Revisiting the Role of Instructor in Participant Pedagogy

This post is yet another contribution to MOOC MOOC 2013 at  As I read participant comments in the forums, blog posts, as well as Tweets; I noticed much thought about the role of the instructor or teacher in a peer-to-peer learning environment.  I read some who are concerned or confused about how you can have a course without an instructor in the traditional sense.  I have two responses to such concern or confusion.

1.  It helps me when I keep in mind that there is a spectrum when it comes to participant pedagogy.  There is radical participant pedagogy, moderate participant pedagogy, and then traditional pedagogy with the occasional usage of peer-to-peer learning activities on a lesson or unit level. In addition, you might personally lean toward the more radical approach but the limitations or expectations of your work may require to be act on your ideas in moderation.  Even with these three distinctions, a given learning environment might be anywhere on the spectrum between radical participant pedagogy and radical instructor-directed pedagogy.  One need not fully commit to the more radical view in order to see value in learning from and applying participant pedagogy to a more traditional environment.  The traditional role of instructor can remain largely unchanged in such settings.  Participant pedagogy might just serve as a challenge for the instructor to devote more thought and consideration to the roles of types of participation among learners.

2. A second response is a challenge for us to look at the role of instructor from a functional perspective instead of a job description that must be fulfilled by a single person.  In order to do this, consider writing out a long list of all of the different functions that a typical instructor plays in a class.  Your list might include things like:

  • writing the syllabus,
  • writing learning objectives,
  • choosing and planning out lessons,
  • designing and implementing formative and summative assessments,
  • selecting readings and resources,
  • providing organized, engaging, and effective lectures,
  • organizing the course around units of instruction,
  • ensuring that learners stay on task,
  • holding learners accountable for proper behaviors,
  • directing learner attention to important versus unimportant information,
  • modeling disciplinary (or interdisciplinary) thought and action,
  • facilitating learning activities that allows the learners to grow in understanding and mastery,
  • customizing the learning to meet individual learner needs,
  • monitoring student progress,
  • encouraging and assisting struggling learners,
  • providing challenges and supplemental activities and resources for excelling students,
  • creating a culture of academic integrity and honesty…

There are plenty of other items that we can put on that list.  Once we break down the role of instructor into these tasks and functions, it might be easier to explore participant pedagogy.  Walk through that list again and consider how each task or function could be met by someone or groups of people other than the instructor.  In other words, we are exploring how to un-bundle the traditional functions of the lone instructor.  At this point we can also decide which set of functions we still want to keep within a single individual or a small team.  You might end up with one or more people playing the role of facilitator, instructor, teacher, mentor, coordinator, coach, learning environment host, encourager, editor, or something else.

This type of perspective or exercise can help us re-imagine learning experiences from a participant pedagogy perspective.

Posted in blog, MOOC, Open Learning, peeragogy

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.

2 Replies to “Revisiting the Role of Instructor in Participant Pedagogy”

  1. Deke Kassabian

    Great points regarding the spectrum of participant pedagogy. A point I also made in a slightly different way in a #moocmooc blog post today. I also like your discussion of instructor responsibilities and the ways in which participants can play a role in fulfilling them.

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