Design? What about content?

Topic 4 about learning design was one reason I wanted to take this course. Due to uncontrollable circumstances, I have been a step behind my group in reflection and action and I have since tried to catch up.  

When reading about pedagogical learning designs such as “the 7 C´s of Learning design” (Gráinne Conole) or “The five-stage model” (Gilly Salmon) I am provoked without understanding why at first. They seem so neat and tidy, logic and professional.  My rebel instincts tend to take over and I need to go to the UDL guidelines checkpoint 6.4 “Enhance capacity for monitoring progress” – that is my own progress in trying to become a better teacher. Aaargh – there are just so many challenges in my field of expertise. 

Most people seem to think that the course content is the least of our worries. We know what we teach. If teaching French, there are certain vocabulary, grammar, comprehension etc., that we need to teach, if we teach physics, there are laws of physics and math that the students need to learn. I get a sense that most teachers know their subject well and if you teach French or Physics in different universities – you still learn much of the same things. There is a common “gold standard”. If you want to learn to fix a broken car engine, you need to strive for a perfect car engine and we know the golden standard for a car engine. 

In my field – pediatric neurology and physical therapy there is a lack of gold standard. If you work in physical therapy sports medicine there are gold standards for a functioning shoulder, stability of the knee etc. But in my field the very definitions of various topics such as “spasticity” “strength”” balance” and “coordination” are vague and there are no step by step instructions such as “if you do this you will reach the ability to move your foot or walk independently”. In fact, sometimes we do things to children that we would never do to ourselves, we limit their range of motion, we weaken their muscles and we put them in passive devices and do not even give them a chance to learn – a lack of expectations. After many years, I have figured out what the gold standard is and my job has become so much more fun. 

When reading about theoretical frameworks and how motivation, building community and collaborating are important aspects of e-learning, I think of the motto outside of the auditorium in Uppsala University “thinking freely is great, thinking rightly is greater”. I always liked that motto and now even more so. Knowledge is key.

All of a sudden, all the “motivation” all the “collaboration” in a class seems somewhat luxurious or even unimportant? If I love my job, and want to learn I need to get the knowledge and tools to do a good job. If I can help a child to learn to walk, catch a ball or ride a bike, they will be happier and can participate in play with their peers. I need the content to be super clear and to be right. 

The class I teach on-line is important but it seems clear that socializing with fellow students comes second to quality of content? The very basis of my profession is movement analysis and understanding of motor development. What components are needed to crawl, to jump to catch a ball? If I understand how the newborn child goes from helpless when meeting the influence of gravity to a few years later move freely running across a field then I have the basis to figure out what is missing when it does not work smoothly. I need to assess the problem, figure out what is missing, I then need to interact with a child and make them enjoy practicing something that is challenging and difficult. I need to teach them to pay attention, to understand what they need to strive for, to create a task that lets them understand when they succeed. I also need to relate to the parents, their worries and frustrations of having a child with a disability. It is a work of cognition of creativity and of love for the children. It is built on forming relationships with them and playing together. How the heck am I going to teach this on-line? 

We do not have textbooks in physical therapy pediatric neurology that teach the fundamental golden standard, and not books that tell us how to fix problems that occur – we have methods of compensating and giving supports, but not fixing the problem. I see the challenges that one of my classmates mentioned in his blog: 

learning communities have clear boundaries which creates some kind of an exclusivity. In other words, because of their inward focus, learning communities are prone to become closed loops which may eventually lead to inertia and group thinking. Thus, what makes learning communities a great context of learning (i.e., strong ties among members who share the same goals) could subsequently undermine their ability to remain flexible and dynamic. “

After working for 35 years in the field, I am sad to say but I think this is the reality in my field. If we can send people to the moon we ought to be able to figure out how to control movements and balance. I think we need to invite new categories of professionals to participate in problem solving such as engineers and designers, and also to invite those that own the problem to participate, to widen our Personal learning networks (PLN´s; K Oddone). It is difficult to speak about this – I wish things were different – but I choose to look at it as an opportunity. 


Publicerad av Ulrika Myhr

Teacher, innovator, physical therapist for children. Working at Learn to Move and also through external assignments. Hoping for a world where all can participate in learning and play :-)

4 reaktioner till “Design? What about content?

  1. When I was reading your post, I remembered the concept of “pedagogical content knowledge” in education. As the name suggests, it is the intersection of content and pedagogy. It works when teacher’s dealing with subject knowledge (here it is the theoretical knowledge/how well the teacher knows his/her stuff) in the context of facilitating student learning. It is of utmost importance that knowledge of subject matter should be supported with general pedagogical knowledge (teaching strategies). And we all experienced that online teaching imply a certain pedagogical content knowledge, requiring pedagogical foundations and knowledge needed to design for, and facilitate online learning experiences. No matter how great a teacher is at his/her field (expertise-wise), in the hands of poor management of the content, it will be vain. And I guess, we can rely on three presences here for a meaningful online education (where expertise meets good teaching strategies): (1) Cognitive presence: How can teachers take into consideration students’ preparedness to participate in online courses?; (2) Social presence: How can teachers enhance the lost spontaneous student-student and student-teacher interaction?; and (3) Teaching presence: How can teachers embrace facilitatory discourse (mentoring activities) in online classes?


    1. I am the first to agree that it takes more than content knowledge to teach – it takes pedagogical knowledge. And I agree with all you write, the thing that I wanted to stress is that in my field there is a lack of content knowledge. No matter how nicely and with good pedagogy you present a course – if the facts of the subjectmatter are stagnant, outdated, and lacks a clear structure that defines the issues and problems and helps you to solve them, then the course cannot teach the student what he/she needs. I think it may be hard to relate to what I write – fortunately I think most people do not have this problem


  2. Hei Ulrika! I love that you are a rebel! I don’t think everything can or should be taught online. But maybe certain aspects of your field could be explored in a professional online network – and then what you get out of that network can be applied in real life with the children you work with?


    1. I need your calm and constructive thinking Suzanne! The fact is that I do not want to be self-employed anymore – too much worry about getting paid. To create a network takes time – and I would love to do that but right now it is not realistic, Will try and change things in the near future…



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