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DT&L2018: The Teaching Gestalt

My presentation slides for my Spotlight Session at the 34th Distance Teaching & Learning Conference, at Wisconsin Madison, August 2018. Appropriately enough, I won't be there in person, but will be presenting online to a mixed in-person and online audience.

The talk is concerned with how online learning is fundamentally different from in-person learning, and what that means for how (or even whether) we teach, in the traditional formal sense of the word. Teaching is always a gestalt process, an emergent consequence of the actions of many teachers, including most notably the learners themselves. This deeply distributed process is often masked by the inevitable (thanks to physics in traditional classrooms) dominance of an individual teacher in the process. Online, the mask falls off. Learners invariably have both far greater control and far more connection with the distributed gestalt. This is great, unless institutional teachers fight against it with rewards and punishments, in a pointless and counter-productive effort to try to sustain the level of control that is almost effortlessly attained by traditional in-person teachers, and that is a consequence of solving problems caused by physical classroom needs, not of the needs of learners.

The talk concludes with some broad characterization of what is different when teachers choose to let go of that control.  I observe that what might have been Leonardo da Vinci's greatest creation was his effective learning process, without which none of the rest of his creations could have happened. I am hopeful that now, thanks to the connected world that we live in, we can all learn like Leonardo, as long as teachers can learn to let go.


  • Gerald Ardito August 8, 2018 - 9:25am


    Thanks for sharing the slides. If there is a video (or even audio) of your talk, please share that as well.

    Obviously, I am sympathetic to and in agreement with what you are saying. Although, I am also engaged in finding ways to make the physical classroom learning environment as autonomous as possible.


  • Jon Dron August 8, 2018 - 10:59am

    Thanks Gerald

    Part of my point is exactly that - in both physical and online classrooms we can and do find ways to largely restore that lost autonomy (especially) and we try to cater for different levels and needs for competence.  Maybe not totally, but in a very large part, that's pretty much what we mean by 'good pedagogy'. I guess my really big question is really whether such pedagogies are necessary, sufficient, or appropriate when we take the hobbles away. They solve problems that we shouldn't actually have any more, but that we recreate for ourselves when we replicate the form and dynamics of traditional in-person teaching online. It's really hard to shake off that mindset completely!


  • Jon Dron August 8, 2018 - 11:01am

    ps - I will try to remember to record it. It can be followed online 11:30am-12:20pm PDT today (8th August 2018) at

  • Gerald Ardito August 8, 2018 - 11:40am


    Thanks for sharing the information about the webinar. I will try to attend.

    And, I agree that there is something inherently problematic about trying to work around conditions that are remnants of an old, out of date model.