Phil and I gave our first ever joint keynote at the OLC conference this week. We didn’t want to just do dueling PowerPoints, so instead we tried a format that I have been calling a social constructivist keynote. Each of us would present on a topic for a few minutes, and then the two of us would talk about it for a few minutes. We planned the arc of the topics we would cover in advance, but we didn’t rehearse the talks for each other or script the conversation. The discussions came pretty close to the kind of bull shooting conversations that we have all the time. We set a time limit of eight minutes for each segment so that we could get through our presentation with enough time to bring the audience into the conversation at the end. It seemed to work pretty well.
In the course of the conversation, we spontaneously came up with a term that we both like and that seemed to resonate with the audience: antisocial deconstructivism.1 It’s the approach of breaking learning down into teeny, tiny bits, tied to fine-grained competencies and micro-assessments, that students learn on their own by following a prescription that is created for them, possibly with the help of a robot. To be clear, the term isn’t entirely meant to mock. There are times when antisocial deconstructivism is an appropriate pedagogical technique. For example, it’s pretty good for helping nursing students memorize medical terminology or IT students learn the basic components of a network. It can be good for learning some math kinds of skills, depending on your philosophy of math education. Any situation in which you are working fairly low on Bloom’s Taxonomy might be OK for it as an approach. Procedural knowledge that either doesn’t require higher order problem solving skills or where problem solving skills are best built incrementally by slowing increasing problem complexity is a particularly appropriate type of candidate for antisocial deconstructivism.
But we do mock it when it is presented not as a pedagogical technique but as a pedagogical ideology. It’s the idea that anything worth learning can be learned best, most cheaply, and “at scale” this way. It’s the fetishization of one tool in the teaching toolbox as the technological society’s Great Leap Forward. The worst, crudest examples of MOOCs, Competency-Based Education, and personalized learning software hype are all manifestations of this stunted (and self-interested) view of education. Antisocial deconstructivism is like botulism. A little bit injected in just the right spot by a trained expert can smooth out some wrinkles that bother you, treat a chronic headache, or refocus a lazy eye. A little more injected in the wrong places and you can quickly start to look like a parody of the thing that you are trying to be. Any more that, and what you have is not a tool but a toxin.
You might be suffering from antisocial deconstructivist toxicity if you find yourself believing any of the following:
- Short videos of lectures by Ivy League professors, coupled with little quizzes at the end, will almost always provide a better education than a class taught by a live, human, non-Ivy League professor.
- Short vendor-produced articles or animations, coupled with little quizzes at the end, will almost always provide a better education than a class taught by a live, human, non-Ivy League professor.
- We think of our product like a robot tutor in the sky that can semi-read your mind and figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are, down to the percentile.
If you exhibit any of these symptoms, then get yourself to a great teacher immediately and have them demonstrate for you what it is that videos, quizzes and robots cannot do.
- “Antisocial deconstructivism” should not be confused with “antisocial deconstructionism,” the latter of which is redundant. Anyone who writes like Derrida did clearly is actively hostile to the idea of shared meaning making as something that provides net positive value, or even the desire to communicate with other humans. [↩]