Learning subjectives – things that glisten

How to put pretty stuff in those drops. by Steve took it, on Flickr

I’ve not got a good track record with MOOCs, I sign up for them, start a few, lurk a bit but invariably don’t finish them as I never  seem to have enough time to commit to them.  Last year I managed one post on #rhizo14, the other week I spotted that #rhizo15 was starting up so here goes let’s see if I manage more than one post this time round!
For the first task we’ve been asked to think about building learning subjectives and how we design our own learning when we don’t know where we’re going.  I’m not sure if I have specific learning subjectives for #rhizo15 but the concept of subjectives brought back to mind the final year of my degree.
Thinking back to my undergraduate student days I can’t really remember having learning outcomes, there was a sense that we’d be assessed on what was covered in the lectures, labs and practicals.  I’m sure there will have been course objectives and outcomes but I don’t recall them being explicit or communicated at the start of teaching sessions in the way they are now. Was this a bad thing? After some of my peers complained that they couldn’t hear one of our lecturers he pitched up at his next lecture making it clear that if we wanted to get a decent class of degree then we’d have to do more than regurgitate lectures in our finals.  He went on to say we should be doing 10 hours reading per week per module to supplement the lectures. This struck a chord with me and it’s something I’ve reflected on quite a bit over the past few years as I’ve pondered whether our use of technology in higher education has led to spoon feeding students.  I didn’t do 10 hours reading per module but I remember reading more round topics that particularly interested me.  Certain things spark off a light in your mind, and you pursue your curiosity, or you want to find the information that will help you solve a problem.

In medicine it sometimes seems that students are almost like slaves to learning outcome and objectives, so much of their learning is driven by assessment.  The one opportunity they have to break the tyranny of objectives is when they choose their student selected components, they can propose their own 4 week module and set their own objectives.  It’s a bit like when you’re at primary school and you all get to pick a topic to explore and create your own topic book.  There are things that standout and almost glisten as they grab your attention and stimulate your interest and curiosity.  You get drawn to question and explore as they lead you to discover a whole series of other interesting things and take you down paths you’ve never been down before.

I’m not sure what my learning subjectives are but there are things that I’ve been thinking about the past few months including an exasperation around the concept of minimum standards in VLEs and the fact that so often when it comes to technology in higher education there seems to be tunnel vision and a lack of joined up thinking.  I’m not sure if these directly relate to the whole concept of rhizomatic learning but perhaps #rhizo15 might serve as a catalyst to help me put aside some time to think and explore and unpick the things that are glistening and catching my eye.

Image Credit
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Steve took it 

Image credit


  1. Wow, Natalie, what a gorgeous image! It drew me in immediately… and I also totally connected with what you are writing about here also. I get really discouraged by the way technology can be used to standardize learning, herding people along predetermined paths… but at the same time, it is so exciting how we can use technology to break free of that! One of my favorite things about teaching online is having infinite numbers of virtual books to put into my students hands, just a click away… the big trick being to help students which virtual books they want to read! What you describe as primary school experience (pick a topic and create your own topic book) is actually how my classes work, and my students (mostly college seniors) often remark that they have not done a creative project like this since elementary school! Many of my students future medical professionals and I always figure that the storytelling skills they practice in my classes might help them as they work with their patients… not as a replacement for medical knowledge, but as a way to bring it back around to the human context! Anyway, I enjoyed reading your post and I hope we will get to keep connecting here in the rhizosphere. 🙂

    1. Thanks Lisa! How you describe your classes is how I like to work with students on SSCs. When we ran the doctor as digital teacher SSC in February it was interesting to hear the students say they had chosen it because they wanted an opportunity to be creative and this was something they didn’t often have the chance to be in the medical curriuclum. They all follow different paths and discover new things, we signpost them to online resources that will help them with their journey and it’s great to see what else they unearth as they work through their learning landscape. I think storytelling is important in teaching medicine, the patient narrative and patient journey creates a helpful framework to hook the learning onto and as you say helps provide the human context. I think the storytelling skills you get your students to practice will be very helpful for those that go on to study medicine. There’s a growing interest in the medical humanities and I think the process of storytelling and introducing some creativity into medicine has the potential to be more meaningful than the endless tick box reflection that medical students seem to have to complete. Looking forward to learning with you in the rhizosphere! 🙂

      1. Oh, that sounds really cool, Natalie! That is my impression also: it’s almost like I get an extra burst of creativity from these students because it is not getting a chance to come out in some of their other classes which are often cramming for the MCAT, etc. I look forward to hearing more in the coming weeks! 🙂

  2. Nice post, Natalie! Thank you for sharing. That 10hrs a week of reading idea really resonated with me because I remember even in grad school there was this unspoken rule of how much reading you should be doing per night. This is a big issue in terms of accessibility because not everyone reads at the same speed, etc.
    I’m not necessarily sure that technology helps “spoon-feed” the students, I think sometimes unless done in a certain way, it may add to their load instead of help them. This mainly because some students lack the information and digital literacy to effectively negotiate that technological space.
    I am not saying we need to go back to the 10hrs of reading thing, nor am I saying that we need to get rid of tech (personally a big chunk of my connections sources of engagement and ideas would disappear without Twitter) but what we do need to do is make sure that the structures are in place to help with the information literacy piece going forward.
    Again great post, lots to think about!

    1. Thanks Ann! I agree that many students don’t have the information literacies to navigate online spaces and I guess my question is whether the way that most teachers use A VLE/LMS doesn’t help them to develop thse skills. It’s something I blogged about a while ago. I think it all boils down to our teaching approaches and whether we just use technology to keep doing what we’ve always done or whether we use it to try and do something that we haven’t done before that also helps our students develop those skills which will equip them to be a lifewide learner.

      1. I absolutely agree; we need to show leadership in this without imposing power dynamics within the learning spaces. The LMS is a monster that needs to be rethought!

    1. I think so too Ward! I signed up for the Federated Wiki Teaching Machines but sadly didn’t have time to really try this out. I described it to my SSC students and they thought it sounded great. I’d love to give the federated wiki a go!

      1. Same here, signed up for the Federated Wiki Teaching Machines but I didn’t even manage to complete the first activity! It would be good to see how they could support rhizomatic learning, I look forward to seeing more, and maybe try out…

  3. As usual, I really enjoyed reading your post, Natalie. It really resonates with me, not only because we work together! When I was at the University I studied in a completely different way from that I am used to see now. There was no spoon-feeding, lectures weren’t all compulsory and we were given a list of books to read for each subject. This made the reading quite more than 10 hours a week, in fact I remember the University years as a constant reading and writing notes from books and lectures. But then, the exams were different, too, as they were all oral, consisting of a 30 to 45 minutes discussion with the professor about the topics studied.
    I don’t think that was necessarily a good way to go though. Unless a person is really motivated and engaged, it is not going to work. However in this way I had to find my own learning subjectives, and I feel this made me become an independent and critical learner.
    I agree that students are becoming slaves of learning outcomes, and that the SSCs are a great way for them to experience the freedom of choosing, self-leading their learning and reading. This seems to me a better way to facilitate their rhizomatic learning, as there is no better way to dive into subjects than reading and learning for passion, trying to fill those knowledge gaps that we should be able to identify without external assessment by selecting and critically apprising sources. Is this rhizomatic? In my mind it is 🙂 – and there is no VLE that can support this process, because it needs to be open and free to expand beyond those walls…

    1. Thanks Annalisa! I agree not everything was perfect about the way we were taught but I think like you my undergraduate experience helped me develop as critical, self-directed learner. Today I think it’s harder as there are more students in higher education all at different levels and then we have the notion of students as consumers. There seems to be more complexity or maybe I just over complicate things (!), but I think that’s why I get frustrated by some of the dicsussion in some spaces because things aren’t looked at in the whole, we don’t pay attention to what’s on the periphery and the influences these issues might have.
      I like the idea of our SSC being rhizomatic 🙂 Maybe next year we could add a Federated Wiki to the mix!

  4. Yes, let’s try it! 🙂
    I think there is maybe more complexity, but in particular there is less acceptance and flexibility towards complexity and the uncertainty it brings. Many students want to know what they need to know, what the questions will be and be sure, in that way, that they will pass the exams. This doesn’t leave space to explorations of different, but maybe more exciting, paths.

  5. Wonderful post, Natalie. I don’t think that technology has led to spoon feeding, but it has certainly made it easier. We now have bigger, faster, more ubiquitous spoons. I really think the problem is our insistence on one right answer, reducing all knowledge to the simple domain.

    1. Thanks Keith! I agree with you about the issue of reducing knowledge to the simple domain, this is a problem.

  6. Hi

    Reading your blog post made me think about my undergraduate medical education and compare that with that of the students I teach today. In my school too we did not have “learning objectives” for courses. There was just Anatomy, Physiology, etc., the professor told you what the recommended textbook(s) was/were, and these were typically the largest in the undergraduate section of the library; you either went with that or asked senior/upperclassmen for advice on a more manageable book. And boy did we read, and take this forward to the time when we had to do reference work, we would have to go into the library room full of index cards and literally “make your path” to what you are looking for.

    In the current course I teach, Medical Microbiology and Immunology, we do make all the learning objectives available in the course syllabus, and the relevant ones on the first slide of every Powerpoint. As you pointed out, students can now Google for just about any piece of information, and maybe that can sometimes keep us on our toes! Not to mention the wealth of information they have at their fingertips by electronic cross referencing, something that we had to actually build on our own. Does that make them lazy or blunt their intelligence? I wonder, it’s like we were not allowed to use calculators in primary and high school for the same reason; maybe there is some merit in that argument – deprivation of a kind of intellectual stimulation.

    Spoon feeding? Hmm…. We still give them just two years to learn the Basic Sciences before they go on to clinical rotations, notwithstanding the fact that the books have definitely got a lot bigger, and grow in size by a few millimetres every year without fail, maybe by a centimeter if the edition comes out once in three years. Perhaps the learning objectives give them a means to focus their efforts in learning, making it more targeted, and leading to minimalistic learning? Maybe, maybe not! Consider that the qualifying exams, whether PLAB or USMLE actually aim to test higher order thinking, not something you can get away with by indulging in minimalistic learning. Then again perhaps, using the objectives to get the minimal learning base required for the subject and then using that as a springboard for more diverse and in-depth learning is the way to go.

    Just my thoughts……


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