Pedagogy drives technology drives pedagogy

We are in the process of switching to Moodle 2.1 from Moodle 1.9. We’ve been planning this switch for a year but, like many tech projects, it doesn’t matter how much planning and testing you do, the real test happens when users start rolling in.

We’re at that point right now. People are starting to use the system. The most painful point. The transition.

I won’t get into details about the inner workings of Moodle, but those who know the 2.x version compared to the 1.9 version know that there has been a major overhaul of how the file system works. Gone is the file storage  area – the place where people dumped all their course files. Instead we have a new file repository system.

From the reading I have done and the people I have talked to, this change has been one of the most contentious changes in Moodle, and we are struggling with how to support it as it means a big shift in how people organize their stuff. It forces people to make a conceptual shift in that their content is now somewhat disaggregated from their course. Dispersed, distributed and decentralized. Not contained within neat little folders. Not easily accessible in a single place. Living….somewhere?

It is forcing people to think about their content in a different way, and it is changing their workflow at the most basic level.

How do I organize my stuff?

How do I delete my stuff?

Where is my stuff? WHERE IS MY STUFF?

It makes sense to me why Moodle is moving to the new repository system, but I can see the technical reasons. That (usually) doesn’t fly with users, and the new system is stressing people out.

One thing I never considered until I read Mark Dreschler’s post, however, is that the pedagogical framework of social constructivism that underpins Moodle means having a powerful file management system could be a rather low priority for Moodle developers because social constructivism moves the focus of a learning experience away from content as the cornerstone and refocuses the experience on the construction of knowledge among participants.

I never really thought about this until Martin’s discussion with the group yesterday, but, and I’ll say it loud and clear now – Moodle is not meant to be a file repository. When I look back at Martin’s original pedagogical drivers of social constructionism then it makes perfect sense that storing files should be low on the list of priorities. Learning in a social constructionist world isn’t about downloading and reading files, its about collaboratively constructing them with others – a critical distinction.

Learning in a social constructionist world isn’t about downloading and reading files, its about collaboratively constructing them with others

In this specific case, the pedagogical model drives the technological development.

Now, that is all wonderful IF you use it in a homogenous environment where all users are on board and working from the same pedagogical model. Great. However, stray from that model and you find yourself working against the technology; fighting, wrestling and wringing it into submission to do what you want to do with it. Or, you are forced to alter your own pedagogical model to make it fit with the technology.

In this case, it’s hard to argue that the instructivist “here are my notes and PowerPoint slides” model is superior to the social constructivism Moodle model, but still; it’s a pedagogical choice being enforced on a user by technology. People don’t like that. They fight back and get defensive when a machine forces them to do something they don’t want to do. It’s technology driving pedagogy.

And this is the inherent problem (feature?) of ANY LMS. It is not neutral. It WILL impose its way on you.

In the case of Moodle, the pedagogy is explicit. Indeed, I think this is one of the reasons why Moodle is a popular choice – it is built around an explicit pedagogy, which appeals to many educators. The foundation is educational, not technological. But, just because it is explicit (and, let’s face it, a pretty good model) doesn’t mean the pain of fitting into that model is any less.

Right now, I am not sure how we are going to deal with the Moodle file issue. Secretly, deep down, part of me smiles just a little to think that the system is actually making it more difficult to stuff a course full of Word and PDF documents; that using the LMS as a content repository is just a little bit tougher to do. But that fades quickly when I realize that this is causing stress and friction for the people I support.

It is also difficult to use moments like this as leverage into a conversation about whether uploading a whack of files into an LMS is the best way to encourage learning when faculty have students breathing down their neck for the latest PowerPoint presentation. But we’ll try. And it won’t be the last time we make choices on how we do things in order to fit the pedagogy imposed on us by our technology.

As Neil Postman says in Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology:

Every technology is both a burden and a blessing; not either-or, but this-and-that.

This is the moment I am living right now.


Clint Lalonde

Just a guy writing some stuff, mostly for me these days on this particular blog. For my EdTech/OpenEd stuff, check out


5 thoughts on “Pedagogy drives technology drives pedagogy

  1. It's unfortunate that "instructivist" methods are reduced to "notes and PowerPoint slides" even though that is how most instructors supply their content. It would be like describing social constructivism as "Web searches and discussion boards." It would be good if eLearning aspired to something better (speaking as a Webhead) when instructivist. But that is one thing that has annoyed me about Moodle since they started: this blanket reasoning of "Well, it's not 'social constructivist'" whenever some requested feature was not implemented. To me, an LMS is a toolbox. I can do social constructivist approaches with Blackboard and instructivist approaches with Moodle. Just give me the tools and get out of the way! Even Lisa Lane's post indicates that it is most likely Web novices who are influenced by the pedagogical approach of a given LMS. If you have a deep knowledge of 5 or 6 LMSs, the differences become pretty underwhelming. I've found a lot of instructors blame the toolbox first (when it is often their inadequate understanding of the tools in the toolbox that is the real culprit). I haven't had a chance to check out Moodle 2 yet, so thanks for the heads up on the file management.

  2. I think the biggest problems with Learning Management Systems such as Moodle is the emergence of MITx. MITx has eliminated the text centric model approach, in other word it has deleted the text that compose the soul and major component /skeleton of online courses in LMS such as Moodle.

  3. Pedagogy drives Technology drives Teachers mad? 🙂

    I actually like the new file system though. It seems much more teacher friendly. However we have yet to see how our teachers get on with it.

    1. I don't mind it as well, and I think that once we add some other external repositories to it people will begin to see the real value of the system. But it does play with the well understood file management method most people are familiar with. When people feel they have to re-learn something as basic as file management, then they get cranky. And I don't totally blame Moodle here. I think we have done a poor job anticipating and preparing for the difference.

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