? Building a website?

**Use the comments feature at the bottom of the page to share your thoughts**

The point is that I’m not the only expert in the room. Many readers of this blog no doubt have opinions of their own based on their unique experiences. Rather than presume to know what your learners want, why not ask them to generate questions and problems of their own, then work together to find the answers through guided discussions. The web has unleashed an entirely new way for collaboration and what learning theorists call constructivist learning. The idea being that meaningful learning takes place through learner generated content and experiences.

Tip: Communicate with your learners and ask for active participation to guide content, whether online or in the classroom.

Move the Q&A session to the beginning of your class, rather than the end. Take time to focus the discussion on the questions that generate the most interest.
Create an online forum, such as ones used by Google Groups to post questions to your learners and ask for feedback
Poll your learners to find out what content matters most to them. Sitebuilder 3 allows you to add a poll to your website.

Traditional Role 4: Content Researcher

Role Redefined: Content and Technical Researcher

It’s no surprise that many experts have trouble adapting to new roles in an online world. The traditional classroom model proved very successful for over a century in education. While traditionally instructors were required to maintain core mastery of content, the required technical skills changed very little, aside from perhaps a new slide projector. Flash forward to today and no doubt half of the technology I’ve described in this post will be obsolete in 5 years- or less.

Like it or not, in an online world, experts must also learn to keep pace with ever changing technology for the delivery of their content.

Tip: Assess new tools and consider how they can be used for learning.

Search for other classes being taught on your subject.
Participate in a class to see what technology others are using.